Cushing Curiosities: Cone of Silence/Suspect/The Man Who Finally Died/Sherlock Holmes/Blood Suckers/ [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Severin Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (31st December 2023).
The Film

"From Hammer Films to Star Wars, he remains one of genre films' best-loved actors. Now celebrate six of the most unexpected, rarely seen and decidedly curious performances from the legendary career of Peter Cushing"

In Cone of Silence, the job of Captain Gort (Dr. No's Bernard Lee) is on the line after crashing the revolutionary new Phoenix jet at the end of the runway, saving eighty-nine passengers but killing his co-pilot who did not brace himself for impact. Atlas Aviation attorney Sir Arnold Hobbes (The Picture of Dorian Gray's George Sanders) and wiz kid engineer Nigel Pickering (Kiss of the Vampire's Noel Willman) are eager that the verdict be determined as pilot error rather than mechanical failure while Gort insists he did everything right and his daughter Charlotte (Vampire Circus' Elizabeth Seal) attests to her father's by-the-book nature.

Gort ends up with a reprimand and the board leave it to Captain Manningham (The Plague of the Zombies' André Morell) to "do the right thing" which he decides is to keep Gort on and he makes Phoenix training officer Captain Dallas (Turkey Shoot's Michael Craig) test him in the air. Dallas is unable to find fault with Gort's operation of the plane, but his rival Captain Judd (Cushing) thinks he is too old for the route and wants him behind a desk. Judd has his own doubts about Dallas' reasons for passing Gort when flight attendant Joyce (The Man Who Could Cheat Death's Delphi Lawrence) notes Dallas' interest in Charlotte, and finds fault with Gort's performance when he travels with him as route inspector. When Gort is killed under the exact same circumstances on the same route, Judd is vindicated while Charlotte insists that the plane design must have been at fault, while Dallas must determine whether he was wrong or if there must be some flaw in the design or operation of the planes that could cause another disaster if swept under the rug by the manufacturers.

Based on the novel by David Beatty and the real life de Havilland Comet incident, Cone of Silence sidesteps the usual industrial espionage angles that modern viewers would expect from such a film and instead focuses on human relationships, equally questioning Charlotte's unwavering belief in her father and Dallas' judgement as Judd's ruthless careerism and Pickering's ambition, and finding weakness in the case of the latter rather than wickedness. Even Sanders' effortlessly arrogant turn as the aircraft manufacturer's attorney talking over and twisting testimony is less vile than more a pleasant reminder of what the actor brought to the screen in latter day character actor period. The romantic subplot thankfully takes a backseat to the drama and the race against time climax does not involve anyone trying to kill anyone else to silence them but certain characters who simply reveal their true natures and their hollow attempts to make things right without actually admitting fault. The supporting cast includes Charles Tingwell (Dracula, Prince of Darkness) as Gort's younger replacement who may be flying into disaster, Gordon Jackson (Upstairs Downstairs) as one of Dallas' colleagues, Marne Maitland (The Man with the Golden Gun) as the local airline freight coordinator, Jack Hedley (Who Pays the Ferryman?) as another pilot, and Anthony Newlands (Circus of Fear) as a flight controller, as well as uncredited early turns from Geoffrey Bayldon (Asylum) and Gerald Sim (Ryan's Daughter).

In Suspect, Cushing is Professor Sewell who has spent twenty years developing a strain of insects to create a typhoid vaccine and is on the verge of publishing when the politician Sir George Gatling (The Mummy's Raymond Huntley) tells him that his work could potentially be used by foreign powers to create a weapon instead of a cure and bars him from publishing his findings. With Sewell disgruntled about Gatling's interference – particularly when he attempts to poach the scientist's team to do similar research on behalf of the Defense Department piggybacking on his work – MI5 starts spying on the facility, with Mr. Prince (Frankenstein Created Woman's Thorley Walters) leaning on Sewell's assistant Shole (The Wild Geese's Kenneth Griffith) to reign in his boss before he causes an incident.

Prince and overenthusiastic operative Slater (Island of Terror's Sam Kydd), however, are too focused on Sewell to notice the righteous anger of another member of Sewell's team in Bob Marriott (The Day of the Jackal's Tony Britton). Marriott has started pursuing a relationship with colleague Lucy Byrne (Doctor in Love's Virginia Maskell) and found himself in a complicated triangle with Lucy's ex-fiancée Alan Andrews (The Flight of the Phoenix's Ian Bannen) who had both arms blown off in the war by friendly fire and lives with her in a relationship of dependency and resentment. In spite of initially pitying Lucy for chaining herself to someone of "no social value," Bob comes to like Alan who is as frank about the unhealthiness of his relationship with Lucy as she is to downplay her own suffering. When Bob shoots his mouth off about his frustrations at work, Alan's publisher drinking buddy Brown (The Flesh and the Fiends' Donald Pleasence) tempts him with a means of anonymous publishing on behalf of a benevolent scientific society; however, he may be talking the younger man into committing treason.

