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Month of Horror 2017: Dealer’s Choice – Terence Fisher: The Brides of Dracula

Editor’s Note: I am posting this from St. Lucia and will not get home until late next Wednesday so please forgive the fact that these will probably be shorter, less well researched, and posted irregularly. I also can’t promise a theme most nights since most of the horror I’m bringing with me is from my Universal Horror boxset so there won’t be as much variety.

10/18/2017 – Terence Fisher: The Brides of Dracula (1960)
Directed by Terence Fisher

For the second director sampling of the month after James Wan, I’m choosing an older subject. Terence Fisher was born in London and got his start as an editor first with the British studio Gainsborough Pictures and later at Warner Brothers. He started in low budget films (releasing 4 in 1948 alone) with A Song for Tomorrow, but for the 1952 film The Last Page he moved to the studio that would make him famous and in many ways he would make famous too.

Hammer films was the home to many of his films over the next four years but it wasn’t until he was given a horror directing job that he broke out. His reboot Curse of Frankenstein brought fame to the small studio and ushered in a wave of color remakes of Universal horror titles. Horror of Dracula, and The Mummy continued the streak and he was also helming the sequels to his first two of his successes as well as other adaptations in The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, and The Phantom of the Opera.

His career slowed in the late 60s (after making the pretty good The Gorgon in 1964 and the pretty lackluster Rasputin, the Mad Monk in 1966 which I linked to above) largely directing sequels to his first big hits in Frankenstein (Frankenstein Created Woman, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell) and Dracula (Dracula: Prince of Darkness but they were generally pale imitations of what came before.

His directing style came to define Hammer Horror. They were bold, colorful Gothic Horror films with lots of blood (for the time). I have openly admitted I am not the biggest fan of the studio but his are the gold standard for a reason and are just so watchable. It’s a huge task to reboot a classic series of films and yet he did it four times far better than they had any right to be. He was aided sure by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but he made them stars and got the more out of them than most others of the era.
The Brides of Dracula is not surprisingly a sequel to Horror of Dracula. Even then, sequelizing a hugely successful film was a no brainer but they ran into one major problem. The title character was played by Christopher Lee and he refused to be in a sequel. While this may be shocking now for a big star to turn down reprising one of his breakout roles, it was clear Lee grew bored of the role when he did return. So instead, they had to go with the time-honored tradition that Universal had started with Dracula’s Daughter of making a new lead who would be someone who was made a vampire by the big bad missing Dracula.

A woman headed to Transylvania accepts an offer to stay overnight in a castle. She finds a man who is locked up and despite being warned not to, she frees him and it turns out that he is the young Baron and had been turned into a vampire by an unseen Dracula while travelling abroad. She is found later by Dr. Van Helsing with no memory of any of this. Having Cushing back softens the blow of no Lee as he commands the screen and frankly it makes sense that a famed vampire hunter would move from town to town fighting new vampires instead of just killing Dracula over an over again.

A woman is killed and Van Helsing wants to end her before she rises and creates a whole new race of evil creatures (and allow her to be buried on consecrated ground I guess). The Baron pursues and quickly becomes engaged to the school teacher, turning her roommate into a vampire. The new version of Dracula (well the title refers to him as Dracula but he’s only ever referred to as the Baron or Baron Merister) played by David Peel just lacks a certain something and part of that is definitely the menace and lack of imposing figure. Lee’s towering frame just adds so much. Peel isn’t terrible, just doesn’t really add anything to the story.

SPOILERS Van Helsing is actually bitten at one point but I guess you can stop vampirism if you cauterize the wound and throw some holy water on it which just proves how badass he and Cushing are. I like to believe this is really a tract against polygamy, but I like the subtle idea that a guy who was very promiscuous has this brought out even further when made a vampire. Dracula sought a bride, the Baron won’t stop at two (even if one of them doesn’t even get to have a name and one of them is his apparent favorite) as his thirst for women is clearly as insatiable as his thirst for blood. Yes I know this has origins in the original novel and works but it feels more sexual this time out with them. END OF SPOILERS Buffy pulled this trick too and it was perhaps my favorite part of that show’s vampire lore.

