BRITISH CULT CLASSICS: Dracula / 3-Disc Double Play Blu-Ray Review

As The Curse of Frankenstein opened to huge success, Hammer Films were already looking to secure a number of deals to develop, finance and distribute films, including the sequel to their first Gothic horror in colour, initially titled Blood of Frankenstein. Studio executive James Carreras had already raised the subject of that other Gothic horror franchise-in-waiting, Dracula, with Eliot Hyman at Associated Artists Productions, one of Hammer's existing financial partners. While both men were exchanging their excitement about Frankenstein's transatlantic box office success via telegram in the summer of 1957, Carreras proposed Dracula as their next collaboration.

Carreras was simply reflecting the fact that Hammer had Bram Stoker's Gothic classic already lined up in their sights. During the Autumn of 1956, Hammer's lawyer Edwin Davis had been busily investigating the tangled and complex copyright and ownership of Bram Stoker's character. Some significant clues were included in a document passed to him from Associated Rediffusion Ltd, the Independent Television franchise for London since 1954. Rediffusion had planned a six-part adaptation of Dracula but had subsequently abandoned it because of the difficulty in clearing the rights to the property.

Their investigations had found the rights were currently held with Universal Pictures who had procured them in 1930 from Stoker's widow, Florence, and Hamilton Deane and John Balderston, who had been granted permission by her to write and revise the stage version of Dracula in 1924. Davis therefore began a lengthy negotiation with Universal lasting all the way through Dracula's production and ultimately resolved in an 80-page contract just as Hammer's version went into post production in March 1958. (1)

"oughtn't we to get a little double-Dutchman?"
That production, announced to the press by Carreras at the end of July 1957, was again made in colour, reunited the team that made The Curse of Frankenstein and consolidated and refined Hammer's approach to horror cinema. After securing a three picture deal with Columbia in September of the same year, Hammer concentrated on completing a finance and distribution deal with Universal for Dracula.

Initially, Universal lacked interest and only came on board when they were offered worldwide distribution rights and after Hammer already had a commitment for £33,000 of the budget from the National Film Finance Corporation. Universal's parsimony would be reflected upon, rather ironically, in the startling announcement by Universal's Al Daff after the May 1958 New York press luncheon with the Hammer team that the international success of Dracula had apparently saved Universal from bankruptcy. (2)

Former production manager turned writer Jimmy Sangster had decided to go freelance after The Curse of Frankenstein but was struggling to find work during 1957. Serendipitously, he was considering asking executive Michael Carreras for his old job back just as Hammer came calling and offered him contracts to adapt Dracula and pen the Frankenstein sequel. He apparently read Stoker's novel several times before he started his first draft in June 1957 and spent four weeks transforming the original globe-trotting narrative told via diaries and letters into a claustrophobic three act drama set in 'Home Counties Transylvania'.

He jettisoned many of Stoker's characters and Dracula's budget-busting boat trip to England, all of the Whitby-set sequence, Renfield and the asylum and the protracted chase across Europe. In Sangster's tight and bold reduction, Harker becomes a knowledgeable if unprepared acolyte of vampire-hunter Van Helsing, going undercover as a librarian to assassinate the Count and where seduction by one vampire bride is enough to scupper his mission.

In Peter Cushing's hands, Van Helsing, an older, rather eccentric Dutchman in the novel, turns into a youthful and steely professional, physically and athletically Dracula's match. After being cast, Cushing apparently asked producer Anthony Hinds, "oughtn't we to get a little double-Dutchman?" to which Hinds responded, "I think the thing to do is to play him as you." (3)

When Sangster's second draft screenplay was submitted to the BBFC in early October 1957, a convoluted sparring began between producer Hinds, readers Audrey Field and Newton Branch, secretary John Nicholls and chief examiner John Trevelyan. This extended well into the debates and negotiations, not concluded until April 1958, over the editing of the film to achieve an 'X' certificate. Field's initial, rather typical objections about Sangster's "uncouth, uneducated, disgusting and vulgar style" also advised caution on showing Technicolor "shots of blood" and the staking of vampires. (4)

Nicholls provided Hinds with a full list of scenes deemed unacceptable and necessary restrictions including his concerns about "the sex aspect of the story" with women depicted in "transparent nightdresses... with bared breasts... in suggestive garments", caution over the vampire woman's attack on Jonathan, Dracula's violent attack on both her and Jonathan, the various stakings and, still intact in the script at this stage, the depiction of a coachman's slit throat discovered when Van Helsing and Holmwood go in pursuit of Dracula. (5)

Undeterred by this hand-wringing from the BBFC, Hinds simply got on with making the film, now budgeted at £81,412, and assembled the cast and crew. Peter Cushing was contracted as the name above the title for Dracula and for the Frankenstein sequel on 9 October 1957, with his agent John Redway securing a fee of £2,500 for the former's six week schedule. On the same day director Terence Fisher signed up to direct both films.

On Dracula, he was also reunited with production designer Bernard Robinson and cinematographer Jack Asher who had both been crucial to the success of The Curse of Frankenstein. Christopher Lee was contracted on 29 October at a rate of £60 per day and eventually received £750 for his work on the film while the supporting cast including Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt and Janina Faye were all signed to the film during November. (6)

The start of filming was originally set for 4 November 1957 but a number of problems delayed this for a week and instead cameras started rolling on 15 November over the bitterly cold six-week schedule. Robinson, a man Lee praised as "the real star of the picture, who could make sow's ears out of silk purses and vice versa" spent three weeks assembling his sets prior to the start of shooting. (7)

He benefited from the newly built 90 x 80 foot Stage 1, a rebuild of an old stage from Walton-on-Thames next to the Bray car park, to house a series of sets all configured around a signature entrance, flight of stairs and balcony. Stage 2 was home to Van Helsing's room, the undertakers, the Holmwood residence and cellar and Stage 3, a long narrow space, featured the inn where Van Helsing makes his first entrance into the film. (8)
"marble plush"
However, Robinson's interior designs for Dracula's home rather alarmed the studio and there was talk of replacing him because his work, described as "marble plush" by Denis Meikle, radically avoided the typically overt, cobwebbed Gothic expressionism of Charles D. Hall's familiar settings for Universal's 1931 Dracula. Instead, Robinson opted for spartan baronial elegance and this, together with the rest of his sets and including the evocative Holmwood crypt, offered a "contrapuntal thing of horrible things in beautiful places" that provided the film with an expansive sense of space. (9)

