September 14, 2011
Marcus Hearn reports on a remarkable discovery by an enterprising Hammer fan.
In 2007 Hammer and the BFI collaborated on a restoration of Dracula that resulted in the creation of a new HD master of the classic film. The version that was restored was the American print, which is slightly longer than the British version, but the re-master has the original title card added to the beginning (the US version of the film carried the title Horror Of Dracula).
However, for many years historians have pointed to the fact that an even longer, more explicit, version of the film played in Japanese cinemas in 1958. Up until now, efforts to locate the mythical ‘Japanese version’ of Dracula have been fruitless, but it seems that writer and cartoonist Simon Rowson has succeeded where everyone else failed.
Simon, who lives in Tokyo with his Japanese wife, was prompted to begin investigating on behalf of the British Horror Forum in early 2010. “My friend and fellow Hammer fan Stuart Hall suggested I should look for the missing footage,” says Simon. “That's when my wife Michiko started to help me in trying to find the most likely depository for foreign film stock in Japan. We were pointed towards the archive of the National Film Center just outside Tokyo, and quickly established (thanks to Michiko’s excellent interpreting skills) that the Center’s print of Dracula was partially destroyed in a fire in 1984. The first five reels were gone, but reels 6, 7, 8 and 9 – the last 36 minutes of the film – survived.”
After a year of negotiation, and some good luck, Simon was finally able to view reels 8 and 9 on the 9th March. They revealed something remarkable. “I was able to positively identify two extended scenes,” he says. “The first is Dracula’s attack on Mina while Van Helsing and Holmwood are standing guard outside the latter’s home. Having now re-run this scene many times on my British DVD, I think that the most obvious difference is the last shot of Dracula pushing Mina back onto the bed just prior to the sudden cut to the screeching owl outside.
“On the normal UK/US print we just glimpse Dracula’s shoulder moving downwards before the cut, but on the Japanese print there is a shot from a completely different angle which clearly shows Christopher Lee’s mouth wide open and his fangs fully exposed as he moves forward to bite Melissa Stribling’s neck – then it cuts to the owl as usual.”
Even more exciting was Simon’s discovery of a complete version of the film’s iconic disintegration scene. “As many people have speculated in the past, there is indeed an additional few seconds where, after Dracula is forced back into the sunlight by Van Helsing and raises his left hand to protect his face, we see the real actor – not a dummy – claw at his forehead and drag his hand down to his chin, peeling away his burnt skin in the process. There is also extra audio of Dracula groaning during this scene and an extra reaction shot from Peter Cushing.”
Sadly, Simon’s discovery was followed by the terrible earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan just 48 hours later. The National Film Center was relatively unaffected, but the situation remained serious for many.
Hammer began a conversation with the National Film Center, and in due course the four reels were transferred to tape and sent to London.
On the 14th September, Hammer reviewed an HD telecine transfer of all four reels; both of the scenes to which Simon Rowson refers are indeed present. Hammer hope to make these resurrected scenes available as part of a future UK release of Dracula.
Postscript from Hammer:
Hammer would like to express its warmest thanks to Simon Rowson, Marcus Hearn, the National Film Center at The National Museum Of Modern Art, Tokyo, and IMAGICA Corp, Tokyo for their roles in recovering this footage.