HALLOWEEN BLITZ 2019
As far as I’m concerned, all you classic movie collectors can stop right here (well, after the first sentence): The Warner Archive Collection has released a restored Blu-Ray edition of Terence Fisher’s 1958 masterpiece HORROR OF DRACULA. ‘Nuff said.
(And yet, he continues…)
To call HORROR OF DRACULA a great horror flick is an understatement. For me, it’s the best Dracula movie ever made. The directing, the acting, the writing, the photography, the music…it just doesn’t get any better. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that it scared the bejesus out of me back in ’58 (when I saw it with my dad) and, again, in the 1965 re-issue, where it was paired with Curse of Frankenstein (and, once more, in the company of my patient pater).
It’s a landmark effort on so many levels that it’s hard to pinpoint where to start. Certainly, it proved that the previous year’s Curse of Frankenstein wasn’t an ambitious one-off. And definitely, HoD’s worldwide grosses toward the end of 1958 had every major studio in existence lining up for the privilege of distributing future Hammer productions. Long story short, along with Curse, DRACULA put Hammer Films on the international map. The movie instantly became influential, and, in the 61 years since its American release has inspired (and created fans of) such diverse masters of cinema as Joseph Losey, Nicholas Ray, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Andy Warhol, Francis Ford Coppola and Quentin Tarantino. Key to the pic’s success was the graphic depiction of Bram Stoker’s characters. The English language ads stressed “The Terrifying Lover Who Died Yet Lived!” And they weren’t kidding. Christopher Lee, in HORROR OF DRACULA, more than Lugosi’s interpretation, stressed the danger to Victorians of an overtly sexual villain. Never before had vampiric “turning” been equated with such amourous coital seduction. Lee’s presence is beyond outstanding. Clock his screen time; it’s less than a reel (approximately seven minutes) – yet his overpowering ubiquity is epic, from his intro to his sporadic nocturnal visits to the action-packed finale. Beautifully keeping the narrative going is the roster of fine Brit actors and scene-stealers, led, of course, by the wonderful Peter Cushing (the best Van Helsing ever!) plus Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, John Van Eyssen, Charles Lloyd Pack, Miles Malleson, George Woodbridge, Valerie Gaunt and (I can’t praise her enough) Carol Marsh as Lucy Holmwood. The movie’s first jump-out shock was the library scene at Castle Dracula, then the crypt…But, pour moi, the scariest, creepiest moment occurs when vampire Lucy returns to corrupt the family maid’s child (Janina Faye). “Let’s go for a walk,” she purrs in the moonlight, revealing her fangs and breathless lust for claiming a child’s innocence. I couldn’t sleep for weeks after seeing that. Much of scripter Jimmy Sangster’s approach to Stroker takes liberties, but nevertheless contains the essence of Victorian comportment and mores – in essence bringing righteous sticks to a fully-armed supernatural battlefield (it takes Van Helsing to make those sticks into crosses), but, of course, it’s the disbelief of intelligent beings that ultimately provide Dracula and his minions with their greatest weapon.
Enough cannot be said about Fisher’s brilliant direction. He thrives on detail and 19th century technology (recording cylinders to chronicle Van Helsing’s audio journal) and artifacts that recall the best of von Stroheim and Borzage (the latter being one of Fisher’s favorite directors). Blood flowing (and spurting) in vivid Technicolor is admittedly what blew audiences away in 1958; in spite of the gore, many reviews were amazingly positive, including Vincent Canby in The New York Times.
As indicated, HORROR OF DRACULA made a mint globally, and what product studios couldn’t lock down from Hammer was appended by other small studios offering knock-off Hammer titles (Blood of the Vampire, Jack the Ripper, Corridors of Blood, etc.).
The new Blu-Ray of HORROR OF DRACULA is sensational. The Technicolor of Jack Asher’s palette (my favorite of all the great Hammer d.p.s) has been faithfully reproduced. Add the chilling James Bernard score and stunning period décor (Bernard Robinson) and costumes (Molly Arbuthnot, Rosemary Burrows) and you’ve got a magnificent guide on how to make a movie on a modest budget (hard to believe that it cost 81,000 pounds (or about $104K in current U.S dollars, cheap in even 1950s money). Best of all, Warner Archive utilized the 2007 BFI restoration, so the sanguine inserts (often removed or displayed by jolting cuts) are near-seamless. Since this is from the British sources, the main titles simply herald DRACULA (the way it was released across the pond). HORROR OF DRACULA was the American addition, in order to underline the fact that this was all-new, and not a re-issue. A major coup is the return of the original Universal-International logos on the head and tail of the pic; they have been missing for more than forty-five years!
This Blu-Ray is a must for every horror fan or (as indicated earlier) classic movie buff’s library. It’s the movie that more than any other brought pure goth to the genre, and it just gets better with every screening.
HORROR OF DRACULA. Color. Widescreen [1.66:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Warner Archive Collection/Warner Home Entertainment. CAT # 1000695601. SRP: $21.95.
Available from the Warner Archive Collection: http://www.wbshop.com/warnerarchive or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.