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FANGORIA Flashback: “THE BRIDES OF DRACULA” (1960)

Originally posted on 2010-09-14 21:13:52 by Tony Timpone

I recall vividly when, as a preteen home on a Saturday night, I first saw Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA on TV in the early ’70s. The movie was being broadcast on NYC/WPIX’s legendary Chiller Theatre. After the movie’s slambang finale (shamelessly ripped off in SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT), I ran out on my front porch, sweaty and out of breath from BRIDES’ action-packed climax, hoping to share my excitement with anyone. At that same moment, the younger kid next door, John Deconza, dashed out on his stoop, also eager to share his experience in having seen one of the finest films from Hammer’s horror factory heyday. Having not watched THE BRIDES OF DRACULA since that fateful night 40 odd years ago, I looked forward to rediscovering this Gothic gem on the big screen, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s repertory house provided just that opportunity when they unspooled the film (in a gorgeous 35mm print) last weekend as part of their ongoing Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Vampires Live Forever festival (see item here), which will be running till September 30.

Originally conceived as a direct sequel to the international blockbuster HORROR OF DRACULA, BRIDES went into production at Hammer without the Count or former star Christopher Lee. Instead, there’s Baron Meinster (David Peel), a sort of vampire playboy, living the secluded life in his family’s hilltop Transylvanian castle. Meinster remains the prisoner of his aristocratic mother (Martita Hunt), who feeds the stray villager or passerby to her chained-at-the-ankle son. When a visiting teacher (Yvonne Monlaur) falls under the man’s spell, she releases the Baron and all hell breaks loose. Lucky for the locals, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, of course) shows up to save the day, and before long, the rising ranks of the undead are kept in check by stake, crucifix and holy water. The movie ends with the aforementioned socko finish (SPOILER ALERT), with not only Van Helsing saving his own neck, literally, with a red-hot branding iron after being bitten, but coming up with a most dramatic and epic method of vanquishing Meinster by turning the blades of a windmill into a giant cross. BRIDES manages to top HORROR’s rousing wrap-up from two year ago, again under the able direction of busy studio helmer Terence Fisher. 

In the past I’ve scoffed when people like Lee describe Hammer’s horror pictures as “fairy tales.” But in the case of BRIDES OF DRACULA, the movie does play like the grimmest of the Brothers Grimm: the bizarre mother/son relationship, the storybook village, the young lasses lead to their deaths, the ironic ending, etc. The movie is also one of the best looking of all the period Hammers, thanks to exceptional work by both production designer Bernard Robinson (the Meinsters’ chateau resembling a Victorian museum) and director of photography Jack Asher, whose Technicolor “colors” pop off the screen in vivid fashion. Then there’s the cast: the stalwart and determined Cushing, who’d take a 12 year hiatus from playing Van Helsing after this; the sexy but naïve French lass Monlaur; the classy Hunt, as the misguided vampire enabler; Freda Jackson as the Meinsters’ crazy servant, playing a cross between Renfield and Frau Blücher; and Peel as the Dracula substitute, equating himself just fine as the handsome and conniving bloodsucker. Just a few years after BRIDES’ release, the fortysomething Peel reportedly abandoned acting to sell real estate! 

Story-wise, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, of course, seems quaint when compared to today’s bloodfests, so it must be viewed in context of the era in which Hammer made it. You will also question some of the screenplay’s logic and inconsistencies. As the film’s title implies, initial scripter Jimmy Sangster (CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA, THE MUMMY, etc.) penned BRIDES for Dracula, then Peter Bryan and Edward Percy likely stepped in rewrite it to remove Dracula! Also, the Baron has the ability to turn into a bat; however, previously, we watched him chained in his room, imploring to be released. Did he forget his powers? And why don’t the victimized villagers just storm the castle (the torch-bearing Universal townspeople wouldn’t stand for this!) and knock out the two old ladies and their prisoner? Anyway, these are just minor quibbles, as THE BRIDES OF DRACULA still stands fangs above the rest and remains one of Hammer’s best.

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FANGORIA: The First in Fright Since 1979.
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