Taste of Fear AKA Scream of Fear (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Rick Curzon (12th November 2019).
The Film

Four classic Hammer chillers presented on Blu-ray for the very first time in the UK. Accompanied by a wealth of new and archival extras – including exclusive new documentaries, audio commentaries, alternative versions, new and archival cast and crew interviews, a series of appreciations of their female stars, analyses of their composers’ scores, and extensive booklets – this stunning limited edition box set is strictly limited to 6,000 units.

Video

Four films and four different picture formats spanning the years 1958-61 are on this superb Powerhouse Films' set: Colour 1.66:1, colour 2.35:1, B&W 1.66:1 and finally B&W 2.35:1.

First and foremost, the encodes on all four are op of the range with plenty of grain handled beautifully with no clumping or digital splats. Grain is even through and through and no noise. Hats off - as usual - to David MacKenzie and Fidelity in Motion.

Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Direct sequel to the superior The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) is still one of the best in the series and essentially ends this Baron's exploits making way for the fresh start to the saga in The Evil of Frankenstein (1964). In this one the good Doctor transposes the brain of a disfigured man into a new, perfect body but things go tits up and he starts eating people. Acting honours go to Richard Wordsworth as a wily, spiv janitor.

Seemed to be hard to see back in the '80s and '90s; I caught up with it on the R2 Sony DVD in the early 2000s.

This is easily the most eagerly awaited film in this set; for decades the film has suffered from pale, washed out even faded colour ... when being a Jack Asher-shot Hammer gothic it ought to have colours that pop out. I'm pleased to report that they have succeeded. Reds are bright and true making blood seemingly seep out of every frame it appears in.

Check out the opening credits which always looked orange on the old DVDs and the prior Mill Creek BD; here they are sharp with crisp edges and are a full-bodied red. I doubt that this film has ever looked this good before. Jack Asher's favoured green and purple gels lend the image an interesting hue that seems to have been left off previous transfers.

Black levels are perfect with deep, dark, velvety shadows and plenty of detail. Contrast is supportive with no blown out highlights and plenty of detail coming through amongst the very healthy grain field. Faces and fabrics are filled with texture and the smokey tavern scenes are almost 3D with smoke drifting about and beautifully handled by the top notch encode.

Revenge has been afforded at least double the bitrate of the Mill Creek disc, and like all four films, BD50s with plenty of breathing space. An exquisite transfer.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.66:1 / 89:56

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1959)

Unusual adaptation of Stevenson's tale in which Jekyll is a morose, bearded scientist and Hyde a clean-cut cad about town. Paul Massie does well in both roles playing things in thick slices of ham but the film is stolen by Christopher Lee as his licentious, spendthrift pal who is always sponging of him. One of Lee's best performances and it largely gets no mention.

For it's time this is quite a sexually explicit film with a fair amount of almost nudity; more than any other Hammer Horror until 1969 and the production of the Crescendo / Taste the Blood of Dracula double bill; both of which had the first full, topless nudity for Hammer in their UK prints. Director Terence Fisher seems energised by the more up market Wolf Mankiewicz script and does some of his best work; the film feels more lavish and heavyweight for Hammer.

Another very hard to see film; I missed a couple of BBC screenings in the early '90s and didn't get to see it until the R1 DVD release.

One of the most gorgeous looking Hammer films gets yet another strong transfer. The Mill Creek transfer was the best of the four films they released at that time but it was given a cowering bitrate with two films crammed onto a single BD25 (single layer) and seemed to be contrast boosted slightly. The Powerhouse Films disc is a BD50 and has double the bitrate so we have a much more robust transfer all round.

Colours are very rich as is befitting Jack Asher's work with primaries coming in force. His are his trademark gels. I saw no sign of bleed at all so delineation is very good. Black levels are typically solid and rich with plenty of shadow detail and no sign of crush. Contrast is strong as with Revenge of Frankenstein; plenty of detail in the highlights.

Dr. Jekyll was shot using MegaScope, a budget CinemaScope variation with some mild distortions near the edges, but that is to be expected. Also, typical of films made on celluloid there are density changes occasionally at scene changes and there is a slight softness when compared to non-anamorphically shot films. In any case, a stunning looking film and a great transfer; probably the best this film has looked since it was lensed.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 2.35:1 / 88:16

Taste of Fear (1961)

The first and best of Hammer's Jimmy Sangster-scripted Les Diabolique (1954) ripoffs is a taught thriller in which a disabled heiress is targeted for madness and murder. Lots of spooky cinematography; I especially loved the bit when the corpse is found in the swimming pool. I first saw this one when my form (home room) teacher screened it to the school fantasy film society circa 1984 and have loved it ever since. It's been easy to see since release and I've seen it many times over the years.

The first of the two monochrome films in the set with Taste of Fear being most likely shot academy 1.37:1 but designed to be matted in projection to 1.75:1 (UK), 1.66:1 (Europe) and 1.85:1 (USA). We have the Euro ratio here it seems to fit the compositions well.

