Sunday, 1 April 2018


COUNTINUING MY TRIPS down memory lane, I’m going back a little earlier than my l piece as week on HORROR EXPRESS (1973). As I said previously.  When I came across Horror Express, I was already well acquainted with the work of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and the gothic horror movement of the late 50’s- 1970’s. The subject of today’s piece, The Brides of Dracula, was one of the first films I encountered on my journey into this world and the first that really made me take notice of Cushing as an actor. 

MY INTEREST IN THE GENRE went something like this; finding Quatermass and the Pit (1967) through references in Dr Who magazines and then researching its background. From there I saw Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), chosen due to my interest in Egyptology (and the fact that it was the easiest Hammer-Mummy film to get on region 2 at the time) and the other Quatermass films. Then, I started to dip my toes into Hammers other franchises, Amicus films and the work of contemporaries like Roger Corman. I would do this by heading along to the UK HMV store and picking a random title or two, fortunately for me Halloween usually involved a sale on the horror section and two for £10. 

I BELIEVE IT WAS HALLOWEEN 2008 when, in the very early days of my hammer collecting, I grabbed both The Devil Rides Out (1968) and Brides of Dracula. I’d been after Devil for some time, but Brides I knew very little about and indeed only chose it to see an example of Hammer’s Dracula series. Rushing home with my two purchases, I had a habit at this age of turning any film I really wanted to see into something of an ‘event’, buying snacks and leaving it until late evening. The film I gave that honour too was The Devil Rides Out, but deciding I wanted to watch something however, I popped the disc of Brides into the player.

I THINK, IN MANY WAYS Brides of Dracula, is the perfect film in which to fall in love with both Hammer and Cushing. Whilst the script, can at times be a little messy, it is the atmosphere and performances that set this film apart. Visually the film is somewhat different to 1958’s Dracula, the slightly rougher aspects of that film are completely gone, primarily anything shot on location.

IN DRACULA , this was beneficial atmospherically as for the most part that film functions as a thriller in the guise of a horror movie. Think about it, a man hunts down an evil villain and dies in the process, a relative and the man’s accomplice in his mysterious work then embark on a cat and mouse chase with the villain. Of course I am being a little ignorant in this description of the gothic atmosphere and various staking’s etc., etc.

HOWEVER PURELY in terms of its various script beats, Dracula follows a classical thriller mould. Brides on the other hand is a fairy-tale, a dark fable of a girl who enters a strange country and rescues a prince (well Baron) only for him to turn out to be cursed. It is up to a brave hero (Van Helsing) to save the day. Perhaps reacting to this, Terrance Fisher opts to shoot Brides as mostly stage bound with very little obvious location footage. The set design is far more extravagant and what results is an utterly beautiful self-contained gothic world. The blacks and browns used in a lot of the sets in Dracula, are replaced with vibrant purples and reds. As a young horror fan, I fell in love with this gothic fairy-tale landscape.

A HUGE COMPONENT of this is David Peels performance as Baron Meintser, a character who somewhat divides the fans. Honestly, whilst I adore Christopher Lee as Dracula, I think it’s very unfair to compare that performance to this one. What is being exercised in the two movies are two very different portrayals of the ‘Dracula’ type character. 

WHILST CHRISTOPHER LEE gets his brief ‘refined gentleman’ moment in the opening scene of the earlier film, his Dracula is an animalistic, vicious character. The sexuality comes from that, with Lee's Dracula presented as a highly sexualised creature, not in a romantic way but a lustful and primal one. Peel on the other hand, feels as if the Hammer team were going for an entirely different approach, presenting him as a suave and debonair figure. For the most part he spends his time talking and being legitimately charming, as opposed to Lees snarling and hissing. This works within the films ‘fairy-tale mould’, after all the wonderful opening sequence in which the character of Marianne ‘frees’ him, wouldn’t work as well unless the character was a romantic one.

IN MANY WAYS, Peel's performance pre-empts the take that Frank Langella would have on the character many years later. And then of course there’s Cushing himself, giving what is perhaps his best performance as Van Helsing. I remember being utterly captivated by the determination in his performance, most notably the celebrated scene where he is forced to use a branding Iron on his neck to save himself from the curse of Vampirism.

THE SHEER FEAR mixed with determination presented here gives Van Helsing a warmer presence than he had in the earlier film (Teddy-bear coat scenes aside) and his bond with Marianne does hint at a romance between the two. It’s the performance that made me fall in love with the man and I quickly hunted down several of the Frankenstein entries to see more.

RETURNING TO MY little story of how I discovered Brides, whilst I did enjoy The Devil Rides Out, the film that really stole my heart that Halloween was Brides of Dracula. For me, it’s the only film to watch that time of year and I’m always ready to immerse myself in its rich gothic atmosphere again and again. Whilst I of course adore Dracula, in many ways Brides is a superior film and for me is Fishers masterpiece. If you ever want to indoctrinate anyone in the ways of Hammer, this is the one to go for- after all it worked for me!

AND WHAT ABOUT YOURSELVES dear readers? What were the films that really made you fall in love with Cushing? If you have any comments, suggestions or feedback about this or ANY of my features here at PCAS you can contact me HERE at

star of BRIDES OF DRACULA can be found HERE!

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