Monday, January 8, 2018

Classic Films in Focus: THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)

Peter Cushing returns to the role of Doctor Van Helsing for this sequel to Hammer's 1958 reinvention of the Dracula story, but, in spite of the title, Dracula never actually appears. Instead, Van Helsing combats a new undead menace and the relentless obstacle of the doctor's own terrible timing, which goes a long way to make a bad problem worse. While the absence of Christopher Lee's Count is lamentable, and Van Helsing's inability to be on time is maddening, The Brides of Dracula offers a smorgasbord of the usual Hammer delights, including buxom damsels, sublime Gothic ambience, and the perfectly serious performance of Cushing himself.

Van Helsing combats an outbreak of vampirism when the undead Baron Meinster (David Peel) escapes from bondage and turns his pretty young victims into fellow bloodsuckers. The Baron also exacts a terrible revenge on his mother, the Baroness (Martita Hunt), who had kept him a prisoner in the family castle to control his murderous appetite. Once on the loose, the Baron pursues the lovely Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), who escapes from her first encounter with the vampire and is rescued by Van Helsing. Unfortunately, Marianne's next destination is a girls' school, where the Baron finds plenty of virginal flesh to feed his lust for blood.

The Baron is a younger, more talkative monster than Lee's Dracula, with a young man's energy to match. David Peel's fluffy blond coif and oversized fangs make him a bit silly, but he manages to wreak havoc just the same, especially because Van Helsing never manages to keep his promises to return before sundown and stake the latest vampire victim. We might forgive him for being late the first time, but by the second time he really ought to know better; both of the female vampires might have been dispatched before they ever woke up (which would have made for a much shorter movie but a less frustrating vampire hunter). It's not Cushing's fault that the script relies on his character to be incompetent in order to generate the titular brides, but I find it hard to accept that the one guy who ought to be on top of the problem doesn't seem to know what time the sun sets.

Van Helsing's chronic lateness allows the Baron to corrupt two young girls, first a villager and then one of Marianne's friends at the school. These "brides" run about in white nightgowns and flash their own extra-large fangs at Van Helsing, but they don't have much personality as vampires. Marianne is the only young woman who gets much to do, and she usually does exactly the wrong thing. She takes Van Helsing's instructions to forget what has happened to her so literally that she later becomes engaged to the Baron, not recognizing him as the monster she naively freed from his chains! More interesting, and more tragic, is the Baroness, who pays for hiding her unnatural son when he turns her into a vampire, too. Unlike the other victims, the Baroness retains her horror at her fate, and she welcomes Van Helsing's offer to set things right. Martita Hunt gives the standout performance of the picture in the role, showing the Baroness in a brief but tragic arc of complicity, guilt, contrition, and redemption.

In spite of its narrative flaws, The Brides of Dracula remains a great favorite among Hammer devotees, and many blog lists rank it as the best of the Hammer Dracula films. For the sake of comparison, watch Horror of Dracula (1958) and a couple of the later entries: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Scars of Dracula (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), or The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974). Terence Fisher, who directed this outing, also headed up several of Hammer's other most memorable pictures, including The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula, and The Mummy (1959). Cushing and his frequent costar Christopher Lee appear together in many of these films. You'll find Yvonne Monlaur in Circus of Horrors (1960) and The Terror of the Tongs (1961); Martita Hunt, meanwhile, should not be missed as Miss Havisham in the 1946 adaptation of Great Expectations.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Film Log for 2017

