Thursday, August 30, 2012

LET'S GET HAMMER'D: The Brides of Dracula

The Brides of Dracula
Director: Terence Fisher
Year 1960
The Brides of Dracula is a fantastic Hammer horror film that marks the studios first return to the world of the blood sucking vampires after their smash hit Horror of Dracula with Christopher Lee. Though Lee is sadly missing in this entry, the atmosphere and unsettling gothic nature of the movie is top notch and fully intact, making for an outstanding continuation of Dr. Van Helsing’s endless struggle in ridding the world of the vampire curse. With an exceptional cast and a visual quality that only Hammer Productions can deliver, The Brides of Dracula is a highly enjoyable and classically filmed story that captures you right from the start as it guides you down a twisted path filled with danger, death, and undead delights.
The film follows a young woman by the name of Marianne Danielle, whose first trip to her new teaching job at a school for girls in the middle of the wilderness, turns out to be more than she bargained for. After being stranded at a local inn by her spooked carriage driver, Marianne gets an unexpected visit from a wealthy recluse named Baroness Meinster, a woman who lives like an outcast in her castle estate atop the mountainside. The Baroness invites her to stay with her for the night, for she is lonely being the only one besides her trusted servant to inhabit the house. Accepting the gracious offer, Marianne arrives at the lavish estate only to come into contact with a strange young man who is being kept under lock and key in a hidden area of the castle. Feeling sorry for the unfortunate soul, Marianne manages to steal the key to his shackles from Baroness Meinster and hastily sets him free, only realizing much later that she may have in fact unleashed the most dangerous creature the world has ever known. As fortune has it, Dr. Van Helsing, a specialist in this sort of obscure field, is passing through town. Could he be the key in bringing down this resurrected plague upon the people of this humble Transylvanian town? You better believe it! Get your wooden stakes and crucifixions out, because this is going to be one hell of a bloody good time.

Peter Cushing plays the role of Van Helsing, a professional vampire hunter and all around great guy. Even though Cushing doesn’t show his face until almost halfway through the movie, once he presents himself he owns ever bit of scenery he appears in. As usual, his commanding presence begs for attention and the contemplative way in which he handles each situation he finds himself in, is so thoughtful and theatrical that you can’t help but to be swept up in the uncanny nature of it all. If there was any one man that encapsulated the kind of classic vibe that these Hammer productions defined, then Peter Cushing would be that guy. With his gaunt figure and distinct features, Cushing made the perfect Van Helsing, and he continued in this tradition for four of Hammer’s most memorable vampire outings. In this particular feature, Cushing puts on a smashing performance as he throws some new twists to the genre and rules to the lore, when we witness him being bit for the first time and then tending to the wound by cauterizing it and dousing it in holy water. There is also a great bit of disposition about the history of vampirism and the ins and outs of how to destroy one, told eloquently by Peter Cushing in the most serious and respectable of deliveries. Cushing indeed makes this film a marvel to behold and his acting is, as usual, remarkable.
Even though Cushing dominates the movie when he is finally introduced, there is still a good deal of colorful characters to liven up the rest of the film’s run time. Yvonne Monlaur plays the role of Marianne Danielle the endangered teacher who unwittingly unleashes the vampire menace upon the town. While she looks consistently stunning in the various and extravagant period outfits, Yvonne doesn’t really have much to do story-wise after letting the antagonist of the film loose. Once that happens, she is resorted to countless instances of looking shocked and scared out of her mind, with little to no redeeming value other than she looks absolutely fabulous while doing it. But hey why am I complaining? This is a Hammer horror film and even though she plays little more than window dressing, Yvonne Monlaur hits the formulaic mark when it comes to Hammer beauties, and for that I’m tremendously appreciative.

