Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The continuing adventures of Van Helsing

Brides of Dracula (1960)
Starring: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur, Martia Hunt and David Peel
Director: Terence Fisher
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

Dracula has been destroyed by Van Helsing, but his cult of vampiric corruption lives on. Van Helsign (Cushing) must save a young teacher (Monclaur) from the vile attentions of one of Dracula's disciples (Peel).

This is a curious "Dracula" movie, because while he is invoked in the title, Dracula is very much a pile of ash back in his castle, having been dispatched at the end of "Horror of Dracula."

And, despite the lack of an actual appearance by Dracula, this is one of my very favorite Hammer Dracula/vampire movies. It's even superior to “Horror of Dracula” in several ways, making it among the rarest of sequels.

First, the Baron’s castle from the first part of the movie features some spectacular sets; the sequence in the vampire's castle when the innocent Marianne comes to realize that she is trapped in a house of madness and evil, is quite possibly one of the most effectively creepy things in any Hammer movie, period.

Second, Cushing is at the top of his game here. His performance is full of zeal and it is the best he gave in any of the Hammer Films he was featured in. The mixture of horror and steely determination that he gives Dr. Van Helsing as he confronts the vampires and their twisted human servants is very well acted. He is also served well by a plot that allows the Van Helsing character to shine, fantastic sets, and excellent lighting and camera work that constantly reinforces the film’s gothic horror tone.

Finally, the climax is one of the most thrilling of any of Hammer’s vampire movies, and Baron Meinster’s doom provides the best death of any vampire in their productions.

All in all, “Brides of Dracula” may be the best film director Terence Fisher ever made. It is certainly the best of all Hammer’s Dracula movies. (And it’s quite possibly made stronger by the fact that Dracula is nowhere in it. I think Peel’s evil, bug-eyed Baron Meinster comes across as far more sinister and evil that Lee’s staid and distant Count Dracula ever did.)