The title is something of a misnomer. As the story goes, following the worldwide success of Hammer Studios' "The Horror of Dracula" in 1958, star Christopher Lee decided that he did not wish to participate in any possible sequel, fearing that he might be later typecast in the vampiric role. Thus, despite the sequel's title, "The Brides of Dracula" not only does not feature Lee's participation at all, but the world's most famous neck nosher is nowhere to be found. Rather, what the viewer gets here is another Transylvanian vampire, an acolyte of Dracula's dark religion, if you will. But the results, even without Lee, are still most impressive, and even though Lee would later return in the following decades to appear in no fewer than six Dracula films for Hammer ("Dracula, Prince of Darkness" in '66; "Dracula Has Risen From the Grave" in '68; "Taste the Blood of Dracula" and "Scars of Draula" in '70; "Dracula A.D. 1972 in, uh, '72; and "The Satanic Rites of Dracula" in '73), "Brides," released in July 1960, remains one of the very best of the bunch. In the film, a beautiful young teacher, Marianne Danielle (French actress Yvonne Monlaur, who, that same year, would appear in another famous fright outing, "Circus of Horrors"), travels into the wilds of Transylvania to begin her new job at a school for young girls. When her coach driver abandons her at a local tavern, she accepts the offer of the Baroness Meinster (a most impressively imposing Martita Hunt, perhaps best known to viewers as Miss Havisham from 1946's "Great Expectations") to spend the night at her nearby castle. Once there, Marianne espies, from her balcony window, a young man, who she later learns is the Baroness' supposedly invalid son (and played by the handsome, blonde David Peel). Marianne ventures into the forbidden part of the castle to talk to the young man, only to learn that he is shackled by the leg and desperate for his freedom. Thus, the softhearted girl steals into the Baroness' room and steals the key to the young man's chains, later effecting his release. But little does the young woman know that the Baron Meinster is actually an undead bloodsucker, and that his release will lead to a new scourge of nightly depredations in the village. Fortunately, for one and all, the village priest had already become suspicious of the Baroness and her castle, and had sent for one Dr. Van Helsing (the great Peter Cushing, reprising his role from the earlier film, and who, just a few months earlier, had appeared in the undersung, literate horror offering "The Flesh and the Fiends") to come to their aid.... Strangely enough, despite Lee's nonparticipation with this vampire sequel, his absence is never truly missed, as the film manages to keep the viewer otherwise riveted and entertained. Director Terence Fisher, who had helmed the original film, does his usual sterling best at creating atmosphere, and the picture boasts some impressive sets (the Meinster castle is a thing of truly awesome beauty) and fine production values. Marianne makes for an appealing heroine, both gorgeous to look at (those lips might give even Angelina Jolie cause for envy!) and surprisingly spunky overall; impressively, she does not scream once, even when her fellow teacher, Gina (actress Andree Melly), rises from her coffin as the newest, toothsome inductee of the undead. Cushing's Van Helsing, needless to say, is wonderful, as always: supercool, urbane, intelligent, unflappable, and truly, anyone's idea of the idealized vampire fighter. The 47-year-old actor even gets to do some impressive physical stuntwork in the film (jumping off of a high porch, hanging from the vane of a windmill, and engaging in rough-and-tumble fighting with the Baron). I might add that the Baron himself is eliminated at the film's conclusion in a most ingenious manner (no mere staking through the heart here!), and that the film contains any number of impressive sequences. Favorites for this viewer include the highly atmospheric sequence in which Marianne and the Baroness converse over dinner in the castle, the one in which Gina reawakens and bares her fangs, and, perhaps most memorable, the one in which Van Helsing is bitten in the neck by the Baron, and is forced to cauterize his wound with a red-hot brand. Ouch! Another moment that I highly appreciated: When Marianne says to the Baroness "God bless you," and the Baroness murmurs in reply "If only He could...." Actually, I only had a single quibble with this film, and that is the matter of the Baron being imprisoned with shackles by his mother. But if the vampire Baron can easily turn into a bat at any time, would a leg manacle actually be an effective means of retainment? But this single cavil aside, "The Brides of Dracula" remains a very fine offering from the legendary House of Hammer....
The Brides of Dracula
The Brides of Dracula
Vampire hunter Van Helsing returns to Transylvania to destroy handsome bloodsucker Baron Meinster, who has designs on beautiful young schoolteacher Marianne.
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April 12, 2019