After being widely unavailable for several years, following extensive effort and research, comes the definitive edition of Hammer’s Dracula (1958). This triple disc release contains several versions of the film, alongside numerous extras. This is the quintessential adaptation of Bram Stoker’s legendary tale for many reasons, containing ground-breaking performances from both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The collaboration between screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and director Terence Fisher saw a more stripped down version of the source material, amongst other things. The first incarnation of Dracula to focus heavily on sex, relationships and lust, alongside the more horrific elements, caused a furore amongst censors, the critics and the viewing public, and in doing so, cemented Hammer’s notorious reputation from thereon in, saving the studio from a precarious and uncertain future.
Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives on foot to Castle Dracula, under the pretence that he is to serve as a librarian to the count. He enters an expansive and foreboding room to find a note from his host, encouraging him to make himself comfortable. Harker investigates his surroundings and is startled by the entrance of a young woman (Valerie Gaunt), who pleads with him to help her escape the clutches of her captor, the master of the house. Harker remains coy, and is greeted afterwards by Dracula (Lee), aristocratic and powerful of manner, who guides his new librarian to his quarters, into which he promptly locks him.
Whilst contained in his room, Harker writes in his diary, confessing the real reason for staying with the nefarious count – to end his reign of terror. Harker later meets the same girl who begged his assistance earlier on, only this time she takes advantage, leaning in and biting the neck of the bemused guest. Dracula enters; fangs bared and bloody, creating one of the most iconic horror images of the 20th century. He fights with his Vampire bride as Harker gazes on, bemused and terrified.
Awakening after the ordeal, Harker makes an attempt on Dracula’s life, one which is unsuccessful. When news of his disappearance reaches his colleague Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), he journeys to Klausenberg in search of his friend. Van Helsing is met with suspicion and hostility by the locals, but manages to procure the diary of his missing companion. He makes his way to the castle, and is disgusted at what he finds.
Subsequently, it becomes Van Hesling’s responsibility to relay the worrying news of the disappearance to the Holmwood family, Arthur and Mina, whose sister Lucy, was due to marry Harker. Treated with scorn and disdain by the Holmswoods, Van Helsing remains undeterred, maintaining decorum and grace, even when confronted by Arthur’s brusque and inflammatory attitude towards him. Lucy, Harker’s fiancée is incredibly ill, the nature of which is subsequently revealed.
In the attempt to save her sister in law, Mina seeks out Van Helsing to assist her in saving the girl’s life, which she believes to be under great threat. Things, inevitably, lead back to Dracula and Van Helsing is paired with a reluctant, but desperate Arthur, in an attempt to complete the task which Harker set out to do, end the existence of this undead monster.
This spectacular Blu-Ray release does hitherto unseen justice to both the vision of Terence Fisher, and the sublime score of James Bernard. From the opening titles, it is apparent just how much work has gone into optimizing this presentation. The clarity of the visuals on both the Blu-Ray and DVD versions are commendable. The disc’s sound is also grandiose and resonant on both versions.
There are a veritable plethora of extras available on this release. Four featurettes include Dracula Reborn, a half hour investigation into the film’s creation and history, featuring, among others: Marcus Hearn, Jimmy Sangster, Kim Newman, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Rigby and Janina Faye. Resurrecting Dracula is a focus on the film’s restoration, from the BFI’s 2007 edition through to the integration of lost footage, featuring interviews with key staff at the BFI, Molinare and Deluxe142. The Demon Lover: Christopher Frayling on Dracula, is another fantastic 30 minute piece in which Frayling goes into great depths to explain the significance of this feature; culturally, cinematically and influentially. Censoring Dracula is a fascinating insight into the difficulties that the filmmakers had with the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors) – in particular, to the perceived sexual content within the film.
There is an engrossing commentary from official Hammer historian Marcus Hearn, alongside fellow writer and historian Jonathan Rigby. There are also numerous deleted and previously unavailable scenes, including the infamous “Japanese Reels,” which were feared lost forever. An Oliver Reed narrated episode of The World of Hammer: Dracula and the Undead, will delight and enamour any fan, and there are over 100 beautiful stills, a PDF format of the script and a booklet by Robert J. E. Simpson. This collection is figuratively bursting with well-constructed, breathtakingly researched extra material which will keep even those who think they know their Hammer busy for a very long time.
Hammer have done sterling work with this edition of Dracula. The pristine sound and aesthetic will bring a tear to the eye of any true horror fanatic. Lee and Cushing redefined their respective roles in this unmissable feature, making it the archetype of subsequent Hammer Gothic films. A mouth-watering array of superb extras add immeasurable reasons why this should adorn the shelves of all. An incredible amount of work has gone into this release, and it is a testament to the efforts of all involved that it has been so wonderfully put together and presented. An essential purchase.
The release date is March 18th, 2013. The set can be purchased on Amazon UK.
– By Colin McCracken