Monday, June 22, 2015

Review - The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Hammer Films were the staple for so many nightmares ... and yet the Horror films they made were supplemented with other films ranging from comedies (On the Buses anyone?) to psychological thrillers and dramas. They also dabbled in Sherlock Holmes, and their presentation of the classic tale The Hound of the Baskervilles has to be one of the best and most memorable.

Now Arrow have pulled the films from the vault, cleaned them up, and given them a smart new release on Blu-Ray, along with their usual panoply of extras.

The first thing to say, though, is that the film seems a little dark and murky. Certainly not as clean and sharp as I might have expected. I hope this isn't a fault or something.

But overall the film is more horror than some of Hammer's horror fare. The opening sequences make great use of Hammer's staple of historically-based tales, with a group of louche gentlemen, led by Sir Hugo Baskerville, tormenting a peasant - in this case, they throw him through a window into a moat/lake, half drown him, and then drag him back and kill him by roasting him on an open fire! Then a girl - of course it's all about a girl - escapes into the night and onto the moors, chased by the crazed Sir Hugo, who is then set upon and savaged by some monster ... a perfect opening ...

But it's in the casting of Peter Cushing as Holmes, against Andre Morell as Watson, and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville in the 'present day' where the film succeeds. All three are perfect in their roles, and so, so watchable as they play out the tried and trusted plot. The Whodunnit is well established ... is it the faithful Baskerville retainers, the Barrymores (another piece of great casting with John LeMesurier as the Butler), or perhaps the Staplefords (and here is the film's only mis-step in casting Marla Landi as Cecile Stapleford, as she has a very obvious European accent. Why would Stapleford's daughter have such an accent? There's no reason and no explanation.). What has the escaped prisoner on the moors have to do with it? And why is Holmes absent for the first half?

Of course all the answers come, and it's a genuine pleasure to see the cast perform the material. It's a great film, which hasn't really dated at all, and which has all the hallmarks of Hammer. Possibly the greatest Horror film they never made!

As mentioned, there are a host of extras on the disk:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) feature presentation
  • Original uncompressed Mono 1.0 Audio
  • Isolated Music and Effects Soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • New audio commentary with Hammer experts Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby
  • Release the Hound! – a brand new documentary looking at the genesis and making of the Hammer classic, featuring interviews with hound mask creator Margaret Robinson, film historian Kim Newman, actor/documentarian and co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock Mark Gatiss, and others
  • AndrĂ© Morell: Best of British – a featurette looking at the late great actor AndrĂ© Morell and his work with Hammer
  • The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes – a 1986 documentary looking at the many incarnations of Conan Doyle’s celebrated character, narrated and presented by Christopher Lee
  • Actor’s Notebook: Christopher Lee – an archive interview in which the actor looks back on his role as Sir Henry Baskerville
  • The Hounds of the Baskervilles excerpts read by Christopher Lee
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Extensive Image Gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert J.E. Simpson, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

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