Brides of Dracula (1960)

Rating: B-

Dir: Terence Fisher
Star: Yvonne Monlaur, Peter Cushing, David Peel, Freda Jackson

Christopher Lee was not involved in making the sequel to Dracula, but Hammer wasn’t willing to let such a profitable property go to its rest, so brought the cheaper Peel in to play a blood-sucker instead. His Baron Meinster is being kept chained by his mother, and is inadvertently released by Marianne Danielle (Monlaur), a teacher on her way to a new position, who doesn’t realize the evil that lurks within his elegant frame. He follows Marianne to the ladies’ school where she works, which has the potential to provide an all-you-can-eat buffet for the Baron. Fortunately, Doctor Van Helsing (Cushing) is in the area, ready to martial the forces of light, as the dead bodies start to pile up around the village, and the local girls start developing unpleasant habits – such as hissing loudly and an aversion to crosses.

Peel is the George Lazenby of Dracula movies – this was his only appearance, and it’s easy to see why he was dumped, possessing none of the screen presence Lee brought to the role, instead coming more from the Robert Pattinson school of performances. There are also some totally cringeworthy bat effects, which completely derail the movie’s atmosphere whenever they are used: the IMDB says, “The prop department put a lot of effort into making a realistic model bat. It got lost and had to be replaced on short notice.” No kidding. The script plays terribly fast and loose with vampire lore and has some gaping holes, apparently due to multiple writers – for instance, the fate of the titular brides is conspicuous by its complete absence.

Fortunately, the other aspects of the movie are good to excellent, led by a surprisingly-actiony Cushing, who also bring his usual gravitas to things, selling effectively what is often a fairly ludicrous concept. The scene where he wakes from unconsciousness, realizes he has been infected, and what he must do as a result, is great, and surprisingly hardcore for its time. Monlaur provides attractive window-dressing, and the whole thing is just beautifully shot by Jack Asher. These qualities certainly overpower the flaws, and this is an enjoyable slice of nonsense, with Cushing’s typically-marvellous performance at its core.

[Also starring: Mona Washbourne, who plays Frau Lang, the wife of the school-owner, also portrayed Henry Higgins’ housekeeper in My Fair Lady.]