Review Date: 4/26/20
Director Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Freda Jackson, Yvonne Monlaur, David Peel
One of Hammer's lesser vampire films, and despite Dracula being in the title, he's nowhere to be found in the picture. It was originally intended to be another Dracula movie, but Christopher Lee reportedly turned down the role for fear of becoming typecast as the Prince Of Darkness. So they got rid of Dracula and replaced him with another vampire named Baron Meinster, played by handsome David Peel. The film opens with an embarrassingly awful painting and tacky title graphics, which sets exceedingly low expectations for what's to come. A young woman named Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) is travelling through Transylvania on her way to become a French teacher at a school for girls. Unfortunately, evil eyes are set upon her and she is conveniently whisked away to Castle Meinster to become a meal for the young Baron who is locked away in a private wing. Marianne spies the captive Baron from her balcony and unwittingly frees him from his prison, which unleashes a killing spree as he feeds on young girls across the countryside. Fortunately, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) happens to be in the vicinity checking up on vampire behavior and inevitably crosses paths with Marianne. The final showdown with Meinster at an abandoned windmill is baffling, bizarre, overly contrived, and totally unsatisfying.
If nothing else, Peter Cushing is always fun to watch and the film's sumptuous sets have that classic Hammer look and feel. Yvonne Monlaur is lovely and impeccably coiffed, although the gratuitous soft focus photography that was popular at the time is distracting. Freda Jackson gives a delightfully unhinged performance as Baron Meinster's loyal servant and nursemaid, and there are a couple of sexy vampire girls thrown into the mix for fun. Unfortunately, the pacing is sluggish and the writing is clumsy and uneven. The film goes totally off the rails at the end when Van Helsing is bitten, and he somehow manages to rid himself of vampiric infection with a combination of holy water and cauterization. The vampire girls quietly disappear, while Meinster inexplicably falls victim to a makeshift shadow of the windmill's moonlit perpendicular vanes. It's a lazy makeshift ending that feels like a cop-out, but reportedly the original ending proved to be too expensive to shoot.