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The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (Vinegar Syndrome) UHD/Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: February 27th, 2024.
    Director: Riccardo Freda (as Robert Hampton)
    Cast: Barbara Steele, Robert Flemyng, Silvano Tranquilli, Maria Teresa Vianello
    Year: 1962
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Horrible Dr. Hichcock– Movie Review:

    Set in the London of 1885, the titular medical practitioner of Riccardo Freda's film is one Dr. Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemyng). When we meet him, he and his assistant Dr. Kurt Lang (Silvano Tranquilli credited as Montgomery Glenn) are injecting a patient with an anesthetic so that they can carry out their surgery. The operation is a success, and with that out of the way they head off to Hichcock's estate where his wife, Margaretha (Maria Teresa Vianello credited as Teresa Fitzgerald), is prepared to host the evening's gala. In no mood for a party, Bernard has their cat loving maid, Martha (Harriet Medin credited as Harriet White), let his wife know he's going to bed for the night. She obliges, and shortly after Margaretha has sent the guests home for the night. She heads upstairs where Bernard injects her with the contents of a vial. She falls quickly asleep, and he lies next to her. The next night, there's more of the same, although this time he gives her a significantly larger dose, one that she doesn't recover from. Puzzlingly enough, the good doctor seems quite shocked by this turn of events and falls into a serious depression. He buries his wife in the grounds and then leaves.

    Twelve years later, he returns and is now married to a former patient of his named Cynthia (Barbara Steele). She's understandably perturbed by the old (now somewhat run down) home, what with all of its unusual paintings and strange décor it is a bit creepy, but Cynthia seems irritable. The fact that a lot of the paintings that still hang portray Margaretha seem particularly unsettling to the new bride. Martha still tends to the home, only now her strange sister (who seems to scream a lot and is soon due to go to an asylum!) is lurking about as well. It doesn't help matters that the maid gives poor Cynthia a particularly cold shoulder. The more time Cynthia spends in the new home, the more it starts to get to her and before you know it she's become convinced that someone is poking about late at night, undercover of the darkness, trying to do away with her. As Bernard gets back into the swing of things at the hospital, once again working as a skilled surgeon, Cynthia starts to wonder if maybe Margaretha isn't dead at all… and if that's the case, it stands to reason she's none too happy that her husband has brought another woman into their home! Bernard brushes off her concerns and simply gets her some medication to help ease what he tells her is anxiety, but as Cynthia and Kurt grow closer, they both start to wonder just what it is that her husband is up to.

    Clearly influenced by the Corman/Price Poe adaptations, Riccardo Freda's gothic chiller holds up well more than a half century after it was made. Without spoiling too much of the storyline for those yet to see the picture, it's interesting to see how the film deals with the still understandably taboo subject of necrophilia. The film makes it clear in no uncertain terms that our titular Dr. Hichcock (spelled that way on purpose - an attempt to get some 'name recognition' without getting sued it would seem!) has a thing for dead women even if he stops short of full on copulation and instead goes home to work out his kinks with his wife (be that wife Margaretha or Cynthia). This explains the sedation games he indulges with in the first chunk of the film, what with putting his wife under before crawling into bed with her. It's a little odd that he seems so surprised that she dies from the larger dose - this is a formula that he created, after all - you'd think he knew what he was doing, but we can forgive that. The script from Ernesto Gastaldi (credited here like everyone else with an anglicized pseudonym - Julyan Perry in this case) is otherwise quite good.

    Freda's direction is excellent. This is, like many of its Italian gothic horror counterparts, a slow burn picture but that doesn't make it any less compelling. The locations used for the shoot are perfect, allowing the camera to eloquently capture plenty of spooky stonewalled corridors and candlelit boudoirs, the kind where shadows hold secrets aplenty and ominous sounds come from just outside the window. The film does not lack at all in atmosphere, the visuals are rich and consistent in their impressiveness. That sounded kind of fancy, but fancy is completely appropriate when talking about just how gorgeous the cinematography is in this picture. The score is at times over the top, very dramatic and heavy on intensity even when there are moments where you wish it would pull back a bit.

    The performances here are just fine - occasionally great in the case of Ms. Steele - even if the dubbing is questionable. Flemyng overdoes it in spots (it seems like he did his own voice work here) while whoever dubbed Steele just doesn't sound like Steele. But this is par for the course with a lot of imports from the era. The acting itself is quite good. Steele's body language and amazingly expressive eyes convince us that, yes, this is a woman quite terrified of her surroundings. She's pretty much perfect in the part, or at the very least she looks perfect for the part. Harriet Medin as the strange maid (who may or may not have a thing for her 'deceased' female employer!) and Silvano Tranquilli as Hichcock's fellow doctor are also quite good here.