An atypical credit from producing/directing team Roy Boulting (Twisted Nerve) and John Boulting (Seven Days to Noon), Suspect is a rather intimate, not quite espionage thriller that emphasizes patriotism over criticisms of post-war and Cold War paranoia. Bannen is really the single best thing about the film when his suffering and neurosis takes center stage, and the question of whether he has put Bob in the company of a corrupt influence out of pure spite or his own possible treasonous interests (if any). Bob and Lucy are far less interesting, and of course their relationship gets a lot of screen time in a film where both the public and private sectors of government treat scientists in a patronizing matter – thankfully, the irony of Gatling claiming that Sewell "wouldn't know humanity if he met it on the street" is not lost on the audience and Prince acknowledges that Gatling's maneuvers have simply compounded and possibly created security vulnerabilities – describing Sewell's public behavior as "naughty" and Bob's naivety as immaturity (Britton was thirty-six at the time but he may have been scripted and playing younger) by Prince whose comically forgetful nature may or may not be a smokescreen to disarm and frustrate Shole. The film ends with the scientists "chastised" and grateful to do what they once thought to be redundant tests either to no end or in the service of the defense department simply for the satisfaction of getting to laugh at Spike Milligan's comic relief attendant being outwitted by a chimpanzee.

The Man Who Finally Died is Kurt Deutsch who is buried just a few days before the arrival in the German village of Königsbaden of jazz musician Joe Newman (Yesterday's Enemy's Stanley Baker) from London in search of the father who he not only believed was killed in the war but apparently summoned him after his death. Traveling to the "gothic monstrosity" where his father lived, he discovers that only Deutsch's faithful housekeeper Martha (The Uninvited's Barbara Everest) knew of his existence, that his widow Lisa (The Witches' Mai Zetterling) is considerably younger, and that both husband and wife were the guests of family friend and Kurt's former commanding officer Dr. Peter von Brecht (Cushing). Von Brecht dismisses the call Joe received as a prank, but Lisa's nervousness and hysterics when Joe probes for details about his father's death causes Joe to suspect that his father was in some sort of trouble and that Von Brecht and Lisa are in on it (along with Martha who is Lisa's mother). When Joe discovers that it was actually life insurance agent Brenner (Night of the Demon's Niall MacGinnis) that summoned him to Königsbaden over a million dollar insurance policy signed in his father's name, Joe also starts to suspect that his father may not be dead; but, is Kurt Deutsch the victim of a plot or its orchestrator?

A mishmash of World War II and Cold War intrigues, The Man Who Finally Died seems less concerned with making its plot compelling than its slavish debts to The Third Man including a score that apes that film's use of the zither most bombastically with harpsichord solos that blunder through the plot as recklessly as Baker's fall guy protagonist. Alternately explosive and icy Inspector Hofmeister (The Whisperers' Eric Portman) and cool Sergeant Hirsch (The Face of Fu Manchu's Nigel Green) do little more than obfuscate the plot along with mysterious chauffeur Heinrich (Children of the Damned's Alfred Burke) and refugee camp resident Maria (Loving Feeling's Georgina Ward) whose father happened to die on the same day as Joe's father and may or may not be buried in the camp's graveyard since it was she rather than Lisa who attended Kurt's burial. The plot is stretched to the point where it becomes obvious who is not who they appear but one no longer cares about what is really going on; and when all is revealed, it becomes quite apparent that things might have gone much more smoothly had the good guys taken Joe into confidence… especially in those last few minutes when the one holding him at gunpoint says "Don't both explaining it to him." Accents are all over the place, and the German locations are limited to second unit while Oakley Court turning out to be the Deutsch manse may raise titters. Zetterling is wasted in a nothing role along with Ward who turns up quite late in the film to become a love interest, but that she does. Like director Quentin Lawrence's The Trollenberg Terror and the Hammer Cushing-starrer Cash-on-Demand, The Man Who Finally Died was also a feature film adaptation of a now-lost three-part television play Lawrence had directed with Richard Pasco in the Baker role, Ralph Michael in the Cushing role, and Cone of Silence's Lawrence in the Zettering role while Green was Heinrich and John Van Eyssen (Horror of Dracula) was Hirsch.

In 1964, the BBC premiered an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" on their anthology series Detective (1964-1969) that served as the pilot for a 1965 series of Sherlock Holmes adaptations starring Cushing's The Vampire Lovers co-star Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock (The Great Escape) as Watson. Wilmer was dissatisfied with the scripts for the first series and declined to return for another. Three years later, a second series premiered in color with Cushing reprising the role of Holmes he had previously essayed in Hammer's The Hound of the Baskervilles, with the studio's rights expiring on that story allowing for another adaptation to be part of his run. While all but two of the Wilmer series episodes survive, the Cushing series suffered not only during its run from budgetary cuts – due to the aformentioned two-part Baskerville adaptation running over budget – and the resulting scaling back of location work but also in subsequent years with limited repeats allowed and the expense of videotape; as such, assessment of the Cushing series must be made on the six surviving episodes out of sixteen including the first two episodes which might have better established whether the series was meant to be a continuation of the Wilmer one or a reboot.

