Dracula (1958)

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One of the jewels in the Hammer Studio crown, Terence Fisher’s colourful and camp take on Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula is soon to be released on Blu-ray crisper, brighter and longer than ever before. Dracula has been restored once previously by the BFI and was re-released as recently as 2007. Since then however, Hammer have located a long presumed lost print of an extended, more explicit version of the film in the National Film Centre in Tokyo Japan.  This extra footage, which includes an even more graphic disintegration scene at the film’s climax, has been given a magnificent polish and the film arrives in truly pristine condition.

Fisher’s film is far from a faithful literary adaptation and it does feel a little rushed as he tries to cram in a large amount of narrative into a relatively short run time, but it remains one of the most entertaining and enduring versions of the Stoker novel. After the intrepid Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) fails in his bid to destroy the legendary Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), the demonic vampire begins to terrorise the family of Harker’s fiancé.  Enter the renowned Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), a dear friend of Harker and a keen vampire hunter. It’s soon a race against time as Van Helsing does his utmost to destroy the Count before he wreaks further havoc on unsuspecting innocents.

While undeniably tame by today’s standards and far too melodramatic and over the top to be considered too scary, it remains a wonderfully creepy movie buoyed by a blood-splattered gothic sensibility. Christopher Lee, despite only having 13 lines in the whole movie, is a menacing and malevolent presence as the elusive Count who electrifies whenever he is on screen. The moment where he first swoops into view with cape raised and bloody fangs bared remains an iconic moment in horror cinema and it is easy to see why he is considered by many to be the definitive version of the Count. Peter Cushing is equally compelling as the calm and methodical Van Helsing and the closing scene where he and Lee finally face off is a glorious moment in cinema history. The aforementioned disintegration scene where Van Helsing exposes the Count to direct sunlight is a particular highlight of the restored movie and the sight of Lee clawing the skin off his own melting face is an effect which still holds up today.

The film itself may appear a little dated now, rated X upon its release it is now considered only a 12a, but thanks largely to Lee’s menace, it rightfully remains horror movie royalty. The restoration itself is something that really deserves a lot of credit. Barely a scratch or grain in sight, the new print is absolutely immaculate and from the moment that rich red blood  drips on Dracula’s coffin at the film’s outset, the film’s colour pallet is luxurious as one could hope.

The extras accompanying the restoration are a real treat for fans too.  As well as including both the 2007 BFI restoration and the 2012 Hammer version, there’s four informative featurettes looking at the film’s creation, the restoration process, the Dracula story itself and the original cuts forced by the BBFC. There’s a commentary provided by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and critic Jonthan Rigby, a ‘World of Hammer’ episode covering the film, an exhaustive still gallery and, for the truly dedicated, the four surviving ‘Japanese Reels’ in their original form. It’s fascinating to watch these raw and ragged reels and compare them with the wonderfully cleaned up finished article.

Dracula is out on blu-ray 18th march 2013.

Director: Terence Fisher
Stars: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough
Runtime: 82 min
Country: UK

Film Rating: ★★★½☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★☆

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