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Horror Of Dracula (Blu-ray Review)

Warner Archive has been killing it for a while now, but its been especially exciting the last few months as they’ve unleashed three Hammer Horror Dracula films on Blu-ray that were previously not available in the United States. Following The Satanic Rites of Dracula and Dracula AD 1972 comes the one that started it all, Horror of Dracula. Odd that it came AFTER those two (As well as a set released a few years ago that had Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and Taste The Blood Of Dracula), but I’ll take it in whatever order they are going to give it. You’ll be able to see the film that launched a successful, flagship franchise from Hammer, our first look at Christoper Lee and Peter Cushing in their iconic iterations of Dracula and Van Helsing. You’ll be able to sink your teeth into the Blu-ray (Which sadly only features a trailer) when it arrives on the last new release Tuesday of the year, December 18th. Make sure you pre-order your copy using the Amazon link below before returning to your coffin. 

Film 

Originally published as a part of the Naptown Nerd Hammer Dracula Retrospective (October 2014)

On a search for his missing friend Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is led to Count Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) castle. Upon arriving, Van Helsing finds an undead Harker in Dracula’s crypt and discovers that the count’s next target is Harker’s ailing fiancée, Lucy Holmwood (Carol Marsh). With the help of her brother, Arthur (Michael Gough), Van Helsing struggles to protect Lucy and put an end to Count Dracula’s parasitic reign of terror.

While the film is based off of Bram Stoker’s novel, Horror of Dracula takes many liberties with it and the 1931 film.  Its a tighter, faster paced film that surprises you by flipping your expectations of what’s to come.  At this point, Dracula was so ingrained in theater going audience’s brains, Hammer seemed to know that and twisted and turned things.  This film doesn’t have Renfield and Dr. Seward plays the most minimal of parts.  They decided for this that they would take the two most notable characters from the story and have them pitted against each other, having Van Helsing be the star of the film and Dracula the scene stealing menace.  This film really cuts the chase and moves along quite quickly.

To open, this is like a zombie movie that decides that people know what the hell they are and ditches all the scenes that explain them and go through the motions of discovering how to kill them and such.  Jonathan Harker has been altered so that he is actually part of a vampire hunting duo with Van Helsing hunting down Dracula under the guise that he’s applying to be his personal librarian.  The twist this time isn’t that Dracula is a vampire, its that Harker has come to him damn well knowing what he is and is there to go for the kill.  Unfortunately Harker makes a giant movie mistake and goes to kill the female vampire before staking Dracula.  Obviously audiences were more forgiving of something like this back then, and you’ll get over his stupidity quite quickly.  Just know that this Jonathan Harker is doomed not to return in and further reel of this film.

Christopher Lee dons the cape for the role that would help him make a name for himself.  He’s a very tall and imposing figure.  I love the first shot we see him.  It kinda makes you stir in your seat because its so abrupt.  One of the big achievements from Lee is that the guy has 13 lines in the entire movie and only spoken to one character.  After the 25 minute mark, he never speaks again.  Its also incredible the 180 turn he takes as well.  Dracula starts as this astute statesmen, very proper and professional toward Harker.  Once you seen this film multiple times, however, there’s another level to this performance where I have this feeling that Dracula is on to Harker before he even arrives and the two are sort of playing a game with each other to “play along with the scenario” and see which one bites (I couldn’t resist) on their agenda first.  Then, Lee makes a drastic turn in the middle of the night showcases his monster side and its shear pandemonium as he’s go bloodshot eyes and a bloody fanged mouth (i think this is the first time on film, Dracula has sported the fangs, too.  I could be wrong though).  For the rest of the film he becomes a vicious imposing beast.  But, Lee prestigiously tones it down and is able to become quite the seducer later on.  While Dracula seems to be more in a goon role for this tighter version of the story, its Lee who makes it more than it had any right being and gives one of the greatest monster performances of all time.

Peter Cushing as Doctor Van Helsing is a thing of beauty.  The guy brings such prestige and gravitas to the role that sort of ropes all this fantastical vampire stuff in and makes it feel real and immediate.  Cushing plays everything straight and with great conviction.  Because of him, there is a looming suspense and doom.  Every word that comes out his mouth is pure greatness and damn serious no matter how silly something might sound.  Because Cushing is saying it, you damn well better listen or you’ll pay.  He’s my personal favorite rendition of Van Helsing and he and Lee being in a movie is one thing, but in the Dracula series its at a whole other level.  Their battle at the end is one for the ages.  Its intense, destruction, and tell me its not just bad ass when Van Helsing runs off the table and leaps off to pull down the drapes.  That’s just great cinema right there.  While Frankenstein may have been the official launching point for the Hammer Horror films, it really was Horror Of Dracula that broke out and got things fired away.

