Brides of Dracula (1960)
By: Mr Intolerance on July 23, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, PAL. 1.66:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 82 minutes
The Movie
Director: Terence Fisher
Starring: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur, David Peel
Screenplay: Edward Percy, Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan
Country: UK
External Links
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I'm a sucker for Hammer horror. Sorry, given the film being reviewed that might seem like a cheap gag, but it honestly wasn't meant as such – really, it wasn't. I grew up in the 70s and 80s, and a lot of the horror you got on TV back in the day were either the classic Universal creature features, or occasionally, if lucky, a Hammer film, always played late at night. To a modern post-Saw generation, this might seem like some pretty lightweight fare, but the old Hammer films had something that the majority of modern extreme horror films don't have and never will have no matter how many buckets of blood and guts they try to drown the viewer with – people who could act. Oh, I'm not talking about the extra who hammed it up as second bar-wench on the right in one scene in Dracula Has Risen From The Grave or something similar, I'm talking the real greats like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed. Actors you noticed, actors who dominate a scene without having to chow down on the scenery. These guys were, and still are, my screen idols, and while Olly didn't do too many horror flicks, Lee and Cushing made the genre theirs.

As such, I tend to approach Hammer films with a bit of nostalgia, and a very positive mindset. Brides of Dracula I first saw in my mid-teens, and was initally disappointed that the title was a bit of a con-job, as there was a glaring Christopher Lee-sized hole in the proceedings, and that indeed, Dracula himself doesn't appear in the film, and that the name was used strictly as a cynical marketing ploy. However, all is not lost, as we still have the always impressive Peter Cushing, a gentleman actor if there ever was one, reprising his role of Van Helsing, vampire-hunter extraordinaire, from the runaway success of Horror of Dracula a few years prior (fans of the real Count wouldn't get to see Lee in the role for nearly ten years after he first played it until the rather mixed affair Dracula: Prince of Darkness).

Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur – billed in one of the trailers as "France's latest sex kitten!" And she is indeed absofuckinglutely gorgeous) is a Parisian schoolteacher off to teach at a Ladies Academy in Badstein, but during a brief stopover at an inn, is left stranded by the coach-driver, who's been paid off to leave her there. She ends up spending the night as the guest of the imperious Baroness Meinster, a reclusive old soul who lives in the rather sinister castle overlooking the village the lovely Marianne has found herself in with her servant Greta. This all takes place with the usual Hammer Gothic shenanigans, and an air of mystery and tension (not to mention one of an unnamed sense of threat) established from the outset.

We soon find out that the Baroness has a son, the Baron Meinster (David Peel, in one of his last, and yet most prominent, roles before retiring from the industry) who she encourages the rest of the world to believe is dead, and that bizarrely enough, she keeps him locked and shackled like an animal (a very suave and elegantly maintained one) in a separate part of the castle. Of course kind-hearted Marianne wants to help the poor fella, and decides to help liberate him by stealing the key to his bonds from the Baroness. Warning lights should be flashing right about now for both the audience and our intrepid heroine, but like in all Gothic tales, the damsel in distress is too sweet-natured for her own good to be able to recognise common sense, or that things aren't always what they seem.

Or, to put not too fine a point on it, that quite often people are locked up for a reason. Meinster has a brief, although mercifully off-screen, Oedipal dalliance of sorts with his mother (and you've got to remember the heaving, practically throbbing, sexual nature of classic vampire tales like Bram Stoker's novel Dracula, or J Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla – Freud would have a field day with such stuff) before fucking off into the night to get up to some good old-fashioned no-good hi-jinks. We also find out that like many of the antagonists of Hammer's films, it's been a bad, decadent libertine life-style that's led to his role as an undead bloodsucker (I kept thinking of the line from The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" episode when Marge finds out Bart is a vampire she's worried that now he's drinking blood, next "he could be smoking!"); I wonder if this was the Hammer folks having a shot at the rather firmly established British class system – unchecked abuse of power and privilege making you into a monster? Maybe I'm reading too much into this…

Anyway, Marianne sees this as the perfect time to get the fuck out of Dodge, but delicate flower that she is, faints in the forest as she flees. But luckily for her, passing physician and metaphysician Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, so effortlessly cool) is passing by and gets her back on her feet; they are soon to find out that a local village girl has been killed in the night, and the two puncture wounds in her neck make it a bit of an easy guess as to what may well be the cause. Turns out Van Helsing has been sent for – he's making a study of what he refers to as "the cult of the Undead", and obviously has significant doubts about Baron Meinster.

