‘He feeds his unearthly desires on youth and beauty… As he turns a girls’ school into a Chamber of Horrors!’
Director Terence Fisher
Writer Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan and Edward Percy
Stars Peter Cushing (Doctor Van Helsing) Martita Hunt (Baroness Meinster) Yvonne Monlaur (Marianne) Freda Jackson (Greta) David Peel (Baron Meinster)
Old Drac is dead but his vampires still haunt Transylvania (no wonder they can never get tourists). However this doesn’t stop French school-teacher Marianne Danielle from taking a position at a Transylvanian girl’s school (yup, clever career move there girlie.) Of course, this being Transylvania before you know it her pesky coachman’s done a bunk leaving her no choice but to take shelter at the nearest spooky castle, the guest of an even creepier Baroness. But why does the Baroness keep her son, who every one believes is dead, chained up in the castle? And will Marianne be stupid enough to fall for his charms and his bizarre hair and free him?
Well, what do you think? Thanks heavens Dr Van Helsing has been called in for a spot of vampire-busting. Well, who else are you going to call?
OK, first of all it has to be said that the title is ever so misleading. Dracula doesn’t appear in this film. Yup, he’s mentioned repeatedly but at this point in Hammer’s history Christopher Lee’s bloodsucker was definately out for the count.
Bizarelly this fatal flaw in its marketing doesn’t hurt the film at all. Quite the opposite in fact. You’ve got no time to miss old fang-features as the spell of the Brides washes over you. In fact, I would say (and this is where I commit heresy) that this is actually a better film.
First up, it’s genuially creepy at points. The Baroness herself sets the skin crawling far more than Christopher Lee’s slightly wooden performance in Dracula (whoops, there goes that heresy again) and the idea of padlocks just dropping off a victims coffin is actually more unnerving than it deserves to be. And the cackling, insane Greta calling through the fresh earth, talking a newly-vamped member of the undead how to claw out of the grave is wonderfully disturbing.
Then there’s the pathos of new vamp on the block, Baron Meinster’s mother plea for Van Helsing to put her out of her misery and the shocking extent of the Baron’s vengeance on old Helsing (Did anyone actually see that coming when they first watched the film?). OK, so the resolution of Van Helsing’s fate makes no sense but at least it makes no sense with plenty of shocks and winces. Yes, the blood may be redder than ketchup but the violence is gritty and looks like it would hurt.
As with many of the Hammer classics the plot is a little on the thin side and full of holes (for example, if the Baron can transform into a highly-unconvincing bat why couldn’t he do this to escape his mother’s chains?) but the shortcomings can be forgiven for the sheer style of the piece.
- The pressbook for the film offered the following advice for cinema managers – ” Make sure that at all performamces of The Brides of Dracula you have nurses or St John’s men prominently patrolling your theatre. Rig up a First-Aid Station near the entrance fully stocked with smelling salts, aspirin and sal volatile…”
- The original script was entitled ‘Dracula and the Damned. ‘
- The climax of the film was originally have the baron destroyed by a swarm of bats. This was abandoned as too expensive but would be recycled three years later for the climax of Kiss of the Vampire
Greta and the ‘birth’ of a new vampire by the grave, the Baron’s revenge on Van Helsing and the good Doctor’s brave return from the brink of death, the gruesome makeup after Van Helsing gives the Baron a little facewash with holy water.
Unconvincing villagers, even more unconvincing bats, the ‘Brides’ bizarre foundation – do the undead forget how to apply make-up?
Skulls out of Five