Monday, October 27, 2008


Written by El Fangorio

Following their Icons of Adventure box set released earlier in the year comes Sony’s Icons of Horror series, a quartet of genre films heralding from Britain’s legendary Hammer Studios. All of them are premiering on DVD for the first time, making it a special release indeed, as most haven’t been seen since the days (nights) of the late, late show. They all herald from the ‘60s with each title offering something unique, making it perfect for those nights when only a certain type of horror film will do. There’s three that star Christopher Lee, there’s two that involve monsters, there’s one that’s filmed in black and white, and there’s two that are shot in widescreen. Best of all, they all clock in at under 90 minutes.

Starting off on disc one is 1960’s The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, starring Paul Massie, Dawn Adams, and Christopher Lee. The good Dr. Jekyll, in his efforts to study the darker side of man, injects himself with a serum that causes his inner demons to manifest as his alter ego, Mr. Hyde. When Dr. J. finds out his wife is having an affair, it’s up to the good doctor to try and keep his senses lest his alter ego catches wind. This version isn’t too much different than others except that they chose to make Hyde less of a monster and more of a predatory ladies man, which is, let’s face it, not real scary. It doesn’t help that the make-up effects consist solely of facial hair for Jeckyll and smooth-shaven for Hyde, making it all the more unbelievable when nobody notices it’s the same person. It’s easily the weakest of the four titles at hand but is more than justified by it’s scrumptious color cinematography, shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and mercifully short running time.

Disc one continues with the series’ other widescreen outing, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Released in 1964 and directed by Hammer studio head Michael Carreras, Curse is the second of Hammer’s Mummy sequels and is known to many fans as not only the worst of the series but also the worst of the entire Hammer collection. The story is typical mummy fare with an undiscovered tomb being desecrated by scholars, resulting in an ancient curse and a resurrected wrapped one. With its history, I was expecting a lot worse but was pleasantly surprised to find the mummy sequences to be well-shot and exciting and at times, even a little gory.

Disc two opens up with one of the most anticipated Hammer releases, 1964’s The Gorgon. Playing a lot like their earlier The Reptile, The Gorgon opens up with the mysterious death of a local villager at the hands of an unseen creature. The townspeople prefer to turn a blind eye to the incidents, fearing local legends of a monster that can turn people to stone, leaving the mystery to be solved by the victim’s relative. From its decaying castles to misty forests, the look of The Gorgon is pure Hammer at its finest. Another outing directed by Terrence Fisher with an emphasis on style, this is a great example of how the studio was able to revamp early gothic horror via eye-popping color. The title creature, almost always in shadows, is one of the best and truly eerie.

Capping off the collection and, in my honest opinion, saving the best for last, is Scream of Fear. It tells the timeless tale of the already-fragile heiress (this time played by Susan Strasberg) who comes home from the asylum only to start seeing corpses (again). Is she relapsing? Or is this like every Jimmy Sangster script ever written? Needless to say, this had already been done several times by Hammer and Sangster, namely with Paranoiac and Nightmare, but who cares? This time it’s the best. Strasberg is a hell of a screamer and for good reason: those creepy-ass run-ins with her father’s corpse are some real shockers. Filmed in glorious high-contrast b&w, Scream of Fear is a textbook example of what the format was still capable of and thanks to Sangster’s script, the pace is never dull.

Sony does the Hammer fan proud by giving all of these transfers the high-definition treatment. They truly look spectacular with two of the titles, Mummy and Jekyll being their original versions, preserving some minor cussing and an extended ending for the latter. All transfers are anamorphic with digital mono audio, always sounding crisp and clean. Alas, the only special features offered are each of the titles’ theatrical trailers, which also look stunning (The Gorgon’s being the rarely seen British version). It also bears noting that the cover artwork was voted on by the fans in a web poll, proving just to what extent Sony went to make the Monster Kids happy.

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