Although it was the serialized novel in which author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Holmes and Watson to the world, the Cushing series' third episode is "A Study in Scarlet" (50:26), the adaptation of which does away with all of the opening chapters establishing Watson and Holmes' first meeting and the former's impressions of the latter and starts off with the mystery, as the consulting detective is called in to investigate the mysterious death of an American (A Clockwork Orange's Craig Hunter) by self-administered poison which would seem like a suicide if not for the word "RACHE" (German for revenge) written in unidentified blood on the wall near his corpse. Competitive Scotland Yard detectives Lestrade (X: The Unknown's William Lucas) and Gregson (Violent Playground's George A. Cooper) jump to conclusions and make premature arrests while Holmes identifies the killer based on overlooked clues to identify the killer long before he ascertains the motive. The adaptation streamlines the structure of the novel by necessity, but also solves the problem of Holmes and Watson not appearing in the second half of the novel which functioned as a long flashback leading up the events of the murder (here dramatized as the opening) which may frustrate Holmes fan-atics but less so for the casual viewers for which the Holmes-Watson interaction is the draw of the stories and films.

The high point of the Cushing series, or at least what remains of it to be seen, is the two-part adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (51:52 and 51:39) which cannot come close to the Technicolor visual splendor of the Hammer adaptation but in its streamlining of the plot and creative liberties does better than the subsequent Granada Jeremy Brett series in dealing with the necessity of Holmes being literally out of the picture for a chunk of the plot as Watson travels with young Sir Henry Baskerville (Look Back in Anger's Gary Raymond) down to his Dartmoor estate inherited from his uncle whose suspicious death may be foul play or the fulfillment of the curse that has hung over the family since the days of Sir Hugo Baskerville (Patton's Gerald Flood) whose sadistic revelries came to and end when he had his throat torn out be a gigantic hound whose spectral howl still haunts the moors. While the flashback vignette is depicted in a simultaneously expressionistic and cost-effective manner as a montage of sepia still images, the plot overly-familiar from other adaptations and popular culture simply plods along until Cushing comes along to verbally rush it to the end.

Much more interesting, actually, is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (50:54) in which the murder of a cruel farmer Bill McCarthy (From Russia with Love's Peter Madden) seemingly by his bullied son James (The Devil's Playground's Nick Tate) seems not so open-and-shut to Holmes and the young man's love interest Alice (Loving Feeling's Heather Kyd) and may have something to do with the elder man's years in Australia with Alice's paranoid, dying father (actor Tate's father John Tate). In addition to some sinister rural atmosphere and the dying man's baffling cries of "rats" the episode also hints at colonial guilt that surfaces more overtly in "The Sign of Four" (52:28), the condensing of a shorter novel in which Watson becomes romantically-interested in a young woman (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors' Ann Bell) whose father's disappearance several years ago is related to an obscure episode in his military service in India and a locked room mystery involving the twin sons (Zulu's Paul Daneman) of a colleague.

The second Holmes novel became the penultimate adaptation; and yet, the episode diverges from the novel by not marrying Watson off. If the series was to continue, the actress' availability should not have been a concern since Watson's wife is mostly mentioned but not seen in later stories. The final surviving episode "The Blue Carbuncle" (50:42) actually was the last episode, and the Christmas-set episode goes for a broadly comic tone that is unusual for the series but proves Cushing and Stock adaptable to the shift as they attempt to determine how the stolen jewel of a wealthy harridan (Jungle Street Girls' Edna Doré) wound up inside of a Christmas goose. Typical of the time, the film's mix of 16mm location work and videotaped interiors betrays the set-bound nature of some Victorian interiors and a foggy London alleys – along with some flare and highlight-trailing – but also lends a certain "cozy" feel both in the contrast between locations and interiors as well as for this era of British television drama production. Given what we know about the production and Cushing's opinions of the series, it is difficult to tell just where Holmes' irritation with human nature ends and Cushing's irritation with budget cuts, reduced shooting schedules, and keeping in various flubs begins Nevertheless, the series is an essential for Holmes and Cushing fans alike (especially those who found the first three films in the set less interesting than his genre work).

In Blood Suckers, promising young Oxford Classics don Richard Fountain (Percy's Patrick Mower) has failed to return from his trip to Greece where he has been studying the ancient Minoan religion. With word that Richard has fallen in with Greek jet setters who have been linked to but never convicted for various drug crimes and a possible international incident, Richard's father contacts Tony Seymour (Paranoiac's Alexander Davion) of the Foreign Office to travel to Greece and retrieve Richard. Accompanying Tony are Richard's fiancée Penelope (The Smashing Bird I Used to Know' Madeleine Hinde) – daughter of Richard's mentor Dr. Walter Goodrich (Cushing) – and Richard's pupil Bob Kirby (The Message's Johnny Sekka). The pair bicker throughout the entire trip, revealing to Tony Richard's resentment at Goodrich's plans positioning the younger man to take his place in the Oxford hierarchy with his daughter at his side. Bob even confides to Tony that Richard believed that Goodrich caused his impotence and that he went to Greece to find his manhood, and Tony subsequently learns from British military attaché Derek Longbow (The Avengers' Patrick MacNee) that Richard has come under the influence of Chriseis (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth's Imogen Hassall) who has spirited him away after her group are linked to the murder of a local girl which looks like a blood sacrifice. Longbow decodes an apparent literary clue left by Richard and deduces that Chriseis has taken him to Hydra where they track them down to a mountain fortress and discover Chriseis drinking blood from Richard's throat. Chriseis is killed in a struggle with Bob who believes her to be an authentic vampire. Richard comes out of a trance apparently physically healthy but mentally disturbed, and Tony is more concerned with getting him out of the country with the help of contacts in the Greek authorities than with his mental well-being. Upon returning to Oxford, Richard seems to be back to himself to the relief of Penelope and her father; however, Bob tries to convince Tony that Richard is still not free of Chriseis' influence and is cracking under the stress.