Both B&W transfers in this set have no gamma bias that I was able to detect; inky monochrome images with a marvellous film-like appearance in motion. The grain is ever-present and well handled by the encode with plenty of detail shining through. Black levels are deep and rich and contrast is supportive. I noticed some mild disparities between layers in the opening shot involving a matte painting but that's always been the case. An excellent transfer.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 1.66:1 / 81:37 (UK version), 81:28 (US version)

The Damned (1961)

Joseph Losey's Hammer film is one of the most interesting (if flawed) science fiction films of the 1960s. The main problem is the lumpy first half which wastes time on the badly conceived, weakly written May to December love story between McDonald Carey (48) and Shirley Anne Field (23) which is just not convincing as Carey doesn't come over particularly magnetic or charismatic. Which then beggars the question as to why Field finds him so amazing. Nonetheless, a Hammer classic and one of their most aesthetically and intellectually accomplished films. Best seen in the full 95 minute director's cut in widescreen; in the '90s I had the 87 minute version on the old UK pan and scan Encore VHS.

My comments above for Taste of Fear also apply pretty much to The Damned. The main difference here is that this film was shot using anamorphic lenses so there are signs of this process whereby the image is slightly softer and there's mild distortions towards the extreme left and right of the frame.

Black levels are strong and contrast is supportive with plenty of detail shining through. Grain is also much in evidence but well encoded. I could detect no gamma bias, artefacts or print damage.

The restored master was used to create the shorter UK edit so image is the same.

1080/24p / MPEG-4 AVC / 2.35:1 / 95:18 (uncut version), 87:26 (UK theatrical version)

Audio

English LPCM 1.0
Subtitles: English HoH

All of these mono tracks are robust with plenty of welly when required and within the limitations of the technology used. The florid scores come through well and never trample on dialogue. Mild distortions can occasionally be heard usually at the high end but nothing that has been really introduced to the mixes; these have been cleaned up beautifully and reflect the originals and methods of production.

Excellent subtitles are included on all four films and their differing versions.

Extras

Audio commentary on Revenge of Frankenstein with Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby
Audio commentary on Revenge of Frankenstein with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman
Audio commentary on The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll with Josephine Botting and Jonathan Rigby
Audio commentary on Taste of Fear with Kevin Lyons
Audio commentary on The Damned (uncut version) with Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger


Five commentaries across four films and stacked with information the Hammer buffs will want to absorb. Chances are that if you're a die hard buff there's little that you don't know if you've read the gazzilion books and magazines published down the decades but more casual fans will drink it all up. Eight experts all of whom have long track records for working on yaktraks means you're in good hands.

"Back from the Dead: Inside The Revenge of Frankenstein" 2019 featurette (21:21)
"Identity Crisis: Inside The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" 2019 featurette (18:48)
"Body Horror: Inside Taste of Fear" 2019 featurette (22:17)
"On the Brink: Inside The Damned" 2019 featurette (26:35)


If you've seen the Studio Canal or Final Cut DVDs / BDs of Hammer films then you'll know the Marcus Hearn produced Hammer retrospectives well with Kevin Lyons, Alan Barnes and Jonathan Rigby discussing the films at hand. All four films are covered from preproduction through to completion and with assessments of their merits. Warmly nostalgic and the participants love their subjects (Totals = 89:01).

"Hammer's Women: Pamela Hutchinson on Eunice Gayson" 2019 featurette (7:58)
"Hammer's Women: Laura Mayne on Dawn Adams" 2019 featurette (10:13)
"Hammer's Women: Melanie Williams on Ann Todd" 2019 featurette (11:35)
"Hammer's Women: Lindsay Anne Hallam on Viveca Lindfors" 2019 featurette (14:25)


Four more excellent instalments in Powerhouse Films' ongoing series about the leading ladies of Hammer. Careers covered etc.

"A Frankenstein for the 20th Century: A Video Essay by Kat Ellinger and Dima Ballin" 2019 featurette (26:37)

An academic essay discussing the character as written in the six Cushing films but the focus is firmly on Revenge.

"The Many Faces of Dr. Jekyll" 2019 featurette (6:50)

Short piece compares the two versions of the film and discusses the censorship issues.

"Arpeggios of Melancholy: David Huckvale on Leonard Salzedo" 2019 featurette (12:57)
"Mauve Decadence: David Huckvale on Monty Norman and The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" 2019 featurette (10:23)
"Anxiety and Terror: David Huckvale on Clifton Parker and Taste of Fear" 2019 featurette (24:51)
"The Lonely Shore: David Huckvale on James Bernard and The Damned" 2019 featurette (20:50)


If you've seen any interviews with Huckvale then you know what to expect. He's a passionate expert on all things musical with a special interest in Hammer films; he wrote the biography of perhaps the greatest, most famous Hammer composer - James Bernard. Huckvale plays sections of the scores under discussion and explains how they work and why they're effective. A natural raconteur, Huckvale is mesmerising.

Isolated Music & Effects Track on The Damned in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0

Bernard's superb score isolated for the viewer's listening pleasure.

