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6. Dracula (1958), dir. Terence Fisher

In 2007, the BFI released a digitally-restored version of this film which I was lucky enough to see on the big screen at the Bradford Fantastic Film Weekend in June 2008. Then earlier this year Hammer released a version consisting of the same BFI restoration, but now also two very brief scenes which had been cut from the original on the orders of the British Board of Censors, but remained intact in reels exported to Japan. The lovely ms_siobhan received this from planet_andy as an Easter gift (fewer calories than a chocolate egg), and a couple of weeks ago I went round for the evening to watch it with her.

I've already reviewed the digitally-restored print, so I won't bother repeating all that - though I was certainly wowed all over again by the rich colours and small details which it has brought out. But this was my first time seeing the newly-restored Japanese material, so it's worth saying a few words about that, even though it only consists of two short scenes lasting about 30 seconds between them.

The earlier of the two is part of Dracula's seduction of Mina, and basically involves a few more seconds of Christopher Lee hovering open-lipped around Melissa Stribling's face and neck in an erotically-charged manner before finally homing in on her jugular for a good chomp. Interestingly, it's almost exactly the same technique which he uses ten years later on Veronica Carlson (as Maria Muller) in Dracula has Risen from the Grave, but which was obviously considered perfectly passable by the censors by then. I'm not sure I would go quite as far as Hammer historian Michael Hearn in saying that this scene (together with the other restoration) was "crucial to Hammer’s original vision for this film", but I do know that the equivalent scene in Risen from the Grave had quite an effect on me when I watched it as an impressionable young tweenager, and is probably one of the reasons why that film remains one of my favourites in the series. So I can agree that it does make quite a difference to how Dracula is characterised as an icon of powerful, unbridled sexuality, and in turn definitely adds a certain something to the film as a whole.

The second restored scene comes at the climax of the film, in the sequence when Van Helsing rips down the curtains in the library at Castle Dracula, and forces Dracula into the sunlight to disintegrate under its purifying rays. I couldn't imagine beforehand how any extra footage could be fitted into this sequence - I mean, surely we'd seen the whole thing, hadn't we? But now I can't imagine how I could ever have thought that. There has been a whole missing stage all along, between Christopher Lee clapping his hand to his face in pain as the sunlight strikes it and that hand crumbling into dust and sinking into the face, in which the half-melted hand involuntarily pulls away the burning skin from his forehead and we also see a bit more of his leg turning to bone as well (see the link in the paragraph above for a still of the face). This doesn't really add to his characterisation in the same way as the scene with Mina does, but it makes for a more smoothly-executed death sequence, with more in the way of intermediate stages before the final turning to dust. It definitely looks better technically and stands up alongside the death scenes from some of the later films in a way that the censored version didn't quite.

Re-watching this film, and chatting about what was going on with ms_siobhan as I did so, also reminded me of a perpetual confusion which strikes me almost every time I watch it - which is, who exactly is the little child Tania meant to be? She refers to Lucy Holmwood as her 'aunt', which if literally true ought (in this version of the story) to make her the daughter of Arthur Holmwood and his wife, Mina. Though she seems largely to be looked after by the housemaid, Gerda, when she goes missing and a policeman brings her home, Gerda brings her in to Arthur and Mina, who comforts her, which is not something you would normally expect a Victorian lady to do for the child of one of her domestic servants. But then when Van Helsing suggests to Arthur that they allow the now-vampified Lucy to lead them to Dracula, Arthur asks, "But what about Gerda's child out there and the others she will defile?" The prosaic explanation is probably an imperfect script edit, in which she was changed at some point either from Arthur and Mina's child to Gerda's or vice versa (I can't even tell), without anyone noticing that not every reference to her family status had successfully been updated. But it still puzzles me every time all the same, throwing up all sorts of unexpected possibilities about Mina, Arthur and Gerda's domestic arrangements which I don't expect the script-writers ever intended us to consider.

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jun. 3rd, 2013 02:50 pm (UTC)
Peter Cushing as Van Helsing = Utterly Delightful :-)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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