Don Mingaye, the draughtsman who worked with Robinson on the film concurs: "They were concerned about it because the Lugosi film was the only yardstick they had. But we were talking about colour and the Lugosi one wasn't, so we had a lot more going for us." This was echoed by an acknowledgement that neither Fisher nor Lee viewed the Universal horror films, including Lugosi's Dracula, prior to the shoot, and Fisher claimed: "I didn't screen them or refer to them at all. I started from scratch." (10) Lee identified and related to aspects of the character from reading Stoker's book: "his extraordinary stillness, punctuated by bouts of manic energy with feats of strength belying his appearance; his power complex; the quality of being done for but undead; and by no means least that he was an embarrassing member of a great and noble family." (11)

Certainly, the notion that this version of Dracula was a completely fresh start was demonstrated by the film's signature use of colour and its focus on eroticism and horror. As the vibrant, Gothic red opening titles begin, overlaid on the castle's entrance adorned by a stone eagle, Fisher takes the audience on a symbolic tour of the Count's residence, the camera gliding into a tomb and filling the screen with the name on the Count's resting place 'Dracula' that is suddenly and strikingly emblazoned with a torrent of glowing red blood.

The eagle is clearly a representation of the Count himself who, although absent through much of the film, haunts it through suggestive visuals and gliding camerawork, all underpinned by James Bernard's predatory music. The emphasis is also on Hammer's use of colour with the moody, blood soaked opening titles providing a non-expositional, surreal, abstract motif "to move us forwards into a space in a manner that gives us a sense of great power" (12)

This is also our first glimpse of Robinson's splendid exterior sets for the castle, supplemented with a moat, which would be reused on a number of Hammer productions in 1959, including The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Stranglers of Bombay, until they were demolished the same year. The exterior sets are also extended with an atmospheric glass painting, courtesy of Les Bowie, to depict the upper turrets and snowy mountains in the background as Harker observes the scene.

Jonathan Harker's (Eyssen) arrival in the film evokes the Stoker novel with its voice over and, later, with further exposition via his diary where an "unsuspecting audience (is) made to feel superior to Harker" about vampire lore until their assumptions are undermined with a twist - Harker is seemingly a librarian but, in fact, turns out to be Dracula's assassin. (13) The diary is also a vital element, as Van Helsing's rationalist, observable proof to Arthur Holmwood (Gough) of the battle between light and dark, good and evil at the centre of the film. Again, Fisher's camera slowly pans around Robinson's impressive sets, circling and stalking Harker as he makes his way to the dining table and fireplace.

From the perspective of a 1950s audience, Harker's first encounter with the vampire woman (Gaunt) is suggestively troubling and leads into yet another moment, after she is alerted to some unseen presence, where expectations are contradicted by the figure shown standing in shadow at the top of a flight of stairs. The staircase and balcony here act as the central motif Fisher uses to introduce the Count to audiences. Lee, in silhouette, is seen to glide down the stairs and loom into close up to reveal a handsome, well spoken, ascetic English nobleman in a complete volte-face to the heavily accented, stilted Lugosi variation.

Fisher was acutely aware of what he was doing: "It's a physical thing, horror. The first time you see Dracula is up at the top of the stairs, in silhouette - and the audience, the ones you want to laugh, start to laugh, because they're going to see... what? Instead, they see this very handsome man, the perfect host, come down the stairs into close up. I did it this way not just to tease the audience but to show them that the whole idea of evil is very attractive." (14) As Christopher Lee recalled, this strategy paid dividends in New York when a raucous preview crowd at the Mayfair Theatre, Times Square was reduced to silence by his understated introduction.

David Huckvale also cites a Freudian analysis of the ascending and descending of staircases as a correlation to the sexual act, which seems rather appropriate for a film steeped in sex. Beyond Dracula's introduction, the vampire's authority and power is often visually signified by the staircases they traverse: Harker is trapped in the castle cellar when the Count mysteriously abandons his coffin unseen and reappears at the top of the stairs; the undead Lucy brings her victim Tania down a flight of stairs to the Holmwood crypt and Dracula ascends a staircase in the Holmwood residence to seduce Mina. (15)

This would seem to provide a subtext to Robinson's reuse of the same staircase and balcony on Stage 1, as a continuous spatial and thematic reconfiguration for key scenes, where the exterior of Lucy's crypt was the first set to be mounted, followed by revamping it into the castle's dining room with its distinctive candy-twist pillars, then using a simple rearrangement using drapes to construct the castle's entrance hall and, finally, transformed into the library were Harker is attacked by Dracula and, later, Van Helsing ushers in the vampire's demise.
"modernity, speed and, above all, colour"
Christopher Lee's performance is also incredibly physical in contrast to Lugosi's and degrees of physicality are informed by his skills as a mime. He sweeps up the stairs effortlessly, he holds the framed portrait of Harker's fiancée Lucy with delicacy (watch his expressive hands) and he is feral and animalistic when Fisher finally reveals his true nature in the fight in the library. An effective, almost balletic, choreography is employed when Dracula throws the vampire woman across the room and strangles Harker.

This is coupled with a ferocity that Fisher later outdoes in the final battle between Van Helsing and Dracula in the film's climax. For Nina Auerbach, Lee's incarnation of Dracula is also representative of "modernity, speed and, above all, colour." (16) Despite the fact that he gets something like 13 lines in total and is absent for much of the running time, Lee dominates the film and his powerful presence both on screen and off is indicated by Bernard's score and his ever dominant 'Dra-cu-la' theme.

