Friday, October 15, 2010

Brides of Dracula [Terence Fisher]

I so much enjoyed Hammer Studios' maiden vampire production Dracula aka Horror of Dracula that I genuinely looked forward to seeing its immediate successor and the other highly praised film in this series, Brides of Dracula. The results are a bit mixed, but it on the whole an entertaining experience.

Since, due to whatever cause, Hammer did not call in Christopher Lee to reprise his role of the blood-slurping count (rumors vary from Lee declining since he wished to taste more variety in roles to Hammer setting him aside to cut costs), the plotline deals with Dracula's 'disciples' who carry on the unholy work after their master's death. One such is the Baron Meinster (David Peel) who serves as this film's arch-villain.

The film begins with a young girl Marianne traveling to Transylvania to take up a teaching post in a finishing school. Abandoned en route by her coachman and, for reasons unexplained, refused shelter by the local innkeeper, the damsel accepts an invitation by the aristocratic old dame of castle Meinster. The subsequent events of this sequence, where she comes to hear of the dame's son, believes him to be a prisoner of his mother and strives to 'set him free' make for wonderfully tight viewing: the dialog here sizzles with wit and portent ([Dame Meinster] "We pray for death, my son and I…at least I hope he prays."), the performance by Martita Hunt as Dame Meinster is spectacular and the atmosphere piles on so thickly that we dismiss some of the niggling and not-so-niggling plot inconsistencies in this regard.

Anyway, the vampire is set free and the escaped Marianne (who inexplicably still hasn't realized the Baron's true nature) runs into the forest where she faints and is revived by the ever-dependable Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, in another gracious and manly turn) who just happens to be questing for vampires in the general vicinity. Not knowing of her run-in with Meinster, he escorts her to her employment (ticking off the pompous principal with the sneering courtesy that only Peter Cushing can convey), and continues with his vampire-staking adventures in the locality. In the meanwhile, the villainous Baron again meets and seduces Marianne. Subsequent proceedings converge towards a massive climax where Van Helsing combats and finally rids the menace of Dracula's disciple.

While the film is generally pacy and rarely short of entertainment value, it does fall some notches below the standard of its predecessor, mainly due to some shoddy plotting. Van Helsing who had earlier claimed the rumors of transformation of vampires into bats/wolves a "common fallacy" retracts that statement without notice. Besides the various inconsistencies it makes with the plotline the problem with this is it gives us one of the most hideously unconvincing "rubber thingummy hanging by strings" gag onscreen. At another moment Van Helsing "cures" himself of the vampire's bite by cauterizing the wound….Huh? The good doctor should know that cauterizing is more useful to seal a wound and prevent future infection. As he does this he is watched by 2 vampires with strangely joyful expressions who are simply forgotten further on.

But flaws aside, there is still fun to be had. Peter Cushing commandingly portrays Van Helsing in a performance suffused with intelligence, good humor and admirable athleticism. Even the dubious cauterization is made a lot easier to accept by his presence: Dammit, Peter Cushing's doing it, so there must be something to it. David Peel as the vampire Meinster is a mixed bag: he is credible and cheer-worthy as the seductive ruthless Baron, but once he gets into his blood-drinking get-up he rather looks like Mr. Bean in a blonde wig and fangs, which, come to think of it, is goofier than the normal Mr. Bean. Terence Fisher directs with his customary flair for ornate visual design and action-laden set-pieces, and the climax, where Van Helsing leaps onto a windmill and
spins it to make the sign of the cross that traps the vampire and burns him down, readily surpasses that of the previous film.

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