Dracula (Fisher, 1958) DVD+Blu-ray
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Directed by Terence Fisher
Produced in 1958
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
With two restorations, long unavailable additional footage and worthwhile featurettes, this is seventh heaven for Hammer fans. It's one of the studio's key films, writes Barry Forshaw.
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
Barry Forshaw on 15th February 2013
Author of 619 reviews
Hammer's classic Dracula, the first in the series of their films inspired by Bram Stoker's novel is now established as a classic of the horror genre. Christopher Lee stars as the vampire Count, Peter Cushing Van Helsing. Retaining many of the key elements of Bram Stoker's novel, the film is distinguished by Lee's portrayal of the blood-thirsty count as a coldly charming aristocrat, and by plenty of skilfully achieved tension and suspense.
Dr. Van Helsing, investigating the death of his friend Jonathan Harker concludes that he was the victim of a vampire. When Harker's fiancée, Lucy, becomes affected by the terrifying force and hypnotic power of Count Dracula, Van Helsing releases her tortured soul by driving a stake through her heart. But Dracula seeks revenge, targeting Lucy's beautiful sister-in-law, Mina. Van Helsing, now aided by Mina's husband Arthur, swears to exorcise this evil forever by confronting the vile and depraved Count himself.
The release contains two versions of the feature - the 2007 BFI restoration plus the 2012 Hammer restoration, which adds additional footage that has been unavailable for decades, including Dracula’s seduction of Mina and Dracula’s sunlight disintegration.
Length: 79 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Format: DVD+Blu-ray Colour
Released: 18th March 2013
Cat No: LGB95006A
- 3 discs
- Commentary by Historian Marcus Hearn and Author Jonathan Rigby
- Dracula Reborn
- Resurrecting Dracula
- The Demon Lover: Christopher Frayling on Dracula
- Censoring Dracula
- All four 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
- Original shooting script (PDF).
by Julian Upton on 15th February 2013
‘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 c... Read on
‘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. Hide