The title “Brides of Dracula” is a tad misleading, since there is no Dracula in this movie. Our dear, departed Christopher Lee would not agree to do a sequel to Horror of Dracula for a few more years. But Brides also stars Peter Cushing as Dr. van Helsing, so it’s not so far off.
Instead of Dracula, this movie’s main vampire is the Baron Meinster (he also turns his mother into a vampire, but she asks van Helsing to stake her instead of continuing her existence as a creature of the night). He’s blond, young, attractive, but not as spirited as Lee. Nevertheless, he gets a magnificent sendoff, very much in the action-packed Hammer tradition.
The movie opens with a young French woman travelling to the boarding school where she will teach. The Baroness offers her shelter for the night, to the dismay of the villagers, and tells the young woman, Marianne, that the Baron is a lunatic locked up in the tower. Horrified by this cruelty, Marianne goes to the tower, where the Baron convinces her to unlock the silver chains holding him in place. He then attacks Marianne and turns his mother into a vampire. Van Helsing finds Marianne the next day and takes her to the school. Returning to investigate the castle, he meets the tragic Baroness and does what she asks (see https://kathysghost.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/top-10-vampires-9a-baroness-meinster/ for details). He then tracks the Baron’s trail of death to the school.
The Baron kidnaps Marianne and takes her to the windmill where he is keeping his two latest victims. He overpowers van Helsing in a fight and bites him on the neck. Van Helsing purifies the wound with holy water and a red-hot iron (you really believe the doctor’s agony, too). The barn catches fire when the Baron comes back, and the two resume their fight. The Baron takes the rest of the water in the face, which burns away his good looks. He tries to trap van Helsing and Marianne in the windmill, but leaving it turned out to be his undoing, for the doctor noticed that it cast a cross-shaped shadow in the moonlight. With very impressive maneuvering, considering the burn trauma he’d just put himself through, van Helsing moves the windmill sails so that they form a cross, trapping the Baron in place, causing him even more agony, trapped between the fire, the symbol, and the coming dawn.
It would be a perfect ending, if not for the fact that the plot kind of forgets about the women. Marianne and the two vampiresses just kind of stand around and watch while van Helsing and the Baron fight, the doctor purifies himself, and everything goes up in flames. In a slower moving climax, it would really throw everything off, but director Terrence Fisher keeps the action so fast, that it’s not too noticeable.
It’s also very hard to achieve perfection twice, but more on that later.