I have often been asked, "What is your favorite all-time Hammer film??" The answer might surprise you--it is by far THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, the 1960 vampire adventure released in the United States by Universal.
I realize that Christopher Lee is not in this film--heck, Dracula isn't even in it period. With all due respect to Mr. Lee, that doesn't matter here. THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is the ultimate Hammer film, a colorful Gothic fairy tale directed to the hilt by Terence Fisher. The sumptuous lighting by Jack Asher, the magnificent production design by Bernard Robinson, the costumes, the sets....all combine to make this one of the greatest examples of English fantastic cinema. And to top it all off, Peter Cushing gives my personal favorite performance in any of his movies as the great and courageous fighter of evil, Dr. Van Helsing. Throw in a lovely damsel in distress in the form of Yvonne Monlaur (who I met in 2014), and striking supporting performances by Martita Hunt, Freda Jackson, and David Peel as the undead Baron Meinster, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA represents Hammer at the height of its power. There are a few plot inconsistencies, but once one is swept up in the the dark storybook aspects of the film, these are not that important.
THE BRIDES OF DRACULA has long deserved a Region A Blu-ray special edition release. The movie was released as part of a Universal Hammer Blu-ray set a few years ago, but in a very strange 2.00:1 widescreen aspect ratio that didn't due the shot compositions any favors. Now Shout Factory has come along and set things right.
First of all, Shout Factory presents THE BRIDES OF DRACULA in two different aspect ratios--a 1.85:1 version and a 1.66:1 version. Both transfers look stunning, showcasing the color photography and the wardrobes worn by the cast. The sound quality seems beefed up as well, even though it is in DTS-HD Mono.
Shout Factory also provides some very worthy extras. The most important ones are two more episodes of "The Men Who Made Hammer" series. There's one on acclaimed cinematographer Jack Asher, whose virtues are extolled by Hammer historian and expert Richard Klemensen. Klemensen points out that even though Asher's painstaking efforts were considered too "slow" for a low-budget company like Hammer, none of the films that the man worked on for them ever went wildly over budget or over schedule. Klemensen also points out the various difficulties Asher faced while working at Bray Studios.
The other "The Men Who Made Hammer" program covers Terence Fisher, and, as befitting its subject, is nearly an hour in length. Richard Klemensen was not only a huge fan of Fisher's work, he got to meet him and know him personally. Klemensen's talk on the director is the best and most insightful analysis of the man and his work I've ever experienced.
A half-hour program, which was made a few years ago, about the making of the movie is included, and it features interviews with some of the cast & crew. There's a new discussion on Malcolm Williamson's score for the film by David Huckvale. (Williamson's music for BRIDES has never gotten a lot of appreciation, mostly due to the fact that he wasn't James Bernard.) Also on this disc is "The Haunting of Oakley Court", in which the Buckingham Palace of British horror films is visited and examined (ironically this extra is on the Severin Blu-ray of Amicus' AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS!).
There's a brand-new audio commentary with--you guessed it--Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr. They go through the various earlier incarnations of the script, and examine the overall fairy tale aspect of the film. They both agree with me that THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is one of the finest films Hammer ever produced. An extensive still gallery is here, along with a vintage radio spot for the film and a couple trailers.
Last but not least, those (like me) who ordered this Blu-ray direct from Shout Factory received a 18 x 24 poster of the disc sleeve artwork by Mark Maddox. I love all the Maddox posters for the Shout Factory Hammer Blu-ray series, but this one is my favorite of them all--it's as if Jack Asher himself did the lighting for it (see below). The disc cover is reversible, and the other side has original American advertising artwork for the film (see above).
When I started getting into Hammer films in the 1980s, and reading whatever was available at the time about the company, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA was barely covered. It was usually dismissed as "a Dracula film without Dracula", and the absence of Christopher Lee was mentioned more than anything actually pertaining about the film. The perception of the film has changed greatly since then--it is now generally looked upon as not only one of Hammer's best, but one of the best English Gothic films, period. This Blu-ray from Shout Factory gives THE BRIDES OF DRACULA the showcase it deserves.