Tomorrow is an exciting day for horror. Making it to disc for the first time is Hammer’s Dracula which, fully restored in high definition, features Dracula’s sunlight disintegration and his seduction of Mina, two long-lost scenes originally cut by the BBFC in 1958. We spoke with Hammer historian Marcus Hearn about this incredible, definitive release.
How did Dracula come about getting the HD treatment, and such an incredible release package?
Well, it’s a two-tier approach really. The British Film Institute gave it the high-definition treatment back in 2007 originally, but unfortunately, although they went back to the original negative, they went to Warner Bros. So they scanned the negative of the American version, which is slightly longer than the British version, as it does have an extra staking of Lucy. This is the version that we’re familiar with from DVD. But it always bothered not only me, and I think other Hammer fans in this country, that it had the American title on. The DVD was called Horror of Dracula. When the film was released in America in 1958 I think that Universal gave it that title to differentiate it from the Bela Lugosi Dracula, which was even then still playing in some cinemas.
That title never really seemed to fit at all.
Any longstanding Hammer fans who had seen the film, say on BBC television for example, knew that there was a beautiful and ornate title card that simply said ‘Dracula’, and so the BFI to their credit found the original title card and simply cut it in. So the 2007 restoration was the American version of the film with the English title card. And that was great, but unfortunately they were not able to locate the scenes that were cut by the British Board of Film Censors. Although for many years fans had seen photographs of the scenes, most people seemed to regard a longer version of Dracula as simply a myth. People had talked about it for decades but no one had actually met anyone who had seen it.
It is legendary lost footage that has never seemed to appear anywhere.
Exactly. Until, an enterprising English Hammer fan called Simon Rowson who lives in Tokyo cracked it, went to the National Film Centre in the city, and by a combination of detective work and some very good luck was able to actually view this footage. He then contacted me, in my capacity as Hammer historian, and I went to Hammer and told them that Simon had found the footage and we should really do something with it. There was a period of some slightly delicate negotiation, and the material was scanned and sent over to London, and then finally began the work of finding the best way to integrate it as seamlessly as possible into the 2007 restoration version.
It was a very difficult task which really did take a long time. The material which came back from Japan was really in poor condition, not because of the National Film Centre’s fault, but because it was just a very worn-out projection print, and there had also been a fire in 1984, and there had been damage to the film, and it was in shocking condition. Anybody who buys the disc will be able to see exactly how bad it was; there’s a then-and-now comparison. The subtitles were even burned into the negative. So it took the efforts of two post-production houses to clean up and integrate this material. I think it has been worth the wait though.
What these technical geniuses can do with film these days is astounding.
It really is. And of course there is a very distinct possibility that the battered projection print of Dracula that was recovered in Tokyo is in fact unique. No one has ever come across another one. It was very clear to everyone involved that this was the only real chance to integrate this material, and a way just had to be found to make it as seamless as possible. Because this material is just so important. The two sequences that have been integrated are I think absolutely crucial to Terence Fisher’s vision of the film.
Mina’s seduction is as critical as the final disintegration, in terms of how the film plays out. You see a lot of deleted scenes in other movies that, while it’s nice to have them, the film could easily work without. But with this I think it enhances everything about the movie.
I think you’re absolutely right, and I think when people have seen these scenes it will be very difficult for them to go back to the previous versions.
Dracula really is the ultimate Hammer picture, isn’t it?
I think it’s where the formula for Hammer horror came from and was perfected. For me Hammer is about many things; it’s about colour and horror and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but I think primarily for many people, certainly audiences at the time, Hammer was all about sex and death. And although they made The Quatermass Xxperiment before this, which had horror, and they made The Curse of Frankenstein, which had colour and horror, this was the first time that they made a film that was actually about sex and death. The poster says ‘A Terrifying Lover’. So what I think is especially critical about the two reinstated sequences are that they deal with those two themes. They are fundamental for what Anthony Hinds and Jimmy Sangster and Fisher were trying to achieve.
The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955 was really Hammer’s first dip into the horror genre.
It was their first horror film, although I suppose you could strictly say it was a science-fiction film. Certainly it was their first X-certificate film. I think the actual creation of the formula of Hammer horror was a threefold process, with the horror and the colour and then the sex. It was perfected with Dracula, which then led to 20 years of incredible filmmaking, which of course has now recently resumed. So not only is it Hammer’s most important film, it’s probably one of the most important horror films ever made, and one of the most important British films of all time. So I’m pleased that people are now recognising just how essential it actually is.