The fight in the library is the first of the film's set pieces. Its dynamic combination of sex and violence certainly had the BBFC in a flutter. The sequence where the vampire woman seduces and then bites Harker on the neck was originally much more explicit but Hammer had to capitulate to the censor's demands and remove some of it. It's now probably the only sequence from Fisher's original cut of the film that's incomplete. However, the beautifully framed shot of the woman erotically eyeing up Harker's neck and then opening her fanged mouth to bite him does explicitly link, for the first time in horror cinema, the vampire's kiss with an erotic, sexual intent.

Fisher's control of the scene is exceptional. From the close up of the kiss, he cuts quickly to a long shot of the vampire woman and Harker to the left and right of the frame and in the centre, surrounded by cold blue light, is the figure of Dracula. We hear his roar and there is a huge close up of his devilish face, fanged and bloodied, eyes bloodshot.

Make up designer Phil Leakey worked with Christopher Lee to devise this look for the Count: "I took him down to an oculist, a lens maker, who took a mould of his eyes and made up these blood shot eyes that Chris would have to put in before every shot" and "we made a set, or two sets in fact, of clip on teeth which clipped on to his own eye teeth". Lee found the lenses uncomfortable and extremely difficult to see through. Leakey also experimented with a set of teeth that would pump out special effects blood to depict Dracula's bite, using a small pump operated by Lee's tongue: "He tried this once and jolly nearly choked." (17)

Dracula jumps into the frame between the other two figures, throwing the vampire woman to the floor. Fisher then intercuts close ups of Harker, the woman now fanged and bloody and provocatively showing a bare shoulder where her white gown has slipped down, and Dracula glaring at her, hands outstretched. The struggle between her and Dracula then ramps up the sheer sexual energy of the scene, barely contained by the frame and the likes of which had never been seen in horror cinema before, pumped up by the pell-mell James Bernard score.

Dracula's physical domination of the film is again emphasised in the way he overpowers Harker, punctuated by a close up of Lee's blood shot, fanged visage, and his removal of the woman via the door to the library, framed again in that icy blue light. It is still an intensely powerful eruption of the film's themes that comes hot on the heels of mounting tension and mystery.

The first act of the film ends with Harker's downfall. Harker is clearly an ingenue vampire hunter and fails to detect the signs around him, many of which the audience were already aware of. But his demise underlines the idea that vampirism is a disease that mortals will eventually succumb to. In Bernard Robinson's ornate bedroom set, he reveals the evidence of the taint his weakness has invited and, understanding there is precious time left, ensures the diary will be discovered (and thus open the next act of the story) and sets out to accomplish his mission.

In the bedroom, certain visual signatures begin to emerge in the film. Jack Asher's colour photography adds powerful highlights of red and green into what has been a predominance of blues, greys and whites. This confidence with colour emerged from the thorough apprenticeship he served, along with Fisher, at Gainsborough and his methodology developed for Technicolour which included the placing of gelatin slides over certain lenses or the use of coloured kick lights to accentuate the mise-en-scène.

The red and green scheme was something he had experimented with on The Curse of Frankenstein but here it becomes, in combination wth Robinson's production design, a richer and fuller expression. From the red drapes, green and red bottles of Harker's bedroom, the film then features a green and red colour scheme in Van Helsing's hotel room, including a wine coloured jacket worn by Cushing.

There's also a flower motif in red and green on the Holmwood upholstery, Lucy's turquoise night gown in contrast to her bright red lips that is latter mirrored in the green velvet cape worn by the seduced Mina and, finally, in the blood transfusion sequence where the essence of life is exchanged against a background of green eiderdowns.

Harker's downfall is yet again another example of the control exercised by Fisher and his editor James Needs. A series of precise cuts moves our view point from the cellar stairs to Dracula lying in his coffin, to the vampire woman in her coffin, her staking by Harker (shown in silhouette), a close up of Dracula waking up, then the sun going down and Harker realising his mistake in first dealing with the woman.

The culmination of this is a superbly symbolic shot of the open cellar door as we see a shadow gradually moving along the corridor outside to herald Dracula's entrance. The snuffing out of light by darkness is emphasised when Dracula appears and then closes the door as the scene fades to black.

Van Helsing's introduction at the inn and his exploration of the castle is again, as Peter Hutchings notes, an example of how the two male leading characters define and control space. Cushing's is as much a gestural and physical performance as Lee's, offering an athleticism to Van Helsing's urgent desire to extinguish the vampire's disrupting influence over the Holmwood home and its female occupants. In the parallels between Van Helsing and Dracula the film establishes, those of rationality versus rampant desire, Hutchings also notes how both characters have a "quasi-supernatural" presence in the film, appearing suddenly and without warning, both being strong and powerful male authority figures in contrast to the weaker, "feminised" male figures of Harker and Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough). (18)

This is underlined by Helsing's revisiting the castle and the discovery and destruction of Harker's vampirised form in the cellar. Harker as failed hero, with a suggestion that, despite an infecting bite from the vampire woman, he may also be a male victim of Dracula in the film, was eventually handled with just one establishing shot of a fanged John Van Eyssen after the planned introduction of a shrivelled dummy was vetoed by Fisher as an inconsistency in the visual taxonomy of vampires in the film.
"an infantilized girl shutting out her keepers and opening the window to her adult self"
Van Helsing's role, as bourgeois patriarch, is to contain Dracula's transmission of a sexualised self onto the female characters of the film, namely Lucy (Carol Marsh) and Mina (Melissa Stribling). Woven into this is an acknowledgement of the transgression of marriage where the weak Holmwood is shown as a rather inept husband in his response to Mina's own desires within the institution of marriage and where, as surrogate parents to Lucy, a young woman already promised in marriage to Harker, they fail to protect her from her own sexual curiosity and unfulfilled desire.

The seduction of Lucy in the second act is another of Fisher's key sequences. Set to a gnawing Bernard musical motif that escalates the mood incrementally, we see her preparing rather eagerly for her own assignation with Dracula, as "an infantilized girl shutting out her keepers and opening the window to her adult self." (19)

The mood is heavily claustrophobic and Robinson's sets are much smaller and crammed with an overwhelming amount of domestic detail to emphasise the intrusion of the Other, untrammelled by an attachment to inanimate personal possessions, into the family home. As Lucy opens the French windows and autumn leaves fall outside, Fisher contrasts this Romantic expression of the supernatural with Van Helsing's reportage in his hotel room.

