Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur, David Peel
Hammer's sequel to the smash, Horror of Dracula(1958) was originally intended to star Christopher Lee as the Count, but Lee refused to be typecast(ironic in hindsight) and dropped out. This caused Hammer to rewrite, attempting a new series that revolved around Van Helsing(Peter Cushing) instead. This could have been a potentially rich idea, but sadly, this film was not the massive success that the previous film was, so the concept was dropped afterward. It's a shame because The Brides of Dracula, is one of the very best of the Hammer horror films, approaching the subtlety of a Gothic romance, more so than any other made before or since. This was original and exciting and contains the definitive hero role for Peter Cushing, in his best performance as the greatest of all vampire hunters. Stylish and well-written, this is one of the most underrated classic horror films.
The film begins with a young, beautiful school teacher, Marianne(Yvonne Monlaur) travelling through the European countryside by carriage at the turn of the century. Her coach driver is(who else?) Michael Ripper, who adds a nice cameo and his usual comic relief. When the young lady arrives at a local inn, she finds herself stranded, when a mysterious man takes the coach. Luckily, Baroness Meinster(Martina Hunt) offers to let her stay at her castle, which is feared by the local populace. They have dinner, and Marianne inquires about why the village is so afraid, and the Baroness blames superstition. She also warns Marianne to stay out of a certain wing of the castle. When Marianne gets ready for bed, she notices a young man, who looks like he will jump over the side of the castle. She yells for him to stop and meets him, discovering that she is the Baron Meinster(David Peel) and has been imprisoned by his "villainous" mother. With romance on her mind, the young woman frees him from his shackles, only to discover that he is actually a vampire and proceeds to feed on his own mother, much to the cackling delight of the progressively madder, Greta(Freda Jackson), who is quite memorable here.
Horrified by what she has seen, Marianne escapes the castle and runs into the forest, where she collapses. Luckily, she is found by the eminent, Dr. Van Helsing(Peter Cushing), who has been called to the area to help solve a problem involving his area of expertise: vampirism.
Van Helsing delivers Marianne to the School for Girls that she was en route to and explains the situation to the pompous head master(Henry Oscar), and Marianne is taken in to apparent safety. Van Helsing goes back to the village and discovers that a young woman(Marie Devereux) has recently died. When Van Helsing examines her throat, he finds the tell-tale sign of the vampire. Father Stepnik(Fred Johnson) has called for Van Helsing and warmly welcome him. He explains the situation and fears the supernatural. That evening, in a wonderfully eerie scene, Greta waits over the grave of the dead girl, who emerges from her grave as a buxom vampire babe. The Father interferes before Van Helsing can react and he is subsequently attacked by a giant bat, which is thrown off when Van Helsing produces a crucifix.
The "Brides" of Meinster, I guess they should be called, are among the most memorable babes of "Hammer Glamour". Yvonne Monlaur is pretty and innocent as Marianne, and her French accent and cute demeanor is quite charming, and she certainly conveys terror well with her big, expressive eyes. It's one of the few films that Cushing has a supposed love interest, and considering he would have a son, could this have been his character's future wife? I've wondered that, though this character, regrettably, makes no future appearances and for that matter, neither did Yvonne Monlaur. That's a shame because she's one of Hammer's most gorgeous and likable actresses. I remember for one other Hammer, the silly, but enjoyable, Terror of the Tongs(1961), where she played a Eurasian call girl, of all things, though she looked fantastic, anyway.
Andree Melly makes a memorable vampire and her image has been used in many magazines and books to represent the buxom vampire. That marvelous, demonic grin she sports as she first reveals herself to Marianne is a great fright moment and lingers long in the memory. Her transformation from romantic girl to hot vampire is terrific, though sadly, she did not appear in much other genre work.
Top heavy, Marie Devereux is very memorable, though she does not say a word, she doesn't have to. Hammer knew how to use her and her voluptuous figure certainly compensate for male viewers and she remains in my mind as one of the sexiest bloodsuckers of all time, despite limited screen time. She was even more memorable in the little seen, The Stranglers of Bombay(1960), where she sports some of the best cleavage on film. She also, thankfully for the sake of posterity, made several glamour shoots, including many in the nude. Thanks, for the mammaries, Marie.
Freda Jackson is memorably insane as the faithful servant of the Meinsters and her cackle probably induced a few nightmares, i'm sure. Her reveal of the Meinster's past is well done and the moment where she rises Miss Devereux from the grave is among the great horror moments. It's a small part, but she makes the most of it.
Martita Hunt, initially is seen as the villain, but is actually a sympathetic character. Her primary fault is that she had love for her son, even though he turns out to be a monster. Her transformation into pitiful vampire, is touching and she represents one of the first sympathetic vampires on film, her demise having a bit of sadness that is missing from bloodsuckers in other films. It's a memorable role and adds dramatic weight to the film.
Even though I did not mention him the synopsis of the film, Miles Malleson's turn as an eccentric doctor is a hoot. Malleson was always a delightful, comic actor, having also portrayed as a joking undertaker in Horror of Dracula(1958) and several other Hammer films. I remember him best in the 1951 Scrooge, as Old Joe, the pawnshop owner, who even in such a grim film, was able to make me smile. He performs the same magic here, and his bit with the innkeeper and his medical concoction is not to be missed.
Of course, the lion share of the film's success goes to Peter Cushing who performs the best of his several interpretations of Van Helsing. Just as determined(if not ruthless) as he was in the first film, Cushing also reveals a more humane side and it makes the character more multi-dimensional, though he was already fine in Horror of Dracula.
His scene with Martita Hunt is a standout, as he shows genuine sympathy for her pathetic circumstances and his scenes with Yvonne Monlaur are tender and kind, showing a layer of warmth that was not shown as much in his "man of steel" interpretation in the original. He also shows fear, however subtly, such as when he witnesses the vampire rising from it's grave or when he battles Meinster. However, what is most memorable is the heroic actions of the character, for Van Helsing has now fully graduated to role of swashbuckler, swinging from chains to knock over Meinster, tossing crucifixes and holy water with abandon and even jumping on the blades of a windmill to make the world's biggest cross. It's an exciting role and Cushing makes the very most of it, adding another notch in his belt, of classic film portrayals.
And because i'm a generous man, here's some choice shots of the amazingly, endowed, Miss Marie Devereux. You're welcome.
I'm afraid that is the end. See you, next time!