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X rated Hammer version
on 1 February 2011
In 1951 the British Board of Film Censors introduced the X certificate, which restricted admission to the designated films to people over the age of sixteen. Most British film makers tended to shun X certificate material, but Hammer Films bucked this trend when they achieved considerable box office success with two X certificate films, namely 'The Quatermass Experiment' (1955) and 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1957). After Hammer's success with their adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel, in 1958 they decided to tackle the other great nineteenth century horror classic, Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. The X certificate classification allowed the director Terence Fisher the freedom to film scenes in which stakes are plunged into the hearts of vampires, and the vampires themselves bare their fangs whilst looming over their victims' necks.
Jimmy Sangster's screenplay is true to the spirit, if not the letter of Bram Stoker's novel. In the book, Jonathan Harker is an estate agent who visits Castle Dracula to sell a London property to the count. It takes Harker quite a while in the novel to discover the truth about his host. Since the movie has a relatively short running time of 81 minutes, in order to speed up the development of the plot Harker is a vampire hunter in the film. He takes a job as a librarian at Castle Dracula in order to hunt down and kill the count. Other changes to the book are less easy to explain. In the novel, Lucy is engaged to Arthur Holmwood, but in this film version Lucy is Arthur's sister.
The music score composed by James Bernard and the cinematography of Jack Asher help to create the film's suspense and underscore the moments of terror. Of particular note is Dracula's first appearance in dark shadow at the top of a flight of stairs. Christopher Lee has genuine screen presence as the count, and he successfully combines menace and sexual allure. As Dr Van Helsing, Peter Cushing is outstanding. He conveys an air of calm authority in scenes like the one in which he questions the innkeeper about the whereabouts of Jonathan Harker, but he is also able to show intense emotion, as in the reaction shot of him looking at the death of Dracula. In conclusion, this is not only a classic of horror cinema, it is a true cinema classic.
The American Warner Brothers DVD subdivides the film into twenty six chapters. The viewer is able to access subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portugese. The cast and crew feature is minimal, only listing four members of the cast, along with the writer, director and producer. 'Dracula Lives Again' provides a brief history of the Hammer Dracula franchise. It contains inaccuracies. For example, we are told that in 'The Brides of Dracula', "Cushing returns as Van Helsing fighting a brother/sister team of vampires." In fact Baroness and Baron Meinster are mother and son rather than brother and sister. The other bonus is the original cinema trailer, which provides an entertaining distillation of the main feature in less than three minutes.