We hear vampire lore according to Hammer, and synthesised by technology in Van Helsing's use of the recording apparatus, in direct contrast to the actual presence of the lore as Lucy awaits the arrival of her adulterous lover. Hutchings sees this cutting between Van Helsing and Lucy as an expression of the differences between "the feminine and the masculine, darkness and light, silence and speech, emotion and rationality." (20)

Fisher ends the scene in the hotel room with a close up on Van Helsing demanding of Dracula 'he must be found and destroyed' and Fisher cutting to a similarly framed close up of Dracula on the threshold of Lucy's bedroom. It is a very evocative visual interpretation of the charismatic dualism and parallels between the two characters.

Lucy's death then leads into the equally atmospheric sequence in the Holmwood crypt. Beautifully photographed by Jack Asher, the colour scheme is overtly blue, white and grey and reflects the deathly atmosphere of the castle, offering a "sadistic fairy land" populated by the return of the Victorian repressed. (21) This scheme is punctuated by the brown and green of foliage and Fisher again signifies the supernatural in falling leaves.

It provides the backdrop to a still rather unsettling suggestion that Lucy, now a vampire, is an equal opportunities force for evil and is happy to seduce both a child, Tania (Faye), and her own brother Arthur. Aberrant female sexuality has momentarily been unleashed but this shock is overlaid with its equally shocking rejection as, from nowhere, Van Helsing appears and burns her with a crucifix.

The subsequent staking of Lucy by Van Helsing also ran into trouble with the BBFC. On 5 February 1958, after viewing a black and white version of the film, John Nicholls demanded the removal of "all shots of the stake being driven into the girl's heart". Hinds was forced to trim these scenes, especially after the BBFC saw a version in colour. (22) The close ups of Lucy's agonised screams and the stake entering her heart were removed from the British release but survived in the print prepared for American distribution.

The destruction/restoration of Lucy is a complex moment in the film: it replays many of the motifs established earlier and simultaneously underlines a violent form of patriarchal suppression, the triumph of good over evil as emphasised in Bernard's score, and provides the necessary action that will transform Arthur Holmwood from unbeliever into Helsing's willing acolyte.

Mina's own corruption or adultery, as Christopher Frayling sees it and as Fisher himself saw it, is a further reshuffling of the elements, centred on the dissolution of the rather staid Holmwood marriage which will only be repaired in the climactic battle at the end of the film. Stribling provides a suitably erotic undertone to her performance here, positively glowing after her night on the tiles with Dracula and the result of Fisher's advice to Stribling on how to play this sensuality: "you should imagine you have had one whale of a sexual night, the one of your whole sexual experience." (23)

Her fall from grace is, in a typical piece of Fisher narrative structure, juxtaposed with a turn from the lovely Miles Malleson as the undertaker who taps comically on his stack of coffins the morning after Mina's visit to his premises and during Van Helsing's attempts to track down Dracula and his coffin, now symbolically 'at home' in the Holmwood cellar.

The corruption of the Holmwood marriage is concentrated in the one scene between Mina and Dracula, which Hinds and James Carreras fought for in their battle with the BBFC. They had already stated on 12 February 1958 that Hammer should remove: "The whole episode of Dracula and Mina together whenever either of them shows sexual pleasure. There must, for instance, be no kissing or fondling." (24)

When Dracula suddenly appears at the foot of the stairs in the Holmwood house and seduces Mina, the building sexual tension directly expresses Fisher's view that the vampire "preyed upon the sexual frustrations of his women victims." (25) Stribling is strikingly sensuous and Lee appropriately carnal in a scene which, back in 1958, ended abruptly with the jump cut to a screeching owl. The original version of this scene, now seen in the 2012 restoration, completely emphasises what Hammer and Fisher were trying to say in the film but it caused the BBFC so much consternation in taking the "sex element" too far they demanded it be truncated before an X certificate could be issued.

Cushing's meticulous approach to the role can be seen in how he handles props, particularly in the blood transfusion scene, and in his use of physical gestures (the Cushing finger is much in evidence). He reportedly spent two days learning how to drive a horse and trap for the scenes where he and Holmwood race back to Dracula's castle in the climax. For the climactic battle between Van Helsing and Dracula, Cushing extemporised on Sangster's script, which simply required Van Helsing to produce a crucifix to corner Dracula and force him into a ray of sunlight. With Fisher's support the chase and confrontation was transformed into one of the most celebrated finales in horror cinema.

The kinetic chase sequence in Dracula's home, featuring the physical struggle between Lee and Cushing, shot and edited to perfection and driven by Bernard's score dominated by snare drums, was topped by Cushing's desire to include a 'Douglas Fairbanks' moment far more exciting than the simple act of pulling out another crucifix. He wanted to jump from a balcony or swing from a chandelier but Fisher felt this was too dangerous and expensive to set up.

Cushing then suggested he run down the long refectory table that dominated Robinson's set and leap up and pull down the curtains. His double eventually made the spectacular leap and brought the curtains down with perfect timing, allowing Jack Asher and camera operator Len Harris to illuminate the effects shot shaft of sunlight they had prepared on glass with pencil and light spray and angled in front of the camera. (26)

Cushing's other suggestion, the use of the candlesticks to form a crucifix, was inspired by "seeing a film years ago called Berkeley Square in which Lesley Howard was thought of as the devil by this frightened little man who grabbed two candelabra to make the sign of the cross with them. I remember that this had impressed me enormously". (27)

It becomes another part of the fight's rhythm, its savagery, as Van Helsing and Dracula's fight to the death becomes a summation of the characters' use of power and space, "the change from night to day (reversing the day-to-night transition that sealed Harker's fate), Dracula's transformation into dust, and Van Helsing's own sudden transformation from potential victim to victor. It also depends on physical effort and an expenditure of energy from both characters, with the conclusion brought about, appropriately enough, by a pure beam of energy from the sun". (28)