Marianne makes it to the Academy to take up her role as teacher, Van Helsing returns to the village, and things take on the appearance of normality for a while. But then the Baron puts in a re-appearance, and then things get a bit more complicated, to say the least. For a start, the Baron has asked Marianne to marry him, and she's accepted. When you consider that she doesn't know who offed the Baroness, it does make a bit of sense. After all, how often does a young girl get asked to be made aristocracy? There's that class system thing again, this time it's all about social climbing!

But while Van Helsing is on the case we can still hope for the best. For such a slightly built fella, Cushing has an extraordinary command of the screen. Every word he says could be part of the scriptures, it's delivered with such authority, and he's positively magnetic, as in all of his roles. That, as I said before, is one of the reasons I rate the Hammer, Amicus and to a lesser extent Tigon films, the acting is superb. Whether its expository dialogue or feats of swashbuckling derring-do, and he gets to do both here, Cushing dominates every scene he's in, in an oddly quiet manner. Cushing, like Lee, was never equalled.

The thing that dogged all of Hammer's Dracula wannabes (think Twins of Evil, Vampire Circus and the like, besides Ingrid Pitt in The Vampire Lovers) and it's no different here, is that none of them had the sheer physical presence Lee had. At an imposing 6 foot 4, according to the Guinness Book of Records, England's tallest leading man, Lee radiates evil without having to try, or even speak (watch the aforementioned Dracula: Prince of Darkness for proof – he doesn't say a single word for the entire film, but is he menacing? Ooooh, yes). David Peel in this film, in his stacked shoes, does tend to come off as if he's having a hissy-fit at best.

It's odd to me that Hammer had so many problems with the BBFC over the years, given that the violence is so tame, but I guess it was just a problem of the time in which these flicks were filmed. For instance, the BBFC had this to say about the script of Brides of Dracula: as being written by, "an insane but very precocious schoolboy", which is a little harsh, to put it mildly.

The best you can say about Brides of Dracula is that it is beautifully shot – it's a visually stunning piece of work, Terence Fisher at his best. The worst you can say is that it is a tad dated for today's audience, but still a real beaut for those of us with an attention span longer than 20 seconds. A trifle deliberate with the pacing, Brides of Dracula is Hammer not quite at its very best, but doing very well indeed, thank you very much.

Oh, and I must acknowledge the text The Hammer Story by Marcus Hearn and Alan Barnes for some of the material I've referenced for this review – if you're a fan of Hammer film, I'd recommend your picking this bad boy up; it's a fine history of one of my favourite production houses. Also, it makes a totally sweet coffee-table book, a nice big hardback with a great photo of Christopher Lee as Dracula on the front cover.

According to the slick Brides of Dracula's aspect ratio is 1.77:1, however the film is actually presented in an anamorphic 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which does appear to be the way the director wanted us to see it, so all is good. The restoration job on this film is amazing – for a film getting on to fifty years old, it looks like it was shot yesterday. A top-notch effort on the part of those responsible and one which does the rather lavish production at hand a great service.

The audio, well, it's about what you'd expect from a film from 1960 – a strong stereo track, again crystal clear and praiseworthy.
Extra Features
Hmmm. Not what you'd call an incredible package – a stills gallery and some theatrical trailers – 2 for Brides of Dracula, one of which spoils every part of the plot imaginable. Honestly it's like watching the film on super fast-forward. Then there are trailers for The Beast Must Die!, and The Abominable Snowman, both of which also star Cushing.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A fine looking version of a good film, basically. Brides of Dracula looks the business here. It's a shame that there's no real extras package, but I guess them's the breaks. If you're a fan of Hammer films, go out and chase this version down, regardless. It's never going to look better.

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