3 stars out of 4.
Don’t be looking for the Count. Even though the second film in the Hammer cycle bears his name, Dracula is nowhere to be found. Instead we are left with an odd substitute that works somewhat, but no sign of the man himself. So why bother? Several reasons:
1. This is Hammer still at its prime.
2. Terence Fisher directed.
3. Peter Cushing. (This is the main reason.) The only other Dracula film of this series that features Van Helsing, unless you count the awful A.D. 1972 (1972 of course) which I do not.
4. A really terrible fake bat flying around. Well they’re not as bad as the one in Scars of Dracula (1970).
Brides is an entertaining 86 minutes that will pass your time. This despite a mess of a plot. The Dracula substitute is the Baron Meinster, a man who is kept inside his castle. You may ask, how can a vampire be stuck inside his own home? Why he’s chained up by his mother of course. (That got your attention didn’t it?) And of course he’d have to be fed and cared for. So he’d need a creepy old woman to take care of him and his mother to bring him some nice occasional female snacks…
It is this latest “conquest” that foolishly gives him the key to unlock the chain binding him to his prison. Of course, I’m not quite sure what kind of a chain one would need to keep a vampire locked up but I digress. The new girl runs away after seeing the Baron “kill” his mother and flees off into the night, eventually cracking her head on a rock in the roadway. The next morning her unconscious form is found by an arriving coach carrying none other than Professor Van Helsing.
This may seem like a magical coincidence, but Van Helsing has been called to the area by the local priest who is knowledgeable enough in the occult to know when outside help is needed. (Wonder what a vampire removal fee might run?) Van Helsing than begins to connect the dots between the oddness of the Baron’s actions with the increasing amounts of vampirism. This occurs after seeing a new vampire have to be coaxed out of her grave by the Baron’s old woman “You’ve just go to reach a bit farther.” (a brilliantly conceived scene) and encountering the Baroness who was not killed, but made like her son.
The old aristocratic bearing that Lee brought to the role of Dracula is still readily apparent in David Peel’s Baron Meinster, but we do get the sense that the Baron actually enjoys what he does. Especially when the girl he was denied gets to her original destination of an all-girl finishing school…which must seem like a vampire’s idea of a all you can eat buffet.
Cushing is a welcome presence for those fans of Horror of Dracula. Van Helsing is just a as much of a charming super hero here as in the first film. This combined again with Fisher’s smart and simplistic direction have led some fans to claim this superior to the original film…but it isn’t sadly. It suffers a trifle from the same disease that so rampantly affected all of the other sequels: disinterest and later boredom. And the notion of a vampire having supernatural powers and being able to change forms that was so refreshingly debunked in the first film as rubbish by Van Helsing now takes the form of a rubber bat on wires. I really wish they had reconsidered that last detail because the bat does not appear once, but multiple times.
The problems arise from the fact that the original script was completely denied by the Censor board and was very hastily rewritten by multiple people who seemed to possess a greater concern for appeasing those said censors and keeping budget concerns to a minimum.
The ending is another well done and highly inventive climax that ends extremely too quickly. It takes about 84 minutes to build up the story, (what bit there is) 1 minute to end and 1 minute for credits. But one thing that can always be said for these films is that they certainly know how to off a vampire and not to mention how to bring him back…
One question remains though: where do vampires get all those perfectly sized nightgowns for the women they convert?
The DVD release is contained in the Universal boxset entitled The Hammer Horror Series Franchise collection. The set is comprised of 2 DVDs housing 8 Hammer films. (Note: these are DVD-18s that are not playable without error in most players.) All feature anamorphic transfers with mono audio and theatrical aspect ratios. Brides has easily the best transfer of any Hammer title I’ve ever seen. They should really all look this good. Strong color, anamorphic image, strong audio and the only title to be in its original 1.66:1 ratio.