Hammer’s second instalment in their Dracula series, despite its title did not actually feature the King of the Vampires at all. Instead it followed Cushing’s Van Helsing battling another Vampire, Baron Meinster.
Though it is somewhat overlooked compared to the sequels starring Christopher Lee, I actually feel that in some ways it was one of the best Hammer Vampire films.
It was released in 1960.
“Transylvania, land of dark forests, dread mountains and black unfathomable lakes. Still the home of magic and devilry as the Nineteenth century draws to a close. Dracula, monarch of all Vampires is dead, but his disciples live on to spread the cult and corrupt the world”
A young French school teacher named Marianne Danielle arrives in Transylvania to take up a position. On route however she is abandoned by her coach driver. She decides to accept the offer of Baroness Meinster to spend the night at her castle despite being warned by the locals not too.
Whilst there she discovers that the Baroness keeps her son locked up in chains below. Taking pity on him, Marianne releases the Baron, but unfortunately it turns out that he is a Vampire.
He was turned many years ago and his mother simply did not have the heart to stake him, so she had him imprisoned to prevent him from hurting anyone.
Upon being freed, the Baron brutally murders his own mother and drinks her blood. After finding the Baronesses drained corpse with puncture marks on her neck, Marianne flees in terror from the castle and eventually is found by Van Helsing.
She does not understand what he means when he asks her about Vampirism, being unfamiliar with the legends, nor does she remember what happened the previous night.
Van Helsing escorts her to the school where she is to be employed, where he discovers a funeral in progress.
Van Helsing has his suspicions that the murdered girl was the victim of a Vampire and begs her father not bury her yet until he can be sure. He doesn’t listen however and that night she does rise as a Vampire and is able to escape thanks to Greta, Baroness Meinster’s former servant who has now serves her son. Van Helsing now suspecting the Baroness arrives back at her castle.
There he discovers her now risen as a Vampire and her son. After a brief fight the Baron is able to escape, whilst the Baroness remains behind. She is full of self loathing and guilt, not only at what she has become, but at what she allowed her son to become. She says she wishes she had slain him years ago and that now more people will die because of her. Van Helsing puts her out of her misery the next morning by staking her whilst she sleeps during the day.
The Baron meanwhile arrives at the school where he is able to seduce Marianne and convince her to marry him. Planning to make her a part of his new Vampire clan, he also bites her friend Gina and turns her into a Vampire.
The next night Gina rises and tries to kill Marianne who is rescued by Van Helsing in time. Van Helsing tells Marianne that both Gina and the Baron are Vampires and if not stopped they will kill everyone in this school. She tells Van Helsing the whereabouts of the Baron which Gina had let slip to Marianne earlier on. Van Helsing arrives at the old mill.
There he arrives with a cross which repels the Baron and his Vampire brides. Greta however the Baroness’s former servant, now hypnotized by the baron battles Van Helsing. In the fight they both fall from a high point and Greta is killed. Unfortunately Van Helsings cross falls out of reach and as he struggles to get it back the Baron attacks him with a chain. He knocks Van Helsing out and bites him. He then goes to find Marianne, hoping to complete her initiation.
When Van Helsing comes to he sticks a piece of red hot metal into the wound which cauterise it before the infection can spread. He then sprinkles holy water on it to purify it.
The Baron returns with Marianne in tow. Just as he is about to bite her Van Helsing throws holy water in his face which burns it like acid. Whilst he is in pain the Baron kicks over a brazier of hot coals which cause the wind mill to go up in flames. The Baron’s two Vampire brides are killed in the flames, whilst the Baron flees. Van Helsing manages to kill him by pulling the sails of the windmill into the shape of a cross which’s shadow falls on the Baron. The holy power of the cross kills him instantly and Marianne is freed from his hypnotic control.
The Brides of Dracula is an interesting sequel to Horror of Dracula mainly because it doesn’t feature the count at all.
Hammers Frankenstein series stood out from the original Universal series by having the focus be placed on the Professor instead of the monster. In the Universal sequels each film would revolve around the monster usually falling into the care of another scientist, whilst in the Hammer sequels the reverse was true and each film would see the professor create a new monster.