Based upon the novel "Doctors Wear Scarlet" by Simon Raven, Robert Hartford-Davis' Blood Suckers takes a sledgehammer approach to a compelling tale in which vampirism may or may not be supernatural but it does have underlining psychological and psycho-sexual bases. The film spends the bulk of its running time on a rescue adventure scenario, squishing the setup into a lot of narration and a single dialogue scene designed to introduce the main characters but only functionally so. Richard is introduced as and largely remains an object of interest, spoken of by the others, depicted in silent cutaways, and intercut as a drugged, passive observer of a drug orgy of writhing bodies shot through various filters and bare breasts (and other things) thrusts at the viewer through a fish-eye lens that runs anywhere from six to ten minutes depending on the cut (more about that below). Mower also played a youth falling under strange influences in Hammer's Dennis Wheatley adaptation The Devil Rides Out; however, in the Hammer film, good and evil were clearly defined and the heroes essayed by Christopher Lee and Leon Greene acting unequivocally in the younger man's best interests while the temptations offered by villain Charles Gray threaten him not just with "ruin" but the loss of his immortal soul. In Blood Suckers, things are grayer, or at least they should be more so than the filmmakers believe, but Hartford-Davis seems as embarrassed as protagonist Tony about sexual and sadistic subtext – Edward Woodward's special guest appearance as an expert on psycho-sexual vampirism is almost played for laughs – barreling through as a British adventure serial hero without realizing the destructive effects of this approach. At the height of horror during the climax, rather than realizing his failures, his reaction to death and bloodshed is "You little bastard!"; so much so, that Cushing's domineering (castrating) paternal figure seems more self-aware and remorseful even as he is covering up the incident to maintain order and authority. With the first act largely missing, possibly never shot, and made up entirely of incessant narration and clips from later in the film, the audience is left with bits of dialogue rather than subtle dramatic scenes depicting Richard bristling at Goodrich's controlling nature, Penelope's smothering attention, and his sexual frustration which the film more so than the novel is eager to clarify is entirely due to fear of impotence than possible latent homosexuality.

The film fails to adequately "build up" to Richard's speech railing against the establishment, so it fails to truly resonate and the filmmakers appear to treat it as the hysterical outburst that Goodrich and his cronies would like to see their underlings dismiss it as (the scene's sole bit of resonance comes from the reactions to the speech and its aftermath by Goodrich's colleague played by The Ruling Class' William Mervyn). A better director would have done the project wonders along with perhaps giving Raven more control over the adaptation. Raven worked with Hartford-Davis early on but the final credit goes to musical playwright Julian More (Expresso Bongo) – whose only other feature credit was "additional dialogue" on The Valley of Gwangi – while at the time of production Raven only had play and teleplay credits as well as an "additional dialogue" credit on On Her Majesty's Secret Service but by the time of film's release in 1971 had masterfully adapted Giles Cooper's immensely popular radio play for the screen in Unman, Wittering and Zigo which depicted another insular academic world that produces monsters. Perhaps with a finer hand, the film might have been able to be marketed by the likes of Columbia Pictures – who distributed Hartford-Davis' and operator-turned-producer Peter Newbrook's previous and more outrageous Cushing horror outing Corruption – with the original "Doctors Wear Scarlet" title or the evocative "Incense for the Damned" and then reissued with the "Freedom Seeker" title (which might have resonated better with audiences at the time of the film's production in 1969 rather than its U.S. release in 1971 and the U.K. in 1972).

In the French farce Tender Dracula, Cushing is horror serial star MacGregor who decides on the occasion of the popular series' eight-hundred-and-thirty-fourth episode that he no longer wants to do horror in favor of becoming a romantic lead. Hoping to trick his cash cow, the show's producer (Property is No Longer a Theft's Julien Guiomar) orders writers Alfred (Le grande bouffe's Bernard Menez) and Boris (The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting's Stéphane Shandor) to write MacGregor into the lead of drama serial "First Tears of Daphne" and add horror elements to it. The producer sends the pair – along with a pair of "dreamy creatures and erotic monsters" to "inspire" MacGregor in Marie (La lectrice's Miou-Miou) and Madeleine (Catherine & Co.'s Nathalie Courval) – to spend the weekend at MacGregor's seaside castle in Brittany to discuss his new role.

In spite of the actor's insistence that horror is dead and his determination to burn his old persona "on the altar of love" in light of his marriage to muse Héloïse (Eyes Without a Face's Alida Valli), MacGregor does dress like Dracula, drink very viscous Bloody Marys for breakfast, and live quite comfortably amid cobwebs, gargoyles, and medieval torture devices. When he is not trying to romance Marie, Alfred tries to engage MacGregor's intellect and nostalgia for the iconic horror roles. Having given up on Madeleine who is more interested in trying to seduce Héloïse's ex-husband Abélard (Love and Death's Percival Russel) - who went insane after he accidentally emasculated himself while chopping wood and now works as MacGregor's butler and valet – Boris in the meantime attempts to use his make-up effects gags to give MacGregor a good scare. They ignore at their peril MacGregor's proclamation that anything is possible in his "realm of romanticism" and his seasoned imagination cooks up some scares of his own for his warm-bodied guests.

