Sometimes doing the job is reward in itself. That’s what it was like for me to talk with Greg Nicotero. From DAWN OF THE DEAD to BREAKING BAD, from ARMY OF DARKNESS to OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, from HOSTEL to SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR, his vivid and creative makeup effects work has brought the fantastic, the grotesque, and the sometimes-just-plain-realistic to a dazzling kaleidoscope of film and TV projects.
That includes THE WALKING DEAD, the blockbuster TV series which scooped up a couple of primetime Emmy awards for Nicotero’s work in bringing the flesh-hungry walkers to gruesome… uh, life? Death? Anyway, in honor of the release of the complete fourth season on DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, we got some time with Greg to talk about the finer points of zombie nurturing and care. Click on the player to hear the show.
Even in the anything-to-get-your-adrenaline-pumping world of Hong Kong cinema, RIGOR MORTIS stands out. The story of a famous actor, Chin Siu-Ho (played by actual famous actor Chin Siu-Ho — your heard us), who has to contend with a seedy apartment building whose walls reverberate with echoes of his most famous film, the hopping vampire horror-comedy MR. VAMPIRE — including mysterious spirits, a mystical warrior-cum-resterateur (played by MR. VAMPIRE cast-mate Anthony “Friend” Chan), and, yes, a hopping vampire — the film plays as both a tribute to, and a dark and dizzyingly intense reimagining of, a beloved sub-genre. Director Juno Mak makes his feature film debut with this visually stunning, shockingly violent, and at times surprisingly moving, effort, and we were eager to discuss the roots of the project in the legendary MR. VAMPIRE franchise, and the challenges of creating this effects-laden feast. Click on the player to hear the show.
Bram Stoker’s immortal vampire rises again, this time on Blu-ray, a format that – appropriately enough -preserves the youthful veneer of this 1973 production, making it look as good as (if not better than) it did four decades ago. Like Dracula himself, MPI’s new disc will no doubt endure, intact and ageless, for centuries to come, emerging regularly from its box like the Vampire King rising from his coffin at sunset.
DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA (also known as BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA or simply DRACULA) is not the greatest adaptation of the classic novel, but it infuses some new blood into an old corpse drained of life by myriad prior film incarnations. This DRACULA features a strong central performance, atmospheric locations, and some enjoyably scary but not too gruesome moments of horror. However, the film’s greatest claim to historical significance is its (for the time) novel take on the titular character, which went on to influence later interpretations.
THE FILM: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA
The fourth major adaptation of the classic novel*, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (the on-screen title) begins by acknowledging audience familiarity with the tale, opening with shots of wolves (actually German Shepherds) amassing outside Castle Dracula, while the Count walks through a corridor toward the camera, like Norma Desmond ready for her closeup. “We know you know who this is,” the film seems to be saying, “so we’re not going toy with presenting him as a mysterious figure, and we’re not going to tease you with a long wait for what you obviously expect to see.”
After that Richard Matheson’s script settles into the familiar story, but only up to a point. Jonathan Harker (Murray Brown) arrives in Transylvania to arrange a real estate deal with Dracula (Jack Palance). However, the Count has ulterior motives: Harker finds a newspaper photo with a woman’s face circled. The woman is Lucy (Fiona Lewis), whom Dracula believes to be the reincarnation of a woman he loved during his mortal life. She also turns out to be the best friend of Harker’s finace, Mina (Penelope Horner).
After concluding his business with Harker , Dracula leaves the young man to the tender mercies of three vampire women (Virginia Wetherell, Barbar Lindley, Sarah Douglas) and heads to England, where he finds Lucy. Her finance, Arthur Holmwood, consults Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport), who spots the signs of vampirism – though too late to save the victim. After Lucy rises from the grave, Van Helsing and Holmwood stake her in her coffin.
Arriving in her tomb for the expected reunion with his long-lost love, Dracula is enraged to find her undead life snuffed out. He targets Mina next, but the vampire hunters manage to track down the coffins he needs to sleep during the daylight hours; robbed of his refuge, Dracula retreats to Transylvania, with Van Helsing, Holmwood, and Mina in pursuit. The two men stake the Count’s vampire brides in their coffins and confront Dracula himself in a life-or-death battle that ends with Van Helsing tearing down a set of curtains, allowing sunlight to steam inside, incapacitating the monster, who is then dispatched with a spear through the heart.
