Thursday, October 17, 2002


This is probably the best Hammer movie ever; though HORROR OF DRACULA comes close, this one has more interesting characters, better acting, and a colorful and stylish look. A voiceover at the beginning tells us that Dracula is dead (making mincemeat of the title), but vampires are still afoot in Transylvania. In a set-up a bit like that of Katharine Hepburn & Elizabeth Taylor's in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) trolls the village at night looking for lovely young women to take back to the castle to satisfy the lust of her vampire son, David Peel. The "seduction" scene that plays out between Hunt and a young French schoolteacher passing through the village (Yvonne Monlaur) is well-staged; though we don't know the specifics yet, it's clear from the looks and actions of the villagers that they fear for the safety of Monlaur. However, this naive woman winds up being Hunt's downfall. The mother tells her that Peel is insane and must be kept locked up, but Monlaur meets him, finds him charming, and unlocks him (a poorly motivated scene--why on earth would she unshackle him after a minute and a half of trivial conversation?). Now the vampire is free to start collecting "brides" from the nearby girls' school.

Peter Cushing plays Van Helsing, as he did in HORROR OF DRACULA, and he's good, but taking the acting honors here are Hunt as the mother and Freda Jackson as Peel's caretaker, not a vampire herself, but a zealous assistant. The creepiest scene in the movie doesn't involve Peel, but Jackson, stretched out on the fresh grave of one of the women Peel has killed, talking through the dirt to coax the newly-created vampire to arise. Some critics have panned Peel's performance, saying he was just a too-pretty face, but I think he's fine, although the women do upstage him. The real problem with Peel (and with most of the vampires) is the artificiality of the fangs they wear. They look like wax fangs bought in a drug store at Halloween. But that's really all that's wrong here. The colors, lots of rich reds and blues and purples, are striking, and the sumptious sets are the best Hammer sets ever. Mona Washbourne, who played the beloved nanny in BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, has a small role as the mistress of the girls' school. Highly recommended for midnight viewing.

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