Note: This column was first published in the HWA newsletter back in 2006.
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), Hammer Films’ second vampire movie, is so steeped in rich atmosphere you can almost feel the Transylvanian mist on your flesh.
It also ranks as one of the best vampire films ever made.
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA tells the story of young Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) on her way to the Lang Academy at Badstein where she is to be a teacher. Unfortunately, before arriving at the school, she spends the night at the Chateau Meinster where she meets the young dashing Baron Meinster (David Peel) who happens to be a vampire.
Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, reprising the role he played in HORROR OF DRACULA two years earlier) arrives in town to investigate the reports of vampirism in the area. Van Helsing befriends young Marianne and discovers that Baron Meinster is the local vampire. In a neat piece of drama, he is understandably shocked to learn that Marianne and the Baron are engaged to be married. However, Van Helsing puts his personal feelings aside and pursues the vampire, eventually battling it out with Meinster in an exciting climax in a fiery windmill.
While THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is an excellent film, it’s not without its problems. For starters, Dracula does not appear in the movie, so the title is a major misnomer and source of frustration for many fans. Dracula is absent from the film because back in 1960 Christopher Lee refused to reprise the role for fear of being typecast. And while David Peel performs admirably as Baron Meinster, he’s no Christopher Lee, and his performance lacks the powerful punch that viewers loved about Lee.
Also, the music score by Malcolm Williamson is so over the top in places it’s almost laughable. James Bernard’s music is sorely missed here.
Still, there’s a lot to like about BRIDES.
The cast is superb, led by Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing. Long before Hugh Jackman put us to sleep in the over-hyped yawn fest VAN HELSING (2004), Peter Cushing was THE film Van Helsing. His performances in HORROR and BRIDES marked the first time the role was played as a younger action hero, rather than the old wise professor from Stoker’s novel.
The supporting cast is also very good, notably Martita Hunt as the Baroness Meinster, Baron Meinster’s mother, and Freda Jackson as Greta, Baron Meinster’s former nurse and current servant. Jackson steals nearly every scene she’s in.
Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, and Edward Percy all worked on the screenplay for THE BRIDES OF DRACULA.. Evidently, extra writers were called in, and extensive rewrites were performed at the request of Peter Cushing who was unhappy with the original script. For instance, in the original script, Van Helsing used black magic to fight off the vampires, and Cushing thought this was completely out of character for the doctor.
Director Terence Fisher gives the film its wonderful atmosphere by using rich colors and textures, elaborate sets and costumes, the whole bit. It’s one of the reasons Hammer Films were so successful. They always looked like extremely high-budgeted movies when in fact they weren’t.
Fisher also creates some classic scenes in this film—Greta calling to the young vampire bride in her grave, the girl’s hand clawing its way out of the soil, Van Helsing burning the vampire’s bite from his own neck, and in the fiery climax, Van Helsing leaping onto the blades of the burning windmill to form the shadow of the cross on an adjacent building.
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is an atmospheric gem, well worth sinking your teeth into.