Shortly after fans rabidly requested (via Facebook) they start releasing the Sony Hammer titles that they have the rights to on Blu-ray, Mill Creek Entertainment listened up and quickly announced these two double features. At this writing, both Blu-rays have already been geeked about all over the internet (reportedly, mostly unfavorable comments) so if you’re reading this you likely have gotten a hold of them. Mill Creek totally disregarded our requests for advance review copies so you have to question why they even hire a publicity person. You also have to wonder why they can’t hire someone who has a decent command of the English language, with the spines of these reading the titles “The Gorgan” and “Curese of the Mummy’s Tomb”. Yeah, ok. Well, at least they are inexpensive and do in fact look better than their DVD counterparts, especially in the case of the TWO FACES/GORGON set.
Having found a most prosperous niche in the realm of gothic horror, England's Hammer Films was quick to follow up 1957's CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN with a sequel. Originally titled "Blood of Frankenstein," shooting began shortly after the masterful HORROR OF DRACULA (with Bernard Robinson obviously re-dressing the sets from it) with Terence Fisher returning to direct and Jimmy Sangster again taking writing duties. Instead of bringing back the initial monster (the creation played by Christopher Lee was destroyed in CURSE), Peter Cushing would return as Baron Frankenstein, and with this outing, he would already make the part his very own.
THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN ingeniously picks up where the previous film ended, when Frankenstein had been escorted off to death by guillotine. Having cleverly escaped that fate, he takes residence in a new town, using the name Dr. Stein. He sets up an extensive practice, treating the poverty-ridden scoundrels that board at the clinic, as well as accepting incalls from wealthy socialites. Frankenstein has also secured a private lab where he plans to transplant the brain of the crippled dwarf Carl (Oscar Quitak) into a normal body that he has assembled bit by bit.
Although the local medical council is infuriated at "Dr. Stein" for remaining outside their circle and stealing all their patients, one young doctor, Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews, who the same year played a similar part opposite Karloff in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD) recognizes his true identity. He convinces Frankenstein to take him on as his assistant and they perform the transplant as planned. Carl now emerges as handsome (Michael Gwynn, SCARS OF DRACULA) and attracts the attention of a beautiful clinic worker (Eunice Gayson, DR. NO) but things go wrong as he is assaulted by a burly janitor (George Woodbridge, THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS) who mistakes him as a prowler. With a damaged brain, Carl begins to deteriorate into a repulsive monster, and worse yet, has become cannibalistic.
THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN is prime Hammer horror, stylishly directed by Fisher with striking camerawork and lighting effects by Jack Asher. Sangster's script adds new, inventive ideas and twists to the Frankenstein legend (his idea to include cannibalism was a result of what he himself found most horrific) and gives more dimension to the character. Cushing's portrayal of Frankenstein is here more confident, sharp-witted and refined than in the previous film. Forgetting the cold-blooded killer of CURSE, Frankenstein is now more resourceful about where gets his limbs and organs, and can even be kind and sympathetic. Cushing would brilliantly alter the character in later films depending on the situation of the script – from his chance humanity in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN to his irrational barbarity in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED.
On Blu-ray, THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a step up from the initial Columbia TriStar DVD, but not much. The film is presented in full 1080p in the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio, but the overall results are lackluster. The compositions look nicely composed, and although colors are passable, they're not as vibrant as those witnessed on most Technicolor 16mm and 35mm prints (or even the laserdisc release from the 1990s) and can look muted in more than a few instances. Textures often look flat and at times on the soft side (though a few scenes look stronger, showcasing the inconsistency of Sony’s HD transfer) with more than a few source blemishes about, and you often crave for the detail to be a lot stronger. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is very clean and free of any apparent drawbacks. No subtitles have been included (and there aren’t any for any of the four titles on either disc).
