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4. Dean Owen (1960), The Brides of Dracula

This is a novelisation of the Hammer film Brides of Dracula (1960), which is bloody great and which I've reviewed in its own right here: LJ / DW. I've read and reviewed two other Hammer Dracula novelisations before – John Burke (1967), Dracula, Prince of Darkness (LJ / DW) and Angus Hall (1971), Scars of Dracula (LJ / DW) – and from comparing the Scars one in particular with a copy of the shooting script, I'm confident that it was normal practice for the authors to write them from these scripts. That makes them fascinating reading, especially in cases where I can't access the script itself, mainly for what they reveal about the creative decisions made during production but also to some extent because they can clarify and flesh out details which were intended by the original scriptwriter but didn't really come through in the final film. In addition, they can add extra details supplied by the novelist which I am at liberty either to incorporate into my personal Hammer Dracula head-canon or to reject (according to preference), and when they are well-written they are just good and enjoyable takes on stories I love anyway.

Unfortunately, this one isn't particularly well-written. In fact, it is a particularly egregious example of a male writer writing for a male audience without the faintest notion that women are sentient human creatures who might potentially pick up and read the novel as well, and wish not to be portrayed as male playthings within it. We're all familiar by now with the classic 'breasted boobily' caricature of such writing:

Breasted boobily.jpg

Well, here is Marianne, the main female character, being introduced on the first page as the carriage in which she is travelling thunders through dark Carpathian forests:

Novelisation Marianne introduction.jpg

Her trajectory through the story is largely the same as in the film, but at almost every step the extra detail which the novelist adds is utterly skeevy in tone. A series of male characters tell her that a girl as pretty as she is shouldn't be travelling alone in this part of the world, size her up to see if she actually is as pretty as they thought, and contrive to get their paws all over those curves we heard about when we first met her. Shockingly to anyone familiar with Peter Cushing's utterly gentlemanly performance in the actual film, this includes Van Helsing himself, who full-on shags her within two pages of bringing her back to the Running Boar after finding her unconscious and (again unlike the film) half-naked in the forest. Those who have any respect for women, and particularly those who are also Peter Cushing fans, may wish to skip over the following passage, but I feel compelled to share it nonetheless just to demonstrate that I am not making it up – although the absence of either character's name from the passage also rather suggests that it is actually a generic sex-scene which the writer had stored away waiting for next time he would need one.

Novelisation Marianne and VH.jpg

Don't get me wrong – Hammer also very definitely sexualised and objectified their female lead characters. But because they were British and had to respect the rulings of the censors in order to ensure a general release, they did it all with rather more decorum and style than this. So far as I can tell, this novelisation was written and published by an American company for an American market, and I would hazard a guess that the author had never actually seen a Hammer film. After all, they were only just establishing their reputation for gothic period horror at the point when he must have written it. So it is a bit of an oddity and comes across much less like a precious supplement to the film and much more like a badly-mangled version of it compared to the Prince and Scars novelisations. But then again it does have an awesome pulp fiction cover (again bearing no relation to the film), so there's that:

Novelisation.jpg

Meanwhile, somewhere beneath the surface of this misogynistic and off-tone novelisation still lies the shooting script that I'm really interested in. The Brides of Dracula Wikipedia page gives brief outline of how this evolved, while I was able to pick up further details from Bruce Hallenbeck (2010), The Hammer Vampire. In essence, the script was rewritten multiple times by different people, changing markedly each time. Jimmy Sangster originally produced a script which did centre around the Baron Meinster and his mother but also brought Christopher Lee's Dracula in at the end and had a character named Latour as the main vampire hunter. Peter Bryan then reworked it, removing Lee altogether, bringing in Peter Cushing as Van Helsing instead, changing Latour into a servant of the Baroness, introducing the girls' school setting and having the Baron despatched at the end in a black magic ritual which summons a cloud of bats. As Cushing wasn't particularly wowed by this script, a third writer called Edward Percy added a few period touches which convinced him to take the part. Further considerable changes were then introduced during production by Anthony Hinds, mainly with a view to tightening up the story and removing inconsistencies caused by the earlier stages of revision, and these included reducing the role of Latour into a non-speaking part and removing the black magic ritual at the end. The novelisation is clearly based on the script as it was immediately pre-production, since Latour still has a major role to play in the story and the black magic ending remains in place.

