Guest writer WILLIAM STEWART ponders the lack of dialogue for the King of Vampires in Dracula Prince of Darkness
The release of Dracula Prince of Darkness on January 9th, 1966 to U.K. cinemas (the U.S. release occurring on January 12th, 1966) signaled Hammer’s return to the Dracula legend and the paradigmatic features that had made their first Dracula film, known simply as Dracula in the U.K. (U.S. title: Horror of Dracula), a success in 1958.
Much of the team that necessitated the first film’s success were back, with Terence Fisher returning as director and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, writing under the pseudonym John Sansom, providing a script based on a treatment he’d written a few years earlier originally entitled The Revenge of Dracula.
More importantly, though, was the return of actor Christopher Lee as Dracula and Hammer’s publicity department quickly busied themselves hyping his return as Bram Stoker’s eponymous anti-hero.
Lee was absent from Hammer’s The Brides of Dracula (1960), with Dracula replaced in that film by actor David Peel’s sexually ambiguous Baron Meinster, and the actor was enthusiastic returning to the role that had made him internationally famous.
During production, Lee told Hammer’s publicists in 1965: “I’m getting to like the old boy. He has a flair for the dramatic, dignity, and a strong sense of survival, too, like any sensible man.”
And yet, although the film was an immediate hit for Hammer, having been paired with John Gilling’s The Plague of the Zombies, audiences and critics alike noticed an apparent incongruity with their beloved Count – namely, his lack of speech.
Since the film’s release in 1966, there has been many contradictory and speculative stories as to how and why Dracula’s muted presence came about in the film – with much of its mythos, albeit, credited to Lee himself.
Christopher Lee disenchanted with Dracula dialogue
When his initial enthusiasm for the role turned to frustrated disenchantment – due, no doubt to what he felt were inferior presentations of the character in subsequent sequels – the actor told numerous interviewers over the years, including Robert W. Pohle and Douglas C. Hart in The Films of Christopher Lee, “This was the only Dracula film in which I didn’t say a word. I make sounds, but I don’t speak… There was a great deal of dialogue originally, but it was so bad that I refused to deliver it.”
Some years later, Lee elaborated to Bill Kelley in Fangoria Vampires about his fatuous dialogue in Sangster’s script: “At one point, Dracula is suppose to declare ‘I am the apocalypse!’ I finally just decided, let’s not have him speak at all if this is the best you can do.”
But the actor seems to have forgotten his remarks made during filming when, in the May 1965 newsletter to his fan club, Lee said producers Anthony Hinds and Anthony Nelson-Keys decided Dracula would not speak for dramatic reasons.
Lee agreed with them, telling his fans: “As I am already a vampire from the word go, there is nothing I can say – not even a courteous ‘Well, here we go again…’” and hoped people wouldn’t be disappointed with his speechless, greying Dracula.
Indeed, “Vampires don’t chat,” screenwriter Jimmy Sangster wrote in his book, Inside Hammer, about Dracula – Prince of Darkness, “so I didn’t write him any dialogue.”
In viewing the film’s 111-page shooting script, completed by Sangster on March 4th, 1965, dialogue for Dracula is non-existent in the 20 pages the character appears in and his scenes, with minor adjustments in the staging, are exactly as they are in the film.
At no point does Dracula declare to be the apocalypse.
“So you can take your pick as to why Christopher Lee didn’t have any dialogue in the picture,” Sangster would later say.
“Or you can take my word for it. I didn’t write any.”
WILLIAM STEWART is a filmmaker born in Canada. Graduated with distinction from the MA Directing: Film & TV Course at University of Westminster in 2012. Three of his short films have screened at Cannes Film Festival. Favourite director is Terence Fisher. When not watching films, he’s binge reading Edgar Wallace and Dennis Wheatley novels. You can follow him on Twitter, Vimeo and Facebook.