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Brides of Dracula
Directed by Terence Fisher, The Brides Of Dracula begins when Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) travels by stagecoach to start her new job at a girls finishing school. When the stagecoach can't make it she heads into a nearby town to take solace at an inn but, after a conversation with an older but elegant woman named Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) she is invited to spend the night at her massive home in the hills. She takes her up on the offer but when looking out her window later that night she's convinced by her son, Baron Meinster (David Peel), to help him escape. For reasons Marianne doesn't yet understand, he's shackled to the wall of his room.
Marianne obliges, much to the dismay of servant Greta (Freda Jackson), and the Baron vanishes shortly after. The Baroness, however, is found dead, two puncture marks on her neck. When other women in town start showing up dead, Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is called in to investigate. As he does so, Marianne eventually makes her way to the school where she's to be employed and shortly thereafter is paid a visit by the Baron, who intends to make her his wife.
Slick, fast paced and fairly stylish, The Brides Of Dracula (the follow up to Hammer's 1958 box office smash The Horror Of Dracula) may not feature the late Sir Christopher Lee in his most iconic role but don't let that dissuade you, it's top tier Hammer Horror regardless. The plot hits all the right notes: a pretty women in the lead, an eerie small town setting complete with its own set of secrets, and of course, a seductively evil antagonist in the form of Baron Meinster at the center of it all. Throw in Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Van Helsing, and once you start getting involved in the picture it's easy to look past Lee's absence (he would, of course, return to the character in the coming years).
If the story has some plot holes and some logic gaps, so be it, as the film makes up for that in pretty much every other regard you'd hope for. The sets look fantastic here, highlighted by a truly eerie sequence in which a caterwauling Greta hunches over the grave of the freshly buried nubile young woman (the beautiful Marie Devereux) she knows will soon return, complete with the hand coming out of the dirt and the coffin popping open for the big reveal! The castle is lavish and ornate while at the same time mysterious and foreboding while the period costuming presents characters both bourgeoisie and proletariat in proper and authentic looking attire (for example, we get a ridiculously fancy nightgown for Marianne and then appropriately working class attire for the common innkeeper). It's all very colorful, very nicely shot and atmospherically lit, the movie really does look gorgeous. The fact that it's got a genuinely affecting score courtesy of composer Malcolm Williamson certainly doesn't hurt the production values here either.
As far as the performances go, Yvonne Monlaur ("France's latest sex kitten!" according to the trailer) is effectively naïve in her role. It's a stretch to think she'd get pulled in as easily as she does in the film but her performance is not at fault in that regard even if the script might be. She looks great here, has a nice doe-eyed innocence about her that works well given her character arc, though she doesn't have a ton of range. Martita Hunt as the manipulative Baroness has an appropriate old money vibe about her that's interesting to see and she too plays her part well. Freda Jackson also does fine work as her Reinfeld-esque servant of the undead.
The key factors here, however, are David Peel and Peter Cushing. Peel's looks aren't exactly what you think of when you think of vampires. He's fair haired and bright eyed and he lacks the somber, gothic appearance of someone like Lee or even Lugosi. Having said that, he plays the part well. He's quite enthusiastic here, he moves very nimbly and quickly and when the time comes he's able to cut a pretty imposing figure. Here overdoes it in a few spots, but for the most part he is very good in the part. Better still is Cushing. Always a dependable performer, his Van Helsing in this picture is a force to be reckoned with. The story might take its time introducing him but once it does, he basically owns the film. If every other aspect of this production had crashed and burned, the film would still be worth seeing for Cushing's efforts alone. Thankfully, most of the other aspects of the production rise to the occasion and The Brides Of Dracula remains first rate Hammer style entertainment.
Brides Of Dracula comes to Region A Blu-ray with a transfer taken from a ‘2K Scan from the interpositive' in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85:1 and taking up 20.2GBs of space on the 50GB disc. It looks very good, with strong detail and beautiful color reproduction. Black levels are nice and strong and we get good depth and texture here throughout pretty much the entire film. The expected amount of natural film grain is noticeable but there isn't much in the way of actual print damage here to report, and the image is, thankfully, devoid of any noticeable noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts.
Audio chores are handled by a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Quality of the track is quite nice, the dialogue is always easy to follow and understand and the levels are nicely balanced. There's some impressive depth to the score and no problems with any hiss or distortion.
