Saturday, 1 August 2015

A Blade in the Dark

The second feature from Mario Bava's son, Lamberto, takes a stab (sorry) at the giallo, a genre which his father had dabbled in a few times.  The protagonist is a composer by the name of Bruno, who becomes suspicious that murders have taken place on his property, but nobody seems interested in listening to his suspected mistaken ramblings.  There is no mistake, however, and murders are most definitely taking place as a string of women visit the property for various reasons.  Bruno thinks that the answer may lie in the reel of a film that has been kept hidden away by its director, but getting to see the contents is not as easy as he'd like.

Almost all of the activity here takes place in an Italian villa, with the killer prowling around the site and becoming increasingly violent each time a woman shows up.  It plods along slowly (running almost an hour an fifty minutes) and would have benefited from some trimming here and there, but overall this is quite a solid offering to the crowded giallo arena.  It moves along almost carefully, possibly in effort to give the murders more impact - admittedly they are quite brutal and sadistic, with a couple of bits quite hard to watch even by today's much more violent standards.
I've previously seen this on VHS, and watched the Anchor Bay DVD a few times over the years.  88 Films' Blu-ray (part of their lovely Italian range) frames the film at 1.66:1, which I believe provides a little more breathing space at the top and bottom while being more appropriate for a European film from the era of A Blade in the Dark's making (1983).  There is omnipresent grain though I don't feel that it is overly intrusive.  Edges are fairly soft, while detail fluctuates from scene to scene - one has to remember that this was shot in 16mm so it will never be especially sharp in any format.  Colours are not particularly vibrant but as I grew accustomed to the visual style of this new presentation I found it to be pleasing viewing, and possibly closely representative of the source (something we will never actually know until another Blu-ray appears for comparison).

Previously it was not possible for English speakers to enjoy the Italian language version of this film, so it is highly appreciated that 88 have supplied the option to watch in either English or Italian with English subtitles (although please, 88, start allowing us to switch languages mid film without having to go back to the main menu!).  Personally I think Blade plays much better in Italian, but at least the option is there whatever your preference.  Audio is DTS-HD MA (mono) either way, and very clear throughout.

Extras consist of a fifty minute low video quality Q&A session with the director, a twenty minute interview with the cinematographer, and the Italian opening/closing credits.  The cover of the case is reversible (with original Italian title (La Casa con la Scala nel Buio)/artwork on the other side) and inside the case is an extra piece of film art on a slip.

I'm not sure about the running time because it appears to be a minute or so shorter than what I believed the film ran to on the Anchor Bay disc.  However, the gore/murder sequences seem to be intact so I'm not sure if there is anything missing without going through frame by frame.  Even if that proved to be the case I think the benefits of this new edition outweigh anything else, and the 88 Films release is now the definitive edition (until someone else gives it another shot on Blu, but they'll have to put some effort in I think!).

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Candle For The Devil

Directed by the man behind the classic Horror Express Candle for the Devil (more appropriately known in the US as It Happened at Nightmare Inn) was made in Spain (largely Madrid and El Paular) in 1973, featuring two God-fearing sisters who run a small hotel in a traditional Spanish village,  They get a lot of English-speaking tourists but don't exactly approve of their more liberal ways, although the local men are somewhat more forgiving of course.  An argument with one of their guests, who is attracting attention with some topless sunbathing, results in the girl's accidental death.  Interpreting a divine message in the death they cover up the accident but don't reckon on the girl's sister arriving to meet her a day or so later.  They let her stay at the hotel under the impression that the dead sister has already left of her own accord.  The new arrival suspects something is amiss when another guest vanishes, and launches into her own investigation to find out what's going on in the sinister little equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle.

