Film Score: Malcolm Williamson Cinematography: Jack Asher
Starring: Peter Cushing, David Peel, Freda Jackson and Yvonne Monlaur
Horror of Dracula. And he was more than justified. With his incredibly rich, cultured voice, the potential was there to do a brilliant version of Bram Stoker’s novel in a way that wouldn’t be realized until Frank Langela’s interpretation in 1979. As a result, Hammer was forced to carry on without him. They still had Peter Cushing, the nominal star of the first film, and The Brides of Dracula is a game attempt to go on without Lee. After all he did die in the first film and, just as with Dracula’s Daughter for Universal in 1936, it did make a certain kind of sense in terms of continuing the story line.
The plot begins with a young French woman, Yvonne Monlaur, being seduced on her way through Eastern Europe to the castle of Marita Hunt. There she’s told the story of the Baroness’s son, David Peel, who is apparently crazy. But when she meets him he doesn’t seem so. He shows her that he has been chained, imprisoned against his will, and she gladly steals the key from his mother and releases him. Unknown to her, however, he is a vampire and quickly kills his mother before leaving the castle. Meanwhile, the priest of the local village has called in Peter Cushing to help with the unexplained deaths that have been occurring. Cushing, of course, makes all the connections, especially when he finds Monlaur passed out on the road in shock. Peel is now the new head of the cult of the undead, turning women into vampires and the only one who can stop him is Cushing.
It’s an odd story that takes it’s time getting going. Martita Hunt makes a great Barroness, old and enigmatic, making the audience wonder what she’s doing. The weak link, as in most Hammer productions, is the female acting. Yvonne Monlaur, for all her charms, is maddening to watch. The script makes her clueless, not understanding what she’s done even after Hunt has died. David Peel also makes an unlikely vampire, his blonde hair going against type, and not in a good way. It seems like the script would have been better focusing on Dracula’s wives and concocting a plot around them. There is an interesting twist on the mythology, however, in having any victim of the vampires turn into vampires themselves without having to drink the blood of their attacker.
At the end of the day Peter Cushing is the only reason for watching the film. He was always great as Van Helsing, though even this was one of his lesser performances. In fact, everything about the production was second string with the exception of Cushing and the direction by Terence Fisher. Instead of James Bernard handling the composing chores, this time they were handed off to Malcolm Williamson. And the sets aren’t nearly as atmospheric as later films would be. Still, there’s something about Hammer’s early horror pictures that was captivating and while this is definitely a notch below, The Brides of Dracula is still worth watching.