Back in 1974, when BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA first aired on American television, portraying the Count with a measure of sympathy was innovative and surprising; something so simple as a flashback or two to his days of mortal life was enough to suggest a whole new perspective on the familiar character. Dracula was no longer simply a monster; he had human emotions!
In this, the film was enormously aided by Palance. If you prefer your vampires in traditional Gothic mode, then Palance’s Dracula is for you: the actor registers such powerful screen presence that you feel he could single-handedly dispatch the entire cast of TWILIGHT’s glittering vampire-wimps. Though hardly Continental (the actor avoids affecting a Lugosi-style Hungarian accent), Palance conveys not only the enormous power of the King Vampire (who seems threatening even when he’s not actually doing anything) but also Dracula’s sense of love and loss. He effectively modulates the shifts from fierce to pained to tortured, and you almost feel for him. Almost.
The problem is that BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA does not have the screen time or the focus to completely humanize the Count. The reincarnation plot is clearly derived from Curtis’ own Gothic soap opera DARK SHADOWS (in which vampire Barnabas Collins sought the reincarnation of his lost Josette), but the TV series had the luxury of months of daily episodes to gradually transform Barnabas from predatory villain to doomed anti-hero. Here, we get only a few minutes of flashbacks, which are at odds with the rest of the story.
In attempting to condense Stoker’s lengthy tale while simultaneously introducing new elements, Matheson set himself a near impossible task. It’s great to see several of Stoker’s previously omitted scenes finally transferred to the screen: wolves escort Dracula’s carriage in Transylvania; Dracula uses a lone wolf, liberated from a zoo, to attack Holmwood in a room protected protected from vampires by crucifixes and garlic; Dracula forces Mina to drink blood from an open wound in his chest, tainting her to become a vampire whether or not see dies by his bite. However, some of the novel’s best moments are reduced to almost nothing (Dracula’s vampire brides – a highlight of the novel- barely register), and some of the familiar action fits awkwardly into the new context, which muddles the character’s behavior.
For example, with Jonathan (literally) out of the picture, Mina’s only connection to the vampire hunters is through her friendship with Lucy, so she has no clear reason to stay involved after Lucy’s death. Nevertheless, she remains, living with Holmwood and Van Helsing in Lucy’s house, apparently (though not expressly) with the permission of Lucy’s mother (who is never told what killed her daughter). One wonders why Mina does not return home or (better yet) lift a finger to figure out what happened to Jonathan. The answer is that the script needs to keep her close by, so that she can become Dracula’s second English victim – a development that now seems like an arbitrary remnant of the novel. (In the revised scenario, Dracula is presumably seeking revenge for Lucy’s destruction, but that would have made more sense had the characters been rewritten so that Mina was Holmwood’s fiance – suggesting that Dracula is taking Holmwood’s woman in exchange for Holmwood’s killing Dracula’s great love.)
Consequently, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA feels like a familiar old puzzle with a few new pieces tossed in – they’re pleasantly surprising, but they don’t quite fit. And speaking of things that do not fit: this film not only tells us that Dracula was once a sensitive, loving human being; it also tells us that the vampire was, in life, Vlad Tsepes, a true-life historical figure known for cruelly impaling his victims on large, painful wooden stakes inserted in the anus – a contradiction the script never attempts to resolve.
Visually, the film belies its made-for-TV origins, with impressive lensing and production values. Dating from an era when most tele-films were point-and-shoot affairs with bland, over-lit photography, this DRACULA looks as good as a theatrical feature from the era. The location shooting enhances the proceedings enormously, lending an authentic European flavor missing from previous versions of the tale (though the interior of Dracula’s abode sometimes looks more like a mansion than a castle).
Dan Curtis knew how to deliver the genre elements a film like this needed, but his strength was more as a producer than a director. At times, he tried too hard to be clever and cinematic, when a more confident director would have let the scene play without the bells and whistles (typical for the era, the zoom lens is used and over-used, like an explanation point dropped by a writer juicing up a line of prose). At other times, Curtis could let a scene fall flat, such as the Mexican Stand-Off during which Van Helsing and Holmwood use crosses to hold Dracula at bay but let him walk out the door for fear of confronting him directly. (You want to yell, “Don’t stand there – do something!”)
