The Brides Of Dracula


When the concept of endless horror sequels became in vogue and studios wanted to resurrect a franchise worthy character, they’d either bend over backwards to invent some crazy excuse that, over the years, has involved everything including miraculous awakening from comas (Halloween 4), a well placed lightening strike (Friday The 13th 6) or even flaming dog pee (Nightmare On Elm Street 4). Of course these days it’s simply easier to reboot whatever maniacal bastard you want to aim at audiences in order to scirecsome green, however, back in the 50’s and 60’s, it didn’t immediately occur to studios to pull a deux ex machina out of a magicians hat and thus Hammer had found that they’d written themselves into a corner when wanting to approach Dracula and Frankenstein sequels.
Resurrecting Baron Frankenstein was easy enough, just ret-con the ending have have him escape the guillotine with his shifty ways, but the last time we saw Dracula there was barely enough left of him to fit in an ashtray – so how do you make a Dracula movie without Dracula? Turns out, that’s exactly what they did.


The agonisingly naive Marianne Danielle, a young, French girl, is rattling along in a stagecoach on her way to fill a teaching post in Transylvania when she finds herself stranded in a sparsely populated village. But while the superstitious locals try to subtly hint that maybe she shouldn’t do anything rash or hasty, she rashly and hastily accepts the offer of the inscrutable noblewoman, Baroness Meinster, to stay the night at her ominous looking castle on the hill with the promise that shell be sent on her way early the next morning.
However, that night she notices a dashing young man standing on his balcony and dashes down to investigate and finds that it’s the Baroness’ imprisoned son despite the old woman clearly stating that he was deader than disco. As the Baron is a charming man with good hair, Marianne believes every single, lilting word that drifts out of his pie hole and he claims that his mother has locked him up to keep the fortune that’s rightfully his. However, after freeing him and then fleeing the castle, its revealed that the Baron was being kept under lock and key because he’s actually a vampire and has kept as such due to his mother’s guilt and love – something he repays by killing an raising her for a miserable existence as one of the undead and soon is doing the same to the beautiful young girls in the area.
Marianne, who has caused all of this and yet has no fucking clue as to what is going on is saved by a chance meeting with Dr. Van Helsing, who has arrived to continue his battle with the undead, but seemingly safe by finally reaching her school, the Baron pursues her with an invitation of marriage. Of course, being ignorant of the whole vampire thing (not to mention being as gullible as a brainwashed pigeon), the young woman agrees – but elsewhere, Van Helsing rapidly closes in on his prey.


So, by reading the above synopsis it must have quickly become clear that despite the film being cannon, Christopher Lee’s Dracula plays the thankless role of Sir Not Appearing In This Film. It’s a ballsy move, especially considering that the fucking film is clearly called The Brides Of Dracula, but it seems that instead of concocting some random way of bringing the Count back to life (let’s say… devil worship), they simply left him dead but kept Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing instead.
Now while this should be annoying as piss, the fact that this is really a Van Helsing movie is what saves the day as the fact that the film has the good doctor literally stumbling in on the story already in motion gives it the feel of a Agatha Christie novel, wherein the tale plays out sans its saviour until it’s time for them to waltz in and save everyone. Also, I literally just cannot get enough of Cushing doing cool action shit despite looking like someone’s ass-kicking, name taking granddad as he hurls himself off a balcony at one point (I don’t think he uses a stuntman, either) and at another he thwarts a vampire’s retreat by sliding a crucifix along a table like a barman passing a drink along in a western. It’s a good thing too, because you’ll generally wonder how the character of Marianne – a beautiful, yet stunningly empty headed woman who immediately accepts literally anything that she’s told – has managed to survive her entire life up to this point without being killed while trying to open a door or choking on her own tongue or something.


Likewise, while Hammer has utilised a whole bunch of Counts over its lifespan, none have come close to the imposing majesty of Lee and sadly, this Count’s no different with the Baron simply playing the lead antagonist as a basic villainous cad with noticably crooked fangs. Sure, he gets a bat transformation or two and he can swing a mean cape, but compared to the alpha, he’s merely a forgettable poser begging for a stake to put him out of our misery.
So is Cushing the sole reason for the four star review? Absolutely not. In fact despite a female lead so clueless I’m surprised the Baron didn’t try to get her to join a pyramid scheme before he tries to bite her and a villain that’s a little bland, the usual Hammer attributes are in full effect. The production values ensure that that everything has that lavish Hammer vibe and director Terence Fisher stages some classic creeps that feel like quintessential gothic horror. Take the moment when the Baron’s devoted servant, Greta coos encouragement at a reborn victim as she slowly emerges from her own grave, or the fiendish grin on the distinctive impish features of a vamped up Andreé Melly, or the final scenes which sees a fleeing Baron brought down by the shadow of a huge cross formed by the arms of a flaming windmill. Epic and awesomely ludicrous in equal measure.


Even though The Brides Of Dracula is still comfortable above average Hammer (despite technically having no brides and no Dracula), the studio soon learnt from their “mistake” and reinstated the famous Count for six more sequels, but I gave to admit, it’s genuinely cool to get one movie where Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing get himself a solo outing to really strut his stake. Whether giving a vamped-out Baroness his pity and staking her with dignity (if you can call getting a spike hammered into your chest dignified) or having endless reserves of patience for Marianne as she blunders into yet another murderous cul-de-sac of a social situation, he is every inch the gentleman hero – honestly kind and caring while still ready to fuck up a vampire’s face with holy water acts moments notice.
A great vampire film? To say yes would be to do it a disservice. To call it a great Van Helsing film, however is far closer to the mark and far rarer to book.
Van Hel-sing its praises.


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