Latour is actually still in the finished film, although he isn't named and doesn't appear in the credits, and he does still play a minor role in ensuring that Marianne ends up at the Chateau Meinster rather than at the girls' school to which she is travelling. This is him, after he has stopped her stagecoach in the woods by putting a log in the road, jumped on the back, and then bribed the driver to go on without her:

vlcsnap-00017.png

In the novel, this role is much more extensive, and in fact he is the Baron's main henchman, whose job is to ensure he gets his victims. Right from the beginning he doesn’t merely hitch a ride on the back of Marianne's stage-coach, but gets into it with her after he has stopped it in the road, makes a lot of very skeevy, rapey comments, and then later also prevents Van Helsing from getting to the castle himself that same night (an episode completely missing from the film). He does a lot of fighting too, attacking both Van Helsing and his 'man', Jacques at least once each before actually killing Jacques and ending up in a fight to the death with Van Helsing. Interestingly, this was carefully scripted according to the same rules about goodies, baddies and violence which I recognise from Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and Doctor Who – the goodies don't use weapons and the baddies can only be killed accidentally or via their own actions. So after Latour has killed Jacques and almost managed to stab Van Helsing, the latter pivots and twists Latour's arm which causes him to drop his knife but then fall forward onto it and die.

I'm very glad all of this was removed from the film, partly because I'm not very interested in fight scenes but mainly because with Latour largely removed someone else needs to become responsible for procuring girls for the Baron. In the film, that transpires to be the Baroness, but it's also clear that she hates herself for doing it and tries to set things up so that the girls largely wander into the trap by themselves, all of which makes for a fascinating and memorable character which Martita Hunt plays absolutely brilliantly. Back in the novel, with Latour to shoulder the bulk of the dirty work, the Baroness becomes much less interesting. The backstory which Greta tells after her death about how she helped create the whole situation by encouraging the Baron's bad company and wicked ways until "one of 'em took him and made him what he is" is missing, but when Van Helsing confronts her in vampire form, she offers her own explanation of what has been happening at the Chateau since the Baron became a vampire:
Yes, I gave into his whims, to a certain extent, to pacify him. Or so I thought. I allowed girls to be brought here so that he could gaze upon them. And then they would go. But I realize that some of them were later waylaid by Latour and brought back here. And I know what happened to them.
This is so much weaker than her self-conflict in the film, not least because it doesn't even really make any sense – there is no serious connection between her bringing girls to the castle for the Baron to 'gaze upon' and some of them dying, because Latour could have gone out and brought back any old girl for the Baron to feed on at any time - it doesn't have to be the same ones the Baroness brought there in the first place. A massive improvement was made to this character at the production stage, and a lot of the success of the final film rests on it.

The Baron himself behaves fairly similarly to the film when Marianne first encounters him in the castle, but after she has fled the castle there is one significant difference – it's made explicitly clear that he uses a hypnotic thrall over her to make her fall under his spell and agree to marry him. There are multiple scenes about this in which her conscious mind knows that he is a vampire and that her affections belong to Van Helsing, yet at the same time she has no will to stop him from biting her (itself described in very rapey terms again) or herself from wanting him. This is more necessary in the novel than the film, given the romance sub-plot with Van Helsing, as it really would make no sense for her to get engaged to the Baron shortly after falling deeply in love with Van Helsing without some outside force being applied, but removing it entirely leaves an odd disjunction within the film itself. Though the romance plot was also almost entirely removed (bar a protective hug at the end), Marianne has still seen some pretty frightening things at the castle, including the bloodless corpse of the Baroness, and really should demand rather more explanation than she does before agreeing to marry the Baron. I'll have to watch the film again and see if there are any hints of it in David Peel's performance. Certainly, he does seem to be able to command his mother to come to him so that he can kill her after Marianne has freed him in the film.

Van Helsing himself is introduced as 'Doctor Lee Van Helsing', which is either an invention by Dean Owen or was changed during production, as he carries a leather case bearing the initials J.V.H. in the film.

Bag publicity still.jpg

He has been summoned to the village from Cannes, where he had been finishing a treatise entitled 'The Supernatural In the Nineteenth Century', and tells locals that "In addition to tracking down these stories of vampires, I have also worked for the British government in certain confidential matters." This sounds intriguingly Holmesian, and I would guess small details like this came from Dean Owen rather than the script, although the bit about the treatise is certainly consistent with the portrayal of Van Helsing as both academic and consultant vampire-hunter in the film. Actually, if we take our small details seriously, he can't be the same Van Helsing that we met in Hammer's Dracula, as after he and Jacques have found Marianne in the forest and they are carrying her to safety, he thinks to himself on the way that "In all the years he had searched out this incredible story of vampires, he had never really believed he would come as close to one as he had this night." Since this story is set in 1890, he should already have met and killed Dracula if he is the Van Helsing of that story.

