Dracula – Blu-ray and DVD double play

draculaThe latest classic Hammer title to benefit from the studios’s restoration and preservation project is Terence Fisher’s 1958 adaptation of Dracula.

The film goes on sale next month and copies can be pre-ordered from Amazon.co.uk.

A true British horror classic, Dracula introduces the audience to Peter Cushing’s Dr Van Helsing and Christopher Lee’s Dracula, roles each would return to for Hammer over the following 15 years.

Their pitch-perfect performances, in which they play the fantastical material completely straight, show why the pair remain firm favourites for fans of the genre.

Cushing’s enduring appeal rests, for me, in his archetypal portrayal of the seemingly respectable, Victorian gentleman beneath whose quiet exterior is a determined, and steely vampire slayer.

While many have attempted to mimic his performance, none have come close to matching its nuanced brilliance.

Lee too offers the definitive Dracula, wordier than other portrayals, and indeed more so than some of his own future appearances, who effortlessly slips between smooth, suave operator and vicious, demonic monster.

The actor’s skill is demonstrated by his seemingly effortless ability to manage the transformation in such a way that it startles and alarms the audience every time.

Jimmy Sangster’s script takes liberties with Stoker’s original novel, radically changing Jonathan Harker’s role in the story, jettisoning large chunks of the plot and moving the locations of others. And yet the end result is a tense, strongly written tale to which Fisher’s direction adds a dark, brooding atmosphere and an ever present sense of danger.

Dracula was restored by the BFI in 2007, present on this release is that version and a further 2012 restored edition which includes footage cut from the original UK release on the insistence of the censors but recovered from film reels located in Japan.

The new material comprises Dracula’s seduction of Mina and a longer version of the Count’s final disintegration, the first enhances the character’s sense of dark sexual appeal, while the second addition makes for a more satisfying pay-off.

In addition to both Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film, the release includes an impressive set of extras which explore the making of the film, its restoration and Hammer’s battle with the censors to get it released.

The highlights are Dracula Reborn, the Making of a Hammer classic, a thirty minute look at the film’s production through interviews with Sangster, horror fan and actor Mark Gatiss, Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and critic Kim Newman.

Resurrecting Dracula (16 minutes) talks to those responsible for both restoration projects, but at times descends into such technical industry speak that it can be hard to follow. However while the interviews may not be as inclusive as they could be, the before and after images of the restored film ensures no-one will come away without a deep appreciation of the teams’ efforts.

Neatly dovetailing with Resurrecting Dracula is Censoring Dracula, an exploration of Hammer’s battle to get the film passed by the BBFC when it still censored, rather then merely classified, films.

The prudish and prim views of the day led to the removal of the ‘lost’ footage restored in the 2012 version, so indirectly Hammer fans have the prejudices and petty small mindedness of an unaccountable group of moral judges to thank for this release.

Also nicely complimenting the restoration feature is the inclusion of the recovered Unrestored Japanese Reels, the poor quality of which demonstrates how vital it is that studios take action to preserve their past output.

Other features include a new commentary by Hearn and author & critic Jonathan Rigby, an episode of The World of Hammer (Dracula and the Undead) and video of actress Janina Faye reading an extract of the original novel at a screening for the 2007 restoration.

With two pristine cuts of the film and a generous helping of extra content, Hammer and distributors Lionsgate have put together a fantastic package, and with a retail price of less than £20 it’s pleasing to see them resist the temptation to gouge fans.

When he announced the restoration project last January, Hammer CEO Simon Oakes expressed the hope that the resulting releases would allow “a new global audience to discover Hammer for the first time” and “ensure that Hammer’s legacy will live on for generations to come.”

The quality of the releases so far means the studio has a good chance of meeting those aspirations.

If you’re one of the legions introduced to Hammer by the superb Woman in Black, and were puzzled that some of us were as excited about the studio as we were the film, Dracula is the perfect chance to find out why.

Our verdict: 5/5

Dracula is released by LIONSGATE on March 18th and can be pre-ordered from Amazon.co.uk.

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