A staking had to be here somewhere. It’s such an essential method to dispatching the undead, that it would almost be a crime not to have it here, somewhere. And once again, dear old Hammer Studios provided the occasion. They knew what they were doing… up until they tried to bring Dracula to the 20th century, but that’s another story.
Unsurprisingly, this is another movie I’ve written about before… Dracula: Prince of Darkness— arguably the best sequel in that series.
The movie opens with the van Helsing stand-in, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), an abbot, interrupting a group of villagers about to stake the corpse of a woman who had died under mysterious circumstances. He bullies the local priest and shames the villagers into going home. However, he does show kindness toward the dead woman’s mother, and promises to bury her daughter with the appropriate rites. After this is done, he stops at a tavern for his dinner and bumps into four English tourists: brothers Charles and Alan, and their wives, Dinah and Helen. Sandor and Charles get along just fine, although the priest’s earthy manners (hiking up his habit to warm his backside before the fire) offend Helen. They tell him some of their plans, and he warns them against going to Carlsbad but won’t say why.
They don’t listen, and wind up being abandoned by the coachman there just before sunset. Seeking shelter for the night, they wind up at Castle Dracula, where the sinister Klove informs them that his late master left instructions that the castle must always be ready to receive guests. Alan, Charles, and Dinah are charmed and drink to Count Dracula’s memory. Helen, however, is terrified inside the castle and predicts that “there’ll be no morning for us.” Indeed, Klove murders Alan and uses his blood to revive Dracula, who vampirizes Helen.
Charles and Dinah barely escape. They find shelter with Father Sandor at the monastery. Dinah, who was slightly injured, is put to bed, while Sandor introduces Charles to Ludwig, a craftsman whose experience with Dracula left him mad. That night, Ludwig knocks out his caretaker and allows Dracula and Helen inside. Dracula attacks Dinah, but the monks capture Helen, crazy with fear and trying to bite everyone near her.
Father Sandor explains to the distraught Charles that she is no longer the sister-in-law he loved, and, while a group of monks hold down her limbs, he stakes her through the heart (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOWYZhAXdP4). It’s a rough scene, even though it isn’t particularly bloody. The implications it brings to mind (a gang-rape, maybe) are disturbing, but so are the alternatives. The monks couldn’t just let Helen go on as a vampire, and waiting until she was asleep during the day wasn’t really an option, either.
But when the staking was over, and Charles dared uncover his face, Father Sandor showed him the look of peaceful repose on Helen’s face, and blessed her. We, the audience, understand that she– like the dead peasant from the first moments of the film– will have a proper burial. This gives her more dignity than most cinematic vampires ever get to see– in only three minutes. Female vampires are rarely more than lascivious stick figures, but Helen is a figure of tragedy– a Cassandra. Her two deaths have weight– something filmmakers should strive for when they kill off a character.