In the opening scenes we meet the fetching Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur), a French beauty with a teaching degree, as she’s bouncing around the back of a carriage going hellbent-for-leather over stony Transylvanian roads, begging her driver to slow down. In classic gothic fashion, he whips his horses on ever-faster while shooting a look over his shoulder at the sinking sun. As night closes in, he stops and leaves his fare stranded in a derelict village — Marianne finds the locals inhospitable to say the least when none of them will give her lodgings for the night. As if by magic summons, a savior comes to her rescue: the Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) offers to put Marianne up in her castle for the night.
The lodgings are hardly ideal — the regional bats are easy enough to ignore, but Marianne cannot deny the handsome young man that the Baroness keeps chained up in the room across the courtyard. When the Baron (David Peel) calls from his balcony to her window, begging Marianne to free him, she throws all caution to the wind and does so… and pledges herself to him in the process. His mother is appalled when she discovers the travesty: “You haven’t taken the key to my son? You little fool. You don't know what you've done!” she rails.
The Baron takes a bite from the nearest living warm-blooded creature and flees into the night. Marianne, still not knowing indeed what she’s done, finds herself looking forward to meeting her man again once she’s ensconced in her job at the girls’ school. A girls’ school that just happens to be owned by the Baron. Oh, and did I mention — Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), vampire hunter extraordinaire, just happens to be in town fighting the local undead converts.
Monlaur is well-cast as the empty-headed heroine, but Peel makes for a rather fey supernatural seducer. He’s easy enough to overlook thanks to standout performances from Hunt as the proud Baroness with a deadly secret, and Cushing as the commanding crusher of evil. While the plot is over the top and certainly contrived, there are enough spooky sequences to keep horror fans occupied — schoolgirls are in peril, crosses burn in the night, coffins slip their locks, newly-minted vamps claw their way up from graves, and holy water scalds on sizzling flesh.
Directed with flair by Terence Fisher, this 1960 Technicolor film is well worth a look (you’ve gotta love the barn-paint red hue of the blood that’s the hallmark of all those old Hammer Films).
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
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The Hammer Horror Series — A collectible set of eight classics featuring Frankenstein, the Werewolf, Dracula and more. On DVD September 6, 2005 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
Official synopses of the other films in this collection:
"Phantom of the Opera" 1962
Herbert Lom stars as the Phantom in Hammer Films' celebrated production of Gaston Leroux's horror classic. Mysterious mishaps bedevil a London opera house, but when tragedy strikes during an opening night performance, it's clear that these "accidents" are the deliberate work of a deranged madman -- the Phantom. When Christine (Heather Sears), the young star of a new musical is contacted by the shadowy specter, her producer (Edward de Souza) investigates, tracking the ghostly Phantom to his secret underground lair. More than an evil apparition, the Phantom proves to be a brilliant composer. Disfigured and nearly destroyed, he now demands his hellish revenge. Christine, his new star, is the Phantom's one weakness, and he pays the ultimate price to keep his love alive.
Nothing is quite what it seems in this riveting, complex tale of greed, dementia and deceit. Rescued from a suicide attempt by a man claiming to be her long-dead brother, a young heiress (Janette Scott) finds a new reason to live. But her relatives have doubts; they think "Tony" (Alexander Davion) is an imposter who's trying to get his hands on the family fortune. Everyone has their own secret reasons to suspect Tony, as well as their own designs on his vast inheritance -- especially brother Simon (Oliver Reed), a magnetic but devastatingly cruel wretch who'll stop at nothing to thwart the supposed pretender. In this flavorful feast of a thriller, "the horror-mystery elements are brewed to a fine discriminating savor."
"The Kiss of the Vampire" 1963
Lost on the way to their honeymoon, a young couple stumbles upon a mysterious family of vampires and their evil leader. A wrong turn leaves Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) and Gerald (Edward de Souza) stranded in a remote Bavarian forest where they have no choice but to accept the hospitality of the hypnotic Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman), distinguished lord of the local castle. Ravna uses his "children" to lure the newlyweds to his lair, and soon, they are plunged into a nightmare of horror and deception from which there may be no escape. Their only hope is Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), who calls upon an ancient ritual in a desperate attempt to destroy the vampires and free Marianne from Ravna's power. A lush 19th-century-setting, masterful direction, and vivid special effects intensify this spooky Hammer Films chiller.
This thriller walks the thin line between sanity and madness, exploring the shadowy world between dreams and reality. As a child, Janet (Jennie Linden) witnessed an unbearable horror: her insane mother stabbing her father to death. Now a young woman, Janet's recurring nightmares have her convinced she'll follow her mother to the asylum. Accompanied by her schoolteacher Miss Lewis (Brenda Bruce), Janet retreats to the home of her guardian (David Knight), who has hired lovely Grace (Moira Redmond) as a companion to help calm his troubled ward. But Janet's nightly terrors, magnified by the eerie, creaky old house, bring all of her fears chillingly to life. Are Janet's problems all in her head, or is there a sinister force at work? Startling plot twists reveal that sometimes when you wake up, the nightmare is just beginning.
"Night Creatures (Captain Clegg)" 1962
In this engaging costume melodrama of skulduggery on the low seas set back in the 18th-century, the Royal Crown suspects a bit of smuggling is going on in this locale, and they send Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) and his crew to check it out. When a mysterious swamp phantom clouds the investigation, Captain Collier suspects the odd village vicar (Peter Cushing) may be hiding something. What better way to do that than by the appearance of ghosts to scare away the curious, or by posing as someone he is not?
"The Evil of Frankenstein" 1964
Peter Cushing stars in this inspired fantasy as Baron von Frankenstein, the creator of the infamous monster. On the run from irate villagers who disapprove of his unorthodox experiments, Dr. Frankenstein returns to a remote mountain castle with his assistant Hans. Caught in a snowstorm, they are rescued by a mute deaf girl (Katy Wild) who leads them to the safety of her cave home. There, Frankenstein finds his original creature preserved in ice. Resurrecting the monster in his laboratory, Frankenstein discovers the brain is dormant, and he calls in Zoltan, a mystical hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe). But Zoltan uses the creature for his own selfish purposes, and unleashes a violent chain of events. This chiller offers all the excitement and suspense of the original with spectacular effects and blood-curdling action in vivid color.
"The Curse of the Werewolf" 1961
Oliver Reed portrays the bloodthirsty man-beast who loves by day and kills by night in this gripping gothic thriller. Directed by famed horror filmmaker Terence Fisher, this atmospheric tale of terror follows Reed, the orphaned baby of a maniacal beggar and a mute girl, from birth to manhood, when he discovers his horrible secret. Try as he may, the cursed youth is unable to suppress the dark forces within. When the moon is full, he becomes an uncontrollable killer incapable of distinguishing between friend and foe. Spectacular makeup effects and beautifully photographed 19th Century European locales heighten the suspense of this classic werewolf story.