Starring: Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley
Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster
Director: Terence Fisher
If you like vampire movies and classic horror, it’s essential to see this film and its predecessor, Dracula (1959). There was a 1960 sequel to that, Brides of Dracula, but as it doesn’t feature Lee, and in fact, doesn’t feature Dracula at all but another vampire count, it’s a quasi-sequel. This one picks right up with a prologue showing the climax of the 1959 Dracula, with Van Helsing (Cushing) fighting Dracula (Lee), eventually besting him with sunlight, turning him to ash.
This one is perhaps even more fun, maybe not intentionally campy but nonetheless containing a lot of scenes that make a viewer want to laugh and crack MST3K-style jokes. We start with a Father Sandor (Keir) interrupting the staking of a dead girl by villagers and the local priest. As the priest points out, Sandor’s out of his jurisdiction, but somehow, through sheer force of personality and gruff voice, he commands them to stop and carry the girl to his church for a proper burial. It’s odd that Sandor chastises the priest for spreading the folklore of vampirism, because in the very next scene he’s warning two couples of well-to-do Euros not to undertake their planned trip to Karlsbad, and if they do, to especially avoid the castle there. We all know who unlives in that castle, right?
Of course, the two men ignore him and drag their women along, one in particular—Helen—feeling very uneasy about it. The coachmen stops them two kilometers short of Karlsbad for superstition, but fortunately enough, an unmanned coach follows soon after. They take it, and are unable to steer the horses away from the castle.
A creepy manservant gives them lodging and a meal, but soon has killed one of the men, hanging him over Dracula’s crypt, the blood dripping down and restoring the ashes in time-lapse photography to the bloodshot eyed vampire we all know and love. From then on, it’s a matter of Sandor trying to protect the remaining couple from Dracula, his manservant, and new thrall (Helen, the woman who had, ahem, grave reservations about the trip, kiddies), as well as an old thrall now thought to be a harmless, fly-eating lunatic book engraver, Ludwig. As we’re reminded by Sandor about halfway in, one of the ways—the least sexy one—of killing a vampire is by drowning them in running water, so when Dracula gets out on a frozen moat, you know where this is going, though Fisher films it without enough suspense that you almost don’t ask why Dracula doesn’t just jump over the cracks in the ice to get to safety.
Oddly, Lee speaks no dialogue in the film, although he would speak at least one line from Bram Stoker’s novel in all his other Dracula films. Although writer Sangster said there were no lines written for the character in this one, it makes more sense to me Lee’s claim that he refused to speak any, as the dialogue was so awful. Awful or not, Lee’s portrayal as the mute, more animalistic Dracula is still compelling, and this is one of the more entertaining of the Hammer vampire films. And let’s not forget scream queen Barbara Shelley, sexy and scary as usual as vampire Helen.