Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Brides Of Dracula (1960) Film Review
The Brides Of Dracula
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
From the moment this film opens, with bare trees and fog and a voiceover telling us about the curse of Transylvania, fans of classic British horror will know that they're in for a treat. To an extent, it's Hammer by numbers, but everything is so beautifully painted that there's little reason to complain. Although we don't get to meet Dracula, as he was killed in the prequel, this film distills every other Gothic vampire motif into a heady, bloody brew.
Yvonne Monlaur is Marianne, the young French teacher heading to a girls' school deep in the forbidding forest. When her frightened coach driver abandons her at an inn, the staff first urge her to leave, then beg her to stay, yet they dare not argue with the forbidding baroness who offers her a room for the night in her chateau. This elegant woman may well have sinister motives, yet it is Marianne's encounter with her son, mysteriously kept chained in secret rooms, that will lead her into really deep trouble. Meanwhile, we learn that other young women have disappeared in the surrounding area, their bodies found with strange marks on their throats. Fortunately, the local priest knows a little about this sort of thing, and has already sent for the legendary Dr Van Helsing.
It's a potent drama, with plenty of story to fill its 82 minute running time, and marvellous sets to distract the eye. Director Terence Fisher thoroughly enjoys himself, his use of vivid colour bringing an extra dimension to the usual doom-laden gloom. Unfortunately it lacks a truly charismatic villain. David Peel has cheekbones and bearing but little else; one almost feels that Peter Cushing has to mute his performance as Van Helsing to avoid overwhelming the younger actor. Monlaur's performance is rather limp and she doesn't get much to do beyond being imperilled. Still, Cushing is a treat, always compelling in this, his most famous role. It's curious to see how his doctor's business card gives him the kind of access and authority that the vampire, for all his supernatural powers, is reduced to begging for. There's also great support from Martita Hunt as the conflicted baroness and from Freda Jackson, who goes gloriously over the top as the unhinged servant who will protect her beloved vampires at any cost.
As in other Hammer films, there's a good deal of scantily-clad female flesh on display, and a flirtation with lesbian erotics that was daring in its time. Beyond this, the eponymous brides don't have much of a role, retreating to standard heroine mode and just sort of hanging around on the sidelines doing nothing when their man is in trouble. But these are early Hammer characters, not yet ready to tell their own stories. The film is historically interesting as a predecessor to the likes of The Vampire Lovers, in which these early flowers will bloom.
Not the strongest Hammer work, The Brides Of Dracula is still a worthy sequel to the Dracula films, and an interesting entry in the Fisher canon, reminding us just what this underrated director could do. Considering its low budget, it's a remarkably accomplished piece of filmmaking. and it's still highly watchable today.Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2010