Starring Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson, David Peel, Miles Malleson, Henry Oscar, Mona Washbourne, Andree Melly
Directed by Terence Fisher
Expectations: Moderate, I’ve heard this one was weak.
I can’t believe it, but it’s been a whole year since last October! I know, right, who woulda thought? What I’m getting at is that last October I watched my first Hammer Horror films, loved them and hoped to check out more during the following year. The DVD of The Curse of the Werewolf also came with The Brides of Dracula, so I thought I was well on my way to attaining that goal. I decided to wait a bit after October, but weeks turned to months, and while I got dangerously close to watching this a number of times during the past few months, I instead decided to just wait until October and go for the whole full circle thing. Watching The Brides of Dracula has reminded me of something I had somewhat forgotten in the wake of my first Hammer films: that Hammer films are incredible! Oh man, I have no idea how I survived for so long without ever seeing one, as these would have been instant classics with me during my horror-starved adolescence.
The Brides of Dracula is an interesting Dracula movie in that there’s no Dracula! Spoiler alert for the first film in this series, but Dracula got plumb fucked up! The sun streamed down as he lay on that lovely zodiac wheel on his tile floor, and Dracula turned to ash. So I’m not totally surprised that in the sequel he’s still dead; there’s not really a way to come back from that, is there? OK, OK, there must be, because Hammer brought Christopher Lee back for the next film, and honestly I’m quite interested to see how exactly he does come back from that. But anyway, The Brides of Dracula! Don’t be fooled by the title, this isn’t specifically about Dracula’s brides, although the Dracula stand-in does eventually have a little harem going on.
Instead the story revolves around Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), a young schoolteacher on her way to her new job. She gets stopped in a small village and taken in for the night by the creepy Baroness Meinster. While staying at her castle, Marianne notices a man on the balcony across from hers, and when she investigates she finds that he’s chained to the stone pillar in the middle of his room. Now, if I came to someone’s home and I found a guy chained to a pillar, I might think it was for a good reason. That’s exactly why Marianne is in the movie and not me, though, and she quickly does her best thief routine and steals him the key. Of course, he’s a vampire and as soon as he’s loose, people start to turn up dead.
It’s no secret that The Brides of Dracula is a lesser film than its predecessor, but it’s still remarkably entertaining. The main problem is that the Baron (David Peel) just isn’t charismatic enough to stand up to Cushing’s Van Helsing, and the film ultimately suffers from this. Christopher Lee’s absence is definitely felt, but I still found the film much more fun that I probably should have. Perhaps it was the year-long wait, perhaps it was all the fun, secondary characters that populate the film, perhaps it was Van Helsing’s quiet determination to stake vampire hearts. Whatever it was, The Brides of Dracula was thoroughly entertaining.
As with all the other Hammer films I’ve seen, this one was directed by their main man, Terence Fisher. Once again he delivers a richly photographed, Gothic film that manages to exude a general feeling of unrest. His editing is superb, playing up the tension whenever possible. The problem is that for a good portion of the movie there’s very little tension. When shit does starts to go sour, and Van Helsing has to step up to the plate, Fisher also steps up and proves that he was merely waiting in the wings to strike when the opportunity presented itself. Like Chang Cheh at the Shaw Brothers, Fisher has to be near the top of excellent genre directors that get little to no respect from the mainstream.
The Brides of Dracula may not be a completely worthy follow-up to Hammer’s Dracula, but it is an entertaining film filled with a suave Van Helsing saving the day, and that counts for a lot in my book. I expected more female vampire action too, but unfortunately during the finale they just sorta stood there and watched as the Baron and Van Helsing went toe-to-toe. Anyway, I’d definitely recommend it to fans of classic films, and of Hammer horror. It’s fun and it’s really well shot; I can’t ask for much more than that.