When it came to staging action, Curtis could rise to the occasion and deliver effective moments of shock and horror: Dracula’s first encounter with Lucy is emotionally charged – creepy and seductive; the later revelation of her dead body, still beautiful but pale and blue, like a broken doll, is evocative and disturbing. Within the constraints of network television censorship, Curtis spruced up the narrative with bursts of violence that show how overpowering Dracula is compared to mere mortals, emulating but not quite capturing the full-blooded excitement of HORROR OF DRACULA (1958, from which several ideas were clearly borrowed).
Such borrowings occasionally lend an almost off-the-rack quality to the scenes, though viewers without an encyclopedic knowledge of vampire cinema are not likely to notice or care. For example:
- As noted, the vampire romance is borrowed from DARK SHADOWS (there’s even a music box that plays a love them, scored by SHADOWS composer Bob Corbett).
- Dracula tosses someone out a window, as vampire Janos Skorzeny did in THE NIGHT STALKER, a previous Curtis production. (This scene became something of a recurring motif for Curtis – check out BURNT OFFERINGS for another example).
- Jonathan Harker never makes it out of Dracula’s castle, and Dracula is bound by physical limitations, unable to transform into a bat or mist – both element derived from HORROR OF DRACUULA.
- Dracula seeks a woman whose photograph he has seen – an element in NOSFERATU and HORROR OF DRACULA.
- Van Helsing defeats Dracula by tearing down curtains to reveal sunlight. This is taken from HORROR OF DRACULA by way of THE NIGHT STALKER.
The supporting cast fares less well than Palance. Lewis comes off best, emerging as one of Dracula’s most beautiful and alluring victims; unfortunately, she is given little screen time to register the transformation from innocent human to wanton vampire. Ward is an appealing screen presence, but his character has no distinguishing characteristics, nor an emotional journey worth following. Davenport turns Van Helsing into a methodical medical practitioner, without the commanding presence of Edward Van Sloan or the zeal of Peter Cushing. This may be a deliberate choice (an exchange of closeups, before Van Helsing delivers the fatal blow to Dracula, suggests we are supposed to relate to the tragic vampire rather than the heartless hunter), but it leaves the film without a strong protagonist. Horner’s Mina is not the surprisingly smart and capable woman of the book; in fact, she is not much of anything.
Seen in the purifying light of day, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA is, like much of the producer-director’s work, an unapologetic horror film, eager to embrace genre conventions and deliver familiar elements that appeal to fans. Though no match for DRACULA (1931) with Bela Lugosi, nor HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) with Christopher Lee, the Curtis production is an interesting variation on the tale, bristling with more energy than COUNT DRACULA (1977), the talky public-television version starring Louis Jordan. And for horror historians, the Dan Curtis DRACULA represents an important evolutionary step in the portrayal of the character on screen, retaining the supernatural menace but adding a layer of humanity and romance that would become a bigger part of the character in later versions.
THE BLU-RAY: DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA
MPI’s Blu-ray disc (featuring the title DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA on the box art) presents the film’s theatrical cut in widescreen format, with options for English, Spanish, and French 2.0 soundtracks, along with optional English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing. The theatrical version is slightly gorier than the original broadcast version (all the vampires cough up blood when they die). Also, the tell-tale signs of the film’s television origin (e.g., blackouts for commercial interruptions) are missing, creating a more theatrical viewing experience.
The picture looks great on modern high-def televisions. There is a slight trace of grain (this was shot on film, after all), but the muted colors are lovely (lots of red backgrounds and that peculiar orange that passed for blood in those days). Though the film dates from the era of television screens with a 1.33 aspect ratio, the image looks perfect when cropped to today’s 1.78 aspect ratio (perhaps because the action was framed to work on wider theatre screens).
Bonus features include interviews with Palance and Curtis, Outtakes, Television Cuts, and a British theatrical trailer.
Outtakes offers raw camera footage, minus the on-set set sound, accompanied by music. These are mostly different takes, or slightly longer versions, of footage seen in the film, sometimes withe the crew and slates visible. Though not a blooper reel, there are one or two moments when an actor cracks a smile, as Lewis does after her gasping reaction to being staked.
Television Cuts presents alternate, blood-free takes from the broadcast version. These are limited to a few closeups the death throes of the vampires, who merely gasp when staked, instead of coughing up blood as in the theatrical version.