Dracula's disintegration was yet another bone of contention between Hammer and the BBFC. Syd Pearson and Phil Leakey's visual effects and make up certainly had them in a flap. Leakey had originally suggested creating a dummy body filled with sand coupled with a wax cast of Lee's face attached to a skull. When hot air was applied to the cast, the face would be seen to melt. (29)

However, Pearson took these ideas several stages further and Leakey concentrated on the make up showing the various stages of decomposition on Lee's face before Pearson took over with a number of physical effects. Leakey completed the make up using "a composite rubber latex face mask" and "a certain amount of dusty powder - Fuller's Earth - to drop to the floor" in an infamous stage of the sequence, one the BBFC fiercely objected to, where Dracula claws at his own face. (30) 

Pearson filmed the rest of the disintegration in January 1958, after principal photography had been completed on Christmas Eve 1957. He used dummy legs made from Fuller's earth and dust that moved and collapsed when Pearson put his arm down the trouser leg, filmed Dracula's crumbling hands by coating his own hand in Fuller's earth paste, paraffin wax and powder and then substituting it with a lever operated skeletal hand. A collapsible body, using balloons, provided the shots where Dracula's chest caves in. Finally, a latex covered skull with an articulated jaw complete with medical endoscopic lamps in the eyes depicted the last stages of the disintegrating face. (31)

However, the BBFC adamantly declared to Hammer on 14 February 1958 that "under no circumstances can the shot of his disintegrating face be seen. Very little if any of this disintegration can be permitted." Hinds negotiated on the basis now that Dracula had been scored, dubbed and prepared for Technicolour printing, the cost of remounting such scenes would be prohibitive. He also argued that much of the objectional material actually looked less offensive in colour than it did in black and white and there had been a misunderstanding over what was permitted. (32) The Board, acknowledging Hinds was pushing his luck, agreed to drop their objections to the disintegration as long as the hand pulling away at Dracula's flesh was removed. On 14 April 1958, Dracula was finally passed with an X certificate. 54 years later, the long-rumoured censored footage of Mina's seduction and Dracula's disintegration was restored to the film.

It received a mixed critical reaction on release in 1958, with the Nina Hibbin and C A Lejeune comments that "the film disgusts the mind and repels the senses" or that it was "a singularly repulsive piece of nonsense" ranged against those that praised Lee, Cushing and Hammer's production values, particularly those of Robinson and Asher. Despite this reception, the film was a phenomenal success and turned Lee into a star and cemented Hammer's reputation. Dracula, along with The Curse of Frankenstein, also revitalised horror cinema, renewing the vampire mythos for generations to come.

Its critical status has evolved from a parochial view of it simply providing a quintessential slice of full colour Hammer exploitation into deep respect as a British film classic. An adult fairy tale, Dracula has plenty to say about the 1950s - socially, culturally and historically - and British attitudes to sex and violence and the autonomy of women in a rapidly changing society.

(1) Wayne Kinsey, Hammer - The Bray Studios Years
(2) Jonathan Rigby, Christopher Lee - The Authorised Screen History
(3) David Miller, The Peter Cushing Companion
(4) Wayne Kinsey, Hammer - The Bray Studios Years
(5) Ibid
(6) Jonathan Rigby, Christopher Lee - The Authorised Screen Histor
(7) Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome: An Autobiography
(8) Wayne Kinsey, Hammer - The Bray Studios Years
(9) M Flannery, Bernard Robinson interview, Town Magazine, November 1966
(10) Wayne Kinsey, Hammer - The Bray Studios Years
(11) Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome: An Autobiography
(12) Peter Hutchings, Dracula: A British Film Guide
(13) Ibid
(14) Alan Frank, Horror Films
(15) David Huckvale,Touchstones of Gothic Horror
(16) Nina Auerbach, Our Vampires, Ourselves
(17) Interview with Phil Leakey, Greasepaint and Gore, Tomahawk Films
(18) Peter Hutchings, Dracula: A British Film Guide
(19) Nina Auerbach, Our Vampires, Ourselves
(20) Peter Hutchings, Dracula: A British Film Guide
(21) Nina Auerbach, Our Vampires, Ourselves
(22) Wayne Kinsey, Hammer - The Bray Studios Years
(23) Terence Fisher interview with Ron Borst: Photon, Issue 27
(24) Wayne Kinsey, Hammer - The Bray Studios Years
(25) Terence Fisher interview with Ron Borst: Photon, Issue 27
(26) Wayne Kinsey, Hammer - The Bray Studios Years
(27) David Miller, The Peter Cushing Companion
(28) Peter Hutchings, Dracula: A British Film Guide
(29) Interview with Phil Leakey, Greasepaint and Gore, Tomahawk Films
(30) Interview with Sydney Pearson, Little Shoppe of Horrors, Issue 5
(31) Ibid
(32) Wayne Kinsey, Hammer - The Bray Studios Years

About the transfer
Given the comments about the grade by the BFI's Ben Thompson on the restoration documentary and by historian Marcus Hearn and critic Jonathan Rigby on the commentary (they refer to a bluer grade several times in their conversation), viewers may find this transfer's grading and colour palette somewhat unfamiliar. For example, the shot of Valerie Gaunt lying in the tomb prior to her staking, Harker's retreat from Dracula, Cushing's arrival at the tavern and the sequence at Lucy's tomb all offer a combination of strikingly different blue colour timing and deep blacks.

The highlights of Gaunt's face emerge from a very deep and dark blue background and colour definition of her hair, for example, is somewhat buried in the image. Carol Marsh is also bathed in blue at the Holmwood crypt. Interiors are also much darker than before and the inn, Van Helsing's hotel room and the Holmwood house and bedrooms feel dimmer and full of deep shadows. The hues in the colour grade are much cooler too. The only other drawback I would mention is that perhaps some details in faces and the set decor do tend to disappear into shadow.

