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Top 10 Vampires #9b Helen Kent

Not the character she was five minutes ago.

Not the character she was five minutes ago.

Yes, a tie… these are two very minor vampires who don’t get to do too much with their powers, but they grab you (the audience) really hard emotionally, and make you feel sorry for them.  It’s an emotional depth you don’t often get with vampires of that vintage (1960s) or at all, really.

In 1966, Christopher Lee caved and did the Dracula sequel he’d been putting off for about 8 years.  The result, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, underused its star but is probably the best of the sequels, due, in no small part, to actress Barbara Shelley as the doomed Helen Kent.

The movie begins with the brash monk, Father Sandor, preventing a group of peasants from staking a young woman through the heart.  Everyone is very coy about the cause of her death, which hints at something unsavory, but Sandor insists that she have a religious burial on consecrated ground.  On traveling back to his monastery, he meets a group of English tourists– the Kent family.  He eats with the two brothers and their wives, warning them of traveling too near a certain village.

They ignore him, wind up at Castle Dracula, and one of the brothers is killed by the count’s sinister servant in order to bring his master back to life (via the fresh blood).  Restored, Dracula moves in on Mrs. Helen Kent and turns her into a vampire.

Up to that point, Helen had been kind of a whiny Cassandra.  She was constantly offended by their non-English surroundings, but also realized that accepting Dracula’s hospitality was a terrible idea.  After she is turned into a vampire, she is much more sensual– and makes to attack her sister-in-law instead of the husband.

Thanks to a Renfield-like character, who was Dracula’s victim long ago, the two vampires infiltrate the monastery.  Helen is captured by the monks, and staked in a very intense scene.  Four monks hold her down (one for each limb), and Sandor does the staking, while her brother-in-law tries not to look.  However, once she is dead, Sandor, blesses her, revealing her expression of peaceful repose.  Yes, there are disturbing implications of the staking scene, but, honestly, what else are the monks supposed to do with the vampires but destroy them?

Anyway, Helen starts out as an annoyance, becomes the tragic voice of reason, a frightening vampire, and then is put to rest.  It’s a real roller-coaster ride, but Helen is a strong enough character (and her transformation is dramatic enough) that the audience stays on the whole way.  Her death is truly sad, but one is glad that Father Sandor shows compassion by blessing her.  It’s a final bit of dignity most turned vampires do not get– it’s notably absent in the original Dracula, for instance.  But for some powerful scenes, an engaging expert, and a tragic yet scary vampiress, check out this sequel.

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