The Hound of the Baskervilles Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Twilight Time
Directed by Terence Fisher
Written by Peter Bryan
1959, 87 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on June 14th, 2016
Limited to 3,000 copies.
Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes
Andre Morell as Dr. Watson
Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville
Marla Landi as Cecile
Francis de Wolff as Dr. Mortimer
Ewen Solon as Stapleton
David Oxley as Sir Hugo
Sherlock Holmes is back in one of my favorite stories by legendary author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). This dramatic tale focuses on the cursed lineage of the Baskerville family and the unflappable detective’s efforts to protect the final heir of the bloodline from a monstrous death. The story was previously adapted for film numerous times, including what many consider to be the definitive version, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), starring the great Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. Twenty years later, Hammer Films opted to try their hand at something outside their successful run of classic horror pictures and cast Peter Cushing and Andre Morell as Holmes and Watson respectively in the detective thriller. Following the success of titles like The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror of Dracula (1958), it made sense to bring in rising star Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville, considering Lee and Cushing had established a dynamic onscreen chemistry.
The screenplay written by Peter Bryan (Brides of Dracula) takes certain liberties with the material, with some of the horror elements punched up for the studio’s target audience, but the spirit of the piece remains intact so as not to turn away traditional Holmes loyalists. Director Terence Fisher (Dracula: Prince of Darkness) starts the picture with a violent prologue that sets up the family curse as we see Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley, Black Ice) torture villagers for his own amusement before receiving his just desserts. Jumping ahead several decades, we find Dr. Mortimer (Francis de Wolff, From Russia with Love) sharing the legend with Holmes and Watson, as it appears the curse has recently claimed another member of the Baskerville family and he is worried about the safety of his friend Sir Henry, the final heir in the bloodline. Intrigued enough to accept the case, Holmes sets out to debunk the myth and once again finds himself in the middle of a bizarre mystery, this time involving a vindictive Hound from Hell.
Peter Cushing (The Vampire Lovers) is commanding in the role of Holmes, with his steely gaze and pensive mannerisms. He has enough charisma to win audiences over, whether playing a hero or villain, and in this case he portrays a socially awkward man of superior intellect who maintains a dark sense of humor while interacting with others. Andre Morell (Plague of the Zombies) brings a sense of gravity to Dr. Watson, once dismissed as comic relief but here stepping into his own as an accomplished sleuth. Morell takes the lead for a while as protector of their client while Holmes is off pursuing other clues, and it is nice to see the character given some additional moments to shine on his own. Christopher Lee (Scream and Scream Again) is imposing as Sir Henry, but is immediately placed in a position of weakness with the arrival of a large spider, a nice switch for the usually intimidating actor. Cast against type, Lee is given the rare opportunity to play the romantic lead and enjoys a few tender moments with the beautiful Marla Landi (First Man into Space) as the not so innocent Cecile. Rounding out the central cast, Ewen Solon (Curse of the Werewolf) plays Stapleton, protective father of Cecile and neighbor to the Baskervilles.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is a fast-moving and enjoyable picture that holds up well and comes easily recommended to fans of Sherlock Holmes and Hammer Films alike. It is always a welcome experience to see Cushing and Lee share the screen and Terence Fisher proves yet again that he is a master at directing gothic tales. Basil Rathbone really does stand above most others in the role of the legendary detective, but Cushing makes it his own in this wonderful interpretation. Fans of the BBC’s contemporary Sherlock series will undoubtedly be familiar with Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal in the 2012 version of this classic story and likely agree he excels in bringing an enthusiasm and energy to the character that invigorates the tale for a whole new generation of viewers.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio and likely sourced from the same elements used for the recent Arrow Video UK release, the picture quality is quite impressive. There are some minor inconsistencies in colors and black levels and even a bit of print damage, but honestly I can’t seriously complain about this on a title over fifty years old. Yes, a full restoration is possible in the future, but until then this is likely the best the movie is going to look.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track is mostly satisfying and it delivers where necessary. The majority of the content is front and center, but the mix is surprisingly robust during the numerous night exterior scenes. Music and effects are well balanced with dialogue levels and do not cause any distortion. There are a few minor audio pops near the beginning of the film, but those subside pretty quickly.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
There are two commentary tracks on this disc featuring film historians; the first with David Del Valle and Steven Peros covers a lot of ground informing listeners of the efforts that went into bringing this movie together, while the second provides further insight from Lee Pfeiffer and Hank Reineke. Both tracks are informative, with the former edging out ahead in entertainment value, as the always-welcome Del Valle shares some fun anecdotes as only he can.
Margaret Robinson, the lady responsible for creating the mask for the titular creature, talks about her efforts in a delightful interview segment (15 minutes) that occasionally goes off topic, but is worth checking out.
The vintage Actor’s Notebook (13 minutes) allows Christopher Lee some time to discuss the lasting impact of Doyle’s popular character. This segment first appeared on the 2002 DVD release.
Christopher Lee returns to share his vocal talents with a reading of selections from the original novel, including the introduction of Holmes (15 minutes) and the tale’s epic finale (6 minutes).
The film score is presented in an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track for your listening pleasure.
The original theatrical trailer is included and shows just how far the studio went to attract horror audiences with this misleading campaign.
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