While his friend and frequent co-star Christopher Lee was thoroughly cheesed off with the Dracula role by 1974 – even refusing to appear in what would be Hammer's last theatrical horror film The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires – Cushing donned the cloak for a very atypical and outright bizarre entry in his filmography that plays like a light-hearted variation on his previous Amicus picture Madhouse in which he and Vincent Price played rival horror stars. Tender Dracula was the sole directorial effort of prolific producer Pierre Grunstein who belonged to the world of French mainstream cinema by way of a long partnership with filmmaker Claude Berri (Jean de Florette), and his determination that horror is dead and has been supplanted by pornography might seem like the mercenary observation of the state of the industry in the mid-seventies; however, in the film it is a lamentation for the death of imagination coinciding with the disillusionment of actual fantastique midi minuit auteurs like Jean Rollin whose most personal vampire film Lips of Blood was also his biggest failure, and that audiences were more interested in his attempt to salvage the film for the producers and hard-up star/co-writer Jean-Loup Philippe by inserting two lengthy hardcore sex scenes and calling it "Suck Me Vampire" than in his actual attempt to meld horror and porn with Phantasmes and signing jobbing porn works with alias like "Michel Gentil" and "Robert Xavier".

While the film does offer plenty of nudity from Miou-Miou and Courval as well as a handful of surprisingly grisly gore gags; however, the prevailing theme is the transformative effects of romanticism, literally so in the case of Valli who is introduced looking like a hag housekeeper named Germaine and seems rather frumpy at the dinner table but then seems to transform with a cut into Héloïse as MacGregor sees her during their waltz (a melancholy and drunk Boris wistfully watching the others dancing before he suddenly blows his brains out would have been just as fitting had it not proved to be one of Boris' effects gags even with MacGregor's nonplussed reaction). Although MacGregor has fangs and it is averred that he may indeed be Dracula – a flashback to his childhood as the grandson of a gravedigger opposed to him exercising his imagination may indeed be a fantasy – Cushing definitely conveys the "tender" aspect, as do Valli and Russel who manages to convey a depth of feeling with a single word of dialogue. Menez, Shandor, Miou-Miou, and Courval are appropriately as malleable as their characters – physically so in the case of the two women who are taken apart and put back together as magically by Boris' make-up wizardry as MacGregor's magic – to both the tonal shifts of the script and their characters' ability to adapt to trends while the others "escape" in melodramatic fashion at the end in which a bit of Terry Gilliam-esque animation is perfectly in keeping with the fantastique elements of the film rather than a cheap optical. Surrealist elements extend from bleeding paintings and crying statues to impromptu musical numbers commenting on the situation (which sound far more melodic in French than English). Presumably, Lee also vibed with this romantic, comic, and tragic take since he would subsequently play the Count once more in another French fantastique comedy Dracula and Son d – itself an atypical choice for seasoned French comedy director Édouard Molinaro (La cage aux folles) – in which the titular son was once again Menez.


Released theatrically in the United States by Universal-International as "Trouble in the Sky" running sixteen minutes shorter, Cone of Silence first turned up on DVD in the U.K. from Odeon in a horrid non-anamorphic 1.53:1 letterboxed transfer, and that transfer was ported over stateside by VCI (the disc bore the U.S. title but featured the British version). Transferred from a new 2K scan of a dupe negative by the BFI, Severin's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.33:1 widescreen presentation is largely flawless apart from some defects in the dupe element including splice lines that pop into the top of the frame at a few cut points and a minute stretch where a dancing white vertical scratch bedevils the left side of the frame early on. Opticals and brief stock footage make themselves known but there are moments where depth is surprising including a POV through the windshield landing of the plane on the runway.

Released theatrically in the United States as "The Risk" by Union Film Distributors, Suspect was first released in the U.K. as a barebones fullscreen edition from Optimum as part of the "Boulting Brothers Collection" and then on Blu-ray from Network in 2021. Severin's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.64:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from the same Studio Canal 2K-scanned high definition master with a wide midrange of grays, some black but not quite noir shadows, and stable highlights from light sources in the frame to detail in the daylight skies glimpsed outside windows of the location interiors. Detail greatly enhances Bannen's physical performance with sweat beads and muscle twitches in contrast to the more benign and "cooler" performances of Cushing and Pleasance who seem recessed in the frame.

Not released until 1967 in the United States, The Man Who Finally Died had its DVD debut in the U.K. from Network as a barebones anamorphic presentation. This was upgraded to a Blu-ray in 2022
was presumably also the source from Severin Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.32:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a 2K scan by Studio Canal which is free of damage and is probably the slickest-looking production of all the films in the set and the best-looking in terms of archival care.

Released separately from the Wilmer series on DVD in the U.K. by BBC and the U.S. by A&E, the Cushing series of Sherlock Holmes comes to Blu-ray as 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.24:1 pillarboxed fullscreen upscales of the original tape protection masters (presumably the 16mm materials are long gone and we are lucky to have what we do of the series on tape). The original 25fps running time has been slowed down to 24fps with pitch correction which may annoy purists but is not very noticeable in terms of motion of Cushing's vocal performance. Only A Study in Scarlet bears distracting tape damage in at least three instances while the rest of the episodes have the usual shot-on-video defects with highlights and standard-definition resolving of filmed location materials.