The film has a nice funereal atmosphere with a screwed-up pair of sisters at the centre of the mess of corpses that starts building up around them.  They're not even what you might necessarily call 'evil' (however you want to argue the definition of that) - rather, they are misguided in their beliefs.  There is a poignant reflection of this even in today's political climate as certain terrorist organisations around the world choose to kill off others simply because they do not comply with their own belief systems.  It goes without saying that this kind of mind-set can also be found throughout history.
Odeon's UK Blu is quite a barebones affair similar to previous releases on disc that I'm aware of, with a cover that is not exactly going to win any design awards (although it is arguably sexy).  You only get a trailer for the film, and on the inside of the box is poster art (they could have expanded this into a reversible cover perhaps).  I had heard that it was a 'bad' transfer but this is nowhere near what I would call bad (many people troll these Blu releases with no understanding of the kind of sources that the distributors have access to, or the work that needs to be done to bring them up to standard with many films rotting in their cans as we speak, or they simply fail to contextualise something against releases of the same film on other formats, which are almost always inferior).  I suspect this one is taken from a print that is not in the most magnificent shape, but the digital transfer itself does not appear to be flawed, and certainly preferable to watching a DVD.  It does exhibit a slightly soft, grainy appearance, but I felt that it was organic and possibly an indication of how it might have looked at some fleapit cinema in the early seventies.  Audio track is functional, and English language only.  I'm aware there is also a Spanish language track out there but it's questionable which is more appropriate.  The location would suggest Spanish of course, but Geeson speaks/dubs English, while some of the other actors appear to be speaking English also.  As with many Euro films it's difficult to categorically state which language the film should be viewed in, although I think it would have been nice if Odeon could have obtained the Spanish track (with English subs, naturally) so that we could make up our own minds.

There is a Blu out in the US by Scorpion that is slightly better specified (it contains an 18 minute interview with Geeson - I don't count that Katarina rubbish as extras I'm afraid).  The problem is that the Scorpion disc is not easy to get hold of, especially if you live in the UK, or at least not for a reasonable price.  Hence you can either go for the extortionate Scorpion and get the interview, or pay about a third of the price for the Odeon without the interview.  I think the colour timing may be different between the two transfers but personally I liked the almost autumnal representation of the film on the Odeon Blu, and I bought it for a fair price on Amazon (surprisingly) saving a fortune on the US disc.  Not a stellar release but being the second best overall presentation of this edgy little film (possibly that we're ever likely to see) I'm pretty happy with it.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero

Unlike many reviewers before me, I actually like Cabin Fever 1 and 2, both in my opinion tapping into the black comedy splatterfest ethos of the likes of Braindead and others of that era (although I'm not elevating them to that kind of status), and perhaps Piranha if you're more familiar with this century's output.  CF2 seems to be particularly maligned by a good portion of those that have seen it, so I thought I'd give this one a go considering it seems to split audiences in the same way.  The plot doesn't need outlining in detail: a research facility on a remote island runs into problems containing the flesh-eating virus (of the earlier movies) that they're attempting to find a cure to.  A bunch of dumb partying teens ('natch) go out to the island (i.e. they won't get a mobile signal) for a stag party only to find themselves dropping victim to the virus one by one (a development that some viewers may be thankful for...).  Has potential perhaps.

From the outset of putting the third outing into your disc tray it's fairly clear that the black comedy madness of the first two films has been almost entirely eschewed by virtual newbie film-makers Andrews and Wall in favour of what they probably believe is a grittier, nasty affair.  My favourite character (the cop) is also lamentably absent.  Sam the hobbit shows up to give it all a bit of credibility, but the teens themselves are unable to give this cash-in anything convincing, as they just appear to be aping the performances of every other dumb-teen actor that you've seen in horror films over the last twenty years or so (unless that's how all American teens naturally are, in which case I forgive them), and the script is just as clichéd (I'm trying to remember some examples but the experience is mercifully fading from my mind).  There are some moments of hefty gore if that's what you're after but the few moments of injected humour fall flat, making this entry feel like it doesn't really belong as part of the series.

