“Count Dracula, monarch of all vampires, is dead, but his disciples live on, to spread the cult and corrupt the world.”
Like the gloomy narrator indicates in his ominous introduction to Brides of Dracula, the marquee bloodsucker, played by Christopher Lee, managed to get himself skewered in a previous Hammer Films production, so this time around we get Baron Meinster (the dashing David Peel), certainly one of the first examples of vampire as pop star.
When Meinster materializes at the Transylvania Academy of Proper Young Ladies to visit Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), the pretty new French teacher, the gathered gals go gaga over the dapper blonde Baron.
Check out the image above used to promote the film. It looks Heathcliff and Catherine off to a make-out sesh on the moors.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
By this point in the movie, Marianne has already freed Meinster from captivity by his daffy dowager mother the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt), who for years has kept vigil over her evil offspring, aided by Greta (Freda Jackson), her equally loony servant.
Earlier, the Baroness discovers Marianne stuck at the local pub, abandoned by her cowardly coachman (Michael Ripper). Lonely for educated company, the increasingly unstable noblewoman invites Marianne up to her castle, to sleep in one of her many guest bedrooms.
From her window, Marianne spies the young Baron wandering on his own balcony below. Throwing common sense to the wind, she instantly believes the beautiful man has been wrongfully incarcerated and helps him to escape.
Nice going, Marianne!
The newly liberated nosferatu is soon feasting on the hottest peasant woman in the village (Marie Deveraux), as well as Marianne’s jealous roommate Gina (Andree Melly).
Greta, once his captor, has decided to help out Meinster by digging up the dead girls and making them more presentable for their master.
Now that’s what I call Goth!
True, there is no Dracula on hand, but we do get Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) the Hall of Fame vampire slayer, operating at the top of his game. Cushing is typically excellent and erudite as the dedicated undead destroyer, who has a couple gnarly brawls with the new count on the block.
After getting a bite from Meinster, Van Helsing demonstrates uncanny resourcefulness, by treating his unholy hickey with a hot branding iron and some H20 blessed by the local priest.
Despite the absence of the iconic Christopher Lee, Brides of Dracula gallops along at a brisk clip, with impending danger reliably signaled by Malcolm Williamson’s anxious orchestration, that during moments of high drama seems on the verge of complete nervous collapse.
The veteran supporting cast is spot on. Freda Jackson is a howling mad domestic that nonetheless adapts to new duties with surprising confidence. And the enchanting Andree Melly glowingly epitomizes the movie’s tagline: “He turned innocent beauty into unspeakable horror!”
Even minor characters, like Dr. Tobler (Miles Malleson), the dipsomaniac local sawbones, are given sufficient space by director Terence Fisher to have small comic interludes that prove successful more often than not.
Speaking of comic interludes, there is some lame-ass bat puppetry happening here that might also inspire a few laughs. That should not deter anyone in the slightest.
Brides of Dracula is Hammer horror at its hottest, featuring a plethora of glaring bloodshot eyes, heaving bosoms, and a fair amount of fang action.
Required viewing in my estimation. See what all the fuss is about.
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