What’s it About?
Vampire hunter Van Helsing returns to Transylvania to destroy handsome bloodsucker Baron Meinster, who has designs on beautiful young schoolteacher Marianne.
“The Brides of Dracula”
Directed by Terence Fisher
9 out of 10
A 9 out of 10 you say? Hell yes. I love this Hammer entry. I like it a LOT. I watched it again today while writing on my laptop glancing every now and then at the TV and smiling at some of the inherent goofiness of the movie. Like huge fake looking bats and some vampire teeth that appear a bit hokey and overly large.
Then immediately afterwards I would get creeped out by some classic imagery that only Hammer films can accomplish and provide. Impressive and great looking gothic sets, beautifully shot countrysides, capable performances and a quickly paced and interesting story. All these elements come together nicely in this entertaining entry. “Brides” proves to have what it takes to be a really standout movie in the Hammer canon.
There are Brides but they don’t belong to Dracula here. This film follows Horror of Dracula but takes place during some down time for Dracula before he is resurrected in the next entry, “Dracula – Prince of Darkness” Yvonne Monlaur (Circus of Horrors) plays Marianne Danielle, a French Teacher, who is travelling alone to a Girl’s School through Drac country and lands up in a pub and gets left behind by a fearful and superstitious coach driver. Despite the paranoid hospitality of the innkeepers, Marianne is left indisposed.
Thankfully right before they are to close they are visited upon the Baroness Meinster played skillfully and stoically by Martita Hunt (Beckett, Great Expectations) She has some wine and chats up Marianne and convinces her to stay with her at her castle. But not before she belittles the innkeepers and the locals for their superstitions and their bad wine. Pretty funny moment. Creepy but funny. It’s part of the dark charm of the script by Peter Bryan who brought us Hammer’s Hound of the Baskervilles and Plague of the Zombies. Edward Percy (The Mad Room) co-writes.
Once at the castle, Marianne meets Greta (Freda Jackson from Valley of Gwangi) the Baroness’ live in companion in the large estate. After she gets settled in by Greta they all meet for dinner but the Baroness does not eat and only drinks. She is an old, tired and melancholy. She speaks of old days gone when the castle was full of life and they hosted banquets and parties. Later on we watch as Marianne sees a young regal looking man on a lower level by himself who appears to want to take his life. She goes after him and he tries to find out why she is there. He tells her that his mother is deranged and that she has him locked up.
He literally has chains on. She sees this and is appalled. She sneaks away and finds the keys that can free him. She does and then all hell breaks loose. The baroness and Greta find out and they freak over the escape of the young man who seemed so charming and persuaded Marianne to free him. Greta is approached by her during a very scary laughing fit that Freda seems to really be relishing. Greta shows her The Baroness’ corpse establishing that the Young Baron Meinster played by David Peel (We Dive at Dawn) is indeed a Vampire.
Enter the ever powerful and incredible Peter Cushing as Van Helsing who is on a mercy journey through the land checking on patients who may or may not have been infected by Dracula. His coach comes across Marianne in the road. He immediately goes to her aid and takes her back to the local pub and then eventually her School. There he asks if he could stick around and keep an eye on her. It seems that Van Helsing doesn’t quite think that things are kosher at the Meinster Estate and that all the evidence regarding Marianne may lead to vampires in the countryside.
As Marianne gets settled at the school we find out that The Baron wants to use the school for new blood and new life. Meanwhile as Van Helsing goes to the estate he confronts the poor Baroness and puts her, mercifully, out of her undead misery. The Baron makes use of the comely women at the Girls School while Van Helsing and Marianne are not around. David Peel excels here as a charming and will-full Vampire who gets on the good side of the School’s dean.
We get more of Greta as she protects The Baron and commands his un dead brides. Van Helsing watches one rise, with Greta’s help from the ground (she was buried way too shallow in a glaring goof up). Eventually Van Helsing finds out the truth and tries to warn Marianne and destroy The Baron. Cushing owns this picture through and through. He is a force to be reckoned with. This being his second portrayal as Van Helsing, he is agile, quick thinking and in a very brave gesture he burns his wounds to his neck to prevent the vampiric infection from spreading.He almost passes out from it.
There is a great organ led score which is both menacing and gothic. Finding inspiration as a sort of “Van Helsing’s Theme” by sounding like a church performance. Great stuff. All of the cast is great too. Including Freda Jackson who loses her marbles overnight upon finding out the The Baron was freed. Monlaur is beautiful and sexually appealing in the film and she plays opposite her male cast members well.
The finale in the windmill with Greta, the Brides, The Baron and Van Helsing is epic and iconic. Peel’s monstrous screeching and death scene is intense and done up in classic Hammer charm. For a non Christopher Lee Drac movie this entry is phenomenally strong and very entertaining. There are some problems with the story though like why couldn’t The Baron change into a bat to be freed of the chains and crap like that but it’s all nitpicking.
Fisher’s taut and caring direction brings out a very creepy mood and style that only he could bring to life. All of the great Fisher signature shots and angles are on display here. Incredible imagery like the windmill closing scene. Fisher provides a scary and elegant Hammer movie that is overlooked often but loved by many. This movie, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher and Hammer just plain rules. Enjoy and have a blast watching Freda Jackson laugh maniacally in all her hagged out glory!