Hot off the success of Hammer's second feature horror film Horror of Dracula, Hammer reached an agreement with Universal (who was supposedly spared from filing bankruptcy due to the success of Horror of Dracula) to remake its library of classic horrors, Dracula only being one of the few. The continuance of the Dracula saga was high on Hammer's mind and finally in late 1959 the script for The Brides of Dracula was completed, a loose sequel which strangely enough did not even feature Dracula.
The Brides of Dracula focuses more on the "disciples" of Dracula as Dr. Van Helising is called to Transylvania to help dispose of a recent vampire outbreak. It all begins when Marianne Danielle, a young woman from Paris looking to take a teaching position at an all girls academy, finds herself stranded in a small village in the dead of night. She's offered a place to stay by the Baroness Meinster a strange old woman who lives in a castle on the hill.
Happy to accept Marianne soon discovers a disturbing piece of information, the Baroness has locked her son within the confines of the castle, claiming him to be sick and dangerous. Marianne lets curiosity get the best of her and she goes to talk to The Baron, only to discover him to be perfectly healthy and charming; she releases him from the chains his mother has bonded him to and releases a plague upon the town! The Baroness knew all too well what she was doing bringing Marianne into her home, she was to be the life blood for her vampire son, unfortunately she never expected Marianne to left him go free. Now the beast she used to keep locked in the depths of the castle, is free to roam the countryside turning all the women he meets into vampire brides!
The Brides of Dracula was a financial success even though it failed to be a true Dracula sequel due to the absence of Dracula himself. Reasons behind Christopher Lee's absence are thought to be related to either his wish not to be typecast as Dracula, his already busy schedule, or the amount of money he was asking, either way most Hammer fans still seem to feel The Brides of Dracula is a success, even one of Hammer's best horrors.
For me the film is on par with Horror of Dracula, excelling in areas where that film lacked and lacking in areas where it succeed. The absence of Christopher Lee is obviously a big hit, even though Lee was only in Horror of Dracula for eight minutes he brought a definite dark vibe to the film. Newcomer David Peel as, Dracula's replacement, Baron Meinster is thought to have given an unexpectedly good performance, although I felt it paled in comparison to Lee and at times bordered on campy. Where The Brides of Dracula does succeed over Horror of Dracula is in regards to the story. The storyline is much more interesting, unique and delves deeper into the vampire lore. It also introduces some vampire trivia that previously was not mentioned in the first film, with fire being another avenue of destroying a vampire (something that is contradicted later on in Hammer's Lust For A Vampire), and vampire's ability to transform into other objects, mainly bats.
Overall, The Brides of Dracula is a nice mid sequel in the Dracula franchise, even without it's star character the film holds up reasonably well due to Peter Cushing's performance and the rather unique screenplay and overall execution of the film. Is it the best Hammer has to offer? Not in my opinon, but it does provide a more in-depth look into the vampire lore and is an entertaining diversion until the ultimate resurrection of Dracula.