HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) Blu-ray
Director: Terence Fisher
Warner Archive Collection

With THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA, England's Hammer Films revitalized the horror genre in the 1950s with some much needed gothic flavor. The independent company was able to churn out lavish-looking films for next to nothing in cost, and they made stars out of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, two of the greatest actors ever to grace the silver screen. The director of both films, Terence Fisher, would also become a sort of specialist in the area of period monster melodramas, and he went on to do THR MUMMY, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and many others.

With U.S. fans (and I mean the many who for some reason don’t see the advantage of simply purchasing a region free player) crying for a stateside Region A Blu-ray release of HORROR OF DRACULA, that day has finally come. It’s been out on Region B Blu-ray in the UK (Lionsgate) and Germany (Anolis), and with those imagining (or creating rumors) that The Criterion Collection would license the film from Warner for a "bells and whistles" package, Warner Archive Collection (WAC) has unleashed it themselves no-frills as they customarily do. As a studied and criticized motion picture, much (and I do mean much!) has been written about HORROR OF DRACULA over the decades, and if you're reading this, you probably know a good deal about the groundbreaking movie, known simply as DRACULA in its native England. Not only is it one the finest films of its kind ever to be produced (and on a modest, independent budget), but it was also a phenomenal success worldwide and influenced studios and genre filmmakers in nearly every other country in terms of style and execution. Like THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA had extra doses of blood and sexuality not seen in most prior horror outings, and it was wrapped up in spectacular color-lensed package with superior acting and cinematography.

I’am not going to waste anymore time on a plot analysis, personnel lists or endless trivia, as you’ve heard it all before. There isn’t enough time in the day, and this review is already tardily posted with other fortunate web scribes lucky enough to have received their review disc before us. And before this disc showed up on the apartment doorstep as I had to endure an endless workday/worknight to march home and confirm its existence, days of social media and message board thread-weaving had already emerged, with individuals already summing up their takes on the drawbacks. As you know, when the British Film Institute restored the film some years ago, they discovered lost footage (a vital few seconds worth) of Dracula’s bedroom seduction of Mina (Melissa Stribling) as well as Dracula’s climactic disintegration (which is extended further by a few frames in the Anolis German presentation, which is otherwise identical to the UK Lionsgate presentation). WAC’s back-packaging reads, “Note: This presentation of Horror of Dracula is based on the British Film Institute restoration of 2007 and additional elements subsequently discovered. As such, it bears its original UK release title of Dracula.” However you read that (and I’m sure anyone eyeing this review already knows), the Japanese inserts (which were discovered in 2011) have not been reinstated here. So, the cut of the film present here is the standard, uncut theatrical version which is also contained on the Lionsgate UK Blu-ray and the Anolis German Blu-ray as an alternative viewing option. Still with me?

So here’s another item. Many Hammer fans have complained that the BFI restoration presented on Blu-ray in the UK and Germany leans to a much colder and bluer appearance, betraying its Technicolor origins. This could be ascertained as being in the eye of the beholder, as it never seemed like a major issue in general, but it only takes one grievance on a public forum to be taken to heart by the masses (even if that number is only in the hundreds). Ok, so the WAC Blu-ray of HORROR OF DRACULA (presented here as DRACULA) is the standard theatrical version, as a “new 2018 1080p (HD) presentation sourced from the Hammer/BFI restoration”. To those who protested that the original UK source was too “blue”, the WAC disc has somewhat Warmer colors (and most of them are quite pretty) and healthy grain (now signs of DNR applied here), but black levels tend to get crushed and smeary, and shadow detail tends to get lost, especially in darker scenes (the whole show looks a tad darker than it should be). On the plus side, some of the close-ups (and iconic shots) boast nice textures and detail, but this comes with an overall noticeable inconsistency in the transfer and occasional image softness.

The film is framed here at 1.66:1 which actually looks quite fitting (if you’ll recall, Warner’s original DVD release had the film framed at 1.78:1 and tended to slice off the tops of actors heads) but even that seems to be under debate by some well-read fans who believe the film was intended to be framed at 1.75:1. Audio comes in a DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 track in the original English language; dialogue is mostly clear and James Bernard’s score properly roars, but there’s some age-related scratchiness deceptable during certain parts of the presentation. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. The actual running time for this print (including new BFI disclaimers and front and bank Universal-International logos) is 1:21:51.

The only extra is the original UK theatrical trailer (HD 2:11). And along with the alternate Japanese footage, the German Anolis disc and the UK Lionsgate have an array of supplements including interviews, commentaries, galleries ect. Whether or not this review will prompt a purchase of this disc... well you’ve probably already made your mind up before you read it. But if you’re an obsessed collector willing to own two or more different Blu-ray releases of a Hammer classic called DRACULA sitting on your already overcrowded media shelves, join the club as I’m one of them too! (George R. Reis)