A follow-up to 1959’s THE MUMMY, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964) was directed by Michael Carreras, the future head of Hammer Films before his father Jimmy stepped down in 1971. Egyptologists Sir Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwillim, THE MONSTER SQUAD), John Bray (Ronald Howard, THE HUNTING PARTY) and his fiancée Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland) uncover the tomb of the mummy Ra-Antef (Dickie Owen, THE MUMMY'S SHROUD), a centuries-dead Egyptian prince. Despite warnings from the locals, including the mutilation and slaying of Annette’s father, the mummy and its priceless trinkets are removed, and American entrepreneur/showman Alexander King (Fred Clark, DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE) has them brought back to England to exhibit and take on tour, roadshow style. Charming his way into the Egyptologists’ lives is Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan, THE PENTHOUSE) who manages to steal the lovely Annette’s heart, but he conceals a dark secret as the living mummy goes on a rampage of murder and destruction.
THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB is the second of Hammer’s unrelated mummy series, with the only discernible link to the original being the presence of fez-wearing George Pastell as a similarly fanatical, yet less sinister protector of the mummy’s tomb. Michael Carreras was never lauded for his directorial skills (but hey, the guy did do THE LOST CONTINENT!) in the eyes of critics and fans, and this film is no exception, as it's often regarded as one of Hammer’s worst (Carreras also produced and even wrote the screenplay under the nom de plume “Henry Younger”, a spoof on Anthony Hinds’ pen name, John Elder). Shot in Scope utilizing some leftover sets (you’ll recognize the bricked sewers from 1962’s PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), the story is indeed conventional, but not as talky as its reputation might suggest, with the 81-minute running time moving forth in an acceptable manner. The decent mummy action is the obvious highlight here. Dickie Owen’s bandaged zombie is an imposing killing machine, and all the death scenes are memorable, and the film has a number of gory bits, namely in several bloody hand dismemberings. Comic actor Fred Clark gives a standout performance as Alexander King, echoing Robert Armstrong’s Carl Denham from KING KONG in many ways.
CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB looked excellent on DVD so there should be no doubt that the Blu-ray looks much better; well it’s an improvement, but not by much. The 1080p HD transfer is presented in the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks quite good, if not overly impressive. Detail is fine, but somewhat lacking in terms of where Blu-ray quality should be at. Colors are strong, even though they are not exactly eye-popping, and blacks are deep enough with skin tones being much improved over REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Audio is provided in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack which is perfectly acceptable. Like the DVD, this Blu-ray version of CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB has an extended end sequence not found in some prints of the film.
The second Blu-ray commences with THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960), directed by Terence Fisher. The dull, middle-aged, bearded Dr. Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) is performing experiments which reveal a hidden dark side in man. He first gives the altering drug to a caged monkey, and then to himself. He then transforms into the younger, more handsome yet sadistic Mr. Edward Hyde. Jekyll’s best friend Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), who is always soliciting money from him, and Jekyll's bored wife Kitty (Dawn Addams, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS) are having an affair, and Hyde easily fits into their sordid underground haunt, the Sphinx. Hyde befriends (and later double crosses) the equally mischievous Allen, and forces himself on Kitty, while engaging in a steamy fling with a snake-dancer (Norma Marla). The good Dr. Jekyll sets out to destroy the personality-changing chemical, and rid himself of Hyde, but his evil counterpart might be the more prevailing of the two.
Hammer’s attempt to modernize Robert Louis Stevenson’s story with an edgy Wolf Mankowitz screenplay, featuring a non-monstrous looking Hyde and a heightened sexual tone, resulted in a box office failure upon release. Its American distributor (AIP) had a difficult time marketing the film under the titles HOUSE OF FRIGHT and JEKYLL’S INFERNO, but it retained its original moniker when shown on TV. This might have been considered a disappointment in its day, but it holds up now as a lavish and interesting variation on a story which has been done to death, with the usual quality you could expect from director Fisher. Although Hammer originally wanted ROOM AT THE TOP star Laurence Harvey (he was too expensive) in the title role, Canadian-born Paul Massie does a decent job, especially with the more demanding Hyde, even if his character sometimes looks like an excitable version of 1980s pop star Robert Palmer. Massie also campaigned to play both Jekyll and Hyde, as producer Michael Carreras only wanted him as Hyde. Under Roy Ashton’s passable Jekyll make-up and a bass intonation, the actor does just fine. Great support is given by Lee and Addams, with Hammer character favorite Francis De Wolff showing up as a police inspector, and a pre-CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF Oliver Reed is seen briefly as a club bouncer.
