Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Brides of Dracula (1960)

Hammer Films, the name alone perks the ears of horror fans worldwide. One of the greatest British film companies of all time and a studio that unleashed its brand of blood red horror to an unsuspecting audience. In 1958 Hammer released their rendition of Bram Stokers Dracula. It hit American shores under the title Horror of Dracula and was a box office hit. It starred two actors who would become the driving forces behind many of Hammers future productions, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Christopher Lee portrayed Dracula with a very sensual and animalistic flare while Peter Cushing portrayed the role of Van Helsing with a calm and collective sensibility. While not ferocious in stature he was Dracula’s deadliest enemy.  After the success of Horror of Dracula, Hammer Films wanted to film a sequel. Lee declined to revisit the role but Cushing was on board to further the adventures of Europe’s keenest adversary to evil.

Brides of Dracula is one of my favorite Hammer Films. It was a title that I added to my VHS shelf in the early days of building my library. I recently acquired the DVD which boasts some beautiful color and wonderful print quality. I’m sure the Blu-ray release is more beautiful but I haven’t gotten on that train quite yet.
The incredible Bray studios back lot.

Brides of Dracula stars David Peel as the Baron Meinster who may not be Dracula but carries the same “illness” (as his Mother describes it) that makes him a vampire. His mother, the Baroness, keeps him locked away in a secret room; his ankle shacked by chain so that he cannot escape from his balcony. While Peel is definitely not Christopher Lee, he does a fine job of playing a very dashing and handsome prisoner. A young French girl by the name of Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) arrives in Transylvania but is abandoned by her coach at the local inn.

The beautiful Marianne.
The Baroness arrives unexpectedly and takes the young girl to her castle so she can spend the night and make her way to the school she is to be attending. While in the castle she discovers Baron Meinster accidentally while gazing from her balcony. She sneaks into his room and there the Baron tells her of his evil mother who has kept him a prisoner and told the townsfolk he is dead. Marianne frees Meinster by stealing the key from the Baroness’ room. Once the Baron is free he attacks his mother and vampirizes her. Upon seeing the dead body of the Baroness, Marianne flees from the castle on foot. The next morning she is found along the road by Van Helsing.

The dashing prince of blood.
VanHelsing takes her to the village and discovers a funeral taking place at the inn. When Van Helsing finds puncture wounds on the dead girls’ throat he knows there is a vampire about. That night the corpse of the girl rises with the coaxing of Greta (Freda Jackson), the Meinster’s servant for over twenty years. This scene alone is worth the price of admission, as Greta speaks to the fresh burial mound, encouraging what is buried beneath to rise. The shot of the pale hand reaching up through the dirt is one of the most classic scenes in vampire cinema.

Hammer delivers!
Van Helsing pays visit to the castle Meinster and discovers the Baroness in her vampire state. He also discovers the Baron who flees after a quick fight. The Baroness confides her guilt for letting her son become what he is and keeping him alive for years. At sunrise Van Helsing release the Baroness from her curse with a wooden stake.

The Baron visits Marianne at her school and asks her to marry him to which she agrees. That night the Baron also pays a visit to Marianne's roommate Gina. Gina's body is discovered and when Van Helsing arrives, he orders to keep the body in the stable away from the rest of the students. Marianne happens to go to the stable to help relieve the school teacher from watching over the coffin. While she is alone though, the locks on the coffin fall off mysteriously. Again this is one of those scenes that builds some great tension as the coffin lid slowly opens and an undead Gina rises. Van Helsing arrives in time to keep Gina from biting Marianne and discovers the Baron is hiding in an old mill.

The brides advance.

At the mill Van Helsing discovers Greta and the two undead “brides”. While fighting with Greta, Van Helsing loses his crucifix. The Baron and Van Helsing come to blows and Van Helsing is overcome by the Baron and bitten. The Baron leaves to find Marianne leaving Van Helsing to succumb to his wounds. Upon awakening Van Helsing realizes he is bitten and performs probably the only reversal of a vampire bite procedure that I can think of. This right here, is like the money shot scene. It totally defines the Van Helsing character as portrayed by Peter Cushing. Van Helsing heats up a brazier and when it is ready he cauterizes the vampire wound on his neck. He then doses the burned wound with holy water reversing the damage that Meinster had inflicted.

Nothing beats a good holy water bath.
You don't mess with Peter Cushing.

The Baron returns to the mill with Marianne to vampirize her in front of Van Helsing. As he attempts to bite her Van Helsing gives the Baron a good dose of the holy water, saving Marianne and burning the vampires face. The Baron kicks over the brazier which catches the mill on fire. Van Helsing and Marianne make their way to the top of the mill to escape. The Baron flees from the mill as well to escape into the night. Van Helsing sees him and hangs onto the sails of the mill which forms the shadow of a huge cross on the ground where the Baron is standing. The Baron is killed by the sign of the cross.

Even though Brides of Dracula may not star the great Christopher Lee, it still delivers the goods as a great gothic horror and a beautiful Hammer production. The sets are top notch as they always seem to be in these productions and give the film the authenticity of the time period. David Peel portrays the vampire Meinster very well in my opinion. He is charming and good looking and transitions from baby faced victim to bloodthirsty evil with ease. He tends to get looked over because he is not Lee. Well he is not and isn’t supposed to be Dracula in the first place but with the title the way it is, I imagine there was a bit of a letdown to audiences who wanted Dracula to be present. Still though this film is a wonderful example of the quality filmmaking that made Hammer famous and a force to reckoned with in the cinema world for years to come.


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