The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) | Hammer’s Gothic horror adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic mystery is a flawed gem
Having already adapted Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley’s Gothic horrors Dracula and Frankenstein to the big screen – in blood-dripping colour and laced with a hint of sex, it seemed an obvious choice for Hammer Films to add Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most terrifying Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Hound of the Baskervilles, to their stable of English Gothic horrors.
TERROR STALKS THE MOORS
When Baker Street sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) hears the legend of a ghostly hound from hell that brings death to each generation of the Baskerville family, he agrees to protect the new heir, Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee). He instructs Dr Watson (André Morell) to head down to gloomy Baskerville Hall, where a series of strange events indicate that there is a plot to kill Sir Henry…
HORROR FILLS THE NIGHT
This handsome, colourful adaptation gave Peter Cushing one of his signature roles, that of the legendary Baker Street detective, which he went to great lengths to provide a truly authentic interpretation. And his Holmes certainly is as ‘new and exciting’ as the trailer proclaimed. But so is Andre Morell’s Dr Watson, who proves himself an intelligent and resourceful wingman to Cushing’s sleuth. Morrell also finally shakes off the ghost of Nigel Bruce’s bumbling fool that cinema audiences knew so well from the classic Universal movies two decades prior.
As the hell-spawned Hound’s intended victim, Christopher Lee – who escapes monster duties this time round – is perfectly cast as the stiff upper-lipped aristocrat, Sir Henry. But apart from showing off his smouldering good looks in an array of smart suits and smoking jackets, he gets to do very little. He does, however, get one memorable scene involving a tarantula. But that terrified expression you see on his face as the critter crawls over his shoulder is very real indeed – for Lee had a genuine fear of spiders. This particular scene also shows just how excellent the film looks on Blu-ray – the close-up on Lee’s sweaty face is so sharp, it feels like 3D.
When the film came out in the UK in May 1959, Hammer heavily promoted it as one of their English Gothic horrors, paying big emphasis on the hound from hell in its adverts. The look and style of the film is certainly quintessential Hammer, thanks to Terence Fisher’s suspenseful direction, Bernard Robinson’s evocative mist-shrouded sets, the rich colour photography, and James Bernard’s rousing music score (some of it nicked from Dracula).
But apart from lots of talk about ‘Evil lurking about’, there’s very little in the way of true horror (well it was an ‘A’ certificate), with the biggest disappointment being the titular hound: which just ends up being a big sloppy great dane (although two were actually used) wearing a mask of rubber and rabbit skin. The Hound of the Baskervilles was certainly not the ‘most-dripping tale ever written’, but it did make a profit at box office. But it wasn’t enough for Hammer to continue making anymore Holmes adventures. As Marcus Hearn says in the accompanying audio commentary, this is a ‘flawed gem’ from the legendary British studio.
THE ARROW BLU-RAY RELEASE
This Arrow Video Blu-ray presentation of the Hammer classic looks and sound terrific. The colours are superb, the print sharp and clean. The HD master was produced by MGM and is presented in its original aspect ratio with mono sound.
• Audio commentary with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby. Fans will enjoy this as there’s a host of anecdotes and trivia shared by the two leading Hammer experts. Recorded in April 2015.
• Release the Hound! – Making of documentary featuring interviews with Mark Gatiss (very entertaining) and hound mask creator Margaret Robinson, as well as some usual suspects like film historian Kim Newman and writer Denis Meikle. NEW
• André Morell: Best of British – a wonderful featurette looking at the late great actor André Morell, with a touching contribution from his son Jason Morell. NEW
• The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes –1986 documentary on the many incarnations of Conan Doyle’s sleuth, narrated and presented by Christopher Lee.
• Actor’s Notebook: Christopher Lee – Archive interview in which the actor looks back on his role as Sir Henry Baskerville.
• The Hounds of the Baskervilles – two excerpts read by Christopher Lee.
• Original US Theatrical Trailer. Black and white and unrestored.
• Image gallery
• Newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper.
• Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert JE Simpson.
Posted on June 2, 2015, in British Film, Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, Horror, Must See, Must-See and tagged 1950s Hammer, 50th anniversary blu-ray release, André Morell, Arrow Video, Christopher Lee, Hammer, Hammer horror, Peter Cushing, Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Terence Fisher, The Hound of The Baskervilles. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.