Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review the atmospheric Hammer gothic horror classic The Brides Of Dracula.
(1960) Directed by Terrence Fisher
Screenplay by Peter Bryan, Edward Percy, Jimmy Sangster, and Anthony Hinds
Tagline: The most evil, blood-lusting Dracula of all!
What It’s About:
In 1890’s Transylvania, Marianne (Yvonna Monlaur), a French schoolteacher stranded on the way to her appointment at an all girl’s academy, accepts an invitation from the elderly Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), to stay the night in her castle. When Marianne sees a handsome young man out on the veranda, the Baroness says it is her son, who remains confined to his room due to an affliction of madness. Yet later Marianne investigates herself, and finds the Baron (David Beel) chained. He pleads with her to let him go, claiming his mother has imprisoned him to assume control of his lands. When she releases the Baron, his hysterical midwife, Greta (Freda Jackson) shows her the body of the Baroness, dead in a chair with two red holes in her neck. The Baron has fled. He soon turns up in the local village though, and the peasant girls start turning up dead. The local priest has called in an expert, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).
Why I Bought It:
For the longest time, this was one of my ‘lost’ films. I must’ve seen it on Son of Svengoolie as a kid in Chicago and only remembered snatches of it. Van Helsing sliding a crucifix the length of a banquet table to repel a vampire, the vampiric mother (she looks a bit like Cinderella’s stepmother) being transfixed by a stake, a woman rising from her grave, and David Beel with his incongruous blonde curls, gray cape, and fangs.
I watched a couple of the Lee/Cushing pairings, and while I liked them, I couldn’t quite find this picture. Knew from the look of it it was either Hammer or Italian. Then a couple years ago my friend Greg Mitchell posted a screenshot of it and I got the same deep down thrill I got when I rediscovered Return Of The Five Deadly Venoms after nearly twenty years of looking.
This is one of my all-time favorite vampire movies, and a top three Hammer pick. Before the plot even begins, the backstory is unique and compelling, completely independent of the Dracula legend, yet complimentary of it. The Baron Meinster was an associate of Dracula, a hanger-on and a bon vivant who attended decadent parties with the count and hosted opulent balls at his own castle, eventually becoming one of Dracula’s bloodsucking thralls. His mother, enamored of her own son and the sophistication (and perhaps the supernatural glamor) of his strange company, at first went along with Dracula. Ultimately she was repelled by her son’s undead condition, but whether out of motherly love or something more unseemly, she opted to keep him imprisoned and alive, trolling the villages for young girls to feed his unholy thirst and keep him alive. All of this has driven the housefrau Greta to the brink of insanity.
The decadent, gothic tragedy of the film is well played out. When Van Helsing snoops about the castle he finds the baroness now a pitiful vampire lamenting her fate.
Once the initial act ends, the draw of the movie swiftly becomes Cushing as Van Helsing. His professor is vibrant and brave, as assured of his purpose as he is ingenious in his methods. Not one of these brooding, angst-ridden anti-heroes who sympathizes with his prey (he does show pity for the baroness, but that doesn’t stop him, when she moans that there’s no way out of her curse, from assuring her pointedly, ‘there is…one way’), he’s a refreshing classic hero who dives right into the fight, barely standing still when the time comes to fight. He tackles vampires, pounds stakes, and flings holy water. He doesn’t even despair when he awakens to find himself bitten, but fills his bite marks with holy water and slaps a hot iron to his own neck as the baron’s lovely vampiresses look on in almost comical disbelief. Cushing’s Van Helsing is God’s bloodhound, not content to fort up or defend himself. Dracula’s death hasn’t allowed him to exhale. He’s determined to run down every evil that has resulted from the deceased count’s touch, and he pursues David Peel to his end, finally trapping him beneath the improvised shadow of a cross, cast by a giant blazing windmill.
The women of Hammer movies are always a joy to look at, and Brides Of Dracula is no exception. Yvonne Monlaur is lovely, but the titular vampiresses, Marie Devareaux and Andree Melly, are knockouts, particularly Melly, who has this amazing facial structure, a slightly protruding overbite, that lends itself very well to her ultimate ‘look.’
The other bit parts, Fred Johnson’s earnest Father Stepnik, Miles Malleson’s comical Dr. Tobler, Vera Wang’s Innkeeper’s Wife and the couple that own the women’s academy, all do a fine job as well.
Baroness: Who is it that is not afraid?
Van Helsing: Only God has no fear.
Baroness: Why have you come here?
Van Helsing: To find your son.
Baroness Meinster: Then you know who I am?
Van Helsing: I know who you were…
When the innkeeper’s daughter falls prey to the Baron and is buried, she is interred in the churchyard. Van Helsing goes one night to investigate her grave, and finds Freda laying with her ear to the mound, muttering into the freshly turned earth.
“Yes my dear, I know it’s dark. No, I can’t help. You’ve got to push….”
The scene has a really macabre intensity, and the unmistakable allusions to childbirth play out perfectly, with Freda, already established as having nursed the young Baron from infancy, playing the part of an encouraging midwife as the innkeeper’s daughter’s pale hand slowly breaks through the ground and she is ‘born’ as a vampire, emerging at last from her coffin, pale and fanged.
Next In The Queue: Bronco Billy