What truly ruined CF3 for me, however, was the near relentless shaky-cam approach - seriously, this cameraman can barely keep the thing still, and regardless of what's happening on screen and whether it calls for a feeling of seasickness, the image will be waving around like a wet kipper.  Watch this stuff on a projector or large screen like I do and the chances are you'll come out of this movie feeling nauseous for all the wrong reasons.  I'm not sure why this habit with film-makers persists - shaky camerawork does not draw a viewer into the action (and in my case it actually draws me right out, because I'm too conscious of the camera frame itself).  I think bad film-makers use this technique as a tool to cover up their ability to generate genuine tension by any skilful means.  Hence what might have been a 2.5 star film on a generous day becomes in my eyes a 1.5 star film.

The Blu-ray reminds me of the old days collecting films on tape - not because the image/sound is terrible (it isn’t) but rather there is nothing in way of bonus features on the disc.  Zilch.  Although you do get to select chapters.  The 1.78:1 full HD image is very detailed although clearly shot digitally.  Daylight scenes are reasonably nice, with perhaps an unrealistic edge to the colour.  DTS-HD audio has some oomph as might be expected.  If you must watch this, the Blu is the way to go and can be obtained incredibly cheaply anyway.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Bogey Man

Or The Boogey Man as it's more commonly known in the US.  Shot by German director Ulli Lommel at the tail end of the seventies and released to various territories in 1980/81, this supernatural chiller became notorious in Britain due to attracting the attention of the immortalised Director of Public Prosecutions when it appeared on video cassette.  It's always amazing to see these films in a contemporary context when compared to some of the rather disturbing stuff that passes through the BBFC nowadays - of course most of the banned or nearly banned lot from the early eighties are pretty tame standing next to the likes of Martyrs, et al.  In the Halloween-esque prologue a mistreated boy murders his mother's boyfriend whilst the two adults are in the midst of having a sleazy time.  A mirror captures the spirit of the deceased and years later spreads its influence in a homicidal fashion of course.  I like the atmosphere of Bogey Man, the overall appearance along with the characters that populate this microcosm.  The possession of Lacy later on is a bit cheesy, and ancient John Carradine (who was brought in to shoot scenes for the purposes of increasing the meagre running time) is a little on the stiff side.  The actress playing Lacy (Susanna Love, who was married to the director and appeared in a number of his projects) is very attractive, somewhat nubile, and makes for easy viewing.
88 Films (UK's almost-premier cult movie label, after Arrow naturally!) have made the wise choice of putting this out on Blu-ray in the UK - uncut of course.  Having not appeared on Blu in the US this is a good strategic move for the company, as the title is something of a minor cult item.  The widescreen full-HD image is surprisingly vivid given the age and budget (around $300000) - I projected this to approximately 100" as I do most Blus these days and was extremely pleased with the colour range and impressive detail on display.  This is the best the film has ever looked in the home.  There's a brilliant twenty minute interview with the director, featuring no time-wasting cutaways to the movie, just pure talk with a very solemn sort of character who is nevertheless extremely interesting as he reiterates how the movie came about.  There are some trailers for Bogey Man and other 88 Films releases (they need to update this reel) and a booklet.  As part of the company's 'Slasher Classics Collection' (spine number 10) it comes in a nifty red slimline case, and the cover is pleasingly reversible with some original poster/video art on either side (and one side omits the 18 certificate from the front and spine if that is a particular issue with collectors!).  A decent movie becomes one of 88 Films's most respected releases to date.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Several teens celebrate the end of term with a margin of excess when they run a poor guy down on country roads, and then rather than owning up to the situation they decide to dump his body in the sea.  The problem being (as if there weren't enough) it looks like he was alive at the moment they pushed him in, meaning that they're now technically murderers.  Forbidding each other to speak of the act ever again they attempt to move on with their guilt-ridden lives.  Then, a year later, they begin receiving notes suggesting that someone saw what happened.  Following that a psychotic individual begins his vengeful murder spree...
Following hot in the dust-cloud left behind by Scream in the new wave of slashers, I Know What You Did Last Summer, released in 1997, appeared at the time to be a second-rate attempt to aspire to the success of Craven's film.  Unsurprisingly the screenplay was written by the man who also wrote Scream and its sequel.  Years on I actually prefer watching Jim Gillespie's less popular foray into this particular sub-genre.  The teen leads are appealing, particularly in the case of young, very sexy Jennifer Love Hewitt and cute Sarah Michelle Gellar.  Freddie Prinze Jr.'s turn as the poor boy stumbling into a rich world is sympathetically likable while Ryan Phillippe is the punchable bully boy really responsible for the whole mess.  Anne Heche also shows up briefly as the messed-up sister of the man run down by the teens.  It's an attractively shot film, efficiently edited with some rousing music along the way.  Taken in the right mood, and without expecting high class cinema, this is one of the most enjoyable entries in the slasher film's final stab at mainstream popularity.  Oh, and occasionally it's quite violent (the killer carrying around a very nasty hook), though the absence of nudity is lamentable.  Is it original?  No, of course not - I don't think I've seen a slasher film that is especially original.  However, it entertains on its own level, and that's the important factor.