Revenge of Frankenstein Outtakes Reel (11:43)

Silent, full colour outtakes reel in fine condition.

Revenge of Frankenstein Super 8 Version (8:17)
Scream of Fear Super 8 Version (19:55)


In the days before VCRs Super 8mm digests of popular films could be purchased or taken out at libraries. The quality is very poor; Revenge of Frankenstein is in very soft B&W with subtitles.

Archival Audio Interview with Paul Massie (1967) (9:32)

Vintage recording in which Massie discusses his approach to performance and his work for Hammer. Audio quality is generally good with the odd bit of hiss.

"The Now and Then Interview with Wolf Mankowitz: Conducted by Bernard Braden on 29 March 1968" featurette (31:36)

Vintage interview is fascinating listening; covering Mankowitz's career in a fair amount of detail. Audio quality is sound but obviously from a dated source.

Archival Interviews (for Taste of Fear):
- "The BFI Southbank Interview with Jimmy Sangster: Conducted by Marcus Hearn at BFI Southbank, London on 15 April 2008" plays as an alternate audio track over the film (67:33)
- "The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) Interview with Jimmy Sangster" excepted from an interview conducted by Jonathan Rigby on 24 June 2008 (116:47)
- "The The British Entertainment History Project (BEHP) Interview with Douglas Slocombe - Part Two: From Hammer to Spielberg" excerpted from an interview conducted by Sidney Cole on 22 November 1988 (plays as an audio track over the film) (81:18)
"Fear Makers: Camera Operator Desmond Davis and Assistant Sound Editor John Crome on Taste of Fear" 2019 featurette (8:37)


A thorough collection of material with the most most substantial being the Sangster and Slocombe pieces. The chunky Sangster video segment was shot in standard definition and the clean image is decent enough upscaled. He's on fine form throughout. The Slocombe BENP and Sangster BFI chats are audio only and plays over the film; many of these recordings have been appearing on these Powerhouse releases and they're always engrossing. Sound is clear and in mono.

Cast and Crew Interviews (The Damned):
- "Looking in the Right Place: Shirley Anne Field on The Damned" 2019 featurette (10:05)
- "Children of the Damned: Christopher Witty, Kit Williams and David Palmer on The Damned" 2019 featurette (23:16)
"Something Out of Nothing: Screenwriter Evan Jones on The Damned" 2019 featurette (6:36)
Smoke Screen: Camera Operator Anthony Heller on The Damned" 2019 featurette (11:22)


Recent, HD-lensed set of interviews totalling 51:19 covers plenty of ground and is good stuff for fans of the film.

Critical Appreciations:
- "Beneath the Surface: Gavrik Losey on The Damned" 2019 featurette (25:37)
"Beyond Black Leather: I. Q. Hunter on The Damned" 2019 featurette (14:20)
"No Future: Neil Sinyard on The Damned" 2019 featurette (25:29)


More HD lensed 2019 focussing more on film appreciation; Losey from amore personal perspective being the son of the director and the others from a more academic approach. Plenty of interest.

Revenge of Frankenstein Theatrical Trailer (2:17)
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll UK theatrical trailer (2:27)
Scream of Fear Original US trailer (1:09)
These are The Damned US Theatrical Trailer (2:43)


Vintage promo pieces with special mention to the Frankenstein trailer which was specially shot. All restored and in HD.

Trailers from Hell with Joe Dante: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1:59)
Trailers from Hell with Sam Hamm: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (3:12)
Trailers from Hell with Sam Hamm: Scream of Fear (1:37)
Trailers from Hell with Joe Dante: These are the Damned (3:25)


Anyone who's familiar with Joe Dante's excellent will no what to expect; industry professionals and fans waxing lyrical about their subject.

The Revenge of Frankenstein Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (107 images)
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (119 images)
Taste of Fear Image Gallery (63 images)
The Damned Image Gallery: Original Promotional Material (51 images)


Collectively a substantial HD still collection.

36-page liner notes booklet with a new essay by Marcus Hearn, Kieran Foster on Hammer’s unrealised Tales of Frankenstein television series, Jimmy Sangster on The Revenge of Frankenstein, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits

36-page liner notes booklet with a new essay by Kat Ellinger, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits

36-page liner notes booklet with an essay by Marcus Hearn, Jimmy Sangster on Taste of Fear, an archival on-set report, a selection of promotional materials, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits

36-page liner notes booklet with a new essay by Richard Combs, Joseph Losey on The Damned, a look at the US pressbook, an overview of contemporary reviews, and film credits


Four superb booklets with academic overviews of the films and plenty of contextual material. Anyone who's been reading these reviews will know that I'm a big fan of these and consider them worth the price of the discs by themselves.

Packaging

Four standard, clear keepcases in a hard card box.

Overall

Fourth Hammer set is very probably the most eagerly waited and comprehensive but that's like saying which set of crown jewels is best. Stellar transfers with topnotch picture and sound and extras to make Midas blanche. This set is easily one of the best of the year.

The Film: A Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A+

 


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