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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA


STATS:
The Brides of Dracula
1960
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Peter Bryan, Anthony Hinds, Edward Percy, Jimmy Sangster… and Bram Stoker, I guess
Starring Peter Cushing, Not Christopher Lee


WHA’ HAPPENED?
As the film’s opening narration explains: “Dracula is dead but his disciples live on.” Thus, Brides of Dracula has nothing to do with Dracula or anyone married to him. Instead, it’s about this guy…


Not exactly Christopher Lee, huh?

This is Baron Meinster, a vampire whose name is passably scary, if you ignore the fact that he sounds like a cheese.

The movie follows a beautiful French woman as she travels through a Romanian town populated by superstitious folks with suspiciously British accents. They say things like, “There’s nothin’ to be afeared of.” And then they go all silent and glarey when the French woman says the wrong thing. (They reminded me of the similar townspeople from the beginning of American Werewolf in London.)



Because this is a Dracula film, the French woman ends up staying the night at Castle Meinster, presumably because Castle Gouda was too far away. Castle Meinster is a beautiful estate with one of the most exorbitant candle budgets in history.


Seriously. It’s like every room is celebrating Hanukkah.

The French lady snoops around, even though Baroness Meinster warns her not to. Eventually, she meets the Baroness’ son, who is both handsome and a vampire. He’s also chained up in his room. The French lady frees him, because the French love freeing potentially dangerous prisoners.



Baron Meinster runs off and drinks his mom because he’s a vampire (spoiler, I guess) and the French lady doesn’t even try to take responsibility for the thousands of innocent lives that she put in danger. Thankfully, the French lady isn’t our heroine, because the next time we see her, she’s lying unconscious in a road. She’s not exactly Lara Croft.

This is when the film switches to Dr. Van Helsing’s POV. Van Helsing finds the French lady’s unconscious body in the midst of vampire country and automatically assumes the only rational explanation: she “was frightened” and passed out. Apparently, Dr. Van Helsing went to the same medical school as Dr. Phil.

From there, long stretches of the film are taken up by characters talking nonstop about mysterious neck wounds and all that boring stuff as 21st century audiences twiddle our thumbs and wait for something to actually happen.


Doesn’t this Romanian pub look like a
cheap Italian bistro from Lincoln, Nebraska?

In order to at least vaguely justify the film’s title, Baron Meinster proposes to our French girl (who has since relocated to a completely different city). He drinks her friend Gina, who’s so British she looks like a Dr. Who companion.

K-9.

In a string of poor decisions, Baron Meinster shacks up with a crazy lady and two vampire brides (including Gina) in an old windmill. Because this is a horror movie, the windmill burns down. Van Helsing defeats him and all is right with the world.

Now, there are a few lingering questions here: Why does he follow the French woman to another city? Better yet, why does he propose instead of drinking her outright? What makes her so special? Also, why does he move to an abandoned mill, the only building that can literally turn into a giant cross. He’s just waiting to get staked.

One more thing: Shouldn’t there be three brides, not two?


And is the one in the back smiling?

WHAT YOU SAY?
 “I have very little appetite.”

“You may not believe it, but we’ve had gay times here. Balls. Dinners. Life.”

“Come closer. Please. Come closer. You see, I can’t come… to you.”

“And now I leave you entirely to yourselves… for ten minutes.”


This is the Meinster House. Home of the Meinster family. Meinster.

ISN’T THAT SPECIAL?
I’ve always wanted to review a Hammer film. I have fond memories of watching them with my dad back when I was very young. I also have fond memories of Power Rangers, so this is where you insert a grain of salt.

BLOOD AND GUTS:
There are several murders, but they all occur off-screen. The Baroness gets killed, and we see her bloodless body for less than a second. The BFF Gina gets killed too, but that is similarly off-screen. What we do see is Meinster’s old lady henchwoman falling off the stairs and Van Helsing cauterizing his own neck wound. I didn’t even get screen captures from those scenes; that’s how effective they were.

I may seem like I’m getting nit-picky on a film from a totally different time period and moral code, but these complaints feel symptomatic of a larger problem: I didn’t find this vampire threatening. He’s constantly running away from everybody (male and female, French and otherwise). Furthermore, when we first see him, he’s chained up by an old lady. Add that to the long list of bad decisions he makes in the last half hour of the film, and you’ve got a villain that doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of men.

RANDOM THOUGHTS:
One thing I enjoy about films from this time period is what I call “soap opera staging.” This is when two people are talking, one person turns toward the camera, and the conversation continues. This never happens in real life, and yet you see it all the time in older movies.

“But Gwendolyn. Ronaldo isn’t just my lover. He’s also my clone.”

OK. IS IT GAY?
No. It is not. In fact, I was surprised by how weirdly sex-less this film is. I clearly remember Hammer films having lots of blood, boobs, and naughtiness (like in my personal favorite, Frankenstein Created Woman… and Then Groped Her). I guess because this film is from 1960, it’s much tamer and less grope-y. In fact, a good chunk of the movie features the French woman wandering around in her pajamas, except in this film they’re nineteenth-century nighties, which are basically Victoria’s Secret Wizard Cloaks.

The tone of this film can best be described through two lines of dialogue. One character is dishing to her friend about this cute, pale guy that she’s dating: “Did you let him kiss you? Tell me, please.” “Only my hand.”

Sure, I could talk about the Meinster family dynamic, about how the mother disapproves of her son’s non-standard lifestyle and hides him away. On paper, that sounds at least a little interesting for a queer audience. And yet, that’s kind of a stretch. All-in-all, this film doesn’t give me a lot to sink my teeth into.

It’s definitely enjoyable, but it’s a little stuffy and British. And it’s not at all gay. On the gayness scale, I’ll give this a Sir Alec Guinness (before his tell-all biography came out).


2 comments:

  1. Excellent review, and we do agree on a lot of the same aspects. I did notice that quote: "You may not believe it, but we’ve had gay times here. Balls. Dinners. Life" and the continual use of the phrase "My son is sick" - these, to me, almost felt like a subtle reference to homosexuality, but then again, this is quickly dropped and it was probably not meant to allude to that at all.

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  2. I agree. I wrote down about ten such lines (mostly from the Baroness), but I erased most of them because I thought they were kind of a stretch. I think if you want a way to interpret the character and his backstory, then he's probably more like a Prince Harry. You know, a party boy from a rich family who runs in with the wrong crowd. That's a character you see a lot in Gothic stuff, and I think that's what they were trying to do.

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