Following the 2012 restored release of The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer, Icon Film Distribution and Lionsgate jointly produced a Blu-ray restoration of another British classic. This time it was the 1958 version of Dracula directed by Terence Fisher. This is one of Hammer's finest films and not only gets a superb High Definition transfer but also sees the restoration of two lost scenes. Dracula literally re-invented the horror genre and the depiction of vampires in film. It also established the studio as a key player within the industry and made international stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. This new restoration finally does justice to the source material presenting it as it deserves to be seen.
The release contains two versions of the film, both of which can be accessed via seamless branching on the Blu-ray disc. There is the 2007 BFI restoration plus the new 2012 Hammer restoration, which adds additional footage that has been unavailable for decades, as well as the original UK title card. The additional footage comprises two of the scenes that were originally censored by the BBFC in 1958. The material was restored to the film from the infamous “Japanese reels” validating the long-held notion that more explicit prints existed for the far eastern market. The scenes depict Dracula’s seduction of Mina, which was considered too overtly sexual for the times. Then there is the infamous face clawing scene from Dracula’s final demise.
The film also boasts an outstanding commentary track from Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and author and critic Jonathan Rigby. For those who have an interest in Hammer Studios or cinema in general this is an extremely informative and enjoyable narrative. Both speakers have a wealth of interesting and relevant anecdotes. They offer a keen insight into the British film industry of the time and its relationship with the BBFC and the press. There is also an excellent discussion of each actors respective acting techniques. As a result I learned of Peter Cushing's famous finger acting; the repeated gesture of raising his index finger to emphasise an important point. I will always look out for it now.
Dracula is a vibrant, beautifully constructed movie with intelligent performances and a literate screenplay. The production design is outstanding as is the lush cinematography. The proceedings are further embellished by James Bernard's dramatic score which compliments the tense atmosphere and bouts of horror. It should be noted that what was once considered to be a pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable within the confines of a "X" certificate, now merits a more sedate "12" rating from the BBFC. Certainly Dracula will strike some people as being somewhat tame by today's standards. However if it viewed with an appropriate sense of historical context, Dracula is a fine example of British cinema at its best.