As you’re probably aware, Hammer didn’t just do horror. Even in the late ‘50s when Hammer Horror was a new and lucrative success for them, they were still looking elsewhere for source material. So when Kenneth Hyman got them the rights to Sherlock Holmes’ most famous adventure, they didn’t hesitate to give it the Hammer Horror treatment. What was that? Didn’t we just mean the “Hammer treatment”? Well no, not really. Hammer knew what they’d suddenly become quite good at so if the story featured a demonic hound then that was good enough for them. It was time to break open the Kensington Gore once more and re-use the set from Dracula (1958).
To be honest, we exaggerate a bit. A proper Hammer Horror deliberately attracted an X-certificate and wore it like a badge of honour. The Hound of the Baskervilles went for a more modest A-certificate but it was hardly family-friendly for the time. The BBFC must have been in fairly lenient mood that day. Nevertheless, they cast their two big horror stars in the lead roles: Peter Cushing as Holmes and Big Chris brilliantly subverting expectation as Sir Henry Baskerville himself. Lee had only recently become a star and was just known for monsters and villains. Here he’s cleverly set up as a rotter only to be revealed as a thoroughly decent chap and the romantic lead. There’s blood, sacrifices, mutilations and even that ever-present Hammer Horror trope: class warfare . Yes, really. Hammer knew what their target audience wanted. There’s also a tarantula and that hound. We’ll come to him in a moment.
You know the plot so we won’t go over it again - however, you’ll not be surprised to learn that Hammer took some liberties with the source material. But it’s still good solid stuff and Holmes-aficionado Cushing seems to be having a ball with his usual attention to detail. A fine Holmes and a role he’d reprise on the telly. André Morell’s Watson is also commendable for shedding the comedy traits Nigel Bruce had so firmly embedded in the public consciousness all those years earlier. But what makes this such a great Holmes-outing is the terrific atmosphere. It’s the first colour adventure for the detective and the lurid Hammer-look just really suits it. Baskerville Hall and the moors have never looked better and we’ve got to point out the Blu-ray transfer here. This reviewer hasn’t been entirely satisfied with the HD Hammer discs so far - the lighting and colours often just look “wrong” - but they seem to have finally nailed it with this one.
Any flaws? Well there isn’t really enough foggy London for Sherlock Holmes (wrong story we suppose) and then there’s the titular Hound. At the climax we get a docile looking dog in a mask. It’s rubbish. But at least it raises a smile and that’s what Hammer has come to be all about.
Special Features: Audio commentary / Three documentaries / Trailer / Booklet
INFO: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: TERENCE FISHER / SCREENPLAY: PETER BRYAN / STARRING: PETER CUSHING, CHRISTOPHER LEE, ANDRÉ MORELL, MARLA LANDI, EWEN SOLON, FRANCIS DE WOLFF, DAVID OXLEY / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW