The Hound Of The Baskervilles

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing
Extras: Interview Featurette, Theatrical Trailer

"The Hound Of The Baskervilles" is without a doubt one of the best and most acclaimed Hammer horror films that was ever created and as such, fans of the film have been eagerly awaiting the DVD release of this 1959 Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing pair-off.

Based on a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" is one of the darkest Sherlock Holmes stories with plenty of horror elements, which his why it lent itself so well to become on of Hammer Studios’ movies. Director Terence Fisher is at the top of his skills in this film, creating an atmosphere of gothic horror that is as captivating, as it is thrilling. Featuring many of his trademark techniques – look out for those beautiful and carefully choreographed camera moves and the atmospheric lighting – the film oozes suspense from every frame. The acting is top notch and the Cushing/Lee duo once again show off their remarkable presence and chemistry on the screen.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick look at what’s going on in the Dartmoor. Sir Charles Baskerville has just been found dead on his property. He dies from a heart attack but his physician is convinced there is more to it. A curse has been placed upon the family, saying that they shall all be chased and killed by a ferocious beats in the moor, and Sir Charles appears to be the latest victim in a string of weird incidental deaths. The physician brings in master-detective Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and his assistant Dr. Watson (André Morrell) to break the curse and to protect Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee), the new owner of Baskerville Hall, and the last descendant of the family.

Rational as he is, Holmes doesn’t believe in curses and fiery beasts and feels there is more to the case than meets the eye. Will he be able to break the curse of the Baskervilles before the last member is killed by the Hound of the Baskervilles?

MGM Home Entertainment7 has created a new <$PS,widescreen> transfer for this DVD in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio that is beautiful to behold despite the fact that it is not <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. The image is rich in detail and hardly nay speckles or mars are evident in the print. Noise and grain is at a minimum, further enhancing the smooth, silken look of Fisher’s film. Slight edge-enhancement is evident in a few scenes and the contrast is a bit harsh, but this may as well be a result of the original film stock used. Colors are bold and rendered vividly, bringing out the best of the vibrant production design and the lush costumes – a trademark of the Hammer films. Black levels are very good and give the image plenty of visual depth without ever breaking up. The compression has been done very good and no compression artifacts are evident.

Sadly the audio side of the release does not fare as well as the superb video presentation. The mono audio tracks in English, French and Spanish all show significant deficiencies. The frequency response is very limited, giving the audio a harsh quality that can become quite distracting, especially during some of the crescendos. The tracks are also distorted and contain noticeable sibilance. It appears some noise reduction has been applied to the track to rid it of background noise and hiss, but sadly, as a result, dialogue often appears choppy and uneven when the noise gates open up too late or close to soon, removing the natural roll-off and ambiance of the lines. An audio restoration and remastering is certainly in order for this film.

The DVD also contains a very good extra, in the form of a new interview featurette with Christopher Lee. He talks about the movie in this segment, and his experience with the director and other actors as they made the film, also reminiscing quite emotionally over his long-time friend and collaborator, the late Peter Cushing. Do not miss this!
Also included is the film’s original theatrical trailer, which is surprisingly overt in giving away certain plot points, which may be a result of the fact that most viewers were certainly familiar with the story from the novels before actually watching the movie. Still, it is a spoiler-trailer – from 1959!

Being a budget production to begin with, you won’t be surprised to see many locations stand in once again from others of Fisher’s films, such as "Horror of Dracula," but at any time the movie belies its limitations. Interiors are gorgeously adored, exteriors are rich and convincing and the shots of the moor are as eerie as you’d expect them. "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" is a great move experience for fans of gothic horror and reminds me all the more, just how shallow and insignificant practically all of today’s horror films have become.

I loved every minute of this film and enjoyed MGM’s presentation of the movie on this DVD, although they should be ashamed for releasing such a gem with such poor audio, and my only hope is that some day they will revisit it with remastered audio and some full-blown special features. "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" would lend itself so perfectly to bring in film historians and classic horror experts to discuss and disseminate the material and Terence Fisher’s amazing mastery of the subject.