Friday, January 11, 2019

HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) (WAC Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive
Region Code: A
Duration: 82 Minutes 
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS HD-MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1) 
Director: Terence Fisher
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, John van Eyssen

When Hammer found success within horror beginning with Curse Of Frankenstein (1957)
they immediately turned their sights on the iconic bloodsucker with Horror of Dracula (1958), based on the Bram Stoker source but introducing a more overt sexuality into the mythos. With Christopher Lee as the blood-shot eyed vampire, the doomed women absolutely craved his touch and the promise of eternal life, the delight in their eyes is absolutely orgasmic. 

The film opens in 1885 with vampire hunter  Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen, Quatermass 2) arriving at the castle of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee, The Wicker Man) ostensibly to take on a librarian position with the Count, but we come to find out he's on a mission to kill the bloodsucker. He arrives during the daylight hours and meets an attractive woman inside who begs him for help, but before she can reveal from what threat exactly she runs off ito the shadows and hides as Count Dracula makes his impressive, caped presence known. 

The Count greets Harker and plays at being a hospitable host, touring the castle and showing him to his room, only to lock the door behind him, trapping Harker inside. Later Harker manages to escape the room and descends into the Count's subterranean crypt where he sleeps during the day, first staking his vampire bride through the heart. After her death the formerly voluptuous, young woman deteriorates into her true form, that of an old woman. He then moves in on Dracula himself only to find that the sun has already set and the bloodsucker has arisen from his undead slumber, sealing the vampire hunter's fate in the dark of the basement. 

A few days later Harker's vampire hunter partner Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, Corruption) arrives at the castle of Count Dracula in search of his colleague, he finds the castle unsecured and lets himself in, finding the crypt below and coming upon the dead vampire bride, then finding Harker in Dracula's coffin, having been bitten and turned into a vampire. He reluctantly kills his friend, thereby sparing him the curse of vampirism. Van Helsing then returns to the neighboring city where Harker lived, informing Harker's brother Arthur Holmwood (a very young Michael Gough, Satan's slaveand his wife Mina (Melissa Stribling, Crucible of Terror) of his passing, but keeping the supernatural details of his fate from everyone, including Harker's ill fiance Lucy (Carol Marsh, Scrooge). 

Not long after Dracula comes visiting the bed ridden Lucy in her room in the dark of night, slowly draining her of blood with her falling under his spell, becoming one of his vampire brides. Eventually she dies from his nightly feeding, and realizing that she will return from the grave as one of the undead Van Helsing confides in Arthur the true nature of what is happening, with Arthur assuming the role of Van Helsing's vampire hunting partner as his brother did before him, with both setting out to rid the world of Dracula. 

For my hard-earned money Peter Cushing is the best onscreen version of Van Helsing bar none, no one else has ever come close in my opinion. He's driven and commanding, a moral monolith, if he walked up to me and told me we had vampires to kill I'm sure I would be sharpening wooden stakes not long after. He has that specific British gravitas that the role demands, never failing to deliver the goods during his tenure in the role. Also delivering the goods is Christopher Lee as Dracula, his defining role, a undead creature of few words, capable of transforming from charming host to a bloody-eyed, fanged menace with blood dripping from his lips, his mesmerizing eyes casting a spell upon his victims (with the help of some well placed lighting), you can absolutely believe his stare would melt away the moral inhibitions of these young ladies, who are only too happy to have his fangs buried deep in there necks. 

The film is tightly directed by the very capable Terrence Fisher (The Gorgon) from a streamlined script by Jimmy Sangster (The Curse of Frankenstein), this thing moves, and it has a wonderful Gothic atmosphere. The stone walled castle draped in velvet, the Victorian wood paneling and stained glass, the authentoc period costuming all looks very grand indeed, this is a very handsome Hammer horror entry, one of their best, and an essential slice of horror.  

Audio/Video: Horror of Dracula (1958) arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Archive sourced from the Hammer/BFI Restoration Master, presented in 1080p HD and framed in 1.66:1 widescreen. Grain is well managed with pleasing amounts of fine detail in the velvety period textures and Gothic trappings, skin tones are warm and natural looking, and the blacks are good, though there's a bit of black crush evident as well - it's not perfection but I think this is a very lush and welcomed 1080p presentation.  

Audio comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Mono that shows some age related wear by way of hiss, but it's pretty subtle. The score James Bernard (Plague of the Zombies) sounds terrific, a commanding and ominous score that is still among my favorite of all the Dracula films. 

Sadly, the only extra on this release is a blemished riddled trailer for the film, which is a bit of a disappointment. These Hammer films are much loved and deserve a wealth of extras. While I am pleased to get this on Blu-ray here in the U.S. I do wish it had been afforded a more lavish extras package, a film of this caliber certainly deserves more.

The single disc release comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork, what I believe is the French illustrated artwork, which is also featured on the disc. 

Special Features:
- Trailer (2 min) HD 

Horror of Dracula (1958) gets a lush looking Blu-ray from the Warner Archive, the lack of extras is a bit of a shame, but the A/V presentation is a true delight. This bloodsucking classic has never looked better on home video here in the U.S., fans of Hammer horror, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee will need this in their collections, highly recommended.  

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