2017 was a busy year, which meant that I watched fewer films than I have in previous years. We did some traveling, my daughter's school schedule ate a lot of time with me driving her to dual enrollment classes the next town over, and I was more engaged in politics than I ever have been before (a good thing but for all kinds of awful reasons). I wrote another book and pitched it to agents, did a lot of volunteer work with seniors, and spent many hours helping my teenager navigate the beginning of the serious college application phase of her life. That said, I still managed to watch films both old and new, and here's the record of every movie I made time to see over the last year. It's always fun to reflect on the films and wonder what other people watched.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Sing Street (2016)
Hidden Figures (2016)
For the Love of Spock (2016)
Lisa and the Devil (1973)
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Hellboy (2004)
Waxwork (1988)
Waxwork II (1991)
The Rocketeer (1991)
The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Frankenstein (1931)
Each Dawn I Die (1939)
Soapdish (1991)
Jane Eyre (2011)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (with live floor show in Atlanta, GA)
Philomena (2013)
The Mummy (1932)
Dr. Strange (2016)
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Moana (2016)
Labyrinth (1986)
Blazing Saddles (1974)
Swiss Army Man (2016)
Beauty and the Beast (2017) (at Disney's El Capitan Theater in Hollywood!)
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Cry Wilderness (MST3K version)
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Five Came Back (2017)
The Time Travelers (MST3K version)
Reptilicus (MST3K version)
Avalanche (MST3K version)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
The Wolf Man (1941)
The Beast of Hollow Mountain (MST3K version)
Love and Friendship (2016)
Lion (2016)
Bright Lights (2016)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997)
Jurassic World (2015)
Women He's Undressed (2015)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 (2010)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 (2011)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Mindhorn (2016)
Handsome (2017)
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah (2001)
Starcrash (MST3K version)
Demons of the Mind (1972)
America's Sweethearts (2001)
Ocean's 11 (2001)
Ocean's 12 (2004)
The Land That Time Forgot (MST3K version)
Baby Driver (2017)
The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Spiderman: Homecoming (2017)
The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947)
Casablanca (1942)
Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets (2017)
Dunkirk (2017)
West of Zanzibar (1928)
Three Strangers (1946)
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
The African Queen (1951)
The Wraith (1986)
The Public Enemy (1931)
Logan Lucky (2017)
Runaway Bride (1999)
The First Wives Club (1996)
The Woman in White (1948)
Hocus Pocus (1993)
Footlight Parade (1933)
The Monster Squad (1987)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Gypsy (1962)
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Robin Hood (1973)
Kings Row (1942)
Night Tide (1961)
Lady in White (1988)
The Last Unicorn (1982)
Going My Way (1944)
Each Dawn I Die (1939) - 2nd viewing of the year
Scaramouche (1952)
The House of Seven Corpses (1974)
Mary Poppins (1964)
The Penalty (1920)
The Adventures of Don Juan (1948)
In & Out (1997)
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Fright Night (1985)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The Roaring Twenties (1939)
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Heathers (1988)
Speed Racer (2008)
Kong: Skull Island (2017) - 2nd viewing of the year
Coco (2017)
The Big Sick (2017)
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
The Hippopotamus (2017)
Their Finest (2016)
The Gorgon (1964)
What If (2014)
Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Last Jedi (2017)
Rogue One (2016)
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
A Christmas Story (1983)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Gremlins (1984)
Love Actually (2003)
The Greatest Showman (2017)
The Christmas That Almost Wasn't (MST3K version)
Krampus (2015)

*Bold print denotes films seen in a movie theater - total: 18

In total, 120 movies this year, which is low compared to some previous years, but I also made my way through a huge number of Midsomer Murders episodes, and I'm not going to apologize for that! (Sometimes you just need a good cozy to get through the day.) We saw fewer films in the theater because some of the ones we wanted to see never came to Alabama (boo!), and it costs a fair bit for all three of us to go these days, so we tend to take fewer risks on seeing movies that might not be worth it. Twenty years ago the husband and I saw more than 50 movies in the theater a year, but back then we had a local dollar theater and only two adults to please.

I do want to recommend The Man Who Invented Christmas as one of the loveliest pictures I saw in the theater this year; it never got much press in the US but is a delightful treat for any Dickens or Christmas Carol fan. I'll be adding it to my holiday DVD/Blu-ray collection as soon as it's available.

I hope your year in movies was a good one and that you saw everything you wanted to see! Happy 2018!