Hammer Films and the Flicker Club held a world première beneath the streets of London today: a high-definition restored version of Terrence Fisher’s Dracula (1958) with unseen footage missing from both the Warner Brothers and BFI versions.
It was only fitting then that the Holy-Grail of UK horror was served up in the Old Vic Tunnels beneath London Waterloo station, a location previously used as a mausoleum.
This was my first experience of a Flicker Club screening and the choice of venue added admirably to the atmosphere. The screening room was snug with the focus of the audience’s worship a giant screen serving as a pulpit.
The Flicker Club’s approach was refreshing. The evening began with a wonderful intro by our host for the evening, Colin, who delivered a great performance recounting the history of the tunnels and the story behind the newly restored version. Again, this was a nice touch that helped set the mood for the evening.
The National Film Center in Japan had helped unearth three missing reels which were cut from the UK release for being too racy and intense [advance warning spoilers coming below]. The reels were restored from a state of water damage and other deterioration and were added to the main feature.
Nick from Hammer Films said that when the Blu-ray version of Hammer’s Dracula hits shelves the extras will feature the missing reels as added extras, even the ones that couldn’t be restored fully.
Horror expert Kim Newman was next on stage giving his view of the film. He hit the nail on the head when he said that modern interpretations of Dracula like Coppola’s hammered home the subtext of these characters at the expense of what makes coming to see the monsters so much fun.
After that, something quite special, actress Janina Faye who starred in the film gave a reading from Bram Stoker’s book to put us all in the mood.
With a combination of a cool location, an energetic host, a retrospective and a reading from a member of the cast, the audience was well and truly primed for the main event: the film itself. How did it fair? Simply gorgeous.
As with the Dracula Prince of Darkness Blu-ray I reviewed a few weeks back the colours positively popped off the screen, so much so that it looked 3D. The beautiful colour palette in Dracula can now be fully appreciated, lending as it does a majesty and richness to the film’s telling. Your eyes literally feast on every detail.
[Spoiler alert begins now]
The cut scenes themselves last briefly, but if you’ve seen the film several times, they’ll be easy to spot.
The first scene concerns an encounter between Dracula and Mina. The cut scene shows Dracula entering Mina’s bedroom and, where we would have normally cut to an owl hooting loudly, we stay inside the bedroom and watch Dracula nuzzling Mina passionately. While the erotic subtext was there in the film already, perhaps censors felt that making it explicit in a film which already contained its fair share of blood was pushing it too much.
The next restored scene occurs near the end as Cushing takes on Lee in the film’s finale. We all know that sunlight turns Dracula into fodder for the maid’s dustpan and brush, but in this extended demise scene we see Dracula clawing his on face, racking his crooked fingers from his eye sockets down to his mouth as he slowly disintegrates. Strong stuff given the time.
[End spoiler alert]
Once the film had ended, it was clear that this restored version is the one fans of Hammer needed to own in order to appreciate the larger than life aspects of the Dracula.
The session wrapped up with a QA wuth audience members for the Blu-ray extras section which was a nice acknowledgement to the fans for keeping the spirit of Hammer alive and lurking.
Kudos also has to go the folks at The Flicker Club, who served up the ultimate Dracula experience with all the added extras of the day and making this screening a fantastic fan day out.