Format: Amazon Streaming
Director: Freddie Francis
Let's start by saying "continuity" is not the watch-word for Hammer's Dracula series.
The remote village which last saw Dracula die by drowning in a frozen moat around his castle is now located in a steep mountain area (as suggested in prior films, but which always seemed a whole lot like a forested area in a topographically uninteresting meadow). I think the movie opens during Dracula's brief return to life from Dracula: Prince of Darkness when Dracula must have stopped off for a bite in the village, leaving a village maiden dead and inverted inside the bell of the local church.
The plot is a bit windy, but involves a good-hearted Monsignor showing up, trying to ensure Dracula cannot return after the events of the prior movie, but a fallen priest winds up bringing Dracula back (and becomes Drac's henchman). Dracula tracks the Monsignor home where he targets his niece. The niece is dating/ apparently shagging a local student/ outspoken atheist.
Prior characters and locations are kind of nodded at, but only in the faintest ways. The nearby abbey featured prominently in the prior film is unmentioned, as are any previously seen characters. You'd think folks would invent speed-dial just to keep Van Helsing on it.
As in prior Hammer vampire films, there's a question of how Christianity and faith intersect with the abomination that is Dracula - and this film puts a fine point on it, featuring a priest who has lost his faith, a priest who has not and a smart mouthed atheist college student. A cross is a good way to put Dracula off, but it requires faith in the object - something an atheist doesn't have (nor a fallen priest). Released in 1968, while Britain and the US were wrestling with youth culture movements (our juvenile lead is doing his best to look like Roger Daltrey circa 1968) there's certainly a strain of "this new-fangled thinking by the youths is gonna get us all Dracula'd".
Of course, seeing the inverse of God and miracles is a pretty good argument that one is not getting the full picture and answers questions of someone who might ask them - and so there's an emergency (and logical) jump to faith, or at least a reasonable facsimile of faith. And the lack of faith by the fallen priest has made him vulnerable to Drac's evil ways and not even particularly interested in resistance.
Yeah, it's a bit on the nose that Dracula is literally impaled on a cross at the end, but given the themes, it's got a certain poetry and we'll allow it. There does seem to be some sort of divine will at play in this film, but you don't want to be a flirty barmaid/ cannon fodder for the plot.
This is the Hammer Dracula with the weird "Drac Lens". It's not a terrible effect, but once you notice it, you do keep looking at it instead of the action of the screen. It's not without motivation, but would have worked better as a POV device.
It's good to have Lee back as Dracula, who even has lines this time, and other familiar faces like Michael Ripper and Rupert Davies.
All in all - enjoyable as the last, if very different in tone as this one was not directed by Terence Fisher.