Sunday, 21 June 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Hound Of The Baskervilles (Arrow Video)


An A certificate picture containing X certificate fare may be one way of describing Hammer's 1959 production of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most popular Sherlock Holmes stories.
While it's true that the film version makes several changes to plot and characters, it remains an important part of Hammer's filmography.
The prologue takes place in and around Baskerville Hall in the 1700s. Here, the evil Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley) is indulging in an evening of drink and debauchery with his hunting cronies. First, a man is held over an open fire and then thrown through a window, leading to the intended rape of a young woman who is pursued by Baskerville to the ruins of a local abbey. It's here that the crazed Sir Hugo stabs her to death, before a chilling howl fills the cold night air. Sir Hugo had become the first victim of a demon hound that casts a long shadow over future heads of the family.


Fast forward several centuries and Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead at the same place where his ancestor departed from this world.Ace sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Lee) is called upon by one Dr. Mortimer (Francis De Wolfe) to investigate the death of Sir Charles, whose relative Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) is on his way to Dartmoor to take up residency at the hall. Holmes despatches his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson (Andre Morell) to establish cause of death in this latest instalment of a truly appalling curse, and the amiable doctor finds himself knee-deep in supernatural legend and human collusion.
As Holmes is missing for a good chunk of this film, it's Andre Morell's Watson who really grabs the attention, dispelling any lingering thoughts of previous bumbling incarnations of this character, being more than capable of going it alone. He's supported by a fine cast too, including the Barrymore housekeepers (John Le Mesurier, Helen Goss); Marla Landi as Cecile who may well be the death of Sir Henry and the wonderful scene-stealing Miles Mallinson as Bishop Frankland. Of course, Sir Christopher Lee delivers a memorable performance and there's on moment where he exudes menace and authority reminiscent of Count Dracula himself.
The scenery, too, plays an important part in proceedings, with unforgiving terrain (watch out for the life-sucking Grimpen Mire), and the spooky abbey ruins that may have played host to unspeakable rites, all beautifully lit by DOP Jack Asher. While it's true that the appearance of the hound is a good deal less than chilling and certain changes to the source are questionable, the film as a whole works very well, driven by a rousing James Bernard score.
Full marks to director Terence Fisher whose eye for the macabre takes the story into wholly unsettling territory, where Holmes himself comments "there is more evil here than I have ever encountered".


Arrow's Blu-ray presentation will please fans of this film and newcomers alike, with vivid detail in both interior and exterior scenes and vibrant colours. The sound is the original uncompressed mono 1.0 audio.
Those same people should also be delighted with the supplementary material here.

'Release The Hound' (30m 20s) is a documentary containing interviews with Mark Gatiss, hound mask creator Margaret Robinson, Kim Newman - who looks at the domestic and international markets for Holmes films - assistant director Hugh Harlow and Peter Allchorne (chargehand props) who recalls Cushing's absolute professionalism. Robinson and Harlow both talk about the hound mask and a dog known as 'Colonel' and Harlow also mentions Fisher's thorough approach to preparing cast, crew and sets. Gatiss and Newman also chat about Cushing's performance.

'Andre Morell: The Best Of British' (19m 43s) is made up of interviews with Andre's son, Jason, Dennis Meikle (author of "A History Of Horrors") and David Miller (author of "The Complete Peter Cushing"). Jason talks about his father's early career and how it was cut in half by the war; why his time with Hammer came to an end and of his death which is extremely moving. Meikle and Miller talk about Hammer's interpretation of the story, and of the humour in the film, making for an absorbing 20 minutes worth.

Next up is "The Many Faces Of Sherlock Holmes"; a 46m 4s feature made in 1986, and narrated by Sir Christopher Lee who sadly passed away recently. This looks at the many incarnations of the master detective, beginning with a tour of Sherlock Holmes' London. The early days, featuring Charles Brookfield and William Gillette are covered, moving onto the first talking Holmes (Clive Brook) and the superb Basil Rathbone and Douglas Wilmer. Sir Christopher also talks about the only actor to play both Holmes and his brother Mycroft, and stageplays starring Leonard Nimoy and Charlton Heston. We even encounter a man who thought he was Holmes in the wonderful "They Might Be Giants". There are some great clips in this enjoyable feature, with plenty to add to your 'must see' list.

'Actors Notebook: Christopher Lee' is a 12m 59s interview recorded in 2002. Sir Christopher offers much praise for Terence Fisher ("a superb arranger"); explains why he preferred to be a stationary actor and how he was absolutely terrified of that spider. He also recounts the last time he saw his dear friend Peter Cushing.

'Hound Of The Baskervilles Excerpts' is 14m 36s of Sir Christopher reading extracts from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book. Those of you who have heard him read from the MR James stories will already know what a wonderful reading style he possessed.

The original theatrical trailer in monochrome (1m59s) is next, followed by a stills gallery which includes posters, colour and b/w stills and some excellent artwork.
There's also an audio commentary with Marcus Hearn (official Hammer historian) and fellow film historian and writer Jonathan Rigby. They begin by discussing the BBFC's decision to give the film an A certificate, and go on to inject fascinating information and astute observations. The differences between film and book are discussed; the detail in the performances; Jack Asher's lighting - at which point Ricardo Freda and Mario Bava are acknowledged - and why James Bernard was particularly upset with Hammer. The pair recall reviews for the film, and end a thoroughly enjoyable track by agreeing "The Hound Of The Baskervilles " is a flawed gem.

The extras are completed by an Arrow booklet featuring new writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert J.E. Simpson, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
This Blu-ray is locked to Region B and is available to buy now.


Sir Christopher Lee 27/5/22 - 7/6/15 RIP


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