The US Blu-ray looks pretty good, backed up by a powerful Dolby TrueHD audio track.  There's also a half hour making-of (in standard definition) and Gillespie's short film Joy Ride along with a couple of other bits.  Surprisingly the director has not been too busy, going on to do D-Tox with Stallone, and Venom but little else.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


An interesting oddity dating back to 1987, and shot in Barcelona, Anguish (or Angustia, or Im Augenblick der Angst) begins with an uncomfortable depiction of a grown man's homicidal tendencies combined with his close, possibly psychic relationship with his creepy mother, before revealing that this is a film playing in an American cinema.  Some of the viewers become increasingly disturbed by what they're watching on screen, before events in 'real' life begin to imitate those of the celluloid they're experiencing.
What I particularly liked about Anguish is the manner in which it blurs the lines between reality and cinematic fiction, crossing over the events of the two worlds with gradually heightening frequency and intensity.  Whilst it can be uncomfortable viewing at time, with some particularly gruesome sequences spattered throughout (and a little unnecessary animal cruelty in my opinion), the film's fascinating tightrope walk between supposed realities, combined with occasional surrealism, result in an original piece of work, that is often bizarre, captivating, and will beg to be watched repeatedly, until you yourself succumb to its spell of demented hypnosis...

The Germans, as usual edging ahead of many other countries in their selection of enticing catalogue titles for Blu-ray, have put out Anguish (as Im Augenblick...) with an excellent 2.35:1 full HD transfer, and a choice between English (naturally, as shot) DTS HD MA 5.1 or German in the same mode.  German subtitles are there of course, but thankfully they are removable.  At 24 frames per second it runs about 85 minutes.  At times boasting the feel of a classic Dario Argento exercise, the sound mix of this film is really important, reminding me in some ways of the direction they took with Berberian Sound Studio, entwining intricate sound patterns with a deliberately confused transition between realities for both the protagonist and the viewer, and headphone-use or surround listening is encouraged.  The cover is reversible - effectively the same artwork but without the red banner at the top, and missing the huge age restriction that seems to emblazon all German disc releases.  Needless to say it was turned around instantly upon opening...  The disc also comes with an interview and trailers - not exactly padded extras-wise but the very fact that something like this appears on Blu in such an attractive audio-visual presentation is to be rejoiced.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity

Yeah, that's where they're from.  Can I have directions please...?  In the far depths of space two female astronauts escape with their lives from potential slavery using a spacecraft that ultimately plummets into the tractor beam of another planet.  There they are taken in by an eccentric hunter who initially appears to be hospitable.  They are soon warned by one of the other 'guests' that they're in danger (a matter also hinted at by the collection of severed heads on one of the walls...) and have to head out on the run through the surrounding jungles in order to once again escape with their lives.

