Thursday, May 15, 2014

Review - "Brides of Dracula" (1960)

Hammer Studios' first sequel to 1958's Dracula is notable for one reason above all others - it doesn't feature Dracula at all! Christopher Lee's vampire count is completely absent, and in fact it wouldn't be for another six years before he donned the cape of the vampire. In the meantime, Peter Cushing's Dr. Van Helsing turns up once more to fight the forces of evil throughout Europe. So, is 1960's Brides of Dracula a film which could have used Lee's participation to make it complete or does it fare well enough on its own? Brides of Dracula is the next installment in this month's review series Peter Cushing Month, so as always, let's take a closer look.

Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur) is a French student teacher on her way to a boarding school in Transylvania. Abandoned by her coachman in a small town, Marianne accepts the invitation to stay the night at the Chateau Meinster by the castle's owner, Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt). Marianne's reception at the castle is lukewarm and she becomes worried when she discovers that the Baroness' son (David Peel) is locked in one of the castle's rooms. Freeing the Baron from his makeshift prison, Marianne discovers too late that he is a vampire, who after killing his mother, escapes into the night. Marianne now must fight for her life - but as luck would have it help is on hand as Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) just so happens to be passing through the village. Soon, the forces of good and evil are engaged in a tremendous battle royale.

Brides of Dracula is one-hundred percent, unashamed pulpy fun. Whereas Hammer's previous horror efforts had relied upon expert pacing and plotting, Brides of Dracula moves from one show-stopping set piece to the next. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with this approach. In fact, Brides of Dracula is perhaps the most fun Hammer horror film to watch. Nevertheless, the film is enthused with some fine character moments and fine performances abound.

Cushing takes centre stage as Van Helsing once more, despite not being present for the film's first act.In terms of performance, Van Helsing has subtlety changed since Dracula. Van Helsing appears to be a bit more kind this time around and less aloof, his main goal in the film to protect Marianne Danielle. The vampire hunter also comes across as a bit more athletic this time around, continuing to show a side of swashbuckling adventurer. In one memorable scene, Cushing's Van Helsing actually gets to side across a full-length dinning table and come the impressive climax, the doctor jumps onto the blades of a moving windmill. (Wouldn't Errol Flynn have been proud?) We also catch a glimpse of Van Helsing's true humanity as he relieves the Baroness Meinster of her great burden in the only way he knows how. Cushing's performance is one of the things which truly elevates Brides of Dracula from what could have been a trashy, cheap thriller into a truly effecting motion picture.

Brides of Dracula also features some fine performances from its other cast members. Yvonne Monlaur's Marianne is the epitome of innocence as she is lusted after by the bloodthirsty Baron. David Peel's Baron Meinster is a masterpiece of horror movie villainy and certainly one of the most impressive vampires to emerge during the period. Martita Hunt's Baroness is perhaps the film's most memorable character, and like Cushing, adds many layers to the film. Lastly, there is Freda Jackson as the mad housekeeper Greta, whose scene of cackling madness is one of the film's creepiest moments.

In all, Brides of Dracula is a fine horror film and makes for an incredibly entertaining evening of horror movie viewing. Peter Cushing's second turn as Van Helsing is grand, adding new facets to the famed character. Brides of Dracula manages to combine horror, thrills, some dark comedy and pathos, and creates a very entertaining piece of Hammer horror cinema. I therefore award it 4 out of 5 stars.

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