Originally intended as a sequel into Hammer’s first foray into fangdom, The Horrors of Dracula, the studio ran into a snag when their original Duke of Doom refused to reprise his role. (Some rumors say Christopher Lee flat out refused, other say that Hammer Studios feared he would demand more money.) So with a quick retooling, we get a new prince of darkness in the form of David Peel as Baron Meinster, a disciple of the late Dracula and a man desperate for love. As the young teacher Marianne travels the countryside on the way to her new position in Transylvania, she runs across the Baron’s mother. As she discovers the young Baron shackled in his mothers room, she unwittingly unleashes the wave of destruction only a vampire can reap. Taking a fancy to young Marianne, the Baron follows her to her Transylvania School for Girls, and finds himself with a bountiful feast of young busty ladies, ripe for the harvesting. Soon, the always wonder Dr. VanHelsing (Peter Cushing, natch) learns of the bitey Baron’s escape, and sets forth to end the rein of terror once again.
Lacking the finesse of many past Hammer greats, the Brides of Dracula presents a sleepy tale, light on atmosphere, and light on intrigue. By the numbers, we are given a vampire tale that fails to bring any new tidbits to the formula. With so many vampire movies in abundance, it takes something special to stand out in the crowd, and unfortunately, Christopher Lee who usually gives us that extra spice, was unavailable. The vampiric Baron displayed to us by David Peel leans towards the hammy, and unfortunately plays to the lifeless side of being undead. Granted he has a rather large pair of shoes to fill, there just seems to be little to no charisma in this incarnation of the vampire. Often times looking gassy or giddy, Peel fails to give any menace to the role. Is he done yet? Oh good, here comes Cushing. Lucky for us, Hammer was able to convince Peter Cushing to reprise his Van Helsing, single handedly saving this flick from the junk pile. Always charismatic, Cushing gives us a VanHelsing full of personality and life. Filled with caring, concern, and burning hatred for his sworn enemy, the viewer is sucked back in to the sleepy Baron sequences, as the good Doctor plans his strategy, and prepares for battle.
Normally, Hammer flicks are packed to the gills with gothic atmosphere, and this time around, they phoned it in. Failing to reach the dark and twisty feeling of many of their other vampiric efforts, Brides of Dracula comes across simply as a period film with very little dark about it. With spot on settings and costumes, they are able to recreate the period exceptionally. Where they fail is in the dark overtones. Seemingly bright, and uncreepy, it makes it harder to fall into the film experience as a whole. Where The Creeping Flesh left us to ponder the horror of a man dosing his daughter with unproven serums, or The Vampire Lovers tells us a tale of a vampire preying on unsuspecting innocents across an entire country, The Brides of Dracula is simply a tale of an undead Baron with a chubby for a school marm. Simple is that. With the somewhat wooden acting of both leads, it is really rather hard to find ones self to really care about their outcome. Where we really care, is that VanHelsing saves the day as expected, and makes it through alive for the next sequel. Really, a Hammer Dracula flick without Peter Cushing is a sad thing, indeed.
The Brides of Dracula has drawn my negative ire, as you can see. That’s not to say that it is a horrible film, it just fails to live up to expectations of greatness. With a library as grand as Hammer Studios, the fanboy grows to expect certain levels, and The Brides of Dracula fails to meet all of those levels. Without Peter Cushing in his custmary Van Helsing role, this film would fall to a forgettable status. A rental for sure, and a buy for the collector, this is a flick worth watching once, but I wouldn’t knock yourself out in your attempts to locate a copy.
3 crappy vamps out of 5