Directed for Taryn Productions by Ken Dixon in 1987 Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity is a pleasing science fiction romp on a very limited budget that makes up for shortcomings in the epic department with several gorgeous women who spend the entire film wearing very little.  While acknowledged scream queen Brinke Stevens might be present, for me the star of the show is Hungarian-born Elizabeth Kaitan (credited here as Cayton).  She's got a cute voice, lovely face, perfect body, and next to the other woman comes across as much more voluptuous - to see her running around scantily clad for almost an entire film is pretty much worth paying for the film alone.  Pity that she was never more widely famed in the eyes of genre fans as the other scream queens of the era were.
The sets are cheap, and the effects are base level.  Oddly the dialogue is not overtly humorous, which feels offbeat when spoken by actors who are clearly in quite ridiculous situations, but because of this restrained nature in the delivery I feel that the material works quite well.  I was never a fan of the OTT Troma style of script delivery.  I do, however, feel that the exploitation elements could have been enhanced somewhat (and given a 70 minute running time, there was certainly room for it!).  Considering the girls have next to nothing on for most of the film, there is surprisingly little in way of nudity (although it is thankfully there to some extent).  If you're gonna do it, then go the whole hog!  As a Saturday night after-drinks film though, this is not a bad way to end it.

Once released in the US by Cult Video, 88 Films in the UK many years later put out a DVD (as part of their Grindhouse Collection) with similar credentials on the surface.  The full frame (probably as shot) transfer is merely okay - serviceable.  I suspect a Blu-ray upgrade will never be on the cards unfortunately.  Luckily the 88 disc does improve a little on sharpness over the old disc, and colour is much more bearable than the red-hued transfer of old.  The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is, again, functional.  While both discs have a batch of trailers to enjoy, along with a couple of other minor titbits, the 88 disc excels by including a feature length documentary also by Ken Dixon called 'Famous T&A', which is basically exactly what it states, featuring clips of actresses who have at one time or another bared their flesh for Charles Band (and other) productions.  Rough quality standard definition (closer to VHS quality actually) does not detract much from the novelty factor of having this grimy little piece as a bonus, so well done to 88 for including that.  The final advantage of the 88 disc is that is has a reversible cover with alternate artwork on the rear.  I prefer the main cover (pictured) as it replicates the art of the old video tape that I once owned many moons ago.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Puppet Master II

A posse of creepy autonomous puppets resurrect their creator in a cemetery during the dead of night.  Returning to the derelict Bodega Bay hotel where they formerly reaped havoc they gradually pick off a team of paranormal researchers that have moved in there temporarily, while Toulon, their exhumed master, masquerades as the new owner of the place.  Toulon himself recognises the resemblance of one of the investigators to his lover from decades previous, who may be reincarnated here in good old Egyptian fashion.
Continuing with a near-identical vein to the first entry in a very long series, Band obviously realised that the formula worked well enough to be a success and decided not to change it much at all.  I do feel that the exploitation elements could have been embellished - gore and nudity are there only in small doses - but essentially the puppets themselves are the draw of the show here, so I guess most of the attention is focussed on them.  They're given life by various means and it's always pleasing to watch stop motion (which makes up much of the technique used) photography in action.  They are suitably sinister designs all round.  The main problem for me is Richard Band's composition, a near relentless whiny soundtrack that rarely seems to consider the on-screen sequence that it is depicting (e.g. you might get the same feel of music in the background for someone walking across a corridor as you would for somebody else being drilled through the head).  I really try to see the appeal in Richard's work but for me his material sometimes strips a film of its dramatic potential.  While the film as a whole could have been tightened up, there are good moments spattered throughout- Charlie Spradling looks as good as ever (remaining somewhat underused in my opinion) and there's a great Action Man sequence with his child owner (who is whipping the soldier - that never happened in Toy Story!) then finding a real living doll...

