Review: Horror of Dracula from Warner Archive
The film's length isn't the only thing that's spare. Dracula himself, played with quiet authority by the imposingly-tall Christopher Lee, doesn't have very much screen time in this film that bears his name. The focus is largely on Dracula's victims (or would-be victims) and the exploits of Dr. Van Helsing, played masterfully by Peter Cushing, who provides the other half of the Hammer Films formula. Also making notable appearances in the film are Michael Gough, who would achieve even bigger notoriety later in life as Alfred in Tim Burton's Batman and its sequels, as well as Melissa Stribling (Sydney Newman's The Avengers) and Carol Marsh (Brighton Rock). The story is actually moderately faithful to the classic Bram Stoker novel, and even to the 1932 Bela Lugosi film from Universal. Hammer's attempt to partner with Universal to remake the classic monster films is a story unto itself.
Hammer films were often shot inside Bray Studios, yet their output retains a sense of English authenticity that is absolutely unique to their cinematic output. Universal's monster films exist in this weird and wonderful halfway dimension where science and technology coexist with fairy tale environments that are uniquely their own. Likewise, Hammer films occupy their own rare real estate, and look like absolutely nothing else. This is, in some part, due to the fact these films often feature the same writers, directors, cast, and filming locations. Horror of Dracula is written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Terence Fisher, both whom are largely responsible for creating and maintaining Hammer's unique style.
Horror Express. Because the violence and gore isn't persistent throughout the entire film, it makes the viewer take notice when it finally does come. And to be clear, no prior movie version of Dracula had ever shown what this one did so explicitly. It may be tame by today's standards, but it wasn't in 1958.
The transfer of the film presented on Warner Archive's Blu-ray is the source of some controversy. The disc features a 2007 restoration that was created by the British Film Institute, and there are a few differences from previous/other versions of this film. First and most obviously, the original "Dracula" title screen has been restored and is presented here, instead of "Horror of Dracula." Also new to American viewers is the 2007 revisionist color grading that has been the source of much debate. The saturation is higher than before, but so are the shadowy blacks, meaning that there is a constant war going on between color and darkness. To this viewer's eyes, the 2007 restoration offers a very theatrical, film-like presentation that I suspect was the original intention of the cinematographer. Often, the picture is framed with black edges, forcing the eye to particular elements on the screen. I like it, and I think it looks appropriately moody, but buyers should be aware that this is a departure from previous DVD versions of this classic film. For me, it's an improvement, but viewer mileage may vary.