The Theatrical Trailer is a bit scratched and grainy (which perhaps helps us better appreciate the preserved picture quality of the film itself). EMI, the British distributor, sold the film (under the title BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA) as a bold horror movie, a la Hammer Films Dracula efforts, but also noted the romantic aspect.
The most interesting bonus features are the Interviews. Jack Palance discusses his approach to the character, saying that he did not play Dracula as a villain because that’s not how the character would see himself. Curtis talks about adapting the book, which he says “makes no sense” because Stoker never explains why Dracula leaves Transylvania for England; hence, Curtis decided to “rip-off” the reincarnation story line from DARK SHADOWS, in order to provide the missing motivation. (This explanation was apparently the approved party-line on the subject: Richard Matheson used almost the exact same words when I asked him about his script decades ago.)
Worth a sanguinary midnight sip.
BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA was scheduled to make its debut on American television in October 1973; however, the broadcast was preempted by President Richard Nixon’s address regarding the resignation of Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew. The film eventually premiered in Feburary 1974.
Originally billed and advertised simply as DRACULA, the film later came to be known as BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, to distinguish it from previous versions. The posters and on-screen title cards confused the issue with graphics that conflated the star’s credit with the title and emphasized the character’s name at the expense of the author’s:
The word “Dracula” is in larger, bolder letters, suggesting that is the true title; Stoker’s name appears to have been included as a way of acknowledging the film’s literary debt to his novel, which is not otherwise credited as the source material for Matheson’s screenplay. The trailer for the subsequent overseas theatrical release adopted the full title, although the British poster, like the on-screen credit, emphasized “DRACULA,” with “Bram Stoker” in smaller type and lower-case letters.
Years later, home video releases also used the BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA moniker. However, since Francis Ford Coppola’s film of the same name, the 1973 production has been sold as “Dan Curtis’ DRACULA” on DVD and Blu-ray (though the on-screen title-credit remains the same).
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Coppola version of BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) contains two notable similarities to the Dan Curtis production. First, like Matheson before him, James V. Hart’s screenplay identifies the fictional Count Dracula with his historical namesake, Vlad Tsepes, also known as Dracula (i.e., the Son of the Dragon, thanks to his father’s membership in the Order of the Dragon). Second, Dracula (played by Gary Oldman in the Coppola film) is also seeking the reincarnation of his lost love.
The reincarnation plot line, previously used by Curtis in DARK SHADOWS, has no precedent in Stoker’s novel. However, it can be traced to Universal Pictures’ THE MUMMY (1932), which deliberately recycles many elements from the studio’s earlier hit, DRACULA. Curiously, the Dan Curtis DRACULA is a bit vague about whether Lucy really is Dracula’s lover reborn. She looks the same but never expresses any recognition, even when she is falling under the vampire’s spell; also, when she rises as a vampire, she heads not to the Count but to her fiance, suggesting she does not reciprocate Dracula’s centuries-old passion.
- After NOSFERATU (1922), DRACULA (1931), and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).
DAN CURTIS’ DRACULA (Blu-ray title, released May 27, 2014 by MPI). Also known as: DRACULA and BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (copyright date, 1973; original air date: February 8, 1974). 100 mins. Made for Television. Produced and directed by Dan Curtis. Written by Richard Matheson, based on the novel by Bram Stoker (uncredited). Cast: Jack Palance, Simon Ward, Nigel Davenport, Pamela Brown, Fiona Lewis, Penelope Horner, Murray Brown. Virginia Wetherell, Barbara Lindley, Sarah Douglas.
For all that the world was going to Hell on the third season of THE WALKING DEAD, viewers had no shortage of reasons for jubilation: Finally the series had found its footing, logging in episodes that managed a sweet mix of zombie-ripping mayhem and post-apocalyptic drama. Two of the prime contributors to the quality boost were the introductions of Woodbury — a cozy little stronghold in Georgia where the residents struggled to maintain a facade of normality while turning a blind eye to the moral rot eating away at their community — and the Governor, Woodbury’s psychotic rotter-in-chief.
