HORROR OF DRACULA
In the late 1950s, the horror movie genre was in something of a state of decline. The genre really hadn’t been taken seriously since the early 1930s, when the classic Universal Monsters were in their heyday. However, that all changed when Hammer, a smaller English production company began a series of remakes of those classic Universal horror movies. Hammer’s first three productions were CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA and THE MUMMY. The impact of these three movies was instant, and forever changed the face of the horror genre.
So, what made these three horror offerings special? There are a number of factors that have to be taken into consideration, including the era in which the films were made. Color is probably the one element that made the most significant impact on audiences in the late 1950s. Up until this point, horror movies were almost always black and white affairs, with the sadly absent from DVD DR. X and MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM being the most notable exceptions to that rule. When CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA and THE MUMMY arrived on the scene, audiences were ill prepared for their use of lurid color, which intensified that other Hammer hallmark- onscreen blood and gore. Again, prior to these three Hammer films, horror movie violence generally occurred off screen and was left to the imagination of audiences. Hammer horror put "the horror" right in audiences’ faces for the first time- where it has remained there for almost five decades, at ever increasing degrees.
HORROR OF DRACULA ($20) is a rather loose adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel, but then again, so was the Universal version of the story (which was based upon the highly popular Broadway production of the 1920s). Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay for HORROR OF DRACULA selectively picks elements from the novel designed to maximize the movies elements of horror and sense of gothic style, while keeping the film fast moving and within a rather modest budget. Terence Fisher’s direction maintains a brisk pace and maximizes the movies shock value, by effectively stage both the action sequences and moments of bloodletting and gore.
Christopher Lee is an imposing figure as Count Dracula- the role that made him both a star and horror movie icon. The movie opens with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arriving at Dracula’s castle in the guise of a librarian, in a deceptive plot to destroy the vampire count. Unfortunately, Harker falls victim to Dracula, but not before Harker dispatches his vampire bride. As retribution Dracula journeys to England where he transforms Harker’s fiancée Lucy (Carol Marsh) into a vampire. Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) was well aware of Harker’s efforts to destroy Dracula and recognizes the vampire’s handiwork when Lucy rises from her crypt. After Lucy’s brother Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) allows Van Helsing to terminate her vampire existence, Dracula then turns his attentions towards Holmwood’s wife Mina (Melissa Stribling). The cast of HORROR OF DRACULA also includes Valerie Gaunt, Charles Lloyd Pack and Miles Malleson.
Warner Home Video has made HORROR OF DRACULA available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Right up front, let me say that compositions appear a bit tight at the top frame in a few shots, but otherwise is generally pleasing. The transfer itself looks terrific- coming from better film elements than those used to produce the previous lackluster Laserdisc version of the film. There are very few noticeable blemishes here, unlike the Laserdisc transfer that suffered from having an entire reel that showed significant damaged. The image is nicely crisp and provides an excellent level of detail. Colors are vibrant, especially the reds, coming close to the appearance of an original IB Technicolor print. All of the hues are completely stable and are rendered without noise or smearing. Blacks are solid and inky, whites appear clean and shadow detail is good for a film from the fifties. The DVD doesn’t display any noticeable signs of digital compression artifacts.
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack sounds very good for its age, indicating that that it has been digitally cleaned to remove excessive background hiss and surface noise. Of course, there are the expected frequency limitations in these forty plus year old recordings. James Bernard's musical score sounds kind of thin, but the screeching strings of Dracula's appearances remain highly effective. Dialogue is always completely understandable and Christopher Lee's voice retains a lot of character. There are no other language tracks on the DVD, although subtitles are provided in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer and some production notes.
Hammer fans should be quite pleased with Warner's DVD release of HORROR OF DRACULA, although this fan really wishes the DVD included a commentary with horror movie icon Christopher Lee. Still, the image quality is quite excellent, making this the finest looking home version of this Hammer horror classic ever release. Highly recommended.
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