I quite liked the film, it was certainly missing Lee (or someone even near as good in his place) but it was quick moving and once Cushing gets involved, it gets a lot better. It has lush cinematography like all of his works but for whatever reason I was especially in the mood for it this time out.

The Curse of the Werewolf.jpg
Bonus Episode #12 – Terence Fisher: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Directed by Terence Fisher

Having already successfully rebooted Frankenstein and Dracula, the next task was to take on The Wolf Man. The original was a quick if imperfect film starring and carried by Lon Chaney, Jr. and the gothic atmosphere. Since unlike his other two reboots, The Wolf Man was an original work (werewolf stories predated it even at Universal), I assume the far cheaper solution was to adapt another werewolf novel. The film is an adaptation of The Werewolf of Paris but set in 18th Century Spain and is also Oliver Reed’s first credited role.

The lengthy backstory concerns a beggar who comes in for food to the wedding of a Marques. Coins are thrown at him and he is encouraged to drink a large amount of wine on an empty stomach. He’s made to dance for food and to debase himself like a dog for scraps, made a pet for his new young wife (who seems to actually want to do good) for the cost of 10 potatoes. He’s imprisoned in the castle dungeon for making a snide remark but spared his life by the wife (who dies not long after). He is visited daily by the jailer and the mute jailer’s daughter as he goes more and more mad and gets ridiculously hairy. When the daughter gets thrown in there with him, he rapes her and dies immediately after. She is sent to be raped by the Marques but murders him and escapes.

This whole backstory gave me some flashbacks to Hannibal Rising and its incredibly long intro but it really does feel like a 20-minute prologue. That issue only gets worse when she is eventually found by a gentleman who takes her in. She dies though after giving birth which makes the death of the parents the most efficient I have ever seen a movie discard characters when they have served their basic purpose. So it’s about a half hour before we even get to our main character existing and Oliver Reed doesn’t even show up in the role until half way through the movie.

When they go to baptize him, the water shakes and lightning strikes, but I like the way that almost everyone agrees this is just a silly coincidence and barely worry about it. It almost looks like something out of an 80s sitcom intro. A shot of a goat brutally murdered and throat torn out is a lot more graphic (and repeatedly show than I expected) but I’m pretty sure they only got away with it cause no one cares about goats as a dead kitten is not shown. SPOILERS The kid has bad dreams after going out hunting which traumatized him. He gets a taste for blood when he tries to kiss it and make it better which is frankly an adorable way he starts becoming a werewolf. It’s hard to hide the very hairy body hair that he gets as a kid and his adopted father figures it out almost immediately. Still, he manages to go through his childhood thinking of his turning into a wolf on the night of full moons as a dream while his father bars his windows. A shepherd melts a crucifix into bullets and kills his dog thinking it is the werewolf.

A now full-grown Oliver Reed heads out into the world alone and quickly proves that his dad should maybe have told him about his curse. He heads out on a full moon and winds up taking a girl to a room, biting her, transforming, and then sucking her blood before also murdering his friend. We only get a shot of his hands at first and it’s getting less and less effective each time I see this same technique used to tease the werewolf. He returns home and finds out the truth, escaping to avoid being changed. When he goes to run away with a woman, he is arrested though and has to bribe a guard to send word to his father while demanding to be killed or let into his father’s custody. Thankfully though the shepherd has kept the silver bullet and his father is able to defeat him in the end, unable to save the son he tried to long to protect. END OF SPOILERS

I’m a sucker for a good tragedy and story wise this is a compelling one. It’s just a shame that it wastes so much time on creating an over complicated backstory that only raises more questions than it answers. In fact, I’m still not sure how this all worked and while I know werewolves are hardly realistic, it would still make a geneticist cry. Oliver Reed certainly has the physicality for the role and he plays up both sides of the character well, both the vulnerability and charming innocence as well as the menace I felt was missing so much from The Brides of Dracula. Reed’s acting style has always felt off to me for some reason and that’s no different here. Still, if you are going to pick make an hour or so of a film good, it’s best to make it the final hour and The Curse of the Werewolf does just that and left a good taste in my mouth despite its many flaws.

Next up: The Creature Walks Among Us as I discuss movie posters, specifically ones for horror movies.

2017 Partial Schedule