Aiding and abetting the Governor’s brutal reign was Milton Mamet, a former scientist who helped carry out the Gov’s dictates, including performing experiments intended to discover glimmers of sentience in walkers. As played by Dallas Roberts, Milton was a prime example of THE WALKING DEAD’s moral ambiguity, a man trying to find his way in a world where the quality of humanity was rapidly yielding to the simple needs of survival.
In connection with the homevid release of THE WALKING DEAD’s third season on Blu-ray and DVD, Roberts sat down with us to talk about his work on the series. The !!!SPOILER-FILLED!!! discussion brings us some insight into Milton’s tortured existence, as well as giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the production of the show. Click on the player to hear the interview.
An extended “Unrated Edition” and a single bonus feature (30 minutes of “Recovered Files”) do little to enhance a sequel that seems to have given up the ghost.
When PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 appeared in theatres last year, it suggested that the franchise’s modus operandi had shifted from formula to template: whereas a formula allows for varying the ingredients, a template completely pre-defines the form and structure, allowing only for minor variations in the text being slotted in. The spooks were back, with new victims reprising the basic story line of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2; despite further hints of a cult worshiping the demon responsible for the hauntings depicted in the films, little new emerged, leaving less-forgiving viewers frustrated. The release of an unrated, extended edition of the film – first on VOD, then two weeks later on DVD and Blu-ray – conjured a glimmer of hope that additional scenes might fill out the story and bring PARANORMAL ACTIVITY a step closer to standing on its own rather than merely reprising the same old routines. Alas, that hope was exorcised by the simple expedient of watching the longer version.
Although the Blu-ray disc promises over 30 additional minutes, only nine of those minutes found their way into the unrated edition; the remaining footage is included as the disc’s only bonus feature, under the title “The Recovered Files.” The relative significance – or lack thereof – in the restored material will leave you wondering why certain scenes were deemed worthy of being included in the new cut while others were dumped into the bonus feature. None of these scenes enhance the film much, but the cumulative impact provides a hint into the filmmakers’ method, which apparently consisted of shooting endless variation on the same theme, then whittling it all down in the editing room.
The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 Blu-ray disc offers English, French Spanish, and Portuguese language tracks in 5.1 surround sound. The English track is DTS; the others are Dolby. There is also an English Description audio track for those who are visually impaired.
There are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The film is broken up into 15 chapter stops; however, there is no way to access them from the main menu, which offers you options to play either the theatrical cut of the extended version; selecting either options starts the movie, without offering you a scene selection.
The only bonus feature is Recovered Files.
UNRATED EXTENDED EDITION
Clocking in at 1:37, the extended cut of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 runs approximately nine minutes longer than the theatrical version’s 88 minutes. The actual amount of restored footage probably comes closer to ten minutes; the nine-minute difference in running time is partly due to the deletion of the confusing post-credits teaser that appeared in theatres (a lead-in to a planned spin-off series, to be set in the Latino community).
The unrated version begin interestingly, with a a few brief scenes related to Halloween: Alex taking Wyatt trick-or-treating; Alex’s mother decorating cookies; Ben dressed in cowboy costume and sitting on alone in the living room, talking to Alex’s cat; Alex in her flimsy fairy costume (Dad jokes about where the rest of the costume is); and Alex and Ben out together at night, catching a glimpse of Alex’s spooky new neighbor Robbie, who will be the cause of so much trouble later. The sequence adds little to the story, but it establishes a mood of fun and safe scares that will gradually be usurped by the horrors that follow.
After the exterior scene in the park (minus the title card noting the date and location: Henderson, Nevada; November 11, 2011), with which the theatrical version opened, there is an unnecessary bit with a character named Jake showing his “palate expander” (a dental device) to Alex and Ben. The scene seems to be establishing Jake as a friend who will share the adventures to follow, but we never see him again (unless you catch a glimpse of him in the background of the sleepover party that takes place later).
The remaining additions are as follows:
- Alex’s brother Wyatt and the spooky neighbor kid Robbie watch a brief online video that scares Wyatt but not Robbie (who obviously has a higher tolerance for horror).
- Alex wanders around the house, glimpses Robbie (who mysteriously disappears), then suffers a false scare when a door suddenly opens, revealing Mom.
- A bit of Wyatt wandering from his bed in the middle of the night is intercut with Alex awakening as if sensing something is wrong. Alex goes downstairs to the living room, where a book mysteriously falls off a shelf twice, and she puts it back (foreshadowing a similar event that will befall her mother later in the picture).
