Directed by: Terence Fisher
Starring: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson, David Peel
For their second shot at a vampire movie, Hammer Pictures contented themselves with leaving Dracula himself quite dead and done with, opting instead to follow the vampiric adventures of Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) with Terence Fisher’s The Brides of Dracula (1960)—and the film is actually all the better for it. (It might be worth exploring why this and Kiss of the Vampire (1963)—without Christopher Lee’s Dracula—are the best of the lot.) It’s also one of the most intriguing variations on vampire lore in that its main blood-sucker, Baron Meinster (David Peel), came about his vampire status through hedonistic ways and sexual degeneracy—giving the whole film a kind of Dracula Meets Tennessee Williams aura. But don’t worry, it’s still everything you expect from a Hammer vampire flick, too.
The real question about the film is the title. Just who are the “Brides of Dracula” the title refers to? Oh, sure, the movie has its quotient of bosomy vampire ladies, but they don’t seem related to Dracula. The only conclusion I can draw is that the title is a somewhat rude reference to Baron Meinster himself—quite the most obviously gay vampire prior to Iain Quarrier in Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967). For that matter, it seems pretty probable that this is where Polanski got the idea. Of course, chances are that the title was chosen without regard to the movie—and that the title was chosen with an eye toward festooning the poster with busty women in nightgowns.
The story follows a young woman, Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur, who, by the way, became a smoking buddy of mine at the 2009 Monster Bash), who is on her way to a girls’ school when her coach leaves without her. As usual in such movies, the landlord and his wife are all a-dither about her predicament and anxious to get her on her way, but aren’t fast enough to prevent the arrival of Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt). The old gal is essentially the Hammer equivalent of Mrs. Venable from Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly, Last Summer, securing “dates” (albeit female ones) for her son, who she keeps chained up at the family castle. Of course, these “dates” are more in the nature of midnight snacks, but in this case, the son manages to con Marianne into releasing him and the anticipated trouble starts.
Here Hammer—quite forgetting that Van Helsing had dismissed the shape-shifting business in Horror of Dracula (1958)—introduces the vampire in bat form. I don’t know if it panicked audiences in 1960, but it’s on the quaint today. They’re better than the Universal yo-yo bats in Dracula (1931), but somehow even sillier. (I fully expect them to draw laughs now.) But they’re part of the fun—along with the cackling madwoman, the scared coach drivers, and the pointy teeth.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Brides of Dracula Thursday, Mar. 10, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.