Thursday, October 6, 2016

"The Brides of Dracula" (1960)

“Brides of Dracula” starts out like so many Dracula movies. An outsider arrives and ignores local warnings as being merely ignorant and fearful. This is an important recurring message of the Dracula mythos: education and sophistication can make us forget old wisdom, and the pride of modernity opens us up to the dangers of evil. In this case it is Marianne, a young teacher on her way to an all girl’s school in Transylvania. As she gets stranded near an evil castle, she ignores the local bumpkins and accompanies an aristocratic woman back to her home in that castle.

That woman, the Baroness Meinster, has a son who is “disturbed.” Marianne is drawn to him and he explains to her that his mother is keeping him locked up to use his land and title against his will. Marianne is convinced to free him, but it turns out that he is (surprise!) a vampire. His mother indulged him too much and allowed him to run with the wrong crowd and all that carousing led to vampirism.

Hammer uses the vampire metaphor in this way a lot. It is not just “evil” outside of man that entices and destroys, it is a stand in for the evils that concerned the culture at the time: sex, drugs, and rock and roll—or whatever the young people were into in the sixties.

Marianne manages to escape the castle and is found the next day, exhausted and with no memory of the traumatic evening, by Dracula’s arch-enemy Van Helsing. He has been summoned to the area by a local priest due to several suspicious deaths. Van Helsing gets Marianne safely to her post, and returns to investigate the Meinster Castle. He dispatches the Baroness, but fails to kill the son or a girl he has recently converted into a vampire.

The rest of the movie sees more women under the thrall of the vampire, Marianne in more imminent danger, and Van Helsing confronting the evil of vampirism. The themes continue to be reinforced as well. Evil is something that must be actively resisted, but in effective ways. The school where Marianne teaches is a cartoonish bastion of legalism, where the young ladies are prohibited from seeing any men, unless the man is someone who will earn the school master more respect in society, like Van Helsing or Count Meinster. This only serves to defend the women from disgrace, but does nothing to shelter them from real evil.

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