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Ghastly ReflectionsHammer Files: The Brides of Dracula/The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
POSTED BY TERENCE NUZUM, July 7, 2015    Share

In 1960 Terence Fisher just might have been the hardest working man in film. After having directed three Hammer films in 1959 he tackled two for the year 1960. The two films he made in this year are a study in both hard work and over work. One film is a classic and the other a failed opportunity.

The classic is the sequel to 1958's Horror of Dracula, Brides of Dracula. The production of this film was rife with problems from the beginning. Originally to star Christopher Lee in the role that made him famous, the film had to be reworked when Lee rejected the role. Wisely, instead of replacing him, they changed the vampire to another blood sucker in the further adventures of Van Helsing, Baron Meinster. The films plot followed the tale of a young girl who unknowingly lets loose the Baron from his prison to wreak havoc once again. The film starts great with amazing atmosphere but slows down until the climatic finish. The ending was originally to have involved a swarm of bats that crash in the windmill and destroy the vampires. They were to be summoned using an arcane ritual. Because of this Peter Cushing protested on the grounds that Van Helsing would never use black magic. Instead we have the classic Van Helsing action move when he jumps on the windmill and stops it right in the angle of a cross, which silhouettes in the moonlight destroying the Baron Meinster. Fishers camerawork and lighting are better than he had done to that point and perhaps ever did again. Full of foggy nights and gothic iconography the film is one of his best. Jess Franco, the grand master of European gothic schlock, cited this as the film that got him into making horror films. It's too bad some of its class never rubbed off on him. Peter Cushing is pure perfection once again as Van Helsing and fully embodies the heroic role in this one. It is a shame he never had a chance to play him again. David Peel who made one more film after this before retiring from acting plays the vampiric Baron Meinster. Peel, with his strawberry blonde hair and leading man good looks, was the perfect choice to play the part of Meinster which required him to appear the victim one minute and then the hunter the next. Possibly this is Fisher's shining hour. Definitely he was at the peak of his powers up to this point. The film will always be an example of how to make a classy gothic vampire film.

Fisher's second film of 1960 suffered from budget, lack of inspiration and possibly a worn out director. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll was a film that had potential. Hammer had successfully adapted other horror icons and done it masterfully with a modern update and twist. The twist this time was the kind and gentle Dr. Jekyll would not turn into a rude monster, instead Mr. Hyde would be charming, sauve, and pure evil. That was mistake number one. The second mistake was giving the film to Fisher who was obviously overworked. The direction and lighting lacks any kind of grandeur or life. This limp film lost Hammer 30,000 pounds. Fisher would redeem himself with his next film Curse of the Werewolf but it is a shame that the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale did not get more justice.

A tale of two films. One a gothic moody masterpiece of pristine visuals and fine acting. The other a lackluster box office flop. Hammer was not done though, in fact their classic period was just beginning.

"Ghastly Reflections" is ©2015 by Terence Nuzum. All contents of Crazed Fanboy are ©2015 by Nolan B. Canova and Terence Nuzum.

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