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S E A R C H    D V D B e a v e r

 

directed by Terence Fisher
UK 1958

 

Blu-ray Version reviewed HERE

 

It is always a delight to enter the Hammer otherworld of garish lighting, luscious beauties, starched Englishmen and red-paint blood. And this delight is never greater than in the case of the studio's 'Horror of Dracula' (Terence Fisher, 1958), which marries these charming qualities with stark social commentary and a good deal of historical prescience. Indeed, the film might be regarded as a Gothic counterpart to the class-conscious, social realist films that were another component of British cinema in the late-1950s.

The success of Hammer’s previous effort – ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (1957) – must have given the studio the confidence to create in ‘Horror of Dracula’ a much more ambitious picture; both in terms of its intellectual rigour and in the liberties that it takes in adapting the source novel. Of course, some of these liberties – such as the removal of many of the book’s characters and key scenes – may well have been down to straightforward restrictions in both plotting and budget. Yet there is still a definite sense that the film makes very intentional departures from the traditional Dracula mythos, and that it revels in these transgressions. Jonathan Harker's (John Van Eyssen) daytime approach to Castle Dracula – as opposed to the usual, stormy night arrival – is both an affront to viewer expectations as well as a statement of revisionist intent. And this intent is carried forward by Christopher Lee's delirious central performance: a Dracula who vacillates between charismatic charm and feral, red-eyed bloodlust, and who is a world apart from the stilted Count (Bela Lugosi) in Tod Browing’s 1931 production.

Most shocking – and successful – of all, however, is 'Horror of Dracula'’s handling of the original novel's latent eroticism. What was once sub-textual is here foregrounded, and there is now no doubt that the film’s women enjoy Dracula's advances. Indeed, in preparation for his nocturnal visits, the “victims” even open doors, remove crosses from their necks and arrange themselves artfully on their beds! This complicity highlights the fact that film’s menfolk are mere cuckolds, and paints their frantic efforts to stop Dracula as the laughable last stand of injured male pride. This is ‘Dracula’ as projected through the prism of Chaucer’s ‘Miller’s Tale’.

Yet these designs have much more serious undertones. Take, for example, the scene in which Mina Holmwood (Melissa Stribling) speaks to her husband, Arthur (Michael Gough), on the morning after her first encounter with Dracula. Gone is the dour housewife of previous scenes to be replaced by a more vivacious, sensual and – if her smiles are any indication – happier woman. This sparkling transformation indicates that the true enemy of the piece is the stifling Victorianism which has previously crushed Mina’s femininity and squandered her well-being. This interpretation is bolstered by Peter Cushing's wolfish and ambiguous turn as Van Helsing. Obsessed by his pursuit of Dracula and unmoved by the numerous stakings that he has to perform, Van Helsing is one of the screen’s most brutal and efficient reactionaries.

In contrast to all previous portrayals, then, Dracula actually catalyses life, and it is Arthur, Van Helsing and their fellows who preside over the true realm of the undead; a realm contoured by the same stuffy mannerisms and values that sadly prevailed in post-War Britain, at the time when the film was made.

In the end, the overall transaction isn’t bloodless for the viewer, and this is what may explain 'Horror of Dracula''s timeless appeal as a fright picture. Indeed, the film sets out to vandalize all preconceptions, conventions and comforts, particularly those that must have been held by contemporary audiences. Rather than portray Van Helsing's battles with Dracula as a straightforward tale of good versus evil, Fisher recasts the monster as a counter-cultural hero, and one whose values would soon make furtive progress during the upheaval and sexual revolution of the Sixties. However, that the changes of those years were to be largely undone by the forces of conservatism demonstrates that Fisher was right on yet another count: Van Helsing always wins in the end.

Pete Hoskin

 

Posters

Theatrical Release: June - 1958 - UK

Reviews                                    More Reviews                                  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Warner Brothers - Region 1 - NTSC

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Also available in the Hammer Horror Collection which includes The Curse of Frankenstein / Dracula Has Risen from the Grave / Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed / Horror of Dracula / The Mummy and Taste the Blood of Dracula. Available HERE:

          

Distribution

Warner Brothers

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 1:21:26
Video

1.78:1 Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.55 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio Dolby Digital 1.0
Subtitles English, French, Spanish Portuguese, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Warner Brothers

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Theatrical trailer
• cast and crew biographies
• 'Dracula Lives Again!' text feature

DVD Release Date: October 1st, 2002
Snapper case

Chapters 26

 

 

Comments:

Blu-ray Version reviewed HERE

This Warner release's anamorphic transfer is – like the disc's Dolby Digital mono soundtrack – serviceable enough. The print is clean; colours are rewardingly vibrant; and detail is sufficient, if perhaps a little hazy. The prime disappointment is that the 1.78:1 framing crops the film's original 1.66:1 aspect ratio.

Extras are limited to the film's theatrical trailer and a couple of text features (cast/crew biographies and 'Dracula Lives Again!', which chronicles the production's history).
 

There has been talk that Warner are to revisit their Hammer properties and release them in more lavish editions. Whilst this would certainly be welcome in the case of 'Horror of Dracula' – if only to afford the film an OAR presentation – this disc's faults are not so great as to prevent it from being a worthy stop-gap.

As an end-note: Posters over at the wonderful Classic Horror Film Board are reporting that a new restoration of 'Horror of Dracula' is to be screened at this year's Cannes; a suitably grand accolade for this most essential horror film, and one which augers well for that 'special edition' release in the future.

 - Pete Hoskin

 


DVD Menus


 

 


Subtitle sample

 

 


Screen Captures

 


Warner - Region - NTSC DVD TOP vs. LionsGate - Region 'B' - Blu-ray (Reviewed HERE) BOTTOM

 

 

 Warner - Region - NTSC DVD TOP vs. LionsGate - Region 'B' - Blu-ray (Reviewed HERE) BOTTOM

 

 


 


 

 


 

 


 
DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Also available in the Hammer Horror Collection which includes The Curse of Frankenstein / Dracula Has Risen from the Grave / Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed / Horror of Dracula / The Mummy and Taste the Blood of Dracula. Available HERE:

          

Distribution

Warner Brothers

Region 1 - NTSC




 

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