Dracula (Fisher, 1958) View large image

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Film Details

Directed by: Terence Fisher

Produced: 1958

Countries & Regions: United Kingdom

Blu-ray Details

Certificate: 15

Length: 79 mins

Format: Blu-ray

Region: Region B

Released: 28 October 2013

Cat No: LGB95006A

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Languages(s): English
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Dracula (Fisher, 1958)

Cast: Christopher Lee , Peter Cushing , Carol Marsh , Michael Gough , Geoffrey Bayldon , Miles Malleson , Janina Faye , John Van Eyssen , Melissa Stribling , Charles Lloyd Pack , Valerie Gaunt

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Classic Hammer horror starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) journeys to Castle Dracula, where he... Read More

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Classic Hammer horror starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) journeys to Castle Dracula, where he is turned into one of the undead by the famous vampire (Lee). Professor Van Helsing (Cushing) arrives and drives a stake through Harker’s heart, but must then pursue Dracula to London, where the Count intends to make Harker’s fiancée Lucy Holmwood his bride. Lee and Cushing went on to make several more ’Dracula’ films for Hammer.

Seventh heaven for Hammer aficionados: here's one of the key films from the studio's heyday, censorship cuts restored, copious extras with authoritative commentaries - and the movie itself looking better than it ever has in a sparkling Blu-ray restoration. What with reissues such as this, new films and a new publishing initiative, Hammer is back with a bang.

In many ways, Terence Fisher's film of Dracula (from an economical screenplay by Jimmy Sangster) is not only one of the most perfectly constructed films made by the studio, it is also an encapsulation of just how the filmmakers conflated the various elements that made the product function so well (and for those aware of such things, the way in which budgetary constraints had occasioned a level of inspiration in Fisher and his colleagues -- not to merely conceal the paucity of their resources but to make a positive virtue of such realties).

One might wonder just how well the filmmakers understood the real implications of the Hammer version of Dracula, in which the vampiric count is not presented as the straightforwardly monstrous creature of the Tod Browning/Bela Lugosi version, but (in Christopher Lee's mesmeric interpretation) as an elegant, dangerously attractive and cultivated figure with immense erotic appeal. However little his character is inclined to (or, for that matter, able to) indulge in straightforward sexual activity, but rather in a displaced metaphor for the same - and displacement, what's more, which has a concomitant libidinous charge more insidious than any more conventional sexual presentation would be. Certainly the actor who played the part claims to have been unaware in advance of the erotic effect is playing of the character would have, and has repeatedly said that he was greatly surprised at the matinee idol-type following his bloodsucking monster quickly acquired.

Ironically, the censorship problems that British horror films were plagued with during their heyday (in the late 1950s and 1960s) were customarily directed at the more sanguinary aspects of the films, although various censors were customarily disturbed by what they perceived as the linking of sexual and violent aspects. John Trevelyan of the British Board of Film Censors (with whom Hammer was to have many battles, both amicable and acrimonious) was exercised by this particular conjunction, but not as much as one of Trevelyan's successors, James Ferman, who decided that 'blood on breasts' (needless to say, a standard image in Hammer films) was a trigger for rapists, and Ferman routinely attempted to excise such images. But the more deep-seated eroticism of the earlier Hammer films (such as Dracula) appeared to go over the heads of - or at least be (tacitly?) ignored by - the censors. The erotic submission to the vampire count by his female victims in their various states of déshabillé was self-evident (such as Mellissa Stribling's clearly sexual surrender in Fisher's film, an image foregrounded in the posters, à la Bernini's Saint Theresa of Avila's orgasmic response to Christ).

Such notions were actually more subversive in an era when female sexuality (at least in terms of its representation in films) was a subject far less open to discussion than it is in the far freer 21st century. Such territory has assumed a particularly pertinent relevance towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century with the phenomenal success of the female writer EL James' crudely-written but self-evidently reader-friendly erotic trilogy beginning with 50 Shades of Grey. At the time of Terence Fisher's film, the Dracula character might have been said to represent a variety of archetypes: the untrammelled libido wreaking havoc within the repression of the Victorian era; the dangerous masculine image forged by such female writers as Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen: the devilishly attractive but unyielding and controlling male figure with a barely concealed contempt for the female sex; and, finally, even as a challenge to clear-cut notions of good and evil (Dracula, as played by Christopher Lee, is hardly - in Nietzschean terms - beyond good and evil, but his challenge to the established order (and the verities of Christian belief) is given an energy and power singularly lacking in his opponents, whatever spiritual grace was conferred upon them (with the conspicuous exception of The Count's nemesis, the savant Abraham Van Helsing - who, as played by the forceful Peter Cushing, is a very different figure from the more sedate and philosophical incarnation of the role as played by Edward Van Sloan in Tod Browning's film of the Stoker novel). Of course, those who chose to dismiss such films as immoral and depraved were closing their eyes to a recurrent theme: the ultimate triumph of religious belief over seemingly insurmountable supernatural power. The accoutrements of religion (notably the crucifix and holy water) are routinely utilised to re-establish order out of the chaos brought by Dracula, even if the films are carefully drained (for the contemporary era) of the religiosity of standard Hollywood product

‘Definitive’ is a word bandied around without much discernment in home entertainment circles these days, but this 3-disc release of the Hammer horror classic makes a convincing stab at it (pun intended). It features not one but two restorations - the BFI’s from 2007 (in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio) and a newer one that includes fabled missing footage from the Japanese release (found decomposing, not unlike the eponymous Count, in a vault). In addition, there’s a handful of genuinely informative and entertaining extras. As for the movie itself, if you’re interested in a definitive version, chances are you know it already. If not, let me add that Dracula is arguably the finest entry in the Hammer’s 20-year Gothic horror cycle and remains (at 82 minutes) the most effective distillation of Bram Stoker’s wayward if infinitely influential source novel. Shot on what might be called an austerity budget, the film’s elegantly crafted fusion of sensuality and sensationalism provides a perfect example of the studio’s unique skill for creating enduring art from economic compromise.

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