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Hammer Horror Thursdays: ‘Brides of Dracula’ with no brides and no Dracula

Brides of Dracula

 

The Brides of Dracula
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by  Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan & Edward Percy
UK, 1960

After the success of Horror of Dracula (1958), it only made sense to make a sequel. The Brides of Dracula tells the story of a young Marianne who happens to stay the night at a baroness’ castle only to discover her host’s dashing son is locked up in an adjacent wing. Feeling sorry for the Baron Meinster, she releases him from his bonds with no clue that she just unleashed a vampire to wreak havoc on all the ladies of Transylvania. It’s a psycho-sexual scenario peppered with mommy issues that Hitchcock would certainly appreciate – his film Psycho was released the same year as Brides.

David Peel doesn’t have the same animalistic ferocity as Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula, instead he plays Baron Meinster as the Prince Charming-type who is probably slipping rohypnol in your wine cooler as you’re checking your Facebook. While this is a more than apt characterization for a lady killing creature of the undead, it doesn’t quite have the same sense of menace that Lee had. It’s also quizzical that a sequel to Dracula, that even has the name Dracula in the title, doesn’t feature Dracula at all. Come to think about it, I don’t think anyone gets married either so there aren’t even any “brides”. Perhaps The Booty Calls of Baron Meinster was already taken?  While Christopher Lee didn’t feel the script was up to snuff and passed on the film, Peter Cushing reprises his role and even had a hand in reshaping some of the script to fit his tastes. With the return of Van Helsing maybe it’s best to think of The Brides of Dracula as expanding the “cinematic universe” of the Dracula franchise.

Terence Fisher and the Hammer technical crew still construct a visually appealing film. I could probably watch the film again just to look at everything in the background. There are fascinating paintings and sculptures and other assorted props that give the environment a sense of depth and history. After watching enough Hammer Horror films, I start to wonder if these background actors actually just lived at Bray Studios, that sense of continuity and life is certainly one of the charms of Hammer’s output. Fisher also experiments with the way he stages scenes in Brides, utilizing more movement with his camera as well as consolidating more information within the frame. In a fairly straightforward scene, in which Marianne meets the Baroness at a local pub, Fisher uses a very simplistic shot reverse shot set up between the two speakers. However, for the Baroness, we can see the pub owner and his wife in the background and slightly out of focus, listening in and showing concern that Marianne and the Baroness are getting too friendly. This is a novel way of streamlining the information, without an added cut of the owner and his wife looking fearful, while also creating depth in the frame that engages the audience. Though it’s a very theatrical shot, which is par the course of Fisher’s other films, he does utilize some nice pans and tracking shots to break up the stationary perspectives creating some nice sense of dread.

While The Brides of Dracula may feel like a bit of a let down, in the same way that the Michael Meyer-less Halloween 3 disappointed that franchise’s fans, it still manages to tell an interesting story about a serial cheater and the women who fall for him, with the expected stylistic flair and some pretty fun action. The final image, a burning windmill turned improvised crucifix, is particularly memorable, and Peter Cushing’s throwdown with the Baron is a fun bit of retro staged combat. It’s certainly one of the more complete visions from Hammer Horror with little to complain about outside of possibly some false advertising.




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