Released in the U.S. in 1971 under the exploitative Blood Suckers title in a double-bill with the until-then-unreleased 1965 black-and-white Philippines-lensed American horror flick Blood Thirst by Chevron Pictures – and in the U.K. in a version running five minutes shorter than the U.S. R-rated version and seven minutes shorter than the version the BBFC originally awarded an X-certificate – Blood Suckers has had a rather convoluted video release history, with the U.S. VHS releases featuring slightly more of the drug orgy scene than the R-rated version – presumably this was the eighty-three minute international version – while the first DVD release from Image Entertainment on their "Something Weird Video" line in 2001 featured the eighty-minute R-rated print under the "Freedom Seeker" title while attempting to reproduce the Chevron Pictures double bill. While the U.K. DVD release from Prism Direct featured the seventy-six minute (at 24fps) British cinema version entirely missing the drug orgy sequence, Image Entertainment's second go at the time as part of their "Redemption Films" line featured a transfer of the eighty-three minute international version with more of the orgy but missing a brief bit in which a female victim's breast is exposed before she is bitten (which was included in the U.S. version).

Severin Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative "with additional elements from a recently discovered 35mm vault print" and the presentation. The drug orgy sequence is extended by three minutes and seventeen seconds to just over ten minutes and includes significantly more nudity including full frontal female and male nudity through various filters but also in crisp fish-eye close-ups, more gyrating and thrusting during the sexual encounters, and surprisingly for a British sixties film a few cutaways to sexual interaction between two males. Apart from this vividly-colorful sequence – possibly shot by Hartford-Davis himself – there is little to commend in the photography of the usually-dependable Desmond Dickinson (Horror Hotel) with terrible day-for-night sequences and Sekka's complexion completely swallowed up by shadow in harsh, sunny Greek exteriors; however, the colors remain stable and the resolution is such that we can see just how fake and mismatched the shower of stones Chriseis sends raining own on Longbow compared to the surrounding rocks. This is the definitive presentation of a film that many involved in it probably wanted to forget.

Apparently released theatrically in the U.S. and the U.K. as "The Big Scare", Tender Dracula was hard to find on home video apart from a Canadian cassette that strayed south of the border occasionally and a 1998 American cassette, and the film was absent entirely on DVD despite Cushing's horror popularity. Severin's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a new 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negatives and advertises itself as being the "world premiere of the director's cut." We have not seen earlier versions of the film but IMDb reports a running time of ninety-eight minutes while the VHS release had a reported running time of eighty-four minutes. The new transfer runs 88:35 when one subtracts the fifty-seven seconds of the new opening Pathé logo and the extended exit music on black, but we do not know if the director's cut prunes material from the possibly-erroneous reported longer timing or adds to shorter timing. The opening title opticals and the live action interspersed throughout the credits look a bit coarser but soon give way to a crisp, colorful, and vibrant image particularly when it comes to the use of red throughout the film. Blacks are mostly deep but a scene in which Menez is chased by the lower half of a gorily bisected female torso reveals the mechanics of the gag in the shadows; however, this may have been intentional given the film's other reveals of trickery.


All of the films and TV episodes in the set feature English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio while Tender Dracula also includes the French dub. Suspect and The Man Who Finally Died sound flawless – apart from that annoying harpsichord – while Cone of Silence has some rare pops coinciding with the pictorial flaws in the dupe negative but nothing distracting. Sherlock Holmes has some dropouts during the tape damage moments in "A Study in Scarlet" but nothing distracts from the roughness of the sound recording and mixing and the occasional line flubs. Despite being a composite of negative and archival elements, Blood Suckers's lossless audio track sounds consistently clean and clear – although the key inserted section being the longer version of the drug orgy consists entirely of music – while Tender Dracula's English and French tracks both feature post-dubbed dialogue, entirely library and foley sound effects, and music. Both tracks sound clean, but it is hard to recommend one or the other. The English track features Cushing and Valli dubbing themselves while the French track sound occasionally more elegant (and melodic when it comes to the musical number). All films include English SDH subtitles while Tender Dracula includes both SDH subtitles for the English dub and English subtitles for the French dub.


Cone of Silence:
The film is the only one in the set that does not have a commentary, sharing the disc with the titular "Cushing Curiosities" starting with a The Guardian interview with Peter Cushing conducted in 1986 which plays over the first eighty minutes of the film on a second audio track. Pleased to be in the presence of an audience and keeping them chuckling, Cushing recalls starting out as a surveyor's assistant through his father and badgering his way into rep theatre before his father gave him a one way ticket to Hollywood with no connections. He discusses his early film roles including a bit part that came after he played against Louis Hayward in split screen shots for his twin scenes in The Man in the Iron Mask, landing a role in the Laurel and Hardy comedy A Chump at Oxford, and a larger role in A Vigil in the Night which was shot in Hollywood but set in England and required for a role an actor who could affect a Northern accent understandable to American audiences and acceptable to British ones. After covering his humorously roundabout way of getting back to England via Canada, he discusses his television work and putting off offers from Hammer until he learned about The Curse of Frankenstein. The overall discussion is not linear but it includes his other Hammer work and horror titles as well as his friendship and working relationship with Lee.

