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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD Review: Icons of Horror: Hammer Films



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#1 of 2 Todd Erwin

Todd Erwin

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Posted October 19 2008 - 07:06 AM

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Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)



US DVD Release Date: October 14, 2008


Hammer Films had a reputation of producing films, mostly in the horror genre, with exceptional set design. I remember seeing many of these films on Saturday afternoons on the local UHF station in Philadelphia, along with many other horror films from the American International and Universal catalogs. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has now released four of the Hammer Films from their catalog on a new 2-disc set, complete and uncensored. Disc One contains The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, while Disc Two includes The Gorgon and Scream of Fear. Each film has been reviewed individually below.


Movie: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
Year: 1960
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 88 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic


Movie: 3 out of 5
Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” has been made into countless films over the years. Paul Massie stars as the title characters in this Hammer Films adaptation, which takes a slightly different approach to the portrayal of the scientist and his alter-ego. Jekyll is a hermit, locked in his laboratory conducting experiments on animals and eventually himself to find the hidden, dark side of humanity. Massie’s Dr. Jekyll is sickly in appearance, with deep, sunken eyes, pale skin, and overgrown facial hair. Hyde, on the other hand, is a handsome and charming younger man, with a deeply depraved inner core. Dawn Adams plays Jekyll’s wife, who, out of desperation and loneliness, has an affair with her husband’s friend, Paul Allen (played by Hammer mainstay Christopher Lee). The snake dance sequence that appears about half-way through obviously inspired Robert Rodriguez, as it reminded me of Salma Hayek’s snake dance scene in From Dusk Till Dawn.

Video: 4 out of 5
This is a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer, with the rich colors and detail you expect from Hammer. The film has probably never looked this good.

Audio: 3 out of 5
There is not a great deal to expect in a soundtrack that is nearly 50 years old, but the Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack has good fidelity, and again, probably sounds better than it ever has.

Special Features: 1 out of 5
The film’s original trailer has been included as the only supplement, and has been beautifully restored to almost the same quality as the feature.


Movie: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb
Year: 1964
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 81 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic


Movie: 2 out of 5
Perhaps the weakest of the four films included in this set, Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is a sequel to Hammer Films’ The Mummy from 1959. Archeologists Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwillim) and John Bray (Ronald Howard) uncover the tomb of Ra-Antef, and American financier Fred Clark (Alexander King) decides to put the artifacts and mummy of the Egyptian prince on display in England as part of a carnival-like show, including a very theatrical opening of the sarcophagus. While en route to England, Bray and his fiancée, Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland), meet and befriend Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan), who invites the couple to stay at his estate in England. As opening night approaches, the mummy disappears and goes on a killing spree, murdering those who desecrated his tomb.

There isn’t a whole lot of suspense in the film, and it seems to take forever for the mummy to awaken. For a Hammer Film, the movie is extremely tame in the sex and gore department, with the possible exception of a severed hand early on. However, as expected, the overall production design is gorgeous.

Video: 4 out of 5
Again, this is a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer, with the rich colors and detail you expect from Hammer, and the film has probably never looked this good.

Audio: 3 out of 5
There is not a great deal to expect in a soundtrack that is nearly 50 years old, but the Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack has good fidelity, and again, probably sounds better than it ever has.

Special Features: 1 out of 5
The film’s original trailer has been included as the only supplement, and has been beautifully restored to almost the same quality as the feature.


Movie: The Gorgon
Year: 1965
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 83 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic


Movie: 4 out of 5
The Gorgon is the real gem of this collection, and features two of Hammer Films’ biggest stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. At the turn of the 20th century, in Central Europe (I’m guessing Germany, based on the helmets) villagers are being turned to stone during the full moon. Peter Cushing plays the town’s doctor, who knows more than he’s letting on. Professor Jules Heitz (Michael Goodliffe), while slowly being turned to stone, sends a letter to his son, Paul (Richard Pasco), requesting he investigate. Paul arrives in town, followed by Professor Karl Meister (Lee, sporting a bushy caterpillar moustache), who discover that a woman in town has been possessed by Medusa.

This is a rather fun film, with fairly good make-up effects for the time (except for the Medusa head), and entertaining performances by Lee and Cushing.

Video: 4 out of 5
Again, this is a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer, with the rich colors and detail you expect from Hammer, and the film has probably never looked this good.

Audio: 3 out of 5
There is not a great deal to expect in a soundtrack that is nearly 50 years old, but the Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack has good fidelity, and again, probably sounds better than it ever has.

Special Features: 1 out of 5
The film’s original trailer has been included as the only supplement, and has been beautifully restored to almost the same quality as the feature.


Movie: Scream of Fear
Year: 1961
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 81 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic


Movie: 3.5 out of 5
For maximum thrill…we earnestly urge you to see this motion picture from the start!
More a psychological thriller than horror, Scream of Fear is not what you would expect from the Hammer Studios. Set in modern day (1960) France, Susan Strasberg plays Penny, a young, wheelchair-bound woman who returns to visit her estranged father, only to find that he has just left on a business trip. She is welcomed by her stepmother (Ann Todd), Bob the chauffer (Ronald Lewis), and the town doctor (Christopher Lee). When Penny begins to see what she believes is her father’s corpse in various locations around the estate, everyone believes she may be losing her mind. Scream of Fear is full of twists and turns, complete with a shocking finale.

Video: 4 out of 5
Photographed in gritty black and white by renowned cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, the film is full of shadows. The 1.66:1 anamorphic transfer is from a pristine print with deep blacks and good contrast.

Audio: 3 out of 5
There is not a great deal to expect in a soundtrack that is nearly 50 years old, but the Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack has good fidelity, and again, probably sounds better than it ever has.

Special Features: 1 out of 5
The film’s original trailer has been included as the only supplement, and has been beautifully restored to almost the same quality as the feature.

Overall: 3 out of 5 (not an average)
This set contains some entertaining films from the Hammer Films catalogue, but not necessarily the best, and today’s audiences may find these films to be a bit of a bore, especially those who consider films like Saw and Hostel to be horror classics. Sony has done a terrific job in remastering these titles on DVD, and for releasing this set on 2 DVD-9 (single-sided, dual-layer) discs, rather than a single DVD-18 (double-sided, dual-layer) as Universal has done with their Hammer set.


This DVD was reviewed on the following home theater gear:
Toshiba 56HM66 DLP HDTV
Sony Playstation 3
Yamaha HTR-5940 Home Theater Receiver (in 5.1 configuration)
Yamaha NS-AP2600 Home Cinema Speaker Package
Yamaha YST-SW010 subwoofer


#2 of 2 John Hodson

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Posted October 19 2008 - 08:51 AM

Sony has indeed done a first class job with these films and should be heartily applauded by all for their efforts. I sincerely hope there is more of the same on the way.
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