I love Hammer horror movies. I don’t just love them, I’m severely addicted to them. Every year, I gorge myself with the entire collection of films, everything from their film noirs, comedies and war films. But of course, the main thing I love, more than anything, is their horror films. With the exception of Universal in the early 30’s, no other studio has been able to release such a catalog of great genre films again and again without fail, at least until they ran out of steam in the early 70’s. This was their second ‘Dracula’ film, although curiously it doesn’t have any Draculas in it. Yes, this is the only one in the series (with the exception of Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires) that doesn’t feature Christopher Lee as the immortal count, but still, it’s an excellent horror film.
Yes, Dracula has been destroyed, but it’s not peace and love just yet, as the countryside is being plagued by another sinister vampire, this time in the form of the Meinster family. Young girl Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) is invited to their home by the matriarch of the family, Lady Meinster (Martita Hunt) on the girl’s way to her new job in a school for girls. Through a series of misunderstandings, she releases the evil Baron Meinster, a blonde pretty boy who is really a vampire. Soon, murders begin to occur, and it’s up the the great Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to stop him before he takes the life of Marianne and the whole countryside with him.
This movie has one main fault, and that it doesn’t have Christopher Lee as the lead vampire. Lee didn’t want to return to the role that made him famous because he was afraid of being typecast, instead they got David Peel in the role of the lead vampire. Sadly, Peel has none of the presence or dread that Lee’s vampire had, and it’s very hard to take him seriously with that blonde hair of his. Thankfully, this is the only fault in an otherwise excellent film. For starters, it has the typical gothic sets and fogs that make the Hammer films of this period so memorable, and it’s filled with a gothic atmosphere. Terence Fisher knew how to make you feel gloomy, and this is no exception. The cast is also excellent. There’s no need to say it but I will anyway: Peter Cushing is the best actor to play Van Helsing. Forget the over-the-top drunken Anthony Hopkins! Cushing is almost like a quiet action hero, being intelligent and well-knowledged in how to battle his enemies but able to kick ass when the time deserves it. When he has to burn his neck to stop the vampire infection, I was very impressed that such a character would have such a conviction to good that he would do that to himself, but I’m able to believe it thanks to the fact that it’s Peter Cushing.
The rest of the cast is perfect as well. Yvonne Monlaur, who I know mainly from Circus Of Horrors, looks beautiful and plays a perfect victim. Actually, most young women in the film are beautiful, not to mention vampiric which adds to the turn-on. Veteran actresses also show up, such as Martita Hunt in the role of Lady Meinster. The best performance however, after Cushing, is given by Freda Jackson as Greta, a sinister, insane, servant of the Baron. The way she rambles and talks to herself while also condemning others, and her insane laughter, really gave me the chills and I found her to be more threatening than the vampires! On a lighter note, Hammer regular Miles Malleson shows up to give some welcome comic relief as a hypochondriac doctor. I love seeing him in the movies, he always makes me smile.
There is a lot of controversy about the ending. The original ending was supposed to feature Van Helsing invoking a swarm of bats to destroy the character. Now, the budget didn’t allow for this, and I’m glad they didn’t do it, since it kind of betrays the character’s motivations. Why would such a Christian warrior fight evil with witchcraft? Not that I’m Christian, mind you, but character is character. So they use a huge windmill which casts the shadow of a cross to destroy the Baron. Not that impressive, but much more effective and truer to the character. By the way, this ‘swarm of vampires’ ending was later used in Kiss of the Vampire. This is an excellent entry in the classic vampire saga, and one of the best in the Hammer film catalog.