With Dario Argento threatening to release his interpretation of Dracula on the world, it's rather timely that Terence Fisher's seminal 1958 Dracula
should be re-released on UK Blu-ray with previously censored scenes now reinstated, making it the most complete version ever released.
The Blu-ray (as part of a triple play pack) contains both the BFI's 2007 restoration and Hammer's new 2012 restoration, the latter of which includes some key additional shots dug up from a fire and water damaged Japanese print. Specifically, they expand on two scenes: Dracula's seduction of Mina and the Count's final sunlight disintegration. The former adds fuel to the fire that Hammer's version was the first explicitly sexualised take on the story, whilst the latter confirms the studio's penchant for pushing the boundaries of visceral on-screen horror.
Both sequences were censored by the BBFC prior to the film's 1958 release, and they are worthy additions indeed, heightening the horror and explaining the rather jarring cuts that are still present in the 2007 version. The extended disintegration betrays a fascination with the mechanics of the vampire's demise, foreshadowing a preoccupation that's seen a myriad of explicit depictions as special effects have progressed (think the action spectacle of vampire death in the Blade films). Though you may not have known what you were missing, once you've seen this version, it's tough to watch the cut one.
Watching Dracula (1958) is a joy, and a reminder of just how skillfully put together the best of Hammer's features were. I've not seen it for many, many years, and likely the last time was on a tiny old 4:3 TV. The pace is breathless and, though famed for being somewhat theatrical and hokey, you're quickly absorbed into the Hammer universe -- I certainly didn't find myself chuckling, as I feared I might, even when the Count runs in and out of doorways in a faintly farcical manner. Suffice to say, Lee and Cushing's iconic performances are as marvelous as ever.
The picture on the Blu-ray is remarkable and in the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio for the first time on any home entertainment release. Crucially, they've not over-saturated the colour, and so whilst it retains the archetypal Hammer 'look,' it's not become an over-processed, gaudy mess. As to be expected, there are dips in quality where the Japanese print has been spliced in, but considering the poor quality of the source material -- more on that in one of the excellent extras -- it's a mighty feat to have got it looking as (relatively) seamless as it does.
Extras are again of a very high standard, with "Resurrecting Dracula," about the restoration process, and "The Demon Lover: Christopher Frayling on Dracula," proving to be the highlights of the four newly-commissioned featurettes. Frayling is typically erudite, chatty and engaging -- scholarly, without being drab.
I really can't recommend this release highly enough.
Dracula (1958) is available to buy on UK triple play (1xBR, 2x DVD) from 18th March through Lionsgate.
Four Brand-New Featurettes:
"Dracula Reborn". New 30 min. featurette about the film's creation and history, featuring, among others: Jimmy Sangster, Kim Newman, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Rigby and Janina Faye (Tania in the film).
"Resurrecting Dracula". New 20 min. featurette about the film's restoration, from the BFI's 2007 restoration through to the integration of "lost" footage, featuring interviews with key staff at the BFI, Molinare and Deluxe142. Also covers the February 2012 world premiere of Hammer's interim restored version including "vox pop" interviews with fans after the event.
"The Demon Lover: Christopher Frayling on Dracula". New 30 min. featurette.
"Censoring Dracula". New 10 min. featurette on the original cuts to the film ordered by the British Board of Film Censors.
New commentary by Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and author and critic Jonathan Rigby.
All 4 surviving "Japanese reels" (6 - 9) unrestored (40 mins).
The World Of Hammer episode: Dracula And The Undead.
Janina Faye reading a chapter of Stoker's novel at the VAULT festival.
Stills Gallery of over 100 fully-restored and rare images.
Booklet by Hammer archivist Robert J. E. Simpson (PDF).
Original shooting script (PDF).
Region: B/2 / Barcode: 5060223769196 / Catalogue number: LGB95006 / Double Play: 1 x BD & 2 x DVD / Languages: English