You can see that in this film they were going down a similar route of having the focus of the sequels be on the Professor, in this case Van Helsing who would face a different Vampire king every time.
Sadly however for whatever reason Hammer abandoned this direction and instead placed the focus back on Dracula again. I think this was a mistake as I think this film shows that actually there was more potential in a Van Helsing film series.
Sadly though I do enjoy the later Christopher Lee sequels I feel they don’t really bring much to the Dracula story. Except for Dracula Prince of Darkness which introduces the idea of Vampires being brought back from the grave in a blood ritual. Other than that until the modern day films sadly to me, most of the Hammer Dracula’s with Lee are just the same story over and over again.
Dracula gets brought back, he kills a sexy red head and tries to kill a sexy blonde and then gets killed by a guy named Paul, usually after getting advice from some old guy, usually a priest who knows about Vampires.
Added to that though he is always menacing, Christopher Lee is often sadly wasted in a lot of these sequels. He gets very little screen time, often isn’t brought back until half way through and then just stands at the back staring at young women with his big red eyes.
This sequel meanwhile to start with makes far better use of Peter Cushing. Unlike Lee as Dracula, he isn’t pushed to the side, gets plenty of screen time and the movie really makes use of what was great about his Van Helsing from the previous films, the physical aspect of the character.
This film gives Cushing plenty of great dynamic moments like having him swing through the air like Errol Flynn, pull a burning windmill into the shape of a cross and battle Baron Meinster a crazy chain wielding Vampire. We also get to see how strong his will and determination is when dealing with the Vampires as well such as the famous scene where he cauterizes his own neck wound by ramming a piece of burning hot steal straight into it.
At the same time however I feel this movie is able to flesh out Van Helsing’s character more than the previous film as we see a more caring side to the character when dealing with Baroness Meinster. In the previous movie he was utterly ruthless in dispatching Vampires. Even when they screamed for mercy he’d still just coldly hammer the stakes into their hearts or burn them in the sun.
In this film however when dealing with the Baroness he is more sympathetic to her problems and even offers to help her. You get the impression that he feels that he is genuinely releasing the people who have become Vampires from their state of perpetual torment, rather than just simply killing them to help their victims.
Aside from Van Helsing’s portrayal, this film also explores a very interesting idea that there are many different types of Vampires.
In the previous movie Van Helsing explicitly said that Vampires could not change shape, however in this movie the Baron and his bloodsucking minions regularly turn into bats.
Van Helsing explains that there are many different types of Vampires and that in the events of the previous movie he simply hadn’t encountered any shapeshifting Vampires yet.
This idea of there being many different types of Vampires would be explored in other Hammer films such as Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter which states that there are more species of Vampire than there are bird of prey and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires which shows that each country has its own Vampires that are all different to each other.
Many other non Hammer Vampire pieces of fiction would explore this idea too, including the Horror comic American Vampire, Marvel Comics, as well as the Blade film series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer both the tv series and its comic book sequel, Charmed, the Anno Dracula series which was written by Kim Newman a fan of the hammer films, and the Fright Night remake in 2011 starring David Tennant.
I have always found this to be a fascinating idea as it opens up so many exciting story possibilities. It allows you to incorporate many different Vampire myths. You can have the traditional Vampires, the Hopping Vampires, the Jiang Shi, the Indian Vampires, the Vetala, or the Nelapsi a super race of Vampires that regular Vampires fear and that are said to be so powerful that nothing can kill them, or the Draugrs, Nordic sea Vampires that rise from the oceans at night and drag their victims kicking and screaming back to the oceans depths.
There are a whole wealth of fascinating Vampiric creatures from various myths and legends that could have been incorporated into the Hammer film series. There are also other interesting ideas I feel you can explore too. For instance presumably there are other Vampires out there the equal of Dracula. Dracula is the monarch only of his breed of Vampire, so presumably there are other king or queen Vampires out there. Its kind of like in Supernatural when we see the Alpha Monsters who are the first of their kind, presumably there are other Alpha Vampires out there. How do these Alpha Vampires regard each other? Are their rivalries between them. I’d imagine all other Vampires being terrified of the Nelapsi at least.
