Dracula (Horror of Dracula, Blu-ray)
Director - Terence Fisher
Cast - Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing
Country of Origin - U.K.
Discs - 3
Distributor - Lionsgate
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 03/18/13
The Film (5/5)
Hammer Films throughout it's existence had quite a few ups and downs. There were certainly successes prior to the studio hitting it big with it's atmospheric tales of gothic horror, but the studio truly exploded on to the world stage with the release of the film the Curse of Frankenstein in 1957. That film made stars almost overnight of both Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, and Christopher Lee who portrayed the monster. Hammer would have been crazy not to create another film in the Curse of Frankenstein mold considering the popularity of that particular film, and they did the next year with the Horror of Dracula.
Hammer, of course, brought back the two stars of the previous picture. This time Cushing played the famed vampire slayer Van Helsing while Christopher Lee brought his formidable screen presence to Dracula. A role he would return to time and again throughout the 50's and 60's. Lee's Dracula would end up becoming one of the definitive takes on the character with only the earlier Bela Lugosi take even coming close to being anywhere near as good (full disclosure I've always preferred Lee to Lugosi). While both actors had appeared on screen prior to Curse of Frankenstein, their roles in the one-two punch of Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula would forever cement the pair into legendary status.
Horror of Dracula is adapted from the Bram Stoker novel by screenwriter Jimmy Sangster. I have always maintained that Horror of Dracula is, personally, my favorite Dracula film although it is extremely far removed from the source material. That being said while this film does not come close to resembling the book, as it's own thing it is truly fantastic. Sangster's script turns the Dracula story into a lean 82 minute gothic horror extravaganza. It definitely manages to hit on most of the plot points of Stoker's source material, while managing to trim the fat. This is, of course, helped immensely by the excellent direction by one of the greats of British genre cinema the late Terrence Fisher, who brings Dracula to the screen with a beautiful visual flair, and a certain intensity that befits the material.
Horror of Dracula opens with Jonathan Harker coming to work at Castle Dracula as a librarian. He is there to document the extensive library of Count Dracula(Christopher Lee), but soon after arrival he gets entangled in the vampiric on-goings in the Castle (which it should be stated, he was aware of prior to his arrival), and is killed by Dracula. Word of Harker's death reaches his partner Abraham Van Helsing, who he had been working with to exterminate the menace that was Dracula. Van Helsing takes it upon himself to inform Harker's fiancee, Lucy, and her family about his recent demise. Soon after the revelation Lucy begins to weaken and eventually dies. At first the weakness is assumed to be the work of a strange ailment, but it is soon discovered to be the work of Count Dracula. It is up to Van Helsing and Lucy's Brother in Law Arthur to combat Dracula before he can cause any more devastation.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the BFI/Lions Gate release of Horror of Dracula on Blu-ray. The issues mainly come from the fact that many early screen caps have appeared to have a blue tinting to them. I can not admit to having ever seen a theatrical print of Hammer's Horror of Dracula, but watching the Blu-ray unfold it seemed like a revelation when compared against the various TV, VHS, and DVD versions I have seen over the years. The BFI and Lionsgate have released Dracula in what I will say is a stupendous looking 1:66:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. This preserves the films theatrical aspect ratio. There is an absolutely wonderful significant increase in fine detail in this transfer, colors look fantastic, and much more natural than previous editions. There is a bit of damage throughout, most significantly in the highly touted scenes edited back in from a Japanese source.
The audio similarly sounds excellent with dialogue coming through clean and crisp. The music and effects are mixed in nicely with no elements drowning out any others. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on this track.
Lions Gate have gone all the way out with their restoration of Hammer's Horror of Dracula on Blu-ray in the extras department. The disc has 4 new featurettes created for this release. The set kicks off with Dracula Rebort a 30 minute featurette that details the history of the production in regards to it's inception and the films history. This is followed by Resurrecting Dracula which details the lengths the BFI took to restore the film to the condition scene on this Blu-ray. We then have the Demon Lover: Christopher Frayling on Dracula, and finally Censoring Dracula. This 10 minute featurette details the cuts to the film that were required upon initial release. There is also a new commentary by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and Critic Jonathan Rigby. In addition there are 4 unrestored, but fully intact Japanese reels that feature the uncensored material edited back into this release. We also get the World of Hammer episode Dracula and the Undead, and Janina Faye reading a chapter from Stoker's Dracula. The discs are rounded off by a stills gallery and a .PDF of the original shooting script. It will also included a booklet of liner notes (I did not get a full copy of the release so this was not included).
It should be stated that the European horror film is widely credited to having got its start with the Bava/Freda Collaboration I, Vampiri in 1957, and was cemented in the minds of fans with Bava's directorial debut Black Sunday a few years later. However, in between those 2 films Hammer Studios brought the British Horror film to the attention of the world with their new variations of those horror literary staples Frankenstein and Dracula, and in the process brought the now legendary Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to the world stage. Lee is now 90 years old, and is still actively acting, Cushing continued acting until his dying day, and until that day had the great respect of fans the world over. The reason for that respect and admiration could be traced to this film. This retelling of Dracula based on a fantastic script by Jimmy Sangster, and with near perfect execution by Terence Fisher. The A/V restoration on this disc is absolutely fantastic. The extras are elaborate, interesting, and entertaining. This Lions Gate release of Dracula can only come HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!