Only God has no fear.– Dr. Van Helsing
In 1960, Hammer decided to follow up Dracula (1958) with a sequel, Brides of Dracula. Originally titled Disciples of Dracula, the film focused on Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing rooting out and destroying one of Dracula’s followers – a disciple of the vampiric cult described by Van Helsing in the first film.
The film’s change of title suits it, I think. A case could be made that David Peel’s spoiled, savage Baron Meinster is both disciple and bride – a youth, given over to Dracula in a dark pact and made over into something monstrous. But despite this, Meinster is but a pale shadow of his master. Dangerous, but ultimately lacking in ambition and cunning.
I think that’s why I dig this one so much – Lee’s Dracula is the epitome of the vampire: an arrogant predator, stalking the forests of the night. But Meinster is…not. An evil child, throwing a bloody tantrum. But it’s the evil child who comes the closest to ending Van Helsing’s career – leading to one of the best scenes in all of Hammer’s history, that of Peter Cushing cauterizing his own jugular before pouring holy water over the charred wound in order to cleanse himself of the taint of vampirism.
And while Meinster is no Dracula, he is a unique evil in his own right. One thing Hammer was good at was creating memorable villains for their vampire films, and Meinster is no exception. A pampered aristocrat, corrupted into a petulant leech who corrupts everything around him. Seeing him destroyed is the epitome of a cathartic experience. Its only a shame his destruction didn’t take longer.
Another reason I like this film is that its a look at what might have been – Cushing’s Van Helsing was strong enough a character to carry a film without his archfoe. Imagine if Hammer and Cushing had stuck with it. Brides might have been followed by a second stab at Disciples of Dracula, then…who knows? Curse of Dracula, Shadow of Dracula, etcetera and so on, with Van Helsing hunting down Dracula’s followers across the strange Mitteleuropa that the Hammer films inhabited. Alas, such was not to be and Cushing would not reappear as Van Helsing until Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972).