The first Hammer pairing of Lee and Cushing since 1959’s THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, 1964’s THE GORGON was directed by Terence Fisher. In the village of Vandorf, a young artist’s girlfriend wanders into the woods, only to mysteriously turn to stone. The artist is found to have hanged himself the next day, but a court hearing declares him guilty of murdering the young woman. Trying to clear his son’s good name, Professor Heitz (Michael Goddliffe, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE) pays a visit, but he gets a gander of the hideous Gorgon, who dwells in and around the ruins of Castle Borski. Before his transformation to granite, Heitz is able to send off a letter to his other son Paul (Richard Pasco, SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST), who quickly arrives to Vabdorf. Paul also witnesses the Gorgon on reflection, but he survives and is put into the care of Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing) and his lovely assistant Carla (Barbara Shelley, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT). Namaroff is jealous of the bond between outsider Paul and the distraught Carla, and offers no help to Paul’s crusade to prove the creature’s existence. In comes Paul’s good friend Professor Meister (Christopher Lee) a strong-willed intellectual and the ally that Paul needs to uncover the Gorgon’s secret identity.
Mixing Greek mythology with familiar gothic trappings, THE GORGON is a true Hammer horror classic, even with its flaws, one which is a rather weak script by John Gilling. The cinematography by Michael Reed is outstanding, with a surreal, story-book appearance, and Bernard Robinson’s sets (reworked from other Hammer productions) are decadent and visually spectacular. Terence Fisher always had a skilled grasp for the gothic, and his direction here is nothing short of imaginative, with a pulsating score by James Bernard to back it up. Essentially, THE GORGON is a tragic love story/fairytale with Richard Pasco and Barbara Shelley being the key players, but it’s also a noteworthy Cushing/Lee entry. Though the two iconic stalwarts have very little screen time together, Cushing’s low key Dr. Namaroff is overshadowed by the scene-stealing Lee as Meister, heavily guised in a false moustache and fluffy hairpiece, and it’s nice to see him as the good guy (in this sort of film) for a change. Roy Ashton’s make-up (on Gorgon Prudence Hyman and her assorted stone-faced victims) is deliciously gaudy, even though the rubber snakes affixed to the Gorgon’s head have often been criticized since they look like they were bought at a Five & Dime. The film also features future “Dr. Who” and Hammer favorite Patrick Troughton (SCARS OF DRACULA) as an inspector, as well as character greats Alister Williamson (THE OBLONG BOX) and Jack Watson (TOWER OF EVIL).
The HD masters that Sony gave Mill Creek to work with for THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL and THE GORGON are far more impressive than what can be found on the REVENGE/CURSE disc. TWO FACES is probably the best looking of all four titles, presented here in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p, with brilliant colors and excellent detail. The vibrant picture quality, with its fine textures, deep black levels and good grain structure really hold up well to the standards of the Blu-ray format. Audio is provided in Dolby Digital 2.0, with clear dialogue and the score having good range. This is also the uncut 88-minute version with all the inoffensive swear words (“go to hell”) restored in the dialog. Presented in 1080p HD its a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, THE GORGON is another stunner, with absolutely gorgeous colors and very sharp detail. The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track is crisp and clean. Not only are their no subtitle options here (as there were on the original Sony DVD releases), but no trailers for any of the films, which is a shame. (George R. Reis)
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