It’s important for British film history as well, because this is the film that really took British horror and exploitation filmmaking to America, and challenged what they were doing.
Oh, it was massive in America. They had cracked that market with The Curse of Frankenstein, but this just took it to new heights, and was the film that made Christopher Lee a star. I think The Curse Of Frankenstein made Peter Cushing an international star but with Dracula, Lee was also elevated to A-list status, at least as far as the horror genre was concerned. And of course I’m stating the obvious here but it was the film that gave us the definitive version of that character.
As you said before all the elements came together here, with Lee and Cushing, but also Terence Fisher’s involvement can’t be understated. He was a wonderful and underrated director.
Yes. Sadly he’s not around any more to comment but it must have been very painful for Fisher to see his work cut in this way. He never really spoke about the film too much, and in fact he denied the existence of a longer Japanese version, which is why many people thought this was a myth. And I think he denied that there was a longer cut because for many years, and even today, people are still talking about this version, the one that is about to come out, as the Japanese version of the film, and really it’s not. The footage was recovered from Japan but it was not created for the Japanese market, it was created for the British market. It was the BBFC that cut it, and after they did, Hammer decided that instead of throwing it away they would just export it overseas. So I think over the years when people asked Fisher if there was a longer Japanese version of Dracula he said no, and in a way he was correct. He made it for this country, and it’s taken from 1958 until 2013 for us to actually see it.
Perhaps if people had asked him if there was a director’s cut available his answer might have been different.
Well, exactly, but no one ever did, because even by that stage in the 1970s people had become obsessed with different, foreign versions.
Would you say this is the iconic portrayal of Dracula?
I think Christopher Lee gave Hammer the screen’s definitive portrayal of Dracula, and in return they made him an international star. Although perhaps in many ways a better title for the film would be “Van Helsing”, because this is actually Peter Cushing’s film, and Lee is on screen for less than 10 minutes; he’s got less than 13 lines. Cushing’s Van Helsing drives the film; he’s dynamic in a very positive way. It’s his and Lee’s performances that set this apart from the Universal film. It always annoys me to hear people describe Hammer’s Dracula as a remake of Universal’s Dracula, because it’s nothing of the sort.
It annoys me when you hear people say that Hammer simply copied Universal by doing Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and so forth.
Well Dracula had been done a long time before, with Nosferatu. Universal weren’t the first to make Dracula, they were just the first to call it Dracula. In fact these films have got very little in common with the versions that preceded them. I’m not knocking those versions, I love them, but I want to make the point that Hammer were trying to create something completely different, and in the respect of Dracula, Christopher Lee’s portrayal is nothing like Bela Lugosi’s, and Cushing himself was very young and really nothing like the Van Helsing we had previously seen before. But I think primarily Hammer’s contribution to the Dracula legend was to basically make their film all about sex, which no one had done before.
It is a very sexual film.
If you take Dracula’s seduction of Mina, it’s not a sexually explicit film or scene, but my God it’s a scene all about sex with its tone and feel, and that was the innovation. As Christopher Frayling points out in one of the documentaries on the disc, before Hammer, no one associated Dracula with sex. After Hammer, everyone does. Since 1958 every film version of Dracula has been about sex.
Well since then the whole vampire mythology, be it in book or film, has been about sex, and that owes a lot to Hammer’s groundbreaking formula.
And that’s why, as I said before, I believe these two new sequences are just so critical because they deal with the two strongest themes of the film.
And Cushing is just so good in the movie, isn’t he?
He really is. He was Hammer’s great star of the time. Certainly during this period Christopher Lee was their monster, and Cushing was the star, and he lends the film absolute conviction. It’s like he’s playing Shakespeare. Not only is Lee definitive as Dracula, Cushing is definitive as Van Helsing.
The actors who appeared in Hammer pictures were never embarrassed to be in a horror film. They were committed to the work, which let’s be honest, especially with some of the later films, weren’t of a high quality. But the performances always were.
Yes, absolutely, and you have to remember that around this period, this era, Hammer were at the absolute top of their game. From 1957 up until the release of Psycho there was no one that could touch them, and for that three- to four-year period this was Hammer’s golden age, and out of all the films they made during this period, Dracula was their greatest achievement.
And they made a lot of money. Dracula grossed a fortune in the States.