That said, I will gladly agree that the screencaps here don't represent its full glory and the more I've watched this the more I've enjoyed it. The image in motion is certainly very agreeable in the amount of detail in faces, clothes and set decor it provides. There is plenty of grain evident and combined with the layers of deep contrast this provides the transfer with a thick texture and depth. This is a much more robust presentation in comparison to the recent release of The Curse of Frankenstein and the BFI's access to Dracula's camera negative back in 2007 clearly paid dividends. The transfer is spotless and overall the image is stable. Quality does drop here and there - Lucy's staking betrays a minor bit of flicker in the image, for example - and, naturally, the footage rescued from Japan is given away by its loser grain structure and colour variation. However, it is expertly integrated and a delight to see.

Colour is still impressive even though the timing here is quite different from the gaudier palette of the Warner DVD, especially in the way the transfer picks up cinematographer Jack Asher's penchant for juxtaposing reds and greens. In Van Helsing's room, for example, the walls are far greener than they were and there's a dynamic contrast with the red stripes of the upholstery and Van Helsing's wine coloured smoking jacket. The red cover of Harker's diary, Harker's blue jacket and the red, green and blue schemes in his Castle Dracula bedroom are quite lush and pop out from the image. The turquoise blue of Lucy's gown is full of green highlights as is the green velvet jacket worn by Mina.  

This transfer facilitates a certain mood, of course, and having not seen the 2007 BFI restoration on the big screen it's not possible for me to confirm that this represents both the vividness of that theatrical presentation or indeed its parity with the original intentions for exhibition in 1958. Highlights and colour are very different from previous television and DVD screenings I'm acquainted with, where the image was much warmer, and the grading of this restoration may well prove divisive for some with its colder, funereal tone.

Sonically, this sounds terrific and the LPCM 2.0 audio is suitably dynamic and intense when James Bernard's booming score is in full flight. His music really benefits from the restoration and it thunders across the soundscape with some depth. Dialogue and sound effects are served equally well and there are no major problems, such as audio drop outs, crackles or distortions, to report.

Special features
Hammer historian Marcus Hearn and author & critic Jonathan Rigby provide an amiable track that's often full of details about the production and the cast. Poor old Michael Gough comes in for a bit of drubbing about his performance and the two commentators offer an interesting assessment of acting styles in the film. Along the way you'll discover much about Sangster's script; Terence Fisher's attitudes to the supernatural and the depiction of evil; the careers of John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt and Barbara Archer and a sweet recollection of Miles Malleson's contribution to the film. Despite a slight tendency to describe events happening on screen, both men constantly drop in trivia about the film and are a delight to listen to. The commentary is on both the 2007 and 2012 restorations but if you select the 2012 restoration commentary Marcus and Jonathan also mark out other subtle differences in that version such as the title sequence and, of course, the material returned to the film that features Mina and the climactic disintegration (they note how the sound of Dracula's demise is also restored as well as the infamous face clawing moment). Kudos to both gentlemen for going the extra mile and providing more detail in the 2012 commentary.
Dracula Reborn (30:32)
Interviews with writer and director Jimmy Sangster, Jonathan Rigby, Marcus Hearn, Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman and Janina Faye provide an overview of the Hammer style, consolidated in Dracula, and the adapting and shooting of the film. They cover the changes from novel to script, Sangster's "muscular" script, the essential qualities of the Lee and Cushing performances and Terence Fisher's direction. Finally, James Bernard's iconic music also receives an analysis from expert David Huckvale and Wayne Kinsey discusses Bernard Robinson's genius in recycling and revamping sets on Stage 1 at Bray.
Resurrecting Dracula (16:56)
How the film was restored by the BFI in 2007 and how Simon Rowson followed up their initial 21 month discussion with the National Film Centre in Tokyo about the Japanese cut of the film form the backbone of this featurette. BFI's Ben Thompson explains how the film was restored from the camera negative and sound elements held by Warner Brothers in California, the restoration of the UK titles and the "faithful reproduction" from the check print of the colour grading of the 2007 re-release. Rowson relates the story of how he visited Tokyo and confirmed the reels they held contained the mythical missing footage. Molinare's John Palmer then explains how they painstakingly restored the Japanese footage, matched and integrated it into the BFI's restoration. Vox pops with the enthusiastic audience watching the restoration in progress at the VAULT are followed by a coda from Deluxe 142 who, in 2012, picked up further picture and audio cleaning work on the restoration carried out by Molinare.  
The Demon Lover: Christopher Frayling on Dracula (27:48)
Very pleased that Frayling's views are represented in this featurette. His intelligent analysis of such works as The Innocents, La belle et la bête and Nosferatu is carried over here into his fascinating views about Hammer's magnum opus. He draws in a diverse range of views of the original book and its cinematic iterations as representative of "an infinitely flexible myth" or "fairy story". Hammer, he reckons, were attempting to chart the changing sexual mores of the 1950s through the use of colour and advertising, presenting Dracula as a charismatic "demon lover" and as the Other threatening the stability of marriage and revealing the hypocrisy of Victorian values.
Censoring Dracula (9:15)
A featurette in which Denis Meikle looks at the culture of censorship that Hammer operated in at the time and the tense relationship between them and the BBFC. A fascinating exploration of the censor's worries about the sex rather than the horror content of the film and great to see some of the BBFC readers comments unearthed from the archive. At the script stage, the fact that Dracula claws his own face off in the climax didn't seem to worry them as much as low cut, transparent gowns or the liberal use of Kensington Gore. However, as ever with the BBFC once they'd seen the film they raised further objections and received complaints about James Bernard's "sex music". 
Unrestored Japanese Reels 6-9 (35:01)
A presentation of the surviving reels from the water and fire damage at the National Film Center just outside Tokyo which writer Simon Rowson and his wife Michiko finally tracked down in 2011. He was able to see these reels and confirm that some of the cut material - namely Mina's seduction and Dracula's demise - did exist. These reels come with Japanese subtitles and suffer from a vast amount of damage that affects picture and sound quality. Incredible that they survive and that Rowson found them and negotiations enabled Hammer to restore the material back into the BFI restoration.
The World Of Hammer (24:53)
Another episode from the 1990 series narrated by Oliver Reed. 'Dracula And The Undead' naturally uses lots of clips and Reed's rumbling tones to cover the Hammer Dracula cycle but it also embraces its other vampire sagas, everything from Brides of Dracula and Kiss of the Vampire to Captain Kronos and Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.
Janina Faye Reads Stoker (12:18)
A chapter of the original novel presented at the VAULT screening of the 2012 restoration. This mixes rostrum images of the book's text with Faye's enthusiastic reading of Harker's coach journey to the Borgo Pass.
Stills Gallery
Superb collection of posters (UK and international), press books and trade ads - many in full colour. A smashing set of black and white lobby cards, some stunning stills, many of which I've never seen before, and again including many rare colour photographs. Some are very amusing - Carol Marsh having a cuppa and a sarnie lying in her tomb and Valerie Gaunt literally smouldering before the camera with a ciggie on the go. It even includes Bernard Robinson sketches, the opening at the Gaumont Haymarket and the US opening. Over 100 fully-restored and rare images play over extracts from the film's soundtrack.  
Booklet by Hammer archivist Robert J. E. Simpson (PDF)
A beautifully designed introduction to the jewel in Hammer's crown, packed with colour and black and white stills and poster designs. Simpson ably and eruditely covers production, scripting and the marketing of the film as well as its incredible legacy.
Original shooting script (PDF)
A draft from 1957, the Jimmy Sangster script contains many differences from the finished film. It opens with a sequence in black and white and features an extended introduction for Jonathan Harker that emulates Stoker when the occupants of the coach he's travelling in implore him not to go to Castle Dracula. Very pleased this has been included and it makes for fascinating reading.

