Plot: What’s it about?
Warner Archive recently released both Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. These releases sent a wave of excitement through the ranks of horror fans because it meant that Warner was starting to release its Hammer Films library. While Warner started by releasing two later and admittedly lesser Hammer works, they soon announced that they would be releasing the classic Horror of Dracula starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. This is what Hammer fans had been waiting for and the news also came that the film would utilize the most recent restoration undertaken by the British Film Institute. When my copy arrived in the mail, I eagerly checked it out.
Essentially an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, the plot begins with Jonathan Harker (John Van Essen) arriving at Count Dracula’s castle. Jonathan Harker has come to Castle Dracula with hopes of killing Count Dracula but has come there under the guise of a librarian. When he arrives, there is no sign of Dracula (Christopher Lee.) In the dining room he finds a prepared meal and a bite that reads,”I am Dracula and I welcome you to my house. I must apologize for not being here to greet you personally, but I trust you’ve found everything you needed.” Harker eats alone. A woman (Valerie Gaunt) arrives and asks for his help. She claims to be held prisoner by Count Dracula. Then Dracula arrives and the woman leaves the room. Dracula shows Jonathan his quarters. Jonathan leaves his quarters and has another encounter with the woman that shows that she also is a vampire and Jonathan is bitten before Dracula arrives and steals the woman away. Waking in the daytime, Jonathan resolves to kill the Count and the girl. Walking to the tomb, he manages to put a stake in the vampiress, but Dracula eludes him. Jonathan fears that he will turn into a vampire before he can kill the Count. Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) arrives in Klausenberg and despite the hesitations of the local townspeople he makes his way to Castle Dracula. Unfortunately, Jonathan has already turned and Dracula has fled the castle. Van Helsing visits Jonathan’s friends Arthur (Michael Gough) and Mina (Melissa Stribling) to let them know of the demise of Jonathan. It turns out that Jonathan had gone to Dracula’s castle, because Jonathan’s fiancé Lucy (Carol Marsh) has been bitten and has been secluded to a bed with sickness. Dracula comes in the night and visits her.
Hammer Horror films will probably not be as engaging for horror fans that only know modern horror films. Their pacing is decidedly reserved. Classic horror enthusiasts will love these movies for their atmospheric productions and great acting. It is pretty hard to beat a film that stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee at the top of their game. Christopher Lee has been considered one of the two people to really tackle the role of Dracula and make it their own. Those plastic white teeth that you remember putting on as a kid? You can thank the Hammer Horror version of Dracula (which is the original British title for this film.)
The film itself is built upon some atmospheric set design. While the production company did not have much money for their films, they stretched their pennies to create some memorable looking sets for the film. My personal favorite was the small inn where the townspeople try to turn away Van Helsing, but Dracula’s castle is great also. These sets do not look real but lend a hard to describe quality to the film. It looks like you would want a 1958 horror film to look.
The forceful score by James Bernard keeps the film going, adding suspense where a lesser score would falter. While this is not a score I would listen to outside the film, it is effective at amplifying the antics onscreen. Terence Fisher does solid work with the help of cinematographer Jack Asher. Both men had paired up to film The Curse of Frankenstein the prior year. Filming in Technicolor, this film has a color palette that will be familiar to fans of Roger Corman productions. It is amazing to think how controversial the blood in the film was at the time. This film is far removed from modern horror, but it helped to push the envelope.
At the end of the day, this is classic horror. One of the best Hammer productions, and one of the defining performances by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, if you like these types of movies it is worth seeking out.
Video: How’s it look?
Warner have done an excellent job on the restoration of the film with a new 2K scan from the original elements that was performed by the British Film Institute, Presented in 1.75:1 aspect ratio with an MPEG-4 AVC encode, the film looks pretty good. This film has solid fine detail and looks pretty sharp, but with that comes a fine level of grain that can occasionally stand out. Given the time period of the filming and the budgetary restraints, there is some softness in the outer reaches of the frame. Technicolor when done right looks great on Blu-ray and I feel like this is a good example of how a film restoration can give a film new life. All one needs to do to see how much work has been performed is watch the theatrical trailer included on the release. This is an impressive transfer of the film that renders the prior releases of the film worthless.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Warner have provided a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. This release suffers a little from the soft/loud issue that has been apparent in the other Hammer titles, but it did not distract as much from the film as on the other releases. This track features the bombastic score by James Bernard that helps to establish the mood and occasionally will jump the audience to attention. It’s a great score for the film and this track supplies the score without any hiss or distortion. The dialogue is clear, and only rarely did I need to adjust the volume up and down abruptly.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
Warner Archive Collection has been releasing their catalog of Hammer Horror films and this may very well be the defining Hammer production. While the slow pace and heavy-handed script will turn off viewers that are more accustomed to modern horror, this film is largely responsible for helping to create modern horror. Those little splashes of blood were very controversial at the time. The film features Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in roles that they made their own and would become defining roles for the actors. Warner have provided an excellent transfer. The lack of supplements for this release is disappointing, but for fans of classic horror this release comes highly recommended.