They certainly did, even if it was that they made a lot of money for their distributors and not themselves. Legend has it — well actually Christopher Lee told me this himself so it’s more than legend — that Lee, Cushing, Anthony Hinds and James Carreras were summoned to New York to the head offices of Universal Films, where the president Al Daff told them that Dracula had saved his company from bankruptcy. It’s incredible to believe that a little British film company could actually have that effect. How true it is, I don’t know. I’m sure that the meeting actually happened, but if Daff was being entirely serious we can’t say, but it is a measure of the esteem in which Universal held Hammer Films. And not just them; Warner Bros., Paramount, MGM, Columbia. It was around this era, again largely thanks to the success of films like Dracula, that Hammer became the only British film company to have guaranteed distribution deals with every single American major. No one has done that since.
Would you say that this golden period of Hammer really pushed the American film market in terms of sex and violence, which in turn led to the end of the 60s and Romero making Night of the Living Dead?
Erm, I think the game really changed with Psycho to be honest. Remember though that in the 60s Roger Corman was coming to England to make his horror films in the gothic Hammer style, so they were trendsetting in that respect, but by the end of the decade with Romero and Polanski, and then into the 70s with The Exorcist and The Omen, things did start to shift. It was then that Hammer did start to get left behind, and they didn’t really adapt as quickly as they should have done. They didn’t react to the trends of the 70s, whereas before they had been initiating them like they were in the 50s. But they had a damn good 20-year run from the mid-50s onwards.
When you look at some of their 70s output, like Dracula A.D. 1972 or Twins of Evil, as good as they are you do feel that they were trying to keep up as opposed to leading the charge.
Certainly. And I think the original Dracula belongs to an era when they were absolute pioneers.
And everything was done pretty low-budget as well, back in the day. Wasn’t it around £80,000 for Dracula?
I think it was about £84,000, which wasn’t an awful lot of money for the time, but you have to bear in mind that Hammer owned their own facilities at Bray Studios, and they had a permanent staff of filmmakers and artists, so there was always that team continuity that I think is terribly important. What was also important was that because their studios were relatively small they only ever made one picture at a time, so everybody on the staff was totally dedicated to that one film. It was a production line, but even so there’s a real craftsmanship in Dracula, a real care taken over the way the film was lit, as well as the brilliant production design, which I think sets it apart from many of the films that followed. So it isn’t just that they were innovating with the themes of the film, they were creating something with a very carefully crafted traditional style, and it’s a combination of the two which makes it so good.
The look of the film betrays the modest budget, with the lighting, production, and especially the costume design which is just superb.
There’s a feature on the disc that shows how one particular set on Stage One was just used over and over again, and it’s absolutely astonishing when you realise how inventive they were. We should mention Bernard Robinson, the production designer, and just how innovative he was in his ability to redress the same sets time and time again and still manage to make them look different. I think the films probably do look much more expensive than they were, and that they hold up beautifully even today says a lot about the production team’s talent.
So it must make you very happy to see Hammer back in the production game.
It does, and what makes me happier is that it’s thriving making films that everybody who loves and respects their legacy seems to enjoy. Let Me In and The Woman in Black are not really like anything that Hammer ever made, but nevertheless, they are also not a betrayal of their legacy either. It’s much like the new Doctor Who, which has now been with us again in its modern incarnation since 2005, and many of the episodes are not really like anything that we saw before, and yet fans of the original show love the new episodes too. And I think it’s a similar situation with Hammer. It’s a neat trick to be able to cater for fans of Curse of the Werewolf with a film like The Woman in Black, especially as they have little in common.
Are you able to reveal what’s next to come out of their vaults and get the HD treatment?
Can I reveal what’s next? Well we have hopefully restored Quatermass 2 for release later this year, which is probably my favourite Hammer film of all, and you can also expect a remastered and fully restored Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, which we hope will reinstate one lost scene, which so far has only been revealed in photographs. And Captain Cronos – Vampire Hunter will get a full high-definition release, and finally The Mummy. These are amongst others, but these are the ones that we’re working towards at the moment.
Are there any release dates, or are you just taking your time as you did with Dracula?
With Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell we are aiming towards a premiere at the National Film Theatre in May, which will mark the centenary of Peter Cushing’s birth. I really do think Hammer are to be applauded for the time and the effort and the budgets that they have afforded for these projects; it’s wonderful that they are looking after their legacy. And also it is great to have the support of the fans as well, because it’s the fans that are really keeping this whole thing going. Between us all we are cataloguing and preserving film history.
Dracula is available on three-disc double play from tomorrow. For our write-up, click here.