Puppet Master II (1990) is a relic of the VHS era when films were being churned out specifically with the intention of putting them out in video stores.  The 88 Films Blu-ray is a nice way to experience the film.  The full HD image (1.78:1 running 88 minutes at 24 fps) is lively, bright, and often very attractive to look at - a noticeable improvement over DVD.  The DTS-HD MA audio track makes Band's score sound better than it has any right to.  The extras package is the same as the DVD, with a Charles Band commentary, an introduction to the film itself running a couple of minutes, a 21 minute historical making-of documentary, plus plenty of trailers.  The package is presented with reversible cover art so you can switch it around if you prefer, and an eight page booklet talking about Puppet Master II, the series itself, Band and Full Moon, and contains snippets of information/interview quotes from Charles Band.  It's a nice read, rounding off a good package that improves on its American cousin (which had mere Dolby Digital audio and no booklet or reversible sleeve).

Saturday, 8 November 2014


Sleepwalker was made in 1984 by a promising film-maker called Saxon Logan.  It's a politically underscored drama about two obnoxious couples who after an evening meal head back to stay the night at the rotting house owned by one of them.  Unfortunately one of the group is afflicted with violent somnambulist tendencies and the night will end in tragedy.  Running at only 50 minutes in length Sleepwalker is about right in its pacing.  It's a thoroughly British affair, although the characters are hardly an attractive representation of our over-filled island.  There is a fine air of decay, particularly in the home (English man's castle...?) and as the story threads its way to the finale it is evident that some influence emanates from the Italian giallo cinematic movement.  There is also a reminiscent touch of the TV series Hammer House of Horror - I feel that Sleepwalker could almost have been a part of that series.

The Rank studio did not take well to the film back in the mid eighties, putting an end of Saxon Logan's fiction movie career before it really got started, but it's heartwarming that it was later rediscovered (thanks partly to Kim Newman arousing interest in the then-forgotten film some time ago).  It's wonderful that BFI have taken films like this to exhume for the more open-minded among contemporary audiences, as it has recently been scanned and mastered for Blu-ray, with excellent results.
The BFI release is also packed with two of Logan's earlier short films also mastered in HD (Stepping Out running at 11 minutes and made in 1977, plus Working Surface, 16 minutes, 1979), which are curiosity pieces making the package feel very complete as far as Logan's fiction work is concerned (he went on to cement himself as a documentary film-maker).

However, BFI have also kindly included another film which, whilst not made by Logan, is thematically linked to the main film in the pack.  Running at 45 minutes the 1971 film Insomniac is the only fiction work directed by Rodney Giesler (also a documentary maker).  This is about a very average sort of man whose initial difficulty sleeping leads him to enter a lucid dreamworld of perpetual daylight and populated by people who exhibit an aversion to light.  At a party he meets the perfect female before eloping with her.  The surreal aspect of this film I feel could have been pushed a lot further, though it is a nice piece that could easily have been left buried forever.  The primary strength of the film arrives in the presence of the vividly beautiful Valerie Ost (who also appeared briefly in Corruption, Satanic Rites of Dracula, and a few Carry-On films in bit roles).

The menus of the disc provide options to watch all three Logan films or a double bill of the two main features if you wish.  You'll also find a 72 minute conversation from 2013 with Saxon Logan where he talks about his inspiration (Lindsay Anderson, Hammer films surprisingly, and even more of a surprise is his appreciation for giallo), his education in the mechanics of making films, his experiences making the films contained in this pack, etc.  It's a fascinating piece with none of the press-kit approach rubbish you find as extras to most mainstream films.  Logan is a coherent, level-headed talker who had talent but couldn't quite take it where he wanted due to the fact that his work wasn't really understood at the time.  The occurrences pertaining to the screenings of Sleepwalker, both at the time of its release and the rediscovery years later, are obviously deeply meaningful to the man, something underlined by a particularly poignant moment towards the end of the conversation when he struggles to contain the emotions that are obviously packed inside.  A brilliant, essential interview for anyone interested in film, almost worth the price of admission alone.

