Dracula Blu-ray review.
“Fangs very much.”
Release Date: 18 March 2013
1958 | 12 | 79 minutes | £24.99 (double-play Blu-ray)
Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh
Sex. That was Hammer’s most significant addition to Bram Stoker’s classic tale. A first-time viewer might find that difficult to appreciate, since by modern-day standards, Christopher Lee’s Count, monobrowed and greying at the temples, is not exactly a knicker-dampening leading man. However, he’s undoubtedly a charismatic figure, and he’s certainly more alluring than Bela Lugosi’s interpretation, Nosferatu’s grotesque Count Orlok, or Stoker’s original bloodsucker, who sported a white moustache.
Besides, what’s important about Lee’s Dracula isn’t what he looks like, but how his female victims react to him – with a “be gentle with me” shiver of terror mingled with a flush of erotic excitement. Melissa Stribling’s Mina Harker returns from a nocturnal encounter with her undead lover brimming over with barely-disguised sexual fulfilment (director Terence Fisher told the actress to imagine she’d just had the seeing-to of her life).
Released today, an adaptation like this would probably get a critical kicking for its disrespectful attitude to the text. Tasked with producing a script that could be produced on a modest budget, Jimmy Sangster compressed the geographical scale of Stoker’s 1897 novel, and stripped out many of its most memorable elements: Renfield, the fly-eating madman who’s in the Count’s thrall; the ship which runs aground at Whitby; the sight of Dracula scaling the side of his castle.
Plus, to get us into the action speedily, Jonathan Harker is no longer a naïve solicitor, but an associate of Van Helsing, who takes a job at Castle Dracula in order to stake its owner. This is problematic. The notion that Harker’s been hired to “index Dracula’s library” is faintly laughable, and if Harker knows who this fiend is all along, then why’s he so relaxed about revealing his fiancée’s name, and so incautious when he encounters Dracula’s vampire “bride”?
Sangster’s script also leans on some clumsy expository devices. At one point, Harker delays legging it out of the window to pen a diary entry, while Van Helsing has a peculiar habit of listening back to recordings of himself making basic notes about vampires.
None of this really matters, though, because so many key cast and crew are at the top of their game. The ever-dependable Peter Cushing is compelling as Van Helsing, transforming the Dutch vampire hunter into a far more authoritative and active figure. Lee (who gets a grand total of 13 lines of dialogue) is mesmeric as the Count, switching from urbane charm to animalistic savagery with consummate ease. Terence Fisher keeps the pace measured for the most part, but doesn’t spare the shocks (including a gruesome close-up staking). It’s a brisk, exciting film with lavish-looking production design and a pulse-pounding score.
Is Dracula Hammer’s finest hour? That’s debatable. But it’s certainly the film which best encapsulates their output, and the one which proved the most influential.
It seems that Hammer may have learnt from the grumbling response to their The Devil Rides Out Blu-ray (which gave you with no option but to watch new CGI-assisted effects), since here you can choose to watch either the 2007 BBFC restoration, or a new version. The latter, thrillingly, features something every Hammer fan will want to see: two brief snatches of additional footage (about 20 seconds in total).
Dracula nuzzles Mina Harker’s face in this restored sequence.
In the first, Dracula gives Mina Harker a series of swift kisses, then pushes her down onto the bed; in the second, he claws flesh (in reality, mortician’s wax) off his face as he disintegrates in the sunlight. Deemed beyond the pale by the censors of the day, these sequences were lost for decades until they were discovered on a horrendously damaged Japanese print. The restoration team have done a remarkable job of cleaning them up – you can barely spot the joins.
Click on “Next” (below right) to keep reading our review of the bonus features, and see some more screengrabs