The Hammer Films Facebook page made an announcement this morning that should excite fans of of the studios’ classic Gothic horror films: the restored version of HORROR OF DRACULA (known simply as DRACULA in its native England) has been scheduled for U.K. release on March 13, 2013. The restoration includes snippets of footage that were removed by censors when the film was originally released, way back in 1958 – in particular, a shot from the climactic disintegration scene, long known to fans only through a publicity still.
The full story behind the restoration is much longer than the actual footage, which lasts only a few seconds. When HORROR OF DRACULA came out, film censorship was prevalent around the globe, particularly in England, where films had to submitted before being approved for release. Hammer Films was pushing the envelope with their new color horror films, first CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1957, then HORROR OF DRACULA a year later. The company typically submitted scripts for prior approval but then would test the limits, shooting unapproved shots in the hope that the censorship board could be persuaded to change its mind.
This occasionally resulted in footage being shot that was scrapped for U.K. release, although it might sometimes survive in prints intended for export. This is what happened in the case of HORROR OF DRACULA: a complete print was sent to Japan, containing footage never seen in English-speaking countries (or most of the rest of the world). However, publicity stills of the missing footage were available, making appearances in fan magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland.
However, these stills did not necessarily prove the existence of a complete version of the film, nor even that the footage in question had actually been shot; there was always the chance that these were posed publicity stills or images of scenes that had been tested or shot and deleted by the filmmakers without interference from the censor. This seems to be the case regarding another “missing scene” from HORROR OF DRACULA, the decomposed body of Jonathan Harker after being staked by Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). The problem here is that, in the film’s storyline, Harker has only very recently become a vampire, so that advanced state of decay seems inappropriate. The shot never made it into the final cut.
Whether any additional footage did indeed make it into a surviving print of HORROR OF DRACULA was long a subject of debate among fans and scholars. The issue was not much helped by Hammer Films themselves, which drummed up publicity by suggesting that they frequently shot multiple versions of their horror films: a tame one for the U.K., a slightly stronger one for Europe and possibly the U.S., and a really bloody one for Asian territories. In reality, alternate footage was shot in only a few cases for so-called “Continental” versions; most often, alternate version were the de facto result of the different censorship standards in territories around the world.
Was Dracula’s disintegration another piece of ephemera – simply a publicity still or an abandoned makeup test? Film editor and former Cinefantastique writer Ted Newsom pursued the missing footage like Van Helsing tracking down the Count’s hidden coffins, finding compelling evidence that the footage did exist, even while being ultimately unable to lay his hands on it:
“I’ve never seen the destruction scene in the climax, but it did clearly exist. Over on Latarnia, on the Hammer thread, I posted a frame blow-up of the scene, showing the same make-up from the standard 8×10 still, but from a camera angle which matches the rest of the shots [in the film]. It was published in some Japanese magazine in the ’90s, reprinted in a Hammer book in 1995 or 96. Seeing the proof of the existence of the scene in the Asian version sent me off on a 2 year back and forth thing with the Tokyo Archive. On the verge of getting the material telecine’d for posterity, they hired a new archivist, who went back to the party line and said ‘We don;t have it.’ It was bullshit, but I’d had enough.”
My wife and I live permanently in Japan and, following a year long process of painstaking negotiation, we were actually able to view the final two reels of the sole remaining Japanese copy of DRACULA at the Japanese National Film Center on March the 9th – only two days before the earthquake that destroyed most of the North East coast of Japan.
In a nutshell, the long debated extra footage DOES exist – including the extended disintegration scene at the film’s climax – and I am liasing with Hammer about how to proceed at the moment.
Posting under the pseudonym Richard LeStrange, Rowson gave a fuller account of the discovery process on a thread in the Classic Horror Film Board, in which he noted that any attempt to use the Japanese print as a basis for a restoration project would have to take a back seat in the wake of the devastating earthquake that rocked Japan shortly after his discovery. He also provided more details regarding what he had seen while watching the final two reels of the Japanese print:
Not only is the much-debated complete facial disintegration – where Dracula claws at his face with his left hand, pulling away lumps of facial skin – present (complete with extra groaning from him and extra grimacing by Van Helsing) but Dracula’s attack on Mina – while Van Helsing and Holmwood stand guard outside – is also longer and more explicit than any other extant version. When Dracula enters the bedroom we see an additional close-up of Mina where she appears to be mouthing something to Dracula (I couldn’t hear exactly what on the small monitor) and, after he virtually kisses her full on the lips, the scene ends on a completely new, open-mouthed/ bared fang shot as he closes in on the left side of Mina’s neck before cutting to the screeching owl.
From there, Rowson goes on to speculate that even more missing footage may be available in some of the other surviving reels,* including a scene of Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) throwing up while seeing his sister staked by Van Helsing. However, this scene appears not to have survived (we have only the actor’s account to suggest that it ever existed).
Since Hammer Films was still the official copyright holder, Rowson got the company interested in his discovery, which was acknowledged on the official website back in September, in an article penned by Marcus Hearn (author of several fine books on the Hammer horror legacy). Eventually, a restoration was completed, and a world premiere took place earlier this year at the Vault Cinema underneath London’s Waterloo Station. Not all of the footage described by Rowson made it into the final cut; only two additions were described by one fan lucky enough to see the result:
- When Dracula attacks Mina Holmwood, there is an alternate take of the vampire nuzzling her face and kissing her lip. This is not the shot of Dracula exposing his fangs that Rowson had described, and there is no extra close-up of Mina at the beginning of the scene mouthing something to the Count.
- When Van Helsing forces Dracula into the sunlight, you now see the shot of actor Christopher Lee in disintegration makeup, his face peeling away. (The censored version showed only shots of a prop skull with glass eyes, covered in dust to represent flesh that had dried and flaked away.)
No official reason has been given for the discrepancy between Rowson’s description and the restoration that eventually emerged, although Rowson has since noted that he was mistaken about the shot of Mina mouthing something to Dracula. Presumably, the footage from the Japanese print of Dracula baring his fangs was too far deteriorated to be restored. Also, it appears that the restored footage was substituted, rather than added, in order to maintain the running time and synchronization with the existing English-language soundtrack; in other words, for every new frame that was included, an old frame had to be deleted. Holding on the shot of Dracula nuzzling Mina until he bared his fangs might have over-extended the shot and required the deletion of the subsequent shot, a screeching owl, which has already been shorted in the current restoration. Advance word is that the U.K. Blu-ray release will include the final four surviving reels of the Japanese print of HORROR OF DRACULA, so that fans may compare and contrast with the restoration.
In any case, the essential bit is the famous disintegration scene, which always felt a bet truncated in existing prints. The transition – from Dracula screaming in pain while being pushed in the sunlight, to a reaction shot of Van Helsing, to the lifeless skull covered in dust – clearly omitted a transitional state of some sort, which has now been reinstated. Hopefully, this addition enhances one of the great moments in the history of horror films. As nice as it would be to have a fully restored HORROR OF DRACULA, this one moment makes the current restoration worthwhile.
No word yet on when or whether this version may be available on U.S. shores. Warner Bothers, which holds U.S. home video rights for the title, had only this to say when informed of the discovery of the missing footage over a year ago:
“There have been plans for some time to revisit the key Hammer titles for Blu-ray, especially DRACULA. It is likely our archivists will be investigating the issue of extended scenes for that purpose.”
HORROR OF DRACULA remains one of the high-water marks in the horror genre. It deserves at least a restored Blu-ray release in America – or, better year, an art house re-release. Time to get on the case, WB.
- Unfortunately, reels 1-5 of the Japanese print were damaged beyond repair.
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