A Nite to Dismember, Part 2: Dracula – Prince of Darkness (1966)

A Nite to Dismember is Nitehawk’s annual Halloween movie marathon, five back to back horror films played until the crack of dawn. For its second year, N2D features five of the best horror sequels ever made: Evil Dead II, Bride of Frankenstein, Friday the 13th Part 2, and Return of the Living Dead.

Below, Hatched editor Kris King (@KrisKingTornado) discusses the night’s fourth film, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Hammer’s second Dracula film featuring Christopher Lee in the count’s cloak.

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Every time I watch one of Hammer’s Dracula films I’m surprised at how much they remind me of the Friday the 13th series. Each film introduces a new batch of yahoos wandering about where they shoudn’t, they wake up Dracula, Dracula does his thing, and then he dies. Like Jason, killing Dracula is only a temporary solution. No matter what you do – set him on fire, drive a stake through his heart, douse him in holy water – the big man will inevitably finds his way back.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is the first of Hammer’s Dracula films to make its star an avowed serial sequelizer (1960’s The Brides of Dracula predates PoD, but doesn’t feature the count). Picking up a decade after his first death at the hands of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing (Sunlight. Never fails.), Prince of Darkness follows a group of four English travelers, who find themselves stranded in the German countryside after their spooked carriage driver kicks them to the curb. A driverless carriage (red flag) arrives and takes the group to a nearby castle (red flag!) where the sole occupant informs them that they’re expected, but the master of the house, Count Dracula, happens to be dead (RED FLAG). After deciding to stay at the castle despite a mountain of warning signs pointing them towards the road, one of them gets lured into Dracula’s crypt and wakes the old man up to do his vampire song and dance.

Prince of Darkness‘s slow pace and classic setting – the haunted castle, the gloomy German landscape – makes the movie feel almost safe; but then, suddenly, everything kicks to life in a grotesque act of violence that’s shocking because it seems so out of place. The film’s a slow burn, for certain, but once Dracula hits the scene it’s all unlaced bodices and heaving bosoms, a masterstroke in below-the-radar trashiness.

Famously, Christopher Lee disliked the script’s dialogue so much that he refused to say his lines on camera. But even with his mute performance, Lee’s towering Count dominates Prince of Darkness. Lee ascribes his Dracula with the same air of fossilized grace as Bela Lugosi, but he makes the roll his own by cranking up Count’s animalism, sexuality and contempt. In Prince of Darkness, Dracula doesn’t cower away from crosses out of fear, so much as hatred, and he seems to relish violating Christian purity.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness plays late in our Halloween marathon, and will almost certainly cast a lull over the audience. It’s a classic vampire move: sedate your prey, and just as they drift into a foggy, troubled sleep: strike.