The new scenes provide a few more moments of the patented PARANORMAL ACTIVITY spookiness, but none of them add much of anything that was not already in the film. The inclusion of the book-falling scene is redundant, since almost the exact same action is repeated later in the film.
THE RECOVERED FILES
The confusion does not end there, however. Moving onto “The Recovered Files,” we see scenes that connect to the restored footage or attempt to fill some of the plot holes in the theatrical version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4. Why were these scenes left out? Many of them are redundant, but no more so than those that were restored. Though most of the lost files simply offer more of the same, one or two of the scens might actually have improved the film, if only slightly.
- The first recovered file is fairly typical of what will follow: an additional comic interaction between Alex and Ben, punctuated by a small scare; in this case, they hear a sound in the backyard.
- When the motion-sensitive lights go on outside, Alex sees Robbie creeping around her driveway.
- Alex does her geometry homework. Her door mysteriously closes behind her.
- Alex, Ben, and their friends play a length game of hide-and-seek inside the house while Alex’s parents are away. Predictably, the scene is loaded with fake scares of the spring-loaded-cat variety; it ends with the friends finding the front door open while the chandelier swings overhead. Jake, the character introduced and then forgotten in the Extended Edition of the film, is featured prominently here.
- Ben films Alex playing guitar while an electric fan blows her air, creating a music video effect.
- An additional video chat with Alex; after a fade out and fade in, we see Robbie enter (as seen in the film)
- Ben films Wyatt and Robbie playing in the sand.
- While Alex sleeps, the bedroom door opens, revealing Robbie’s silhouette.
- Alex shows the surveillance videos to her mother and asks when Robbie will be leaving.
- After the chandelier crash seen in the film, Alex argues with her parents, insisting that something strange is going on.
- At night, a toy falls on Wyatt’s bed.
- Ben plays Foosballwith Robbie and Wyatt.
- In a brief comic scene, the kids play on a slip-in-slide.
- Dad comes down stairs to sleep on the couch. A shadow appears, which turns out to be the malevolent Katie.
- Mom gives sedatives to Alex, to calm down her fears.
- Mom and Dad argue about Alex’s fears. Dad almost seems to believe them, or at least think they should not be dismissed.
- At breakfast, Wyatt calls himself Hunter (indicating his falling under Robbie’s influence). Mom and Dad shut him up.
- Mom and Dad talk about Alex again. Dad does not believe his daughter is crazy.
The two most significant scenes are the ones in which Alex’s mother and father discuss their daughter’s growing fears about Robbie and possible supernatural phenomena. One of the major flaws with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 is that the parents seem absolutely clueless, despite the video evidence that Ben and Alex are gathering. In these two scenes, we see that Alex’s parents are not completely oblivious to the situation; including them would have filled one small plot hole. (Of course, the parents still don’t actually do anything about Alex’s concerns, so including these scenes would only half-fix the problem.)
The Blu-ray disc of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 presents the film with good image and sound, along with additional footage that could please fans who want more than what they got in theatres. However, none of the additional scenes do much to improve a sequel that merely resurrects the same old ghosts.
Note: The unrated version of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (minus “The Recovered Files”) is also available on DVD and on Instant Video. You can purchase the disc here or watch the film instantly here.
It was only yesterday that I was waxing enthusiastic about the restored conclusion of HORROR OF DRACULA, available on a Region 2 Blu-ray disc that incorporates previously missing footage rediscovered on an old Japanese print in an archival vault in Tokyo. Now, I am starting to have reservations, thanks to a YouTube post showing the last reel of the film as it appears in the Japanese print – revealing that the Blu-ray restoration is not complete. One or two of the effects shots seems slightly longer, but that is not the tragic omission. That would be the alternate take of Christopher Lee (as the Count) with tears of defeat welling in his eyes as Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) forces him inexorably into the sunlight that will disintegrate him.
Why was this shot omitted? I cannot say. It was certainly well known that the restoration would not use the complete reels from the Japanese print, which was heavily damaged (as you can see from the video). Instead, the restoration used a previously available print and inserted only a few seconds of missing footage from the Japanese version, the image of which had to be carefully tweaked. This led to timing issues: the sequence had to remain the exact same length so that the picture would stay in synch with the musical cue on the soundtrack.
