Even though Drac himself has no appearance in the film, the vampire king doesn't have to be around to show off his work, as we have another entry horror film, The Brides of Dracula (1960) reviewed by Zechs.
That pretty much is one of two things I ever knew about this flick, The Brides of Dracula (1960). That the sequel to the first Dracula film, Horror of Dracula (1958) was lacking Dracula himself thus there is no Christopher Lee. Why is the great vampire lord not in this? Well one, he's dead and two IMDb states in their trivia section that the Hammer was afraid Lee would ask for too much money for a simple cameo appearance in the film. The other, is the badass scene of Van Helsing being bitten and taking holy water to his wound and then taking a hot poker and pressing it against his neck. It was the knowledge of the later scene that made me want to see this film after watching the scene on some Vampire Film Documentary on Starz.
Therefore, with that in mind I plunged in. The story is basically like any of the Hammer Dracula films for the most part. Some fool does something very foolish. A vampire is unleashed due these actions. Enter our hero, whose usually a Van Helsing having to slay the undead creature. Rinse and repeat. Though this was the film that started off that cliché, so I won't wipe any points away for starting the trend.
The head vampire who isn't Dracula in this film is the Baron Meinster, played by David Peel. While Peel doesn't command the presence making you glue you're eyes to him as you do with Lee, Peel make's up for that with the innocent charm and visual baiting but you the viewer and his victims, before pulling the carpet from under you to reveal his more truer nature. The trick and his performance works pretty well.
As always, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing is just utter gold. He just so darn good at playing this role. You root for him throughout the film and he commands so much presence. You can almost feel safe in the fact that the vampires who prey in these film days are numbered. The moment he appears after the first act, you in his introduction you just know the vampires will be done in. Why? Because he's Van Helsing no way is he going to get give up or have anything stop him. Going back the scene I mentioned earlier, just adds to the legend of this character. He'll do harm to himself then let those damn vampires win. He's an unrelenting force of good. And it's this reason why I see this film stands on it's own and doesn't need Drac. This is Van Helsing's film, not Dracula's even if he gets the title though damned if I should say he should have. After watching this film screw the horrible recent update played by Hugh Jackman, Cushing's version is still the definitive version of the character. Every word he utters you believe and ever action you can’t help but root for the man, but again that’s the quality of Hammer films. They're just that damn good.
Like any Hammer film, a good bunch of supporting players rounds it out. There are tons of rich and interesting characters abound in this film that they'll defiantly leave an impression after this film is long sense over. The three of note to me in this piece are Maritia Hunt as the Baroness Meinster, Yvonne Monlaur as Marrianne Danielle, and Frenda Jackson as Greta the housekeeper of the House of Meinster.
Jackson is particular memorable, as she is just so utterly terrifying and creepy being the loyal human servant of the Vampire Baron. The scene when all sanity of the character cracks and she just turns a one hundred and eighty degree turn into to creepsville and then erupts into laughter after finding out the Baron is free is just whoa. Equally as chilling is when she is goading a freshly born vampire into freeing herself from the grave. The same goes for the Baroness Meinster. At the start, you know something is just not right with her and yet she also commands this huge regal presence. You believe her motives to why she's doing what she is. You also almost buy that even she could be one of the undead or a disciple of Dracula until the twist happens in this film. Afterward, the presence falls and you just gain so much more pity for her character. Then there's Monlaur as Danielle. She's just utterly stunning beautiful and yet just so damn innocent. She plays it so well and it pays off equally when things just blow up in her face for such an innocent job. Then there's her beauty she looks just so alluring, there is no wonder why the good Baron is out for that fine young neck. The same goes for the actual "Brides" of the piece. They're so damn hot, again you understand the Baron has very good taste in victims to turn.
The direction of course is quite good. Again, the same person, Terence Fisher, directs the film like The Gorgon before it. There are scenes much like The Gorgon where the atmosphere and scenery is just so damn great. The house of Meinster and the windmill where the climax take's places are all just perfect. Add to the other minor places such as the bar or cemetery are just perfectly set. Again, the graveyard scene is just so frightening and all it uses is the performance and the simple effects before having the vampire pop out of her grave. There are also some wide-angle shots that are great as well. I couldn't help but scream outloud when vampires or their lackeys where prowling the background with me with me on the edge of my seat. When the viewer actually begins rooting or getting any sort of tense out of fear, then the director has so done their job well.
It's not say this film isn't perfect though alas. There are plot holes a plenty and other things amongst the writing. The most glaring one is if the Baron can transform into a frigging bat and has an insane human lackey, why the heck didn't the Baron use either or to gain freedom? His human mother though having a huge presence may have stopped the lackey, but she cannot account in his undead powers unless I'm missing some sort of vampire rule or the iron was blessed. The same goes for the Baroness when she's a vampire herself. She retained so much of her former humanity. How is that even possible? Other than maybe, her will was that damn strong. The other thing that just made me burst into laughter was the very horribly crafted bat when the Baron take's it's form to dispatch a pesky being. Again, a look on IMDb showed that the bat was originally much more realistic looking.
Still, I probably guess I am since this film also take's a different approach for most part in dispatching it's antagonists then the usual stake through the heart. It's end which I won't spoil utterly surprised me. The Brides of Dracula is quite an amazing film. The performances alone carry this film to the level beyond a mere three. The direction and the mood they set just highlight the film more into an iconic piece. This film is far from perfect, but still it's superior to any of the current batch of horror films today. Again, if you're a fan of Peter Cushing this is probably THE film to see of his work. This is the essential film for him. Any fan of true vampire films and horror should watch this film.
4.8 out of 5
Tune in next week or later this week when I will take a look at Halloween Resurrection (2002) and maybe one more treat before my Halloween treats end and I repost Punisher: Warzone and some other films begin.