Horror of Dracula
1958, Hammer Films/Universal-International, Dir. Terence Fisher
82 min. / Technicolor / 1.66:1
BD: Warner Archive $21.99

One of the iconic horror films of all time, Hammer's best-known and best-loved film, and maybe the finest screen adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel during the sound era. Certainly the best I've seen. Not a great movie, but highly entertaining and packed with shocks.

Jonathan Harker heads to the Carpathian Mountains to work as the new librarian(!) for Count Dracula, but he's actually there to kill the guy: Dracula is, it seems, a vampire. Harker runs into a bosomy young woman, though, and kills her first (she has fangs as well as boobs, you see) which pisses Dracula off. He bites Harker and heads to his home to kill his fiance in revenge. What a hot head, this Dracula. Van Helsing is on his trail, and with the help of the fiance's father, well, maybe Dracula can be stopped. Lots of garlic needs be hung around the windows to make that possible, though.

The censor battled the studio a lot on this one, of course; Hammer argued that (a) a Technicolor vampire film HAD to have all that blood in it (the censor at one point actually wondered why vampires are more sloppy when eating than normal people) and that people expect when they go to a horror film that they're going to see, y'know, horror. The X rating would preclude those under 16 from seeing it, so they thought the censor should be more lenient. The censor hated the fact that Dracula seems to seduce his victims, and went berserk over the ending, with Dracula turning to dust before our eyes. In the end, Hammer argued successfully that the film had been scored, and it would be prohibitively costly to re-edit the picture any further. The censors, seething, gave in but would come down VERY hard on future Hammer productions.

Following along chronologically with the Hammer canon, I'm enjoying watching the sets and scenery. I know, I know, but it's not like the SCRIPTS are great, now, right? Wayne Kinsey's must-have book on Hammer goes into great detail about how the miniscule stages at Bray were used and reused. The big staircase, for example, shows up in three different rooms of the house. The villa set from The Snorkel is the entrance to Dracula's castle, which becomes Harker's bedroom, which becomes the basement crypt. Quality filmmaking on a budget. And the castle's really well lit and clean; no cobwebs HERE, folks.

Christopher Lee is good as Dracula, Michael Gough is his usual bombastic self as the father, and Peter Cushing is terrific as Dr. Van Helsing (well, called "Dr. Helsing" throughout the film, oddly). All of the action seems to take place on the Continent; they take a stagecoach everywhere. More low-budget fun! The music score (by James Bernard) is quite good, however.

Horror of Dracula long ago became a TV staple, but the various DVDs of it never looked great, and Warners, working with a print from the British Film Institute, has given us a magnificent offering of it, gorgeous, clean, and beautifully rendered. There are rumored to be a few extra seconds of footage, mostly the destruction of Dracula, included in overseas BDs of the film but Warners doesn't include it here and as usual with the Archive, only a trailer is included. Still, the film sizzles off the screen in HD and the release carries our highest recommendation.