Blu-ray Review: DRACULA (1958)

PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

Review: Dracula / Cert: 12 / Director: Terence Fisher / Screenplay: Jimmy Sangster / Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, John Van Eyssen / Release Date: March 18th

Arguably one of the most pivotal films in British horror cinema, Hammer's 1958 re-imaging of Dracula comes to Blu-ray/DVD in a new, much heralded, 2012 version, incorporating footage thought long lost. The extra material, amounting to less than 30 seconds of screen time, is nevertheless a wonderful discovery for fans of the picture, and make this an essential purchase.

Sangster's streamlined screenplay dispenses with a lot of the familiar plot points from Bram Stoker's novel, for budgetary reasons rather than aesthetic; so there is no Demeter running aground at Whitby, no Carfax Abbey, and only one vampire bride. The action itself takes place in the Carpathian area near Klausenberg, and here, Jonathan Harker (Van Eyssen) is in cahoots with Dr Van Helsing (Cushing), posing as the Count's (Lee) new librarian; thus the action never has to leave the region. When his mission to kill the bloodsucker fails, he falls victim to his bite, which in turn puts his fiancée Lucy Holmwood (Marsh) and her brother and sister-in-law (Gough and Stribling) in danger as Dracula looks to find another bride.

Despite being over 50 years old, the original Hammer Dracula still hits the mark, providing chills (largely down to James Bernard's rousing score and Lee's screen presence), action (at under 85 mins it is very pacey), and more than a touch of the erotic, although nothing as blatant as would come later in Hammer's legacy. The transfer is fabulous, the colour more natural than ever, while keeping that luscious Hammer 'look' we all grew to love. It's worth noting that despite the reduction from X certificate to 12 (a reflection on changing standards and attitudes), the drama and, especially, the sexual tension are still quite potent, but may be lost on the younger viewers.

The extras included on the disc give ample background for anyone new to the Hammer version, while still having lots for seasoned fans to devour. The commentary from Hammer Historian Marcus Hearn and critic Jonathan Rigby is especially fascinating, as is the Christopher Frayling featurette, with the academic giving a new perspective on the film. The inclusion of the four Japanese reels, presented 'as is' before any restoration is maybe a little superfluous (especially as the other featurettes contain the unrestored footage), but does show what a mammoth task the restoration team had, and to their credit, the inserted footage is seamless.

Extras : Two versions of the film; the 2007 BFI restoration, and the 2012 Hammer restoration / "Dracula Reborn" – new 30 min. featurette about the film’s creation and history, featuring, among others Jimmy Sangster, Kim Newman, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Rigby and Janina Faye (Tania in the film) / "Resurrecting Dracula" – new 20 min. featurette about the film’s restoration, from the BFI’s 2007 restoration through to the integration of “lost” footage, featuring interviews with key staff at the BFI, Molinare and Deluxe142. Also covers the February 2012 world premiere of Hammer’s interim restored version including “vox pop” interviews with fans after the event / "The Demon Lover: Christopher Frayling on Dracula" – new 30 min. featurette / "Censoring Dracula" – new 10 min. featurette on the original cuts to the film ordered by the British Board of Film Censors / Commentary / All 4 surviving "Japanese reels" (6 - 9) unrestored (40 mins)/ The World Of Hammer episode: Dracula And The Undead / Janina Faye reading a chapter of Stoker’s novel at the VAULT festival / Stills Gallery of over 100 fully restored and rare images / Booklet by Hammer archivist Robert J. E. Simpson (PDF) / Original shooting script (PDF)

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