The Brides of Dracula (1960)

Hammer's Dracula, released in the United States as Horror of Dracula, was loosely based on Bram Stoker's novel and, because Hammer didn't really get the rights to remake the 1931 movie, was pretty much a completely different film featuring some characters with the same names.  It featured Christopher Lee in the title role with Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing.  It became a major hit both in the UK and the United States.

A sequel was inevitable but Christopher Lee didn't want to get typecast as Dracula, most likely taking a cue from what happened to Bela Lugosi's career after he played the count.  He decided to spend some time working outside the UK on about anything he could find that involved not being a vampire.  Cushing had no such qualms, so while Hammer knew they had him, they had to also figure out what to do for the sequel.  That is how The Brides of Dracula ended up having a fiancĂ© and a male vampire, but definitely no brides and no Dracula. 

Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur) is a young student teacher from Paris traveling to a small Eastern European town to work in a girls' school.  During a stopover in a nearby town a strange man pays her stagecoach to leave.  While the villagers become concerned and the local innkeepers refuse her a room, she is soon given refuge by the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) in her nearby castle.  While settling in Marianne notices another person at the house, a young man (David Peel), who happens to the Baroness's ill son. 

Seeing him apparently about to commit suicide in the middle of the night Marianne goes to talk him out of it and finds him chained in his room.  She sets him free but, unbeknownst to her, the Baron Meinster is a vampire that his mother has kept hidden since his transformation, providing him young girls to keep him satisfied.  Now free, he attacks a local girl (Freda Jackson) and turns her.  It just so happens that Dr. Van Helsing has been called to the town as the local priest had suspicions about the Baron's disappearance, which are confirmed when the local girl rises and joins the Baron, who has also set his sights on Marianne to become his bride. 

Some of the rules Van Helsing sets forth in the first movie are contradicted this time around, with vampires now being able to transform into animals and not reflect in mirrors.  This particular side story is not mentioned in any of the other Dracula films from Hammer, so even though it is a sequel it might as well have been its own film.  How one approaches the movie will temper how one enjoys it.  

As a sequel it is a disappointment.  David Peel is solid and menacing in the role, but he is not Christopher Lee.  To the film's credit the script doesn't even try to link Baron Meinster with Count Dracula other than setting and they are both vampires.  Even if retitled Van Helsing: A Dracula Story it would have been a bit weird because he is highly ineffective as a hero.  I have a hard time figuring out if his last ditch effort against Meinster was brilliance or a lucky mistake.  Cushing is still great in the role but all the rewrites and messing with the script shows.  There is also the issue of the ratty bat prop the production was forced to use when they lost the one they spent time trying to make realistic. 

As a standalone movie, though, it's not bad, and certainly up there with the better Hammer films of the period.  Sure, all Freda Jackson and Andree Melly do for the most part is hiss and taunt a bit, although there is a bit of that Hammer line-crossing that got audiences in the seats, particularly with some of the sexual connotations of Gina's (Melly) speech to Marianne.  There is also some nuance to the vampire story in that the Baroness, once turned, is instead regretful of her actions that led to things turning out the way they did rather than eager to go out and hunt for blood.  It sort of hints that, even though being changed to a vampire gives one power and freedom to do what they want, the free will on how to use that power and freedom is still there, and that the undead are not just living off of some animal instinct. 

If wanting to continue the actual series of Dracula films one could easily skip this and go to the next film with Lee, 1966's Dracula: Prince of Darkness.  Even so The Brides of Dracula is worth a look despite its deceptive title. 

The Brides of Dracula (1960)
Time: 85 minutes
Starring: Yvonne Monlaur, Peter Cushing, David Peel, Martita Hunt
Director: Terence Fisher



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