Peter Cushing as J. Van Helsing. Cinematography by Jack Asher.
This splendidly gothic follow-up to Hammer’s 1958 Dracula leaves Christopher Lee’s Count in ashes but pits Peter Cushing’s stalwart Van Helsing against Baron Meinster (David Peel), who seems to be Dracula’s ex-boyfriend. A winsome heroine (Yvonne Monlaur) stays overnight at a lonely castle and is persuaded by the handsome Baron to unlock the silver chain his devoted mother (Martita Hunt) uses to keep him in check. Cushing is surrounded by an eccentric supporting cast and director Terence Fisher stages memorable sequences: Van Helsing branding his throat to cauterise a vampire bite, locks falling off a coffin before a vampire rises (a crib from MR James’ Count Magnus), a crone servant (Freda Jackson, earning her prominent billing) cackling as she midwifes a new-made vampire (Marie Devereaux) from a shallow grave, the vampirised Baroness hiding her fangs behind a veil-like sleeve (is she the first vampire in film history not to become a soulless blood junkie when turned?), and a stirring finale involving holy water, fire and a windmill.
Andree Melly’s Gina is one of the best vampire women in Hammer’s catalogue. She’s not necessarily dead at the end of the film – she should have got a series. Personally, I hope the brides escape the burning mill and ravage the countryside. Brides of Dracula has three credited writers (Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, Edward Percy) and at least one uncredited (Anthony Hinds): it’s a collection of great scenes and performances but keeps losing its plot. The brides aren’t the only characters unaccounted for.
I like the way it’s personal between Van Helsing and the vampire – VH acid-splashes the pretty boy monster with holy water, as if this were some 1960 teenage tearaway scuffle.
Most horror movies would treat the ‘two girls making toast’ scene as something to be got out of the way before we get to ‘the good stuff’ … Jack Asher lights it as if it were the climax of Suspiria.