The Brides of Dracula is the first direct sequel to Hammer’s Horror of Dracula but is missing one main ingredient, namely Count Dracula. Also missing from this film would obviously be Christopher Lee, and as he was quite integral to the success of the first film, could this film make it on its own without him? Peter Cushing is still present as Doctor Van Helsing and stepping into the role as the main villain would be David Peel. The film would find Van Helsing helping a young woman who released Baron Meinster from his prison, not knowing what he truly was. Baron Meinster happens to be a vampire, the one thing in the world that Van Helsing has sworn to wipe off the face of the Earth. So once again, we find the good doctor battling it out with more fanged enemies, including a few of Meinster’s brides.
Aside from the title being a misnomer and not featuring Dracula whatsoever, the brides themselves were those of the Baron and not our beloved Count. These female vampires were created only after the girl Marianne freed Baron Meinster and would only be featured in minor roles. Those tuning in to see Christopher Lee as the famed vampire might be disappointed in finding he is not present, but there is a lot more to the film. David Peel who stands in for Lee as the film’s antagonist and big bad, had large shoes to fill, larger perhaps than he realized. That brings up the one slight negative to the film which is Peel doing somewhat of a poor job in his vampire persona. The creature effects, namely his teeth and fangs, looked ridiculous. And when Peel would stand there with his fangs bared and his eyes wide, trying to be menacing, it actually had the opposite effect. How producer Anthony Hinds never noticed this or director Terence Fisher for that matter, and how they let these particular moments make the final cut is strange indeed as it looks silly a lot of the time.
But such as it was, the film was actually as good as the first and Peel would put in a fantastic performance as the Baron, the villain of the picture. Peel was a handsome man and a fantastic actor in his own right. He is charismatic in his portrayal of the Baron and runs the gamut of emotions as he connives his way through the film. The Baron plays poor Marianne like a puppet and wastes no time in converting those around him so that he might insulate himself from possible harm. Van Helsing of course will let nothing stop him and the scenes that Peel and Cushing would share together are just as memorable as those Cushing shared with Lee. Both men could probably act circles around each other all day, so it was a good thing the writers of the film inserted a bunch of action sequences to liven things up between hero and villain. Cushing would give another incredible performance as Van Helsing with the character just as reckless as he was in the first film as he pursues his prey. He is of one mind when it comes to stamping out the vampire presence and continues to show that cold and methodical approach as he did in the previous film.
Also bolstering the film is Martita Hunt as the Baroness Meinster, the Baron’s mother, who has kept her son chained up for his own good until he is freed and then changes her into one of his vampire brides. She is tortured in her own right before and after the transformation, and Hunt really puts it across to the viewer. Marianne is played by Yvonne Monlaur, one of those Hammer girls that look great yet have limited to no acting ability whatsoever. She does her best with the role, playing the naive young woman entranced into freeing Meinster, and she is fun to watch, but she was clearly hired for her looks more than anything else.
The film would feature as much colour and boldness as the first, be big, bright and lavish and be scored by Malcolm Williamson. It was also far more moody and atmospheric than Horror of Dracula, which was a bit of a surprise. The scene in the barn is one of the highlights of the film with Cushing curing his own vampire bite by searing it and dousing it in holy water. There are some minor plot holes, some good (the brides) and bad (the Baron) creature effects and perhaps some miscasting with our female lead, but the picture is a highly entertaining little horror film. There is some great camera work by Terence Fisher who directs once again and he seems to know how to get the best out of his people. Cushing’s determined performance coupled with Peel’s eerie character work, minus the fangs, would definitely lift this picture up higher than it might have been otherwise. In the end, this film would say goodbye to Mr. Peel and in six years welcome back Mr. Lee. If you watched Horror of Dracula and you enjoyed it, then you should do the same here.
4 out of 5