Fans of Ingrid Pitt's Hammer horror film debut have been waiting a long time for the uncut version, after a history of theatrical edits and fumbled video releases.
MGM's transfer is very nice, showing some slight artifacting when mist swirls in low-light shots, but overall maintaining a nice color spectrum for the brightly-lit interior sets, and creepy nighttime scenes. Harry Robinson's evocative score comes through without distortion in the original mono mix, and the dialogue, screams and sound effects are quite sharp.
Though no one in the commentary track really addresses the edits made by the Brits and American International Pictures (the latter actually producing the film when Hammer scaled back in-house production and sub-contracted work), the track reflects the same structure as Countess Dracula , with Hammer scholar Jonathan Southcott moderating a discussion with director Roy Ward Baker, actress Ingrid Pitt, and writer Tudor Gates.
Bosoms are another group of distinguished characters in this once-daring film, mixing full-frontal nudity with erotic fang-biting – a natural way for vampires to behave themselves in the tightwaddish Victorian era. Pitt addresses her onscreen nudity, and while a major draw for the film's loyal fans, it's the characters and intense relationship Mircalla Karnstein develops with her last victim (spindle-thin Madeline Smith) that stands out; the seduction scenes are photographed with taste, and are quite integral to the story. Director Baker, one of England's esteemed genre directors who managed a steady career during Europe's production crash a few years later, really plays up the vampire atmosphere, beautifully building mystique for the film's prologue, and constructing the nighttime seductions with nods to the classics of the silent era.
The best bits in the largely consistent commentary track concern actor Peter Cushing's life after his wife's passing (following the film's completion); touching portraits of the man, his firm marriage, and the bouts of sadness that dominated the actor's final years. Writer Gates also describes the short story “Carmilla,” by Irishman Sheridan le Fanu, and the lesbian subtext exploited by the filmmakers under the freedom that existed during the more permissible Seventies; and a few details regarding the two sequels (“Lust for a Vampire” and “Twins of Evil”). Director Baker and Gates also describe a lost mime scene that was deleted before the film's release by a studio executive.
Among additional extras, Ingrid Pitt reads excerpts from Le Fanu's story, while 77 stills flow by, showing production and really funny publicity stills of actresses posing, mugging, and standing as a team of vampires in translucent nighties. An anamorphic trailer offers an alluring montage of shocks, and no doubt helped draw in audiences for what became Hammer's most successful film of the decade, raking in over $1 million.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan