Sunday, 18 August 2013

Dracula (1958)  Finally Re-available!
Dracula (1958) - Christopher Lee
For me, this is one of the most memorable British films - a film that helped define post-war British cinema. As such, one has to ask, how come it has been unavailable for so many years. The first colour version of Dracula; a worldwide hit; the film that cemented the legend of Hammer films; and the film that made Christopher Lee into one of cinema's most illustrious actors.
Now its back out on DVD and Blu-ray. About bloomin' time, I say.
This film has been with me for most of my life. As a child my mother told me about watching it at the cinema when it was first released and the impact it had upon her. It seemed I already knew the whole story - and had lived every moment - years before I ever saw it.
When I became interested in horror films it retained its legendary status, but it never seemed to show on television. I would look through the TV listings hopefully but the title never appeared. Even the old Saturday night BBC 2 horror double-bills, that were such a great feature of seventies television, never seemed to show it. I read comic strip adaptations of the story, saw most of the sequels, watched every horror film I could, but this was the one that eluded me.
So rare was the film that when the British Film Institute restored it in 2007 they couldn't even find a copy with the original title. All they had was a version with the US title 'The Horror of Dracula'. In the end they found a battered 16mm copy of the UK version, in their old lending library, and used the title from that version.
Then video emerged, but this never seemed to be available. I finally caught up with it at the British Film Institute in the mid 1980s and greeted it more with a sense of relief than delight. Finally, I'd seen it.
Watching it again now I can still understand the impact it had in 1958. In an era when British films were still regularly made in black and white, Dracula  was filmed in the most sumptuous colour. Throw in amazing sets, dynamic performances, a bit of sex and violence, and you had a recipe for success. Although the action seems tame now, audiences in the fifties were genuinely shocked. My mother was genuinely frightened by the film. I can always recall how she told me that, arriving home in the dark, my father removed his false teeth (the real ones having been removed by an army dentist whilst he was doing his National Service), leaving just his canine teeth and approached through the darkness. The fact that he was tall with swept back thick black hair could only have added to sense of fear and attraction.
There it is, we are back to the theme of sex and violence. And that is what makes this newly released version so notable. For years it was rumoured that there was extra footage in the Japanese version. Eventually the footage was discovered, restored, and is shown for the first time. It boils down to just seconds of screen time, but they add so much to the story. First of all the sex:  Dracula's seduction of Mina is extended to show kisses, a clearly sexualised reaction by her to his advances, and the baring of his fangs.
Melissa Stribling & Christopher Lee

Next comes the violence: In the original version Dracula disintegrates after being forced into the sunlight by Van Helsing. It's a rather tame affair, in which the audience has to imagine what happens between the sunlight hitting his skin and his falling to dust. In the restored version we see Dracula running his fingers  down his face, pulling away the skin:
Christopher Lee

The only regret is that no footage exists of the more graphic image that was captured by the stills photographer:
Christopher Lee
Of course, this blog is not just about the best of British cinema but about picking out some the less important moments.
Whilst endless words seem to written about female costumes, male costumes are mostly ignored. Not here.
The film is set in the 1880s yet somehow Peter Cushing seems to be wearing a suit from the early 1930s:
Peter Cushing
However, all is forgiven since he also wears the most fantastic cost I've ever seen on screen:
Peter Cushing
One of my favourite games is spotting those actors whose faces are instantly recognisable, who keep popping up in films all the time and yet are hardly ever remembered. Dracula has two of them, in roles that they seemed born to play: Miles Malleson as a bumbling old undertaker and George Woodbridge as an inn keeper:
Miles Malleson
George Woodbridge

Gentlemen, I salute you!


  1. Ah yes, I remember the Saturday night horror double bill - usually an older Universal to start and then a more modern Hammer or Amicus to follow. You are right, Dracula was never shown (Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, or Prince of Darkness were). Maybe there was a rights issue. I wish I still had the set of Dracula bubble gum cards from the 70s which showed that 'death by sunlight' image above or House of Hammer magazine with its comic adaptations. I don't think I actually saw the film until about ten years ago.

  2. PS This must have been before Michael Ripper got his regular Innkeeper gig - surely the most prolific bit part player in Hammer films.