Hammer Films Production 1958
Distributed by Universal International
Icon/Lionsgate Double Play Edition 1 x BD and 2 x DVD / Region B/2 / LGB95006 / Released 18 March 2013 / Cert: 12
BD: 1.66:1 / 1080p MPEG-4 AVC / LPCM 2.0 Audio / English HOH subtitles on main feature
DVD Disc 1: 1.66:1 / Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Audio / English HOH subtitles

18 Responses to “BRITISH CULT CLASSICS: Dracula / 3-Disc Double Play Blu-Ray Review”
  1. Excellent work Frank; I might even buy this...

  2. Benjamin says:

    Very nicely done, Frank! Thanks so much. Would you say this ranks with Q&TP as the best Hammer bds, at this point?

  3. Benjamin:

    In terms of content, this is an excellent set. In terms of picture quality, I think it is very much in the eye of the beholder. Q&TP is a hard act to follow and, for me, has yet to be beaten. Dracula looks lovely but has a very different feel visually because of the grade.

    However, there is much to appreciate here, especially detail, colour and, finally, the correct ratio. BFI, Molinaire and Deluxe should be praised for their efforts but I'd love to know how close this restoration is to the 2007 screenings or indeed the theatrical release of 1958.

  4. John:

    Many thanks.

    I have to stress that the screencaps do come out exceptionally dark but in motion this restoration is a pleasure to watch. The colour timing and the grading will divide opinion I suspect.

    I've watched this at least half a dozen times in the last week and it has really grown in my estimation.

  5. Unknown says:


    Thank you for such a wonderful, in-depth and unbiased review.
    Having watched the Blu-ray myself, I wholeheartedly agree with everything you've said.

    Once again, many thanks.

    Simon Rowson
    Tokyo, Japan

    (Please disregard this post if,as I suspect, I have submitted it twice!)

  6. Simon:

    Delighted to hear from you.

    Can I just say, first of all, a huge thanks for your amazing work tracking down the missing material. I think Hammer fans around the world are extremely grateful that you found 'the holy grail' and that it has been restored to the film.

    And thank you for your kind comments on the review. It's a great disc and I've enjoyed watching it. The grade is something that many fans will find is quite different from their previous viewing experiences.

    All the best,


  7. Can anyone confirm if the special features have subtitles? Thx!!!

  8. Nexus6bussy - No, unfortunately there are only HOH subtitles on the feature.

  9. akatanaka says:

    One of the most complete and detailed reviews of this seminal classic restoration I've read. Thank you, Frank!

    An observation about Hammer's 2012 restoration of the climactic disintegration scene: IT IS INCOMPLETE.

    On March 24, 2013, I left a comment concerning this on Hammer's website under the thread about the film's grading. As of this date, they have not released my comment on their site.

    Here is the transcript of my comment to Hammer:


    Congratulations to all involved in the Blu-Ray release of Dracula! It is a fifty year dream come true! The only thing missing is a Christopher Lee commentary.
    The grading of the film looks right and is very atmospheric and beautiful! I find it amazing and inevitable how inaccurate grading on film and DVD in the past has created an ongoing bias in the present! The medium of film is so ephemeral from generation to generation!

    On close examination of the original Japanese reels of Dracula included on your Blu-Ray disc, there seems to be three shots within the climactic disintegration scene that are NOT included in your 2012 restoration.

    Timing 33:21

    Shot of Dracula’s shriveled skeletal hand wavering just above the floor.

    Timing 33:23

    Medium CU reaction shot of Dracula’s face grimacing.

    Timing 33:42

    SFX dummy head shot of Dracula with “normal” eyes instead of the less realistic backlit yellow eyes.

    Why were these shots excluded from your 2012 restoration?

    Also, in connection with the above additional visual materials, the music and sound effects tracks seem more complete and seamless with no apparent digital extension and manipulation of the music in the Japanese reels, in contrast to your 2012 restoration. The music on the Japanese reels appears to be a different and extended version than in the original U.K. and U.S. cuts of the film. Is this music track lost in your present archive of James Bernard’s score to Dracula?

    <> <> <>

    I seem to be the only person to have noticed this.

    The fact remains that Hammer has not done a complete restoration with the materials they obtained from Japan. Ironically, the three shots in question are some of the least damaged footage contained on the Japanese reels.

    Dracula is one of my all-time favorite films and I believe that, sadly, Hammer has done a disservice to this great film and its fans by not including all of the missing footage.

    The proof is in plain sight. I urge you to watch the climax on the Japanese reels contained in this Blu-Ray release and compare it to Hammer’s official 2012 restoration.

