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Dracula returned again, as did Christopher Lee, in his fourth portrayal and while it’s not quite as audacious fun as Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, it is still a bit livelier than Dracula: Prince Of Darkness. This chapter opens with an entrepreneur (Roy Kinnear) being thrown from his coach by some ruffians and finding himself witnessing Dracula’s demise from the last installment. Seeing an opportunity, he gathers Dracula artifacts and a generous amount of his powdered blood. The film then introduces us to three older ‘thrill seekers’ Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), Paxton (Peter Sallis) and Secker (John Carson), village aristocrats who secretly delve into questionable activities at a local brothel. These three are finding little thrills to seek, as of late and turn to younger Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates), a man known to dabble in the black arts. They buy Dracula’s blood and artifacts for a Satanic black mass Courtley plans to hold in his family’s deconsecrated church…a ceremony that involves the drinking of The Count’s blood to ensure their darkest fantasies come true. The three noblemen have second thoughts during the ceremony and after he alone drinks Dracula’s blood, Courtley is slain by the fearful men. As the three men plan alibi’s for their crime, the body of Courtley transforms into Dracula (Christopher Lee) himself . The Count considers the murdered Courtley a servant and thus plans his vengeance on the unsuspecting men…and their innocent offspring.

The film is once again written by Anthony Hinds but, now finds Peter Sasdy in the director’s chair. Sasdy doesn’t quite have Freddie Francis’ flair for the bloody dramatic, pacing, or visual eye, but, he takes the somewhat ludicrous story seriously and still has some fun with it. The film has some actual nudity in it, during the brothel sequence and there is the usual blood spattering. While the three noblemen start out as the main characters, the film switches focus to their adult children once Dracula rises, about halfway through, and begins to stalk them. There is an interesting plot point of Dracula taking a woman, Hargood’s pretty daughter Alice (Linda Hayden), as his servant, to do his bidding and transforming Paxton’s daughter Lucy (Isla Blair) into a vampire. This leaves Paul Paxton (Anthony Corlan), Alice’s boyfriend and Lucy’s brother, to enter the story as our valiant hero and take on the Prince Of Darkness. This also gives us a fun and fairly action-packed last act, after a more moderate beginning and middle, which helps overcome the long wait for Dracula to appear. Bernard once again gives us a fitting score and Arthur Grant returns as cinematographer and gives us the vibrant colors he did in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. While an entertaining entry, the story does show the idea well is starting to drain a bit in coming up with ways/reasons for Dracula to resurrect.

If these film are consistent about one thing it’s assembling a good cast. Lee is solid, as always, even though it was said, at this point, he was getting tired of the role. Keen, Sallis, and Secker are all good as the village aristocracy who secretly seek the darker pleasures and pay for it dearly. Ralph Bates is over-the-top fun as the disinherited Lord Courtley and it’s actually a shame he didn’t stick around longer. Obviously, they needed the job of Dracula’s servant open for Alice, which as a female familiar was a refreshing twist. The young cast, Hayden, Blair, Corlan and Martin Jarvis as Lucy’s boyfriend Jeremy Secker, all do a perfectly fine job with Hayden making both a pretty heroine and sinister servant and Anthony Corlan a dashing hero. Good casts go a long way in making things work, even if there are creative flaws and this series knows it.

I liked this one, though not as much as Dracula Has Risen From The Grave. It’s not quite as fun but, it still has some blood running in it’s veins and while the story is a bit loopy, there are some nice set pieces…especially the church-set climax…and the film still succeeds in presenting the gothic atmosphere that is a series staple. Sasdy’s direction has a bit more restraint than Freddie Francis but, still far less formal than that of Terrance Fisher. Lee is great and despite a reluctance at this point, would play Dracula for Hammer three more times and would soon reunite with his arch nemesis, Cushing’s Van Helsing.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 fangs.