This past weekend I had the opportunity to watch The Brides of Dracula again. It has always been one of my favourite Hammer films. In my humble opinion it is one of the best films they ever made.
In 1958 Hamer released Dracula (known in the United States as The Horror of Dracula), featuring Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. The film's success naturally begged for a sequel. Unable to secure Christopher Lee as Dracula, Hammer elected to do the unthinkable--to make a Dracula film without Dracula! The Brides of Dracula has Van Helsing (again played by Peter Cushing) face off against another vampire, who this time has an entire girl's school to prey upon. Van Helsing even gets the closest thing to a love interest he ever had in the Hammer films in the form of French school teacher Marianne (played by Yvonne Monlaur).
Indeed, in The Brides of Dracula, Peter Cushing is the star. He gives by far the best performance of any of the cast (perhaps the best performance of any Hammer film). What is more is Van Helsing is given so much more to do in this film. He is far more physical than in any of the other Hammer Dracula movies--swinging from ropes and dropping from windmills. My theory is that it was the presence of Marianne. Plato once said that at the touch of love all men become poets. I suppose in Hammer horror films at the touch of love all men (even Van Helsing) can become an action star. The rest of the cast also do quite well. David Peel is alternately charming and sinister as Baron Meinster, while Martita Hunt gives a suitably tragic performance as the baron's mother. Freda Jackson turns a great performance as the baron's overly protective, half-crazed nurse.
The Brides of Dracula also happens to be one of the creepiest (and in some ways strangest) films that Hammer ever made. It contains some scenes that will make one's skin crawl, among them Marianne's initial trip through the woods of Transylvania and Freda Jackson's demented nurse tapping on a coffin to awaken a newly spawned vampire.
The Brides of Dracula also boasts some of the best set design ever seen in a Hammer film. Castle Meinster is a truly breathtaking, at the same time beautiful yet frightening. The colour in the film is also incredible. Lush, Victorian hues fill the movie. It could well be one of Hammer's best looking films.
Even Terence Fisher's direction stands out. I always thought of Fischer as a competent director, whose direction was not truly outstanding. This is not the case with The Brides of Dracula. Fisher does some truly remarkable things with regards to camera angles and even transistions from scene to scene.
The Brides of Dracula is a film that any Hammer afficanado, any fan of vampire movies, or any fan of horror movies should see. Although not necessarily a perfect film, it is entertaining, original, and, best of all fun. It is definitely one of the best movies that Hammer ever made.