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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Dracula aka Horror of Dracula [Blu-ray]

 

(Terence Fisher, 1958)

 

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Hammer Studios

Video: Lions Gate UK

 

Disc:

Region: 'B' (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:22:06.375 / 1;21:59.735

Disc Size: 32,891,719,727 bytes

Feature Size: 20,753,178,624 bytes

Video Bitrate: 29.97 Mbps

Chapters: 12

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: March 18th, 2013

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1536 kbps / 16-bit
Commentary: Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• Audio Commentary with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby

• Dracula Reborn: The Making of a Hammer Classic (30:32)

Resurrecting Dracula (16:56)

• The Demon Lover: Frayling on Dracula (27:48)

• Censoring Dracula (9:15)

• Unrestored Japanese Reels (6-9) 35:01

• The World of Hammer, Dracula and the Undead (24:53)

• Janina Faye (Tania in Dracula) Reads Stoker (12:18)

• Gallery

Two DVDs of the 2 restorations

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: Terence Fisher's 1958 classic Dracula, fully restored in High Definition and available on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time.

The release will contain two versions of the feature, seamlessly branched on the Blu-ray - the 2007 BFI restoration plus the 2012 Hammer restoration, which adds additional footage that has been unavailable for decades.

The additional footage comprises two of the scenes that were originally censored by the BBFC in 1958 that have now been restored to the film from the “Japanese reels”:
• Dracula’s seduction of Mina
• Dracula’s sunlight disintegration

These will be the most complete versions ever released and taken together fully deserving of the description "definitive".

Dracula has been unavailable on any UK home entertainment format for many years. This release will be at the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1 which has never been available for the home.

Available on 3-disc Double Play, the pack comprises 1 x Blu-ray and 2 x DVD, the release also includes brand new featurettes, a new commentary track, multiple bonus extras and a stills show.

Dracula is the first in the series of Hammer films inspired by the Bram Stoker novel Dracula. It was directed by Terence Fisher, and stars Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Carol Marsh, Melissa Stribling and Christopher Lee. Dr. Van Helsing, investigating the death of his friend Jonathan Harker concludes that Harker 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 Film:

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

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The 1958 Hammer Studio Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula) arrives on Blu-ray from Lions Gate in the UK.  It seamlessly branches the BFI 2007 and Hammer 2012 restoration (which adds additional footage) on one dual-layered disc. It is 1080P and we have compared a couple of frames of the 2002 Warner DVD (reviewed HERE). Colors, notably skin tones, are significantly more truer than the SD relates and there is no noise in the darker sequences. The transfer supports solid contrast exhibiting healthy black levels and some minor depth in the original 1.66:1 frame.  It's quite thick and a bit hazy but this is no doubt the way it probably looked originally 55 years ago. This Blu-ray image is quite a treat to fans of the Dracula and Hammer studios horror genre.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Audio comes in the form so a linear PCM mono track at 1536 kbps. It supports the wonderfully atmospheric score of James Bernard (a composer of many horror classics). There is some nice depth, and is acceptably flat. Any minor inconsistencies are acceptable and more likely leaning a solid replication of the original. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'B'-locked.

 

Extras :

Lions Gate offers some great extras including a new audio commentary with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby exploring details of the production. We get featurettes; Dracula Reborn: The Making of a Hammer Classic running over 1/2 and hour, Resurrecting Dracula lasting more than 15-minutes, The Demon Lover: Frayling on Dracula (27:48), Censoring Dracula (9:15), the 35-minute long, highly interesting, Unrestored Japanese Reels (6-9) , The World of Hammer, Dracula and the Undead, Janina Faye (Tania in Dracula) reads a chapter of Stoker for a dozen minutes and there is also a Gallery of posters. The package contains two DVDs of each of the 2 restorations.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
With the substantial effort put into this Lions Gate Blu-ray fans will be very appreciative of the incredible package, a/v, additional footage and multiple extras. This is easy to put in the 'must-own' and 'don't hesitate' category for horror and especially Hammer Horror aficionados and digital librarians everywhere. 

Gary Tooze

April 6th, 2012


 

About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
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Marantz SR7002 THX Select2 Surround Receiver
Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

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Gary W. Tooze

 

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