He is also described as well-versed in the Code of the Undead and possesses an ancient manuscript which he consults at various points in the story, presumably containing the Code. We learn that the Baron is supposed to have transgressed this Code both by drinking the blood of his own mother and by taking Marianne's blood but allowing her to keep on living to satisfy his 'carnal desires'. In fact he tells the Baroness (after she has been turned into a vampire) that because the Baron has broken the laws of Darkness, if he does not destroy him he will eventually be destroyed by his own kind. Then, at the end of the film in the mill, he summons a great cloud of bats by reading incantations like "Come, creature of the night! Come, I summon you from the grave, from the Acropolis of the Undead. From the depths of Darkness itself" from the manuscript. The lore has it that this was vetoed by Peter Cushing, who didn't think Van Helsing would resort to black magic to defeat a vampire, and I must say I'm very grateful to him. The idea of a vampire 'code' is a bit questionable to begin with, while more importantly the notion that the Baron would eventually be destroyed by his own kind anyway seriously reduces the existential threat which he poses to the extent of almost rendering Van Helsing's entire battle against him unnecessary. Like, he would be gone soon enough anyway. Relax!

I would nuance Cushing's view slightly by pointing out that in Stoker's novel Van Helsing makes free use of garlic, salt and magic circles – indeed, it's made pretty clear that he needs to draw on the paraphernalia of both folklore and Christianity in order to defeat Dracula. In this novel, besides summoning the bats he also commands Marianne in the name of Light and Heaven to come to him when she arrives at the mill with the Baron, breaking the spell she is under and allowing her to run into a pentacle which he has drawn. This is a lot like what Stoker's Van Helsing does in his journey through the snow with Mina, and I would guess comes from Sangster's original script (as I know he had read the novel to write the first film). The other major component of the film's climax – Van Helsing leaping to pull the sails of the windmill into a giant crucifix – is actually already here alongside the bats, although the mill does not catch fire. Perhaps surprisingly, given all the other Satanic / pagan content, Van Helsing's comment from the film that vampirism is "a survival of one of the ancient pagan religions in their struggle against Christianity" isn't in this novel, which presumably means it wasn't in the shooting script. Perhaps it was put in at some stage as a pointer towards the original ending, but then left high and dry when that ending was changed? Or rather was inserted to preserve some little hint of paganism / Satanism in place of the vetoed bats-and-black-magic ending?

A few smaller points. The film of Brides borrows a device from M.R. James' 'Count Magnus' when Marianne, watching alone over Gina's coffin the stables, witnesses first one and then the other padlock from the coffin falling, still clasped shut, onto the floor. The novel confirms that this too was a production-stage development, since it has Marianne simply undoing them herself under the Baron's thrall. Even worse, in the novel Gina only emerges from the coffin after Van Helsing has stopped Marianne and sent her away to bed. So again her sultry advances towards Marianne seem to have been added after the script was passed to Dean Owen – presumably primarily to titillate male viewers, but creating a wonderful queer poly subtext along the way. On the other hand, the poor nameless village girl of the film gets a name in the novel – it is Ella – and Van Helsing realises as he leads Marianne away from the mill that he will have to stake Gina and Ella in their graves the next day. So that little thread does get wrapped up in the novel at least – though to be honest I still rather prefer the film's utter disregard for their fate which allows me to imagine that they escape unharmed and go on to form their own vampire cult. And the romance sub-plot is properly wrapped up too, as Van Helsing tells Marianne that they will leave this place and make a new life for themselves – which I guess we are meant to understand means that they get married.

Alas, of the Hammer Dracula films only this, Prince and Scars were ever novelised, so I have read them all now and it's a pity to have ended up on this one which is a) badly written and b) reveals at more or less every step of the way how much better the final film was than the pre-production shooting script. However, that's interesting to know and makes me appreciate what the production team did all the more. Apart from the slight weirdness of Marianne getting engaged to the Baron when she ought to know he's mixed up in some pretty weird business and might well be a murderer, the film is one of Hammer's strongest, and the characterisation of the Baroness, the existential threat posed by the Baron and the business with both Gina's coffin-clasps and what she says to Marianne after she has come out of it all contribute a great deal to that. Thank goodness for the creative drive towards perfectionism which everyone who worked at Hammer seems to have subscribed to at this point!


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