Still, this hardly explains the omission. The sequence of cuts remains the same; there is a reaction shot of Lee in the place where the missing footage could have been inserted as a replacement. Something similar happened with Cushing: one of his reaction shots from the censored version (which, strangely, was a repeat of a shot seen a few seconds before) was replaced with a restored reaction shot that better displayed Van Helsing’s revulsion at the sight of Dracula’s destruction. Why a similar service was not performed to restore Lee’s performance is a mystery.
And a sad one, too. Lee has always been vocal about trying to retain a faithful concept of the character as written by Bram Stoker in his 1897 novel, which ends with Dracula displaying an expression of peace on his face just before his body dissolves into dust. The condensed story-telling of HORROR OF DRACULA allows little leeway for subtle characterization, but in this one shot we see Lee inject a startling moment of humanity into the Count. The grizzly special effects lose their “ain’t-it-cool” visual abstraction as Lee turns the scene into a credible depiction of a sentient being’s horrifying death.
And it hurts! Not just Dracula – it hurts the viewer as well. For a brief moment, Lee (an actor too often dismissed one-dimensional) engenders a little sympathy for the devil.
Update: The YouTube video referenced in this article appears to have been deleted, presumably for copyright reasons.
At last, fright fans – here it: the restored ending of HORROR OF DRACULA! The sequence was eviscerated by the British film censor back in 1958, when the film came out, but the recent Region 2 Blu-ray disc has finally restored the missing footage. No word yet on when a Region 1 Blu-ray will come out in America (hey, Warner Brothers – get on the ball!), but you can see the scene courtesy of this YouTube post.
The footage looks a bit blue-ish (a complaint among some who have seen the disc) and also a bit dark (which I assume is a matter of YouTube compression and/or whatever process was used to rip the footage from the Blu-ray disc). I’m sure the photography will look much better when (if?) WB gets around to release a disc for U.S. consumption.
Tim Lucas discusses the Region 2 Blu-ray disc in the CFQ Laserblast podcast here. You can read about the history of the censored footage and its rediscovery here. And check out a sequence of frame grabs here.
Cinefantastique’s Laserblast Podcast returns with a very special episode, featuring guest Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog, along with regulars Lawrence French, Dan Persons, and Steve Biodrowski. The podcast of horror, fantasy, and science fiction on home video unearths a crypt-full of recent releases: the new horror thriller COME OUT AND PLAY, in limited theatrical engagements and simultaneously available via Video on Demand; HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), now out in a restored Blu-ray disc from Britain, containing footage not seen in decades; THE FURY (1978) and CHRISTINE (1983), on limited edition Blu-ray discs from Twilight Time; and CHERRY TREE LANE and TOYS IN THE ATTIC, the latter a piece of feature-length stop-motion from the Czech Republic.
It’s our first Spielberg veteran here at CFQi, and a good one, too. Dee Wallace probably reached her greatest audience as the progressive but put-upon suburban mom of E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, but she had previously developed her genre chops in two landmark horror titles: Wes Craven’s THE HILLS HAVE EYES and Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING, and most recently took her career in a darkly satirical direction with her work in the Asylum’s gory, fractured fairy tale, HANSEL AND GRETEL. Our conversation with Dee was frank and incisive, taking in a discussion of Spielberg’s personal investment in his films, the emotional complications of doing explicit sex scenes, and what it’s like breaking into the business on a low-budget horror film. Click on the player to hear the show.
It’s amazing some researchers haven’t figured out a way of determining personalities based on what aspect of Frank Oz’s career one is impressed with. Of course there’s Yoda — Frank voiced the beloved, and powerful, Jedi master, operated the puppet for most of the STAR WARS films, and for many helped form the heart and soul of the franchise. For me, it’s both the time he spent with Jim Henson — developing characters such as Miss Piggy and Grover and innovating puppetry in that surprisingly visionary company — and his work in the director’s chair for LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, taking the musical stage adaptation of the Roger Corman’s dark comedy and creating a rich and wondrous, albeit murderous, film world. I was able to talk with Oz on the occasion of the Blu-ray release of the film, which restores the original, apocalyptic Don’t Feed the Plants finale that was cut from the theatrical release. We also got to talk Muppets, STAR WARS, and the mysterious allure of sequel rumors. Click on the player to hear the show.