From the DVD case: Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) is traveling to Eastern Europe from Paris for a teaching post. She gets stranded at an inn after her stagecoach mysteriously leaves her. She is persuaded to stay at Baroness Meinster’s chateau. During her stay Marianne meets the Baroness’s son (David Peel) who is chained to a wall. Feeling bad for the son, Marianne frees him, only to discover that he is a vampire. Luckily for her, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is on his way to rescue Marianne and destroy the vampire. (1960, color)
Mark says: Before Christopher Lee could be convinced to reprise his role as the fiendish Count from Horror of Dracula, Hammer Films had to come up with a contrivance to keep audiences interested until Mr. Lee could be persuaded to don his fangs again (which he would do in 1966’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness). What they concocted was a story involving the “living” disciples of Dracula, with David Peel in the lead role of Master Bloodsucker, Baron Meinster.
Though Brides of Dracula is conspicuously missing its title character, the story is well-told under the capable direction of Hammer great, Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness). Adding to the film’s ambiance are wonderfully lavish sets and Peter Cushing’s (Island of Terror, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors) return as Dr. Van Helsing (Cushing would not reprise this role again, as an ancestor to the great doctor, until Dracula A.D. 1972).
Cushing’s performance is his usual superb work. He is confident, sensitive, and willing to do what must be done to end the scourge of vampirism. His performance alone would warrant a repeat viewing of the film. However, there are several other characterizations worth noting.
David Peel is quite competent as Baron Meinster, the undead leech who easily seduces our heroine with his charm and blond good looks. Of course, it is difficult not to compare Peel’s performance with that of his predecessor’s, Christopher Lee. Though Peel’s portrayal is not as strong as Mr. Lee’s, we need to remember that Baron Meinster is not Dracula, and we should not expect him to possess all of his Master’s presence. That being said, Baron Meinster is still a formidable foe, and certainly nothing to be sneezed at. He’s so low-down and evil, he incorporates his own mother into the ranks of bloodsucking ghouls.
The story’s heroine, Marianne Danielle, is played by the comely Yvonne Monlaur (Circus of Horrors). Marianne is kindly and gracious, but a tad bit on the naive side. In fact, she is so gullible that she unwittingly sets bloodthirsty Baron Meinster loose on the world, and then finds herself engaged to him. This seems to happen a lot to nice girls.
Martita Hunt (The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm) is Baroness Meinster, mother of the vampire. She’s a nasty bit of work, luring young women to her chateau to feed them to her blood-hungry son. She is somewhat of a sympathetic character, though, as she finds her work distasteful and is obviously tortured by it. But even in her more humane moments she appears quite sinister. In a sick Oedipal twist, Baron Meinster transforms his mother into one of his “brides.” Martita Hunt as a vampiress is something you need to see. To say that her portrayal is disturbing would be an understatement.
Freda Jackson (The Valley of Gwangi, Die, Monster, Die!) plays Greta, the deranged house servant who is enlisted as Baron Meinster’s human helper. Jackson’s performance can be a little over-the-top, but effective. The scene in which she coaxes a fresh, young vampire from her grave is particularly creepy.
Brides of Dracula features some other very memorable scenes. Van Helsing’s cure for healing a vampire bite by pressing a hot iron to his throat has remained with me since childhood. Also, that final sequence when Van Helsing uses the shadow of a windmill to create an impromptu image of a cross has to be one of the most original means of battling vampires I have ever seen.
The film does have its minor flaws. One of the most striking visuals blunders is that once the “brides” arise from their graves, their faces are caked in a bluish-white make-up, but the rest of their skin is obviously a natural color. It’s an awkward effect and looks like it would have been easy to correct.
And I don’t know what it is about Hammer Films, but they don’t seem to be able to create a bat that doesn’t look ridiculously fake. Now that we’re on the subject, in Brides of Dracula vampires have the ability to change into bats (this wasn’t the case in Horror of Dracula) which makes one think that Baron Meinster could have simply turned into a bat long ago to escape his leg chains. Just an observation.
One more tiny imperfection, and a bit of a pet peeve with me, is that the character of Dr. Tobler, played by Miles Malleson (Horror of Dracula, Dead of Night), is thrown in for comedy relief. If done well, this “comedy relief” element doesn’t grate on me too much. However, when the character becomes a distraction, or slows the movie down, I am less forgiving. Dr. Tobler certainly doesn’t mar my overall opinion of the film, but I did grow tired of him rather quickly. Fortunately, Dr. Tobler’s comedic antics are only showcased in a few segments, and not throughout the entire movie.
Watch fo Marie Devereux (Shock Corridor) and Andree Melly as the vampire brides. Also look for Hammer Film regular Michael Ripper (The Plague of the Zombies, The Curse of the Werewolf) in the role of the coachman at the beginning of the movie. Other familiar faces are Fred Johnson (Horror Hotel, The Curse of Frankenstein) as the Curé, and Vera Cook (The Kiss of the Vampire) as the landlord’s wife.
Brides of Dracula was produced by Anthony Hinds, with the executive producer listed as Michael Carreras.
Scene to watch for: Greta (Freda Jackson) goes a little nuts after Baron Meinster is set free.
Line to listen for: “Count Dracula, monarch of all vampires, is dead. But his disciples live on to spread the cult and corrupt the world.”
Mark’s Rating: ! ! ! ½ out of 5.