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Dracula aka Horror of Dracula [Blu-ray]
(Terence Fisher, 1958)
Review by Gary Tooze
Theatrical: Hammer Studios
Video: Lions Gate UK / Warner Archive
Region: 'B' / Region FREE (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)
Runtime: 1:22:06.375 / 1:21:59.735 / BFI Restoration (only) 1:21:51.281
Disc Size: 32,891,719,727 bytes / 24,445,759,569 bytes
Feature Size: 20,753,178,624 bytes / 23,934,799,872 bytes
Video Bitrate: 29.97 Mbps / 34.99 Mbps
Chapters: 12 / 12
Case: Standard Blu-ray case
Release date: March 18th, 2013 / December 18th, 2019
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1
Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video
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
DTS-HD Master Audio English 1994 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1994 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 2.0 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
English (SDH), none
• 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)
Two DVDs of the 2 restorations
• Trailer (1:42)
Description: Terence Fisher's 1958 classic
fully restored in High Definition and available on Blu-ray
and DVD for the first time.
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 exploratory 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.
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.
Well, Warner Archive had added this Hammer title to their label but only offer the, negligibly shorter, BFI restoration version. It has a max'ed out bitrate and the image has much more vibrant and richer colors than its UK counterpart. Some saturated colors actually take a significant shift - flesh tones generally warm and there is a rough texture to the 1.66:1 framed image. Being darker (which is probably more accurate) we do lose a bit of detail in the background but the 1080P presentation offers an alternative to the Lions Gate UK Blu-ray, which, in many instances, seems to be sharper. Contrast may go the way of Warner (see Dracula's white coffin) and it indicates a blue-ish leaning to the UK transfer.
CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION
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.
Warner go DTS-HD Master as well but 24-bit as opposed to 16 and it is a more robust transfer. This helps the presentation effects and score by frequent Hammer composer, James Bernard (The Devil Rides Out, The Plague of the Zombies, Dracula Prince of Darkness, These Are the Damned, Across the Bridge, The Curse of Frankenstein, Terror of the Tongs). Warner offer optional English subtitles in their unfortunate 'SHOUTING' capital letters. Their Blu-ray disc is Region FREE.
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.
Sadly, only a trailer on the Warner Archive Blu-ray.
Lionsgate UK - Region 'B' - Blu-ray
Warner Archive - Region FREE - Blu-ray
This remains one of my favorite from Hammer Studio. While its easy to appreciate the inkier blacks of the Warner Archive - overall, obviously, the Lions Gate UK Blu-ray is the one to own with both versions, a more subtle image, the commentary and other supplements. The Warner would be most suitable to Region 'A'-locked audiences (who should be further convinced to own a Region FREE Blu-ray player).
April 6th, 2012
January 11th, 2019
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.
Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD
Gary W. Tooze
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