Blu-Ray Review: The Brides of Dracula

NOVEMBER 13, 2020


Slowly but surely, Scream Factory has been building up their Hammer library, inching me closer to a dream of having the complete Dracula and Frankenstein sets in something resembling consistency on my shelf (an actual boxed set seems to be a pipe dream). And since my very out of order journey began with The Brides of Dracula, all the way back in 2007, it makes me particularly happy to see this one added to the lot. My enjoyment of the film inspired me to keep watching the others, often on DVD (one was actually VHS!), and it's been a long time since those viewings, making these remastered blu-rays an ideal way to see them again for what might as well be the first time.

That said I specifically remembered one bit in this one: Peter Cushing's Van Helsing (the lone returning character from Horror of Dracula, though another HoD actor plays a different bit part here) using the shadow of a windmill's blades as a makeshift cross to vanquish his vampiric foe. No, I'm not sure if that would actually work, but I'm always a fan of people making crosses out of other things in a pinch, and you can't get much better than Cushing going through the action hero theatrics of pulling it off in what's already been a slightly more action-driven entry than average. Having rewatched a lot of the Universal horror films over the past couple months, it made me appreciate how much more exciting the Hammer counterparts often were; I still enjoy the Uni ones of course, but if my son ever asked to watch "classic" horror, I think he'd lose interest in those pretty fast, but he might be able to stay focused on something like this.

I suspect the additional action here was a way to make up for the absence of Christopher Lee, as the movie has several antagonists in his place. There are the titular Brides, of course, though neither of them are married to Dracula as far as I can tell (the big guy is only mentioned once or twice in passing throughout the film), as well as a human woman, Greta (Freda Jackson) who is a sort of Renfield to the film's main "Dracula", Baron Meinster (David Peel) as well as his Baroness mother. All of these people are mostly introduced via Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), who is en route to teach at a Transylvanian school when her coach abandons her in one of those towns that only exist in period horror movies, where everyone eats at the same inn and seems to be perfectly aware that there's a vampire/monster/whatever in town but don't feel particularly compelled to do anything about it.

Anyway, Marianne ends up staying at the Baron's manor, where she discovers Meinster chained up and frees him, unaware that his confinement (imposed by his mother) is for the protection of women like her. She runs off after learning the truth and passes out in the woods, only to be rescued by Van Helsing, who was summoned to the town due to one of the Baron's previous misdeeds. Van Helsing's reappearance is bizarrely without any fanfare; they make you wait over a half an hour for him to return in this "sequel" and when they finally do he just kind of shows up as if he was already there all along. Over the next hour he takes care of all the vampire problems that have sprung up, while Marianne inexplicably decides to marry the Baron (it is quickly but unsatisfactorily explained that she can't remember anything that happened in the first half hour), so you get the seduction stuff as well as the standard Van Helsing staking action - it's a pretty great mix.

Fitting for one of the better Hammer films, the blu-ray is packed and will take you several hours to get through it all. There's a full hour long episode of The Men Who Made Hammer devoted to director Terence Fisher, who helmed this and at least half of the other Hammer titles that probably come to mind when you think of the brand. It covers some biographical material but is mostly devoted to his biggest Hammer entries, as host Richard Klemensen illustrates why Fisher's work, often labeled as "work for hire" stuff, actually does have some consistent themes, as well as noting how much work he would put into the films despite their sometimes underwhelming scripts. That sentiment bleeds into a shorter episode about DP Jack Asher, who was also the type to give 110% and eventually fell out of favor due to being a bit too slow for their liking (despite the results speaking for themselves). Then there's also a piece on composter Malcolm Williamson, and a featurette on Oakley Court, which was used as the Baron's exterior here and has been featured in any number of other genre films (including Rocky Horror Picture Show!) and still stands today, as the hosts tour the grounds as the editor cuts in footage from where this or that part of the building was featured in different films.

And as always there's a historian commentary, this one from Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr. They goof on the "amnesia" subplot a bit more than necessary, but also go into why the script is sometimes a bit sloppy - it had to be rewritten twice, once just to get Cushing to be in it at all (he hated the first draft he was approached with) and also to account for Lee's absence, as they did try to get him to make a brief appearance which would have explained his connection to the Baron. They also refer to the bits that were originally written for this film and then resurrected for the (unrelated) Kiss of the Vampire, which Scream put out just a couple months back - the two would make a nice double feature, especially if you take in their respective commentaries as well. There's also an older making of retrospective piece featuring Monlaur and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, among others, that was on a 2013 release in the UK and (I assume) now presented on a Region 1/A disc for the first time.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: I truly hope these releases are successful enough for them to keep tracking down the others, because they're much more exciting to me than updating modern things like Idle Hands or Willard (i.e. movies that already had special edition releases when they came out). I doubt they'll ever get their hands on the Universal classics (just the B-movies that they collect for these sets, which I enjoy), leaving Hammer era material to account for the bulk of their "old" catalog and keep their portfolio a little more diverse. The Warner Archive discs that are available for a few of the entries in this series (Dracula AD 1972, for example) are bare-bones, and deserve better, but if these titles aren't big money makers for Scream I don't see them bothering to try to wrestle the license away from Warner or whoever else owns this or that entry. Here's hoping there will be more in 2021 and beyond!

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Still waiting for Vampire Circus & Twins Of Evil. Kudos to Scream Factory! Just saw you on "The 50 Best Horror Movies You've Never Seen". Cool gig for all the knowledge and passion you have for the genre, but could you try harder to enunciate. Had to rewind a few times when you speed slurred your words. Nobody's perfect. Keep up the good work, albeit twice a week, nowadays.


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