Quality film news, reviews and features
28th February 2013 18:00:00
Posted by John White

Dracula

Blu-Ray Review: There is no inch of flab, no wasted exposition and no loss of focus in a terrific 82 minutes....Hammer attempted to repeat the trick whenever their finances were in need, but this original remains their best vampire movie

The Film

In John Carpenter's excellent Cigarette Burns, gorgeous pouting Norman Reedus travels the world hunting lost films and footage. In the real world such people are much more likely to resemble Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, but the allure and glamour of being a celluloid detective definitely isn't lost on me. Just imagine being responsible for finding the missing director's cut of The Magnificent Ambersons or even the six seconds of neck nuzzling and face clawing lost from a Hammer masterpiece.imageWell someone did exactly that, and Hammer have re-integrated and restored this footage into the 2007 restoration carried out by the BFI of Dracula. You are now free to enjoy Melissa Stribling's full seduction and to witness the film's conclusion free of the pettiness of the original censors. Lionsgate have released this gorgeous looking filming in its longest cut yet with a blooming lovely transfer.

Working with Universal in order to exploit the Stoker story, Hammer employed Cushing and Lee in similarly academic and monstrous roles to Curse of Frankenstein and asked the late Jimmy Sangster to develop a screenplay that would live within their means. Under the cultured eye of Terence Fisher, a Gothic Horror action romp was produced which uncovered the lust and desires of the vampire myth in throbbing technicolor.imageIn Hammer's Dracula, unsatisfied housewives would stay out all night with the dark stranger before inviting him home, and the betrothed of another would literally throw open her windows and doors to welcome the monster's advances. The buttoned up household of the Holmwoods, the chaste union of Jonathan and Mina and even the purity of a little child were all overshadowed by the urbane, handsome Count.

There is no inch of flab, no wasted exposition and no loss of focus in a terrific 82 minutes. Sangster picks the main setpieces of the book, minimises the changes of setting and alters characters to accommodate a small cast. The cast is excellent, with Cushing making Van Helsing's discretion humane and his moral mission instinctive, and Lee smoldering with appeal and evil in his most satisfying turn with the fangs.imageHammer attempted to repeat the trick whenever their finances were in need, but this original remains their best vampire movie.

The Disc

Lionsgate's 3 disc package includes the main feature in two versions and the associated extras grouped together on a BD50, and again on the 2 DVDs. The Blu-ray is region B locked and the two DVDs region 2 coded as well. I watched the film on the Blu-ray and note that the two cuts of the film are of the same quality bar the newly added scenes in the 2012 version. These scenes were water damaged and have consequently undergone much more restoration than the material created for the BFI version, and predictably colours are more muted, detail is less notable and black levels less impressive in this footage. imageTo illustrate this, the first of the four screenshots in this review is from the re-integrated footage whilst the remaining three are from the existing BFI restoration. Still, I don't want to concentrate on six seconds from the whole film and wish to state that this is a lovely transfer yielding formidable detail, colours that bring the cinematography to life, and excellent contrast. Very film-like and natural looking, this, along with the Quatermass BD, shows what high definition can do for these beautiful films.

Audio comes from a single lossless LPCM dual mono track which allows Bernard's score a beautiful reproduction and for more subtle effects to be noticed. It's good that no effort has been made to create a surround track and that HOH subs are included as well.

Moving on to special features, the commentary comes from Jonathan Rigby and Marcus Hearn, whose fingers are all over the new material added here. Not a natural double-act, Rigby tends to dominate and Hearn takes more of a back seat as the track proceeds. There's a tremendous amount of background information competitively offered by both, but as a companion to the film it lacks warmth and rapport.

The BD carries four new featurettes and all content is standard definition. Dracula Reborn examines how Dracula introduced the erotic to the Hammer formula and began their partnership with Universal. It includes the likes of Kim Newman, Mark Gatiss, and Jimmy Sangster celebrating Cushing's performance, Sangster's writing, and Bernard's score. The BFI restoration gets explained in Resurrecting Dracula including the re-insertion of the cut footage sourced from Japan which Hammer added last year.

Sir Christopher Frayling gets to discuss the film for a good half hour in another new piece, The Demon Lover and the final new piece is Censoring Dracula. The latter I found more interesting as it discloses that many elements of the film were changed before shooting due to BBFC disapproval and gives the lowdown on the two cuts which have been re-inserted for this edition.

The discovered Japanese footage is included in its original condition as another bonus, although the damage makes it difficult to watch. Ollie Reed happily pops up for a World of Hammer episode on Vampires which is great fun. Less intriguing is former child actor Janina Faye reading Dracula to the Flicker Club prior to the first showing of the 2012 restoration, with that audience proving a lot more appreciative of her efforts than I was. The final extra on the BD is a picture gallery of photos, film art and posters accompanied by dialogue and music from the film.

Onto the two DVDs included within this package. Basically, one is for the two cuts of the film and the other for all the same extras included on the Blu-ray. There are two additional extras on the second DVD of pdf files of the shooting script and a lovingly illustrated booklet placing this film within horror history and the Hammer canon.

Summary

A lovely release of a re-assembled classic which will please those of you hedging your bets between standard and high definition.
Details and Specifications
Blu-Ray Review

Region: B

Certificate: 12

Distributor:
Lionsgate

Running Time:
82:06/82:00 mins approx
Soundtracks:
LPCM Mono 2.0 (1500kbps)
Commentary with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby



Subtitles:
English HOH

Director:
Terence Fisher

Main cast:
Christopher Lee
Peter Cushing
Michael Gough
Melissa Stribling
John Van Eyssen
Carol Marsh
-- more --
Ratings
Film
9
Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
8
8
About John White
John lurks in the shadows of Digital Fix reviewing films meant for people half his age and twice his intellect. The madder, the stranger and the more squalid a film the more likely he is to acclaim it the Citizen Kane of its kind. Apart from looking both startled and menacing, John is the editor of the TV section at Digital Fix, you can find his scribblings there here. John can be found on Google Plus, Facebook and posts at our Twitter page too.


More by this author...