"Peter Cushing and His Miniature Soldiers" (2:19) is a short 1956 color newsreel about his hobby of building miniature soldiers while the other interviews are audio-based and illustrated with video and stills starting with Peter Cushing on "The Funster Show" with Paul Carrington (13:10) in which he discusses the power of casting gentle-looking actors and having them do beastly things, while Peter Cushing interviewed by Tony Dalton, author of "Terence Fisher: Master Of Gothic Cinema" (63:46) from 1973 covers a lot of the same ground as The Guardian interview with regards to his stage and Hollywood career but focuses more on his genre work later on. Most affecting is "Cushing's View" (12:55), a 1973 interview with Peter Cushing on Whitstable and his late wife Helen over modern footage of the area as the actor recalls their London flat and lots of stay-overs with friends that motivated his wife to find somewhere close enough to London where he could relax and indulge in his hobbies.

While the U.K. Blu-ray release only had an image gallery, Severin has recorded a new audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons who reveal that the 1949 Nigel Balchin novel "A Sort of Traitors" had been well-reviewed by critics who anticipated a feature adaptation, and that it had been announced that same year by London Films but fell through. Ten years later, the Boultings picked it up as an experiment to create their own feature to support another production while attempting to make it not seem like a B-feature. They also discuss the performances and characterizations of Cushing and Huntley as well as Bannen in his transitional period from theatrical leads to "twitching weirdos."

The Man Who Finally Died:
Whereas the U.K. Blu-ray featured the unrelated television play A Fear of Strangers from Drama '64 and a new interview with actor Danny Grover (2001: A Space Odyssey) who plays a refugee camp child, Severin's sole extra is an audio commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula", and Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir" who lament the lack of availability of the Lawrence TV plays, discuss the obviousness of casting Cushing and MacGinnis in their respective roles, and Baker's transition from gritty crime film actor to mainstream star, the film's cast of the "cream of male character actors" as well as the film's aforementioned debts to The Third Man while also describing it as a "solid thriller."

Sherlock Holmes:
Each of the surviving episodes is accompanied by an audio commentary. "A Study in Scarlet", "The Hound Of The Baskervilles: Part 1", and "The Sign of Four" each feature an audio commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula" and David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen". "The Hound Of The Baskervilles: Part 2" features an audio commentary by Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir" and David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen" while "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" and "The Blue Carbuncle" each feature an audio commentary by Kim Newman, author of "Anno Dracula" and Barry Forshaw, author of "Brit Noir". Subjects covered include how Hammer's rights to "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and the Broadway musical "Baker Street"'s rights to some of the stories prevented some stories from being adapted during the Wilmer season, the changes made to the adaptations including "A Study in Scarlet" which introduced Holmes and Watson as young bachelors, the series' stated intention to get away from the portrayal of Watson as a buffoon – and how some of Stock's performances in different episodes contradicts this – Cushing's earlier impossible-to-see work on television including romantic leads like Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice" and how television changed when he came back to it in the sixties, and the effect of the shrinking budgets and schedules on the scripts. Most interesting are their discussions of folk horror elements as well as the genre themes of colonial sins come home to roost in some of the stories.

The disc also includes an illustrated Peter Cushing 1974 audio interview with David Stuart Davies, author of "Starring Sherlock Holmes: A Century of the Master Detective on Screen" (18:09) in which he recalls his love of the Rathbone Holmes films – he was in Hollywood at the time but had no connections at that studio – apart from the anachronisms as the different series entries moved towards a more modern timeline, his close reading and research for playing the role, the differences between his Hammer and BBC characterizations, the necessity of changes in the adaptations, and his dissatisfaction with the production and the shrinking shooting schedules.

Although twelve of the Cushing episodes are still lost, the disc does include some recovered lost segments (8:21) from tapes of the Flemish network VRT that have been "color recovered" from black and white telerecordings (made possible by the backwards compatibility of color broadcasting systems) from the episodes "Black Peter", "The Dancing Men", "The Musgrave Ritual", "The Naval Treaty", "The Second Stain", and "The Solitary Cyclist" with original English audio and burnt-in Dutch subtitles. The selection is also accompanied by an optional audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons noting the presence of "The Boscombe Valley Mystery's John Tate in "Black Peter", that the original broadcast of "The Dancing Men" was an incomplete edit that included a technician being straying into camera and being shouted out – an incident that made the papers and caused BBC to issue an apology to Cushing – which ended up in the later re-broadcast as well, the inclusion of Peter Bowles (To the Manor Born) and Dennis Price (The Haunted House of Horror) in "The Naval Treaty", Daniel Massey (Vault of Horror) in "The Second Stain" as well as Charles Tingwell and David Butler, and that the latter also appeared in Crucible of Horror which was directed by episode director Viktors Ritelis.

Blood Suckers:
The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons who discuss the film's structural problems and its production troubles that lead to Hartford-Davis taking his name off the credits and parting ways with partner Newbrook as well as the differences between the film and the Raven source novel, its parallels with The Devil Rides Out, Hartford-Davis' attempts to turn Hinde into a contract star, and the presence of British sexploitation performers in the orgy scene. Most interesting is their analysis of the novel and what the film might have been, noting Cushing's character as being sort of an "academic vampire."

