Peter Cushing has too many brides to choose from
The Brides of Dracula (1960) is one of the better Hammer horror films, but this movie tries to be a Dracula movie without Dracula, as Christopher Lee does not appear in this film. This movie seems to be somewhat of a loose sequel to Horror of Dracula (1958), which ended in the death of Dracula. However, Hammer thought there was a still story without Lee, which is kinda stupid in my opinion. However, they still shoehorn in Peter Cushing as Van Helsing to drive the story.
The real story was that Christopher Lee refused to appear in this movie. That’s why it is crap (in parts). The script was written for a second Cushing versus Lee showdown, but another actor was substituted in for Lee, and it doesn’t work. Not only doesn’t it work, the other weaknesses stick out even more.
Baron Fake Dracula is played by David Peel, an almost complete unknown. He later retired from acting after this film and I can see why. He and Cushing enter the picture at the half-way point, which copies the structure from Horror of Dracula. However, until then, Yvonne Monlaur as Marrianne tries to carry the film, but she’s not exactly a strong female lead. She plays a stupid damsel in distress type, but she’s French, so she’s a stronger damsel in distress than you might think.
The cinematography has generic locations like in every other Dracula movie, like the usual Eastern European bar. The hair styling and costumes are also awful. David Peel looks like he’s wearing a wig or has been given a bad dye job or something. Cushing does his best with the story, but the parts with Yvonne Monlaur and Martita Hunt really put on a good show for the first 30 minutes. Throughout this movie, there’s no obvious mention of any “brides” of Dracula or even Dracula himself, so I’m not sure who titled this movie, but he must have been drunk.
Marianne accidentally releases Baron Fake Dracula and runs off to town, finding Van Helsing by accident. The movie is colorful and they really try their best to make the movie come alive like a comic book, with bright-red blood and black scars. Peter Cushing is his usual charasmatic self, and there’s no monologuing for any character and no scene drowns in dialogue, thankfully.
I think this movie got better reviews than previous Hammer horror films because of the tight pace and the performances. The make-up and the cinematography are a little off, and much of the rewritten script crams together characters or motivations. It feels a little faster though, so maybe they cut more than they added.
Van Helsing aids Marianne and investigates the girls’ school, where Baron Fake Dracula is camped out. They hardly show any of the students, so I didn’t even know it was a girls’ school until I looked it up. That’s a missed opportunity if I ever heard of one.
There are assorted thematic elements thrown in for a few scenes, but nothing truly fleshed out. Lesbianism, sexual ambiguity, conservatism, and others are littered throughout this movie. It does rise above the simple schlock fest into a stronger vampire story because of the themes and the character moments, so I have to give it credit in that way. Most of the setup is also well-done. A mother chaining up her vampire son and being unable to kill him is one of those great themes.
Although this movie is arguably better than what comes later, I still prefer my Dracula movies with Christopher Lee. They really tried their best with this one though, but it screams for Christopher Lee and the rewrites hurt it. In the end, David Peel is not good and his hair is even worse. Fortunately, Peter Cushing carries the film and doesn’t get bogged down in melodrama, but instead investigates and pounds stakes into vampires with much energy.