Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Movie Review: Hound Of The Baskervilles (Hammer Version)


Ah, the wonderful Hammer studios, equally at home botching any form of film or any story.

I love my B-Movies, and in Hammer's Dracula series of movies I have occasionally escaped the pressures of watching stuff that's suposed to be good, and in some cases been pleasantly surprised by their quality (as in the excellent Scars Of Dracula) or horrified by their crazy decisions (The Kung Fu meets Dracula meet Van Helsing brainmelt of Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires).

But Hammer made lots of other stuff, seemingly without any desire to stick to the plots or characters depending on who they cast. Their first Dracula veers away from the original book almost immediately and this version of Sherlock Holmes' most famous case takes similar liberties with the material.

That's not always going to be a bad thing, but for anyone knowing this story so well, the decision to change Henry Baskerville (a man from the states) to Christopher Lee, whose Henry lives in Johannesburg presumably so that Lee doesn't have to do an accent, smacks of "hell, we've got to cast Chris in this!"

Of course, it also requires the audience to believe in Christopher Lee as a romantic lead - a task at which he fails utterly probably due to the half century of typecasting he has suffered as much as his inherently stiff acting style.

The worse crime is the alteration of Stapleton from the odd but friendly butterfly collector of the original text into a surly poacher and his "wife" into his daughter, presumably to titillate the audience with someone young enough to recall the young ladies from the horror movies.

This changes the whole relationship of the characters to Stapleton and his daughter and unlike in the original story suspicion immediately falls on the rude angry poacher and his smoking hot daughter since they're acting so strangely.

Cushing's Holmes is a bit more interesting, best described as "chippy", impatient and grumpy with all the obfuscation on the part of the inhabitants of the hall and its surrounds. But his period spent away from the action is explained in sudden bursts of speech after he reappears ("ah yes, Seldon said...") which does not really solve the central problem of this story, which is that it is not particularly celluloid friendly when your hero sods off for the middle third and then has to explain everything that happened while he was away.

Rather than do this in flashback they rely on the worse approach of having Holmes explain how he knew about things after it no longer matters, taking the audience's participation out of the equation since they are not party to enough information to judge who is guilty (except the fact the culprit is depicted as scum from the first time you meet them).

Well, this is one the weaker versions of one of the weaker Holmes tales, and can be avoided without any major effects.


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