Extras kick off with a new audio commentary with Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman and Filmmaker/Film Historian Constantine Nasr. It's a nicely researched and well delivered track that covers a lot of ground, noting that it was a picture that didn't carry over characters from previous films, how Hammer was in a bit of a transitional phase when this was made, the importance of Terrance Fisher's directing, the influence of fairy tales on the film, the uncredited narration in the film, Universal's role in getting this film made, Jimmy Sangster's involvement in the film, rewrites that were required to get the movie to where it is in its finished form, some of the themes that the films explore (such as the charm of evil as well as authority and subjugation), the quality of the set and production design noticeable in the film, how the film compares to the stage and theatrical versions of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer which debuted in 1958, details on pretty much all of the cast members including Cushing's contribution, certain elements of implausibility that are scattered throughout the movie and lots, lots more. It's good stuff.
The disc also includes a version of the movie in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio taking up 12.2GBs of space on the disc and with English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio. There are no subtitles options provided on this version nor can you access the audio commentary over this version. Picture quality is comparable to the 1.85.1 version though there are some noticeable compression artifacts evident here, almost certainly due to the feature getting less real estate on the disc.
Moving on to the featurettes, we get The Men Who Made Hammer: Terence Fisher, a fifty-eight-minute documentary that details the filmmaker's life and times with an emphasis on his work for Hammer. Made up primarily of an interview with Little Shoppe Of Horrors Magazine Editor/Publisher Richard Klemensen as well as a wealth of archival clips and images from throughout the man's life and career, it's a very in-depth look that covers his style, his professionalism, how he got along with many of his collaborators and the cast members that he worked with and plenty more. It's a thorough and interesting piece that covers a whole lot of ground and which serves as a nice tribute to the late director.
After that, we get The Men Who Made Hammer: Jack Asher, a sixteen-minute segment, again hosted by Klemensen, that looks at the history of Asher's work behind the camera for the studio, covering his early work in the fifties through to the end of his career and how he played a huge part in the Hammer look and the Hammer style. Again, plenty of great archival photos are used here, as well as some pertinent clips from the different projects that Asher worked on and it's a nice piece that pays tribute to one of Hammer's unsung heroes.
The Eternal And The Damned: Malcolm Williamson And The Brides Of Dracula is a fifteen-minute featurette that lets David Huckvale, the Author of Hammer Films Scores And The Musical Avant-Garde, talk for a bit about Williamson's life, starting in Australia and then carrying on in England after he moved there. He details his family life and then his career, obviously with a focus on the work that Williamson did for Hammer, specifically his work on The Brides Of Dracula. Huckvale gets in front of the piano himself a few times to illustrate specific points he made during the talk.
Introduction And The Making Of The Brides Of Dracula is a thirty-one-minute piece that is made up of interviews with Hammer Historian Richard Golen, Jimmy Sangster, Assistant Director Hugh Harlow, Producer Anthony Hinds, Script Supervisor Pauline Harlow, Hammer Historian Wayne Kinsey, Actress Yvonne Monlaur, Art Director Don Mingaye and Sculptress Margaret Robinson. It's an interesting piece that covers Jimmy Sangster and Peter Bryan's contributions to the script, Cushing's casting and work, the set design, the costumes, what it was like on set, how the film was rated and quite a bit more.
The Haunted History Of Oakley Court spends fifteen-minutes going over the film's primary location in Windsor, UK, a building that will look very familiar to many fans of UK cult cinema as it was used often not just by Hammer but by Amicus as well, not to mention plenty of other films not the least of which is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This piece gives us a nice tour of the exterior and interior of the house as well as a history of the building.
Rounding out the extras is are two theatrical trailers for the feature, a radio spot, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. It's also worth noting that Shout! Factory has included some reversible cover sleeve art for this release as well as, for the first printing only, a collectible slipcover.
Even if some will lament the absence of Christopher Lee, Terence Fisher's The Brides Of Dracula remains a horror film that hits all the right notes. Lee is missed to be sure but the rest of the cast prove quite able to handle things here while the art direction and production values are excellent from start to finish. Shout! Factory's Blu-ray is a good one, loaded with features and presenting the move itself in very nice shape, making it easy to recommend.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.