Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson, David Peel
Length: 85 min
Rating: BBFC: 12
Disks: 2 (1 BD, 1 DVD)
Label: Final Cut Entertainment
Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0 Mono
Hammer fans hardly need a long-winded introduction from me on Brides of Dracula (1960), one of the British company’s seminal Gothic horrors. For those who are new to Hammer, this film is a direct sequel to their superb Horror of Dracula (1958), one of the central films in the so-called Silver Age of Horror. After the financial, if not critical, success of Horror of Dracula, the stakes were high, and director Terence Fisher has risen admirably to the occasion for this sequel, to create an altogether different type of vampire film—one imbued with much Gothic atmosphere and religious mysticism rather than relying chiefly on kinetic action and the natural physicality of its actors, as HoD did.
The intriguing plot centers on a lovely young woman, on her way to a new job, who is lured to a lonely Chateau by the old Baroness Meinster to spend the night. Once there she inadvertently releases an evil vampire that the Baroness had been keeping chained up. Soon after, Prof. Van Helsing arrives and the film switches to his point of view.
Picking up where Horror of Dracula left off, the film is essentially a continuation of the “adventures of Dr. Van Helsing,” our favorite vampire hunter. Peter Cushing magnificently reprises his Van Helsing role, in a performance just as charismatic as before, using his natural physicality to drive the action scenes. In keeping with Fisher’s more mystical approach to the film this time around, Van Helsing relies less on science and more on Christian symbols and other religious paraphernalia, such as holy water which burns the vampire’s face like acid. In fact, in the original version of the script, Van Helsing performs a black mass to elicit a horde of bats to destroy the vampires at the film’s conclusion. That ending was ultimately abandoned and used instead in Hammer’s other vampire masterpiece, Kiss of the Vampire (1963).
David Peel as the main vampire, Baron Meinster, is superb. Though many have complained about the absence of the towering Dracula of Christopher Lee in a film that bares Dracula’s name in the title, the fact is Peel gives just as good a performance in his own right. His vampire is a perfect blend of boyish charm and aristocratic arrogance, and cinematographer Jack Asher gives his face the perfect aura of evil during the “fang” shots.
Transferred and restored by Universal Pictures in 1080p resolution, the blu-ray of Brides of Dracula from Final Cut Entertainment looks good if not as outstanding as it could have looked, had more attention been given to it. There is some evidence of edge sharpening. This in itself does not look terrible, (in fact in gives close-ups startling detail), but it does make the natural film grain more pronounced than is ideal, especially in the many dark indoor, or exterior foggy scenes where its coarseness is a little too obvious. That said, it is a blessing not to have the image cleaned to death with DNR. The colors are naturally earthy, bright and vivid, if perhaps a little oversaturated. In the scene where the Baroness Meinster descends the stairs at the command of her son, the purple ribbon of her dress looks positively iridescent. Contrast has been jacked up as well, which results in some loss of detail in the shadows and instances of black crush. However, the biggest controversy about this release is Universal’s new 2.00:1 aspect ratio which entails some loss of image at the bottom, as compared to their earlier mastering for the Region 1 DVD. Again, this does not look horrendous, even though in principal it does crop important details occasionally. See screencaps for direct comparison between the old US DVD and the new blu-ray.
The LPCM 2.0 Mono track sounds very good—bright and vivid. Dialog is crystal-clear and Malcolm Williamson’s dramatic, quasi-religious score sounds perfectly acceptable across all ranges, if without any kind of special amplitude that a really thoughtful digital mastering could have provided.
There are a small number of extras, including a stills gallery, an original theatrical trailer, and a newly-produced 31 minute featurette on the making of Brides of Dracula. This consists of several interviews with Hammer experts like Wayne Kinsey and Richard Golen, along with Hammer alumni like Hugh Harlow, Jimmy Sangster, Yvonne Monlaur, and others. The information itself will be fascinating; particularly to anyone interested in Hammer’s history, but the production drags a little and could have benefited from a slightly higher energy level. The real shame here is that the opportunity wasn’t taken to record a thorough commentary track for the film with someone like Jonathan Rigby or Marcus Hearn, two of our best Hammer experts of the day.
For many Hammer fans Final Cut Entertainment’s new blu-ray release of Brides of Dracula will be a mandatory purchase. If I seem less excited about this release than I should be it’s because I can’t escape the feeling that it was all done on autopilot. Even Final Cut Entertainment’s PR, or lack thereof, is a bit stupefying, as no review copies had reportedly been sent to the media. That said, and the minor video/audio restoration and aspect ratio hiccups aside, Brides of Dracula is one of the seminal classics of the 1960’s Gothic horror revival and is certainly worth seeing and forming an opinion on. Together with Hammer’s much later Twins of Evil, it is a film that distills the heady atmosphere of a Gothic fairytale like few others.
~ By Dima Ballin