Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brides of Dracula (1960)

An opening voice-over informs us that although Dracula may be dead, his disciples still live on to corrupt the world. Meanwhile, a young French woman named Marianne has come to Transylvania in order to take a teaching position. Her cowardly coachman abandons her during a stopover in a small village, and despite the warnings of the locals she accepts the invitation of the sinister Baroness Meinster to spend the night at her castle. It isn't long before she's discovered her son chained up in a secret part of the castle, and promptly sets him free. Before long he has killed his mother, and Marianne flees into the night. She is found by Professor Van Helsing, who has been summoned by the local priest.

Soon the new Baron Meinster is running amuck, with the aid of his mother's servant Greta. He kills a local girl, then (in a surprising turn of events) gets engaged to the impossibly naive Marianne. Meanwhile Van Helsing encoutered the vampiric Baroness Meinster, who is consumed by guilt. She confesses that she blames herself for the entire situation, which was apparently caused by her encouragement of (and participation in) his wild carousing. Van Helsing responds by driving a stake through her heart.

Meanwhile Marianne's roommate Gina expresses jealousy over her engagement. The Baron is apparently sympathetic, as he immediately turns up and bites her. David Peel plays the role of Baron Meinster with considerable glee, clearly relishing the chance to tear his way through the female population of Transylvania.

Mmm candy

I don't want to spend too much time on this movie, simply because Dracula is not in it and is barely even mentioned. But it is a lot of fun, and as far as I'm aware it's the movie that first established the idea that Holy Water is acidic for vampires. It's also the second of three Hammer Dracula movies written (or in this case co-written) by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Terence Fisher.

Peter Cushing is once again wonderful as Van Helsing, and Freda Jackson is absolutely brilliant as the insane, cackling Greta. The scene where she reveals the Baroness Meinster to Marianne is possibly the movie's highlight.

The movie also features an interesting "cure" for vampirism when Van Helsing finds himself on the receiving end of Baron Meinster's fangs (it seems that the Baron swings both ways, as he seems to relish sucking on Van Helsing just as much as he did any of his female victims).

Interestingly, any ambiguity about vampirism that I detected in the previous movie is completely absent here. Baron Meinster is portrayed as pure evil, and as mentioned earlier it was his decadent lifestyle that apparently caused his vampirism in the first place.

There are a few oddities. Marianne is supposed to be a French visitor to Transylvania, and she has a strong French accent (presumably Yvonne Monlaur's actual voice). This serves to draw attention to the fact that the "Transylvanian" characters who all call each other Herr and Fräulein in fact all have British accents. Marianne is also disappointingly dense, failing to connect the murder of Baroness Meinster to her release of him from chains - to the point of quite cheerfully accepting his proposal of marriage scant hours after having first met him. Oops.

Also, what actually happened to the Brides of the title? Do we just presume that they died in the climactic fire? Not a lot of closure there.

It would be another five years before Hammer returned to Transylvania, next time with Christopher Lee returning but without Peter Cushing. Stay tuned for tomorrow's entry in my Hammer Dracula odyssey, Dracula: Prince of Darkness.

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