Released in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray, download and on-demand on April 25th by Second Sight.
“But without the imagination Watson, there would be no horror”.
Originally planned as a series of six made-for-TV films, US producer Sy Weintraub’s plan was scuppered after just two (THE SIGN OF FOUR being the other) were completed due to copyright wrangling with the Conan Doyle estate and Granada Television swooping in and making their own Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett as the famous detective.
Directed by Douglas (THEATRE OF BLOOD) Hickox, with a script penned by Charles (THE FLY, PSYCHO III) Edward Pogue, and lensed by veteran cinematographer Ronnie Taylor (whose incredible roster of jaw-droppingly diverse credits even include three Argento’s), clearly there is much to entice horror fans to revisit this re-working of the tale of the glowing beasty on the moors.
Ian Richardson’s interpretation of Holmes is a friendlier, better humoured reading of the Baker Street sleuth and one I immediately warmed to. His impish playfulness is encapsulated by his masquerade as a fortune-telling gypsy popping up unexpectedly with his pack of cards disguised as a cross between Ron Moody’s ‘Fagin’ from OLIVER! and Peter Cushing’s ‘Doctor Schreck’ from DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS.
Donald Churchill’s ‘Watson’ is less endearing however, coming across as an annoying, pompous, blustering windbag. Inevitably, Pogue’s screenplay plays fast and loose with some of the original story’s elements – but one reward of this is to introduce the character of ‘Geoffrey Lyons’. Inspired casting throws up Brian Blessed in the role, who SHOUTS a lot whilst chewing up the scenery, is mistakenly considered a prime-suspect due to his ‘black’ beard (which in reality is the brownest black beard I’ve ever seen and therefore surely a ‘red-herring’), and towers over the production like Robbie Coltrane’s ‘Hagrid’ in the HARRY POTTER franchise. Martin Shaw is completely miscast as American Sir Henry Baskerville (inevitably dubbed), perhaps the casting department miss-interpreted their instruction to get a professional?
The actual hound of the title is initially and very unpromisingly rendered with a brief daub of animation before a suitably mighty canine (enhanced with SCOOBY-DOO day glow) is enticed to attack later on. But a word of warning to any animal lovers – this production is ruthless in its depiction of dispatching creatures great and small. Whilst Sir Hugo Baskerville is molesting farm girl Francesca Gonshaw (Maria from ALLO ‘ALLO!) her stolen horse is torturously consumed by the quick-sand like bog that is Grimpen Mire. This triggered my traumatic flashbacks to Artax’s demise in the Swamp of Sadness from THE NEVERENDING STORY, and coupled with the brutal assault it’s intercut with, this sequence would surely have brought a barrage of ‘disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ complaints to ‘Points of View’ had it ever been shown on TV! And it doesn’t stop there. Dr Mortimer’s pooch gets chewed up more graphically than Amy Steel’s ‘Muffin’ in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, and director Hickox even throws in a close-up of rabbits being skinned and gutted and the carcass of a freshly consumed sheep – it’s a PETA video nasty I tell ya!
Production values are high for a TV film, and cinematographer Taylor even pulls off an Argento-like set-piece early on with a spiralling camera depicting Sir Charles’ death by fang juxtaposed with a steadicam chase as servants rush to his aid.
Unfortunately, I have to report that Taylor’s photography isn’t at all well served by the surprisingly ropey ‘HD’ transfer which is often so poor it’s easy to forget you’re actually watching a Blu-ray.
But this classic shaggy dog tale is reasonably well-told and provides an entertaining enough yarn to sink your teeth into, even if you are required to overly extend your imagination to evoke horror at, and from, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES.
Extras: Audio commentary by ‘Holmes’ expert David Stuart Davies.
***(out of 5*)
Originally published on the FRIGHTFEST website.