While Yvonne’s character serves nothing more than pushing the story along into far more interesting territory, there are a few standout actors who pick up the ball and run with it. Martita Hunt plays the role of Baroness Meinster, a jaded and mysterious individual that is haunted by her past and doomed to be trapped in it. Martita does a marvelous job in giving the audience a character to question and second guess. We aren’t quite sure of her intentions early on, but when we are finally revealed to her plight we come to sympathize with her and relate to her sorrow. As the Baroness, Martita does an excellent job and though her role is not substantially long, she does wonders with it. David Peel takes on the role of the creature of the night in this story, giving a dual performance that is both hideous and charming. Like all great classically presented vampires, there is a duality to his role. He is both savage and graceful, and Peel presents these qualities in a subtle sense that never seems too brash or convoluted. He may not be as pitch perfect as Christopher Lee, but he makes a formidable opponent for Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing. Last but not least is the role of Greta the servant, played by Freda Jackson. Like Peel’s contributions to the film, she also has a dual purpose. When we first meet her she is sensible, yet haunted by an unknown past, but when the shit really begins hitting the fan, she spirals downhill as she quickly changes into a mad woman who is hell bent on following her master to the ends of the earth. Freda’s performance is wild to say the least and I appreciated the wackiness that she brought to the production.
As you can guess, with a cast as diverse and genuine as this, you’re bound to get some great moments and this film is just filled to the brim with them. One in particular is when Freda Jackson’s Greta is being watched by Peter Cushing. When we see her she is wailing like a mad-woman and talking to the earthen dirt by a gravestone. As she maniacally beckons to the body below, a hand begins to rise from beneath the ground, setting Greta into a cackling pitch of laughter and praise. It’s a creepy scene and one that is highly successful because of the reactions of both Peter Cushing and the deliciously demented Freda Jackson. Another aspect of this scene and a staple for this entire film is the atmosphere is just top notch in its foreboding presence and visual panache. In the very definition of gothic splendor, the production is bathed in a translucent moon-filled light that covers the scenery in a mournful tone that just amps up the creep factor of the production. This should come as no surprise seeing that this is what Hammer horror films are known for, but with The Brides of Dracula it’s the little moments filled with pungent atmosphere that really sells the story as a frightfully enjoyable tale.

The Brides of Dracula is a superb continuation of Van Helsing’s adventures into the world of the occult and damned, and Peter Cushing excels as the dedicated vampire hunter. With his iconic look and aforementioned regality, Cushing solidifies his stance as the ultimate thespian and all around classy guy. Aided in his efforts, is an equally prepared cast that though doesn’t shine as brightly as the seasoned actor, still manage to bring a substantial amount of heft to the quality of the story. David Peel especially gives it his all in trying to fill in the larger than life boots of Christopher Lee.
When it comes to atmosphere you need only look to one of the countless efforts that Hammer Productions has churned out over the years, and The Brides of Dracula is right up there with the best of them. With a haunting tone throughout and a melancholy outlook shared between much of the cast of inflicted characters, this film transcends into a dark and haunting realm which can only be captured by this outstanding production house and the definitive actors that can call it home. If you’re in need for a refreshers course on the validity of Hammer and their many contributions to the cinema landscape, then I suggest you pop this classic tale in and enjoy the lush gothic presentation of it all. You won’t be disappointed. The Brides of Dracula is…..

Glory be! What a pair of mutton chops!

If I threaten to jump, do you think they'll give me more to do in this film?

Greta's got a funny feeling about this chick.

Get used to this expression, because you're going to see it a lot.

You really think you're something else with those ridiculous mutton chops.

Even the corpses in Hammer films have great cleavage.

Cushing's good. Cu-Cushing's real good!

Is this piss? It smells a lot like piss.... I think it's piss.

Check out these freaks.

Probably one of the happiest entrances in the history of cinema. Hello there.

Damn! This vampire is one of those close talkers.

Van Helsing, you're cold as hell.

I can't believe you made me drink piss.

What's wrong Marianne? Did you wet the bed again?


Van Helsing doesn't mess around. The dude's CRAZY!

This is battery acid you slime! Well, it's actually holy water, but you're still slime.

We don't need no water let the mother fucker burn!

Burn in hell you evil windmill!

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