The Brides Of Dracula (1960 United Kingdom)

brides-of-dContinuing the theme of bloodsucking from my previous post, (and before they made a deal with the Fox/Seven Arts mafia distributors) Hammer’s artists and technicians were still carefully keeping the camera lens focused on the best aspects of their productions when this sparkling gem was conceived – in this case a most lovely Yvonne Monlaur, well-dressed Bray Studios interiors, a memorable exterior windmill set-piece, and yet another unforgettable protagonist courtesy of the great Peter Cushing. Hammer’s best films are a model of efficiency and economy, and this film definitely looks a lot better than it should.

Great credit should be given to director Terence Fisher (who directed many of Hammer’s best films, including “Revenge of Frankenstein”, “The Devil Rides Out” and the original “Dracula”) but perhaps even more so to photographer Jack Asher and art designer Bernard Robinson. The departure of Asher and Robinson in later years was yet another cause of Hammer’s decline, and the reason why they were so essential is evident in this film’s sometimes breathtaking designs. The sets are so intelligently designed and so well-lit that you really don’t even notice how cheap they are – not only that but they add a lot to the experience of the story by affecting the audience’s mood in overt ways.

I love the splashes of deep purple in the background when Van Helsing enters the windmill, for just one example. The film uses a consistent red colour scheme to infuse everything with the psychological association of blood and blood-letting. This effectively emphasizes and exploits the fetishism associated with that colour and the sensual qualities of the colour red. That’s just the first of many fetishes lightly touched upon in this work, though of course it’s all done in good taste. Obviously the blood fetish is most pronounced, and the film-makers have done an admirable job of using colour film to enhance the appeal in this regard – when we do actually see blood on-screen it’s in small quantities and very effective.

bridesula4The vampire theme is more explicitly associated with homo-eroticism in this film than in any previous horror film I’ve seen. This became more and more explicit as the Hammer horror cycle progressed, perhaps reaching its zenith in “Frankenstein Created Woman”. Here we have both female and male homo-erotic scenes as well as a strong implication of incest between the vampire (David Peel) and his mother (Martita Hunt). In fact Peel is a far more sensual vampire in general than anything I’ve seen in previous films, highlighted by his light blonde hair and soft features. This makes him a strong contrast to Christopher Lee’s animalistic portrayal of the vampire in the first Hammer Dracula film.

It was great near the conclusion when Peel emerged with those chains and the look that Cushing gave him…. Oh boy! Van Helsing was in serious danger of being the victim of some sadomasochistic “fun” and he was definitely NOT into it! (These days he would probably be accused of giving a homophobic performance) In fact I think other than the great photography and visual style of the film in general Cushing is its greatest strength. He is very adept at modulating the level of energy in his performance, and in this film he achieves a steady escalation of emotion and intensity.What a no-nonsense charisma he had.

He starts out as the very dry scholarly type and slowly reveals how deep and emotional, indeed spiritual, his feelings about vampirism are. By the end of the film he’s in full action-hero mode, and I found myself inwardly cheering him on as he puts all his impressive physicality on display to vanquish the blood-sucker. Peter Cushing appeared in a lot of bad films, and usually manages to make them worthwhile. So when he appears in a good role in a good film, it’s really something that shouldn’t be missed, and something that fans can enjoy again and again. I particularly like Jimmy Sangster’s theatrical, even flowing script, with its three-act structure. Neck-biting cinema doesn’t get more pretty than this… I approve.

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