Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson, David Peel
Length: 85 min
Rating: FSK: 12
Label: Anolis Entertainment
Aspect Ratio: 1,78:1
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English, German DTS HD-MA 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: German (optional)
Hammer aficionados hardly need a long-winded introduction from me on Brides of Dracula (1960), one of the British company’s greatest Gothic horrors. After the popular, if not critical, success of Hammer’s seminal Dracula (1958), the stakes were high, and director Terence Fisher had 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 Dracula 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 Dracula left off, the film is essentially a continuation of the “adventures of Dr. Van Helsing,” 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 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.
Brides of Dracula was first released on BD in the UK, by Final Cut Entertainment, in 2013. At the time, I noted there was evidence of edge sharpening. Which in itself did not look terrible, (in fact in gave close-ups startling detail), but it did coarsen the film grain a little. The new release from Anolis Entertainment in Germany looks almost identical to the British release in every way, except that the British release is presented in a 2.00:1 aspect ratio, while the German release is presented in the fuller 1,78:1 aspect ration. This does make a significant difference in framing and composition—with many shots fitting more comfortably into the fuller frame.
As far as the grain is concerned, it is still a little coarser than ideal, but it didn’t bother me quite as much, this time around, and it is a blessing not to have the image cleaned to death with DNR. Colors are naturally earthy, bright and vivid, yet strangely blues and purples tend to be 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. In a few shots, there is a blue halo around objects when they are silhouetted against a dark blue background (see the screen grab of the castle above). The transfer is a little on the dark side, and there is some loss of detail in the shadows and some instances of black crush. Anolis’s image is fractionally brighter than Final Cut’s, but the difference is hard to see without direct comparison.
The two LPCM 2.0 mono tracks (English and German) sound very good—full, bright and vivid. Dialog is crystal-clear and Malcolm Williamson’s dramatic, quasi-religious score sounds perfectly acceptable across all ranges. The disk defaults to the German track, but it’s easy to switch to the original English.
As expected, there are way more extra features on the Anolis release than there are on the British one. First, we are given an audio commentary by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad, but this is in German only.
Next, the 31 minute featurette, The Making of Brides of Dracula, has been ported over from the British release. 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.
Next we have the original British theatrical trailer, which is presented in HD; as well as the German trailer which looks more like an upconvert from SD.
Next is a 26-minute, English-language interview with actress Yvonne Monlaur from the Festival of Fantastic Films, 2004. She discusses not just Brides of Dracula, but her entire film career.
Next is the original German opening and closing credit sequences.
In addition to these, we are also given a traversal though the Brides of Dracula comic, from an old issue of the Halls of Hammer magazine; traversals through two separate German press books; and an image gallery.
Anyone who did not pick up Final Cut Entertainment’s blu-ray release of Brides of Dracula, might want to consider picking up the Anolis release instead. The fuller framing from Anolis makes a significant difference in one’s viewing pleasure, and the transfer/restoration, while not perfect, is perfectly acceptable. In any case, this is now my recommended release of this film, and will probably remain so for the foreseeable future. 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.