Friday, 27 April 2012
Brides of Dracula (1960)
The success of Hammer’s first forays into the gothic horror genre meant that sequels were inevitable. This presented a slight problem in the case of their Horror of Dracula sequel - no Christopher Lee. There are varying accounts of the reason Lee did not follow up his iconic performance in the first film but whatever the true reason Hammer found themselves having to find a new vampire.
Fortunately they still had director Terence Fisher and they still had Peter Cushing. And the results were surprisingly satisfactory.
Towards the close of the 19th century a young French school teacher, Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), is stranded on her way to take up a position at Herr Lang’s academy for young ladies. A rather forbidding older woman, the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), offers to put her up at her castle. She lives alone and would be glad of the company. The villagers seem terrified of the baroness but Marianne, who is a rather innocent young woman, is happy to accept her offer.
She soon discovers that the baroness does not actually live alone. In another wing of the castle she sees a young man. A rather good-looking young man. He is the baroness’s son, and he is chained up. She is told it is because he is mad. But he’s such a good-looking young man she refuses to believe this, and he persuades her to release him
Of course the young Baron Meinster (David Peel) is not mad, he’s a vampire. He was a wild young man who got in with the wrong crowd, but in his case it was a very wrong crowd indeed and he ended up being turned into a vampire. Despite the title Dracula does not appear in the film, but there are the vampire brides. Marianne seems destined to join them but luckily Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) happens to be passing through the village doing some research on vampirism.
Horror movies do not requite particularly coherent plots, and this one is less coherent than most. In fact it’s so incoherent this could almost be an Italian horror movie! The script obviously went through several rewrites and it appears that as a result certain sub-plots were just left hanging while the main plot is left full of gaping holes. Terence Fisher wisely ignores such trifles and concentrates on keeping the action moving, reasoning (correctly) that the movie has enough strengths to compensate for its plot weaknesses.
David Peel makes a fairly good vampiric villain. Cushing is in fine form. The supporting cast is very strong. Yvonne Monlaur does little apart from looking innocent and pretty but Martita Hunt is excellent as the baroness who turns out to be more victim than villain although her judgment has certainly been questionable where her son is concerned. Freda Jackson goes right over the top as the young baron’s old nurse. Mona Washbourne is good as Herr Lang’s wife and Miles Malleson provides good comic relief as a doctor of dubious morals.
The sets are superb - among the best in any Hammer gothic horror film. The Meinster Castle is particularly impressive. Bernard Robinson was responsible for the production design and it’s one of his best efforts. Jack Asher’s wonderful Technicolor cinematography is another major asset.
Without meaning any disrespect to Christopher Lee in some ways the movie benefits from his absence since it frees the scriptwriters from the shackles of the Dracula story and allows them to strike out in a slightly different direction.
Universal’s DVD release in the Hammer Horror Series boxed set is a glorious widescreen transfer.
An excellent effort from Hammer, and highly recommended.