One of the most lauded aspects of Hammer films is their set design, and Dracula is right up there.  The sets and costumes are pretty authentic looking, but are marvelous to sit and look at.  The exteriors even look and feel real.  Dracula’s castle isn’t some monstrous piece of architecture, it looks believable and almost as if you could imagine what it feels like.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that this word looks really plausible.  We also get some of that great, super red paint-like blood that Hammer is known for.  While its not real looking the slightest, there’s still a disgusting, yet artful flavor to it.  Factor in, too a bit of nostalgia.  The staking of Lucy though, still can get you squeamish, I don’t care what anyone says.  The way that is shot, edited and foley’d is some real masterwork.  Impressive, too, is Dracula’s demise.  Yeah, its old school, but man if him withering away to ashes doesn’t look cool.  Apparently there’s some more graphic footage for it that recently resurfaced and is on a Japanese Blu-ray edition now, but I’ve still not seen it.

Horror Of Dracula is a nice, tighter, more action-oriented version of Bram Stoker’s classic tale, yet still maintains a lot of its mythology.  You won’t have to worry about being bored or “sitting through this story again” because this sucker just moves.  Within moments Harkness arriving at Dracula’s home, he’s staring down the shaft of a wooden stake ready to take down the dark prince.  Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are an absolute treat to watch go head to head.  And I didn’t even mention that its also fun to see Alfred (Michael Gough) as a young man in the film tag along with Van Helsing.  This is a very interesting and fun twist on the Dracula story and I think still has a few chills left in it today, but all in all its actually a really fun time for a horror film.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Layers: BD-25

Clarity/Detail: Horror of Dracula’s United States Blu-ray debut champions a “brand-new presentation, sourced from the British Film Institute/Hammer Film restoration master”. My personal experience with the film is the previous DVD release of it from Warner Bros and the Region B Blu-ray edition from Spain. I did not have the UK one which yielded unfavorable results In my research, I found that one was apparently plagued with an over use of blue, which seems to have been fixed here. There is one nighttime sequence that felt a little strong on the blue filtering end, but that was it. This image does have a couple scenes with a faint flicker to them. Overall, its a pretty strong image with good detail and some strong coloring that proves to make a well rounded and bolder image. For me, coming with what I had been used to for years with this film, it was a massive leap and a wonderful experience watching this Blu-ray. I’m not sure if this is incredibly similar to the UK one or if its better, I don’t have the resources to compare. But, I think most people are going to feel satisfied with Warner Archive Collection’s release.

Depth:  I was pretty taken by how spacious the image looks, right from Jonathan Harker first wandering the den of Dracula’s castle. There’s a really nice push back and three dimensional appeal to it. Movements prove cinematic and smooth.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty solid for the most parts, very rich and consuming. There are some hints at crushing with heavier, shadowy moments from time to time. With the amount of night scenes, dark shadowy rooms and such, mostly when shade appears on a cheek. I imagine this film is a difficult beast to tame in transferring to the format in 1080p. Its never really bothersome to me at all.

Color Reproduction: Colors are quite luscious, especially when appearing on fabrics like clothing, curtains and more. Its really full looking and there is just a really beautiful palette on display. Greens and lavenders fit into the image beautifully too.

Flesh Tones: Facial features and textures are very good in close ups and most medium shots. Make-up and effects and blood look quite well and detail.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Horror of Dracula carries a pretty loud, but intricate mono track. There is a good amount of freeness and separation between the score, vocals and effects. Its a pretty loud track, where I actually turned it down a couple ticks from my default volume setting. The music can get decently deep in the speaker output. There’s an ambient hiss in the source, which almost plays as a sort of comfortable bit of ambiance throughout the film.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and surprisingly crisp, never really running into any peaking issues, but having some hissing here or there at times.

Extras 

Trailer (HD, 2:11)

Summary 

One of the Prince of Darkness’ finest hours in his history is finally available on Blu-ray in the United States for all to have. For my own eyes and preferences this one looked and sounded pretty gorgeous for the most part. For the hardcore videophile, this’ll be a matter of personal taste and expectations, so if you disagree with me, so be it. The one thing we can all agree upon is the lack of supplemental material being pretty disappointing. There have to be SOME kinda interviews, docs, tv specials…something lying around to add to the disc. Unfortunately we get a washed out trailer. BUT, its on Blu-ray finally, which, 12 years into the format, is most important.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

3 Responses to “Horror Of Dracula (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Isaac

    How is the head cropping? The irritating thing about WB’s old DVD was how the framing was too tight so people’s heads were constantly chopped off at the hairline. Was wondering if they fixed that. If so then this is a definite must buy.

  2. Brandon Peters

    Hi Isaac,

    I can’t recall any head cropping from my viewing (Now you have me curious haha). This transfer and framing is not based on the previous Warner Bros DVD. They have sourced it from the British Film Institute’s restoration and it only appears they have tinkered with the color timing from that one.

  3. Allen Peterson

    It is nice to know that the over use of blue in the British release has been fixed, but I’m still curious whether this release has the restored footage (taken from a Japanese print) or whether it’s the same as the old DVD release. I’ve seen the restored scenes online (the scene with Mina and Dracula and the death scene) and the only thing I didn’t like was the over use of blue. Do we get to see Dracula scrap his face off or not?