Sadly however this movie only really scratches the surface of this idea and in the Dracula sequels all we get is just Dracula coming back and dying again.
Really as much as I love Christopher Lee’s Dracula there was clearly more potential in Cushing’s Van Helsing as a leading character at this point. A series with Van Helsing as the lead could have had him travel from town to town battling the many different types of Vampires and other creatures. It would have been like Supernatural about 5 decades earlier, but with Cushing’s Van Helsing. We could have also found out more about Van Helsing’s past, why he became a Vampire hunter and how his knowledge of the Vampire has grown over the years.
Its just such a shame that they didn’t continue their Van Helsing series. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have wanted Lee’s Dracula to return at a later date. Indeed that would have made it all the more special if he had been gone for a while, but still I really do think Van Helsing had far more potential as a leading character.
Some reviewers over the years have criticised this movie as they feel that Baron Meinster played by David Peel isn’t as strong an enemy as Christopher Lee’s Dracula.
Whilst there is no denying that Lee was a far more memorable villain I think that Peel does a good job with Meinster none the less. Meinster is a very different type of Vampire to Dracula in more ways than one.
He is more sneering, arrogant and less animilastic and somewhat more cowardly too. He generally sends his minions to fight Van Helsing, flees when Van Helsing attacks him and remains more restrained throughout the film.
In many ways he could be seen as the opposite to Lee’s Dracula, but I liked that as it meant it wasn’t just the same story again. The Baron gave Cushing more of sneaky, sly adversary, one who could actually get people to trust, even love him, who could hide behind his minions and even outwit the good doctor. Whilst Lee’s Dracula was more vicious, and more of a towering force of evil. Peel’s Vampire is a more crafty villain.
Baroness Meinster I also find to be more interesting than Dracula’s bride from the first movie. She is a conflicted character who genuinely feels guilt over the horrors her son has committed but can’t bring herself to end his life and pays the price for it. Her death at Van Helsing’s hands is very moving.
Terrance Fisher returns as the director and once again brings a real dream like quality to the look of the film. There are some truly wonderful shots such as the final burning windmill and also some explicit scenes of violence too such as Meinster’s face being burned by holy water. I always found that bit particularly gruesome when I was young.
Overall whilst I wouldn’t rate this as quite the classic Horror of Dracula is. Its still a brilliant sequel none the less and definitely one of the stronger entries in the series.
Baron Meinster’s Vampires
The Baron is said to come from an entirely separate race of Vampires to Dracula. These Vampires have the ability to change into bats, something which Dracula and his kind could not do. They also have far greater hypnotic powers than Dracula’s kind too.
Despite this however they do not appear to possess super human strength. Dracula’s Vampires were shown to be far more powerful than even experienced Vampire killers. Van Helsing was unable to hold his own against Lee’s Dracula who effortlessly overpowered him and tossed him across the room, whilst in the next sequel it takes 5 monks to restrain Helen, one of Vampires Dracula brides.
With Meinster however, when he and Van Helsing were shown to fight, Van Helsing could match him and even best him no problem.
They also possess the same weaknesses as Dracula’s Vampires such as holy items, and can be killed by a stake through the heart, and direct sunlight.
It is not known if they can be brought back from the grave like Dracula’s Vampires.
Notes and Trivia
- This film inspired Jesus Franco, director of the cult classic The Awful Doctor Orlloff to become a director. There is also a character from Vampire Hunter D named Baron Meinster as tribute to this film.
- Christopher Lee was asked to reprise his role as Dracula for this film but turned it down as he did not want to be typecast as the Count.
- Peter Cushing apparently changed the ending of this film. Originally Van Helsing was to have summoned Bats to destroy Meinster, but Cushing rejected this as he felt it was too mystical for Van Helsing. This ending would later be utilised for Hammers next Vampire movie Kiss of the Vampire.
- Originally Kiss of the Vampire was to be a sequel to this film, and Van Helsing was to have appeared. Sadly however Cushing was unavailable and so a new Vampire hunter was created.
- David Peel who played the Baron retired from acting after this film was released and became a sculptor. This was his only leading role.
- Not only does Dracula not appear but the Vampires in this film have nothing to do with him. Thus the title The Brides of Dracula is completely inappropriate.