The disc also includes Stranger in the City (22:24), a 1961 short film by Hartford-Davis distributed theatrically by Compton-Cameo Films who would go on to produce Hartford-Davis' early sexploitation features The Yellow Teddy Bears and Saturday Night Out and his and the company's first go at Hammer-esque horror with The Black Torment (producer Tony Tenser would go on to form Tigon Films).

In "Daddy's Girl" (17:21), Hartford-Davis' daughter Jean Hartford-Davis reveals that her father ran away from home at age fourteen and sought work in London, landing an assistant electrician in a studio, became a paratrooper during the war, and struggled to get back into the movies after the war. He became a television director at the company where his wife was writing but "went funny" when made redundant, attempting to bring television to South Africa but having more luck in the movies when he came back to England when he made the acquaintance of Newbrook. She recalls his early work at Compton and briefly Blood Suckers, her daughter being an extra in Beware My Brethren, and how his Hollywood career was cut short by his sudden death.

In "Bite Me!" (20:20), "Tigon: Blood on a Budget" author John Hamilton provides more background on Hartford-Davis' early films including tension with Tenser over The Black Torment which was the first Compton release they shot in color with a big budget, forming a company with Newbrook with the intention of doing comedies and musicals but ending up doing horror with Corruption and how Hartford-Davis taking "his eye off the ball" during Blood Suckers – a production Hartford-Davis imposed himself on which was to be directed by cinematographer-turned-director Dennis Lewiston (Hot Target) and to which Hamilton asserts he was ill-fitted – lead to the breakup of their partnership.

In "The Trip" (16:53), uncredited drug orgy actress Françoise Pascal (Rollin's The Iron Rose) recalls her career taking off with the Peter Sellers duo There's a Girl in My Soup and Soft Beds, Hard Battles when her boyfriend asked her to appear in a "segment" for a film that would turn out to be the drug orgy of Blood Suckers. Her parts were filmed during the day and she claims to have only heard about the actual drug use and sex on the closed set after hours, but feels that her nudity was necessary for the scene compared to some other British sexploitation films she did.

"Hydra Phonics" (9:59) is an interview with sound recordist Tony Dawe (Empire of the Sun) who had done post-production on Hartford-Davis' The Smashing Bird I Used to Know when the director asked if he wanted to record production sound on Blood Suckers requiring him to get permission from his shop steward to take ten weeks away from the studio and get a day of tips from one of the "gods" of sound recording. Besides the oft-repeated anecdote of cameramen and sound recordists getting shouted at by a director for calling cut due to a flaw, he recalls that the Greek locations were so quiet that he was able to record clear sound for them compared to the location shooting in England. He also recalls the stir he caused when he decided to continue pursuing sound recording jobs that got him banned from Shepperton Studios for ten years.

The disc also includes the "Freedom Seeker" title sequence (1:35) presumably taken directly from the Image DVD, as well as the film's theatrical trailer (2:13).

Tender Dracula:
The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby, author of "English Gothic", and horror historian Kevin Lyons who draw comparisons between the film's surreal and fantastique elements with the works of Rollin and the lesser-known Norbert Moutier (Ogroff), note that the exteriors of MacGregor's castle were actually shot in Scotland (while pointing out the mismatching stand-ins for these location scenes), and reveal that director Grunstein originally wanted and cast Valentina Cortese (The Barefoot Contessa) in the Valli role. They also tantalizingly reveal an anecdote of Cushing's frequent co-star Christopher Lee that he was offered a role in a film called "Tender Dracula" by none other than Alain Robbe-Grillet (Playing with Fire) but Grunstein has no knowledge of this (they also note that the Lee quote might be the source of the film's subtitle in reference materials: "Confessions of a Blood Drinker").

"Love Me Tender, Dracula" (15:44) is an interview with director Grunstein who recalls how he came to work for Claude Berri and moving up to producer, coming up with the idea to make the film with his friend and Berri's influence in getting the production moving and partially-funded (along with some contributions from friends and a distribution deal with AMLF). He also discusses the set designs of artist Jean Gourmelin executed by art director Jean-Pierre Kohut-Svelko (The Last Metro), as well as casting Cushing and wanting to cast Valentina Cortese, the popularity of Miou-Miou and Menez at the time, and the film's difficult distribution.

In "Menez of Speaking" (21:10), actor Menez recalls meeting Miou-Miou in Berri's office when he called them both and pitched Grunstein's film to them, advising them it was going to be big. He also recalls working with Cortese in Day for Night and reveals that she used bogus medical paperwork to get out of Tender Dracula. He recalls working with Cushing and Valli and being embarrassed (as well as cold) doing the sex scene with Miou-Miou in their presence.

The disc closes with the international trailer (2:37) which features French onscreen text and English dialogue.


The six discs are housed in five keep-cases - Sherlock Holmes being a two-disc set - in a hard cardboard case along with a 200-page book "Peter Cushing: A Portrait in Six Sketches" by Jonathan Rigby in which he covers the stage of his career with special attention to the titles in the set but also providing attention to some of Cushing fans' favorite titles as well as titles in between the major ones he discussed and his later films that were to come after those seventies interviews.


While not as genre-focused as Severin's Christopher Lee volumes, Cushing Curiosities provides a pleasant overview of Cushing's career beyond Hammer and Star Wars.


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