    The missing footage diminishes the power and pathos of the film’s ending, especially the CU shot of Dracula grimacing in pain. And since Terence Fisher stated that he made complete cuts of all his films before censorship, the footage contained on the Japanese reels would seem to be his complete cut of the film. This is further strengthened by the fact that the music and images are seamless and flow naturally to a logical, dramatic conclusion, unlike the 2012 restoration.

    I’m curious to know how you, and others, feel about this Frank.

  10. akatanaka - Interesting. I'll take a look at the Japanese reels. Hope you get a response from Hammer.

  11. akatanaka says:

    Thanks for your reply, Frank.

    Hammer has subsequently released other peoples' comments on their thread about the film's grading, bypassing mine, so I doubt they'll respond to me now. I've received nothing personally from them concerning this either.
    Very disappointing since I believe that Hammer needs to give us fans an answer to this, instead of apparently ignoring it.

    When viewing the climax on the Japanese reels, refer to the timings I left in the transcript of my comment to Hammer. They are accurate to the shots concerned.

  12. akatanaka says:

    In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, Hammer altered the other restored sequence in the film from the Japanese reels as well: Mina’s seduction, albeit not as seriously.

    If you compare the 2012 restoration and the same footage on the Japanese reels, you will find that the music flows a little more logically in the Japanese reels than in the 2012 restoration. For example, the effective musical chord struck over the close up of Dracula’s face (that exists in the official version as well), is missing from the 2012 restoration, which leaves a strange dramatic void at that point.

    Also of note in the Japanese reel of the climax, concerns the shot of Van Helsing grabbing the candlestick. The shot is slightly longer as he first looks directly at the candlestick before taking it. This is missing from the 2012 restoration as well.

    All of this leads to the question: Is this the way to do a proper restoration of a film?

  13. Unknown says:

    Hi Akatanaka,

    Actually, my friend Hajime Ishida, the noted Japanese Hammer expert, also noticed these same omissions and flagged them up on Facebook.

    It's very disappointing but I can only assume it was done because they couldn't restore and reintegrate the soundtrack into the film.

    Some people are harping on about how Warner Bros will do a better job of the restoration stateside - but I honestly believe this to be a pipe dream as I can't see them spending anything on further work.

    Let's just be grateful we have the Japanese footage so that we can appreciate both extended scenes in their entirety.

    Best wishes,

    Simon Rowson

  14. Hi, Simon

    Thanks for commenting.

    I too had assumed that Hammer had issues reintegrating all of the Japanese footage and were only able to do a certain amount because of technical issues, particularly with sound, and having a limited budget.

    I'd be surprised if Warners invested further in the restoration for the US release.

    Many thanks,


  15. akatanaka says:

    Hi Simon

    Thank you for your response to my observations concerning Hammer’s incomplete restoration.

    I’m relieved to hear that others have noticed the difference between the two versions.

    I, too, suspected that Hammer didn’t have the original elements of separate music and sound effects tracks to use in their restoration (this was one of my questions to them), and couldn’t, or wouldn’t spend the money to effect a complete restoration.

    Of course, all of this could be cleared up decisively and we wouldn’t have to speculate, if Hammer responded to my comments on their site.

    As disappointed as I am to have waited over half a century for an incomplete restoration of my favorite film (as a kid, I’d heard about an uncut Japanese version), I congratulated Hammer on their efforts in my original comments to them.

    As an adjunct to the 2012 restoration, I watch the uncut climax contained in the Japanese reels.

    Concerning a WB’s possible BD release, I concur with you that it is doubtful that they will put the money into a more extensive restoration, since their DVD release was cursory at best... But I’m open to be surprised!

    Speaking of restorations, have you had any luck finding any missing footage from Hammer’s “The Mummy” (1959) at the Center for Film at Japan’s Art Gallery?

    Michael Tanaka

  16. Unknown says:

    Hi Michael,

    I did ask about "The Mummy" as well as various other films that are reputed to have extra or missing footage - but all to no avail so far I am afraid.

    And, if I'm completely honest, my enthusiasm for such research waned a little after witnessing the critical mauling the Dracula restoration received in some quarters - *before* the Blu ray had even been released!

    After 40 years of debate and speculation about the censored scenes, it seemed that some people were absolutely determined not to be satisfied, unfortunately. Ah well, such is life.

    All the very best,


  17. Simon, I can understand your disappointment about the reactions in some quarters and it doesn't surprise me that people offer their opinion even before they see the results.

    I was delighted to know the footage existed and eventually see the Japanese footage so well integrated into the restoration. Thank you for all your hard work.

  18. akatanaka says:

    Hi Simon

    Thank you for your reply to me, and thank you for your candor concerning people’s expectations of the restoration.

    As I’ve said, film is an ephemeral medium that changes from generation to generation, and these films were not made with any thought about the distant future, or for future generations.

    Such is the possible fate of “The Mummy” and its missing footage...

    Jimmy Sangster told me that his main motivation for writing the script for Dracula was to pay the bills. He never thought it would become a classic, and felt badly in hindsight, that he had thrown out his original manuscript given its worth today.

    As frustrated as I am that Dracula wasn’t fully restored with the available materials, I’m very grateful to you, Simon for finding it!

    The film is the most complete in over fifty years, and that is an amazing feat transcending fate!

    The footage you found, and Hammer integrated, plus the beautiful restoration job the BFI and Deluxe made, makes watching Dracula today an exciting experience. Dracula is more complete now than anyone in the Western world has ever seen... It’s important not to lose sight of this!
    Perhaps in the future, it will become more complete as the technology improves...

    I believe the legendary status of the film’s missing footage has led to high expectations, and that leads to disappointment. It did for me... Of course, I would want Hammer to invest the money it would take to effect a complete restoration like, say, what MGM invested in restoring Sergio Leone’s epic Western, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. But alas, Hammer is not MGM.

    When all is said and done, I want you to know that I value your efforts and cherish the film more than ever for your contribution.

    If you’re open to it, I would love to hear your story in detail about finding the missing footage, and especially your feelings about it...! For example, how do you feel about your efforts adding to film history, and what were your feelings when you first saw the fabled missing footage for the first time? I think it would be a very interesting tale, Simon...

    The Best To You!


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