Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Hammer Watch: The Brides of Dracula (1960)


Watched:  10/04/2020
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1960
Director:  Terence Fisher

I'd not paid much attention to the non-Christopher Lee movies from Hammer that pitched themselves as Dracula, but decided this Halloween I'm going to watch all of the Draculas from the studio in order.  So, next up from Horror of Dracula is the 1960 entry, The Brides of Dracula.  

A prologue lets us know that the film takes place in proximity to the death of Dracula in the prior film.  The opening follows the journey of a young Parisian woman headed to teach French in a school in Transylvania.  She is held over at an inn (unknown to her, intentionally so) where she meets a wealthy Baroness who takes her to her castle.  

The girl (French actor Yvonne Monlaur) is more than the Baroness counted on - bright, inquisitive and empathetic.  None of which is good news when the girl spots a young man in the courtyard of the castle and asks after him, learning he's a prisoner in his own home.  The girl frees him and then escapes the castle herself.  All pretty bad news because she missed the part where he's a vampire and that's why mom had him on a leash.

The girl is found by none other than Van Helsing, come to town to dispatch some vampires.  And he's all out of bubble gum.

This one really cranks up the gothic mystery angle, infusing it with vampire lore, and expanding upon the world of vampires which which Van Helsing is at war.  The Baron Meinster isn't Dracula, but he's got his own personal flavor of malevolence.

One thing reader Jake S. suggested I pay attention to in the Hammer films is the acknowledgement of religion and power of Christ, not just seeing religious articles as special powered weapons in a video game where you fight vampires.  This is only the second Hammer Dracula film, and the script definitely leans into the power of Christian belief itself as a deterrent to the our villains - and it seems to suggest that the religious articles are really a focus of that faith (although it's not clear if a cross in the hands of agnostic would be useless, but it sure seems so).  

Part of what Jake and I discussed was the villainy of the vampires is purely evil - there's no underlying motivation or story of trauma to drive sympathy.  As part of what is described as a "cult" in this film, the "undead" are purely evil.  Which seems wildly complex as an idea in an era of morally gray characters.  We're not going to give these badguys an out to change or mend their ways - if they have their way, they turn the world into a hellscape.

To illustrate the difference, this film includes a doctor who chats with Van Helsing over the body of a girl we - as the audience - know has died of vampirism, and when Van Helsing asks the doctor to expand his mind, he laughs it off as "a man of science".  Which is a curious statement,  but draws Van Helsing as a unique individual.  And, of course, shows the small-mindedness that can blind someone from what's right in front of them.

All in all, the cast is pretty fantastic.  Of course Cushing is great - and he's, as always, all in on his role.  (I particularly liked the "not today, Satan" bit where he burns out his vampire bite).  And Yvonne Monlaur is really, honestly, perfectly cast as the girl-detective French teacher.  This movie also contains a Hammer poster girl who shows up a lot in reference to Hammer horror movies - and I'm guessing because she looks lovely both as her mortal self and then makes those fangs work, Andree Melly.

Andree Melly as Gina

While there's no sign of Christopher Lee in this film, it's a solid vampire flick, and my only criticism, really, is that it ends abruptly with Van Helsing victorious.  But, man, there were a *lot* of loose threads I'd have liked to have seen resolved.

Ideal Halloween viewing, really.

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