Not content to leave you with this, BFI also include an attractive booklet presenting written pieces on each element on the disc, with transfer information and stills.  The films are also provided on a DVD in the same pack, but as they were scanned at 2K they really are best viewed on Blu-ray for the most authentic representation.  Sleepwalker and Insomniac generally won't appeal to the average mainstream movie fan, but for those interested in the heritage of British cinema, more arthouse oriented viewers, or possibly even fans of the giallo, this is a great package to have in your collection.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell

Locked up for dabbling with 'sorcery', a young doctor finds that he shares the asylum with his hero in science, Victor Frankenstein, who has faked his own death in order to continue with experiments and effectively control the weak-willed corrupt manager of the place.  Together the two scientists use various pieces of dead prisoners to construct a monstrosity that eventually awakens to produce dire consequences.

This film marked the end of an era for Hammer and horror films generally, as well as the career of its director and the man at the very birth of the studio's Frankenstein series, Terence Fisher.  The gothic literary adaptations and mutations of the 50s and 60s came to an interesting conclusion here, and they couldn't go on when across the water the Americans were delivering the likes of The Exorcist and Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  Frankenstein's monster failed to shock audiences any longer, although this particular epitaph was actually quite nasty in many ways, with some strong moments of gore and violence though oddly absent nudity (something which had become a staple of Hammer's output during the early 70s): the female lead, a mute played by Madeline Smith (The Vampire Lovers) remains fully clothed up to the neck throughout.  Peter Cushing, once again in the role of the baron, looks decidedly skeletal here but continues to deliver his usual perceptive portrayal of the character.  Taking FATMFH out of its difficult context in the history of horror it's not a bad film at all, with a beautifully grim setting (almost entirely in the asylum), an ugly, tragic creature at the heart of the tale, and some unprecedented brutality.
Released on Blu-ray in the UK as a dual edition pack, the three disc set contains two DVDs alongside the Blu.  On the Blu (and spread across the other two discs due to the substantially lower storage capacity of DVD) the film is presented as you would have seen it theatrically (my favourite ratio, 1.66:1) and, as an optional extra, in its un-matted 35mm form at 1.37:1 (i.e. more information seen at the top and bottom of the screen), accurately moving at 24 frames per second in either case (sped up to 25 fps on the DVDs, naturally).  Obviously if you're viewing on a 16x9 widescreen display then the 1.37:1 version will have thick black bars at the sides, whilst the 1.66:1 version will have very thin black bars at each side.  Preference will depend on the viewer ultimately, and one can argue the virtues of each until the full moon sets, but it's fantastic that we're actually given the choice and the viewer can sample each before settling down to the enjoy the film.  Detail on the 1080p Blu-ray transfers is set at an excellent standard, whilst the DVDs can't compete but still look reasonably good considering they're Standard Definition.  On the audio side, the mono (uncompressed LPCM on the Blu-ray, compressed Dolby Digital on the DVDs) is clear and as decent as you can expect.

What else do you get?  There's a commentary track with two of the main actors (Shane Bryant, who plays Frankenstein's protégé, and Madeline Smith) moderated by classic horror lover Marcus Hearn.  Secondly you get a great documentary directed by Hearn about the making of the film, with plenty of interviews from surviving participants incorporating some enticing anecdotes about Cushing (including some images of his extensive notes on the script).  This runs for 25 minutes.  The next documentary focuses on the director himself, again a fine piece and this time running at 13 minutes.  A 7 minute animated gallery features shots from the set, some lovely posters/advertising materials, promotional stills of the likes of Smith, make-up work-in-progress of the monster (David Prowse), etc.  All of these extras are on both the Blu-ray and one or the other of the DVDs, the only extra remaining that is not on both is a PDF of a 30 page booklet, which is only on the second DVD and accessible via a PC of course.  I would have preferred a printed version of this but I guess they saw this as a cost-cutting measure.  There's a lot of information about the production of the film and reactions to it post-release, and overall it's a nicely presented companion.  The booklet also goes into significant detail on how the film was restored for high definition presentation, and makes one appreciate the work involved.

The initial pressing of this Icon-released set back in May 2014 was flawed with some stalling issues on the Blu-ray.  This was corrected quite quickly and the versions available now are fine to watch, resulting in this now being the definitive presentation of quite a reasonable and gruesome latter-day Hammer.