    Note that both the UHD and Blu-ray discs include both cuts of the movie. The 87-minute Italian cut features both Italian and English language and includes the original Italian language title card, while the 76-minute American cut includes only an English audio option and includes the English language title card.

    The Horrible Dr. Hichcock – UHD Review:

    The HEVC encoded 2160p transfer, framed at 1.85.1 and featuring HDR10 looks excellent. Restored in 4k from its original 35mm camera negative, the picture quality here is very strong. There are some feint vertical scratches here and there as well as some small white specks but for the most part, the image is very clean and boasts excellent detail, depth and texture. Colors look great across the board and darker scenes, which are frequent, boast strong shadow detail and really good black levels. Skin tones look lifelike and natural throughout and there are no problems to note with any noticeable compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction issues. The natural film grain you’d expect to see is preserved but it never gets clumpy or noisy and everything winds up looking very natural and film-like.

    The Italian version gets both English and Italian language tracks in 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 Mono with English language subtitle options include for both options while the American edit gets an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track, again with optional English subtitles.

    The only extra on the UHD is a commentary track with film historians Eugenio Ercolani, Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. Also included on the Blu-ray, the track, which plays over the Italian cut of the movie, tackles the alternate titles, goes over the details of the cast, crew and producers involved in the production, the pseudonyms used in the credits (the mystery of ‘Frank Smokecocks’ identity revealed!), Riccardo Freda career and directorial efforts, how the movie compares to other Italian gothic horror pictures made around the same time, the 2015 novelization the screenplay by Ernesto Gastaldi, the use of sound in the movie and the quality of its score, how Freda's work and style compared to Maria Bava's, thoughts on the different performances and the actors' respective approaches to the material, Freda and Steele's work here and on The Ghost, the strength of the visuals in the movie, where trims were made to the American version and where those trims might actually improve the movie, differences between the film and the script, the film's similarities to Suspiria during its finale and plenty more.

    The rest of the extras in the set are included on the Blu-ray disc, starting with scene select commentary track with actress Barbara Steele, moderated by Barbara Steele archivist Russ Lanier. This goes over twenty-seven minutes’ worth of footage and lets Steels talk about what it was like working with Freda (who she speaks very highly of), making the movie around the same time as making Fellini's 8 1/2, how the film was made on a bet that Freda could make a film in one month, what it was like on set, how she feels about the movie and its visuals, how the Italian horror films compare to the Hammer films made around the same time, how she got along with her co-stars, her thoughts on making period films and other details regarding her work on this picture and the time she spent working in Italy.

    The Horrible Dr. Freda, which is an interview with second assistant director Marcello Avallone who talks about how young he was when he worked on the movie, how he came to collaborate with Freda, his experiences with horses, how his father got him work with Freda, what it was like on set and how sometimes it was quite chaotic, some of the tricks of the trade that he learned during this experience, how loud and heavy the cameras were, memories of shooting specific interior and exterior scenes, how the fire at the end of the movie went wrong, when and why Barbara Steele walked off of the set leading him to have to fill in for her, working with the other cast members and what he was responsible for during the making of the movie.

    The Most Honorable Julyan Perry interviews screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi for thirty-one minutes about how he came up with the story, not really collaborating with directors or producers during this period, locations that were used for the film, what Freda was like to work with (describing him as a "chess master"), similarities to Rebecca, his own experiences dealing with censorship, how he feels about the finished film compared to his script, his experiences working as a director, working on low budget pictures, thoughts on other genre pictures that he's worked on over the decades and some of the people that he collaborated with and more. This isn't really specific to The Horrible Dr. Hichcock but it is an interesting overview of Gastaldi's career.

    Necropolises And Necrophiliacs sees filmmaker Marcello Avallone discuss Italian horror and his experiences of working within the genre for sixteen minutes. He talks about why death is a key element in horror movies, depicting death in his own movies, the symbolism of cemeteries, the differences between depicting zombies versus ghosts and some of the Italian filmmakers who have done this well, his thoughts on Hichcock and on Freda's methods, his own experiences working on the movie and other details.

    Finishing up the extras on the disc is the two minute English "Raptus" title sequence, an Italian trailer, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options.

    Vinegar Syndrome has also gone all out on the packaging. The disc includes some nice reversible sleeve artwork and, if purchased from the Vinegar Syndrome website, this set comes with a spot gloss hard slipcase/slipcover combo designed by Chris Barnes as well as a full color, forty-page perfect bound book limited to 8,000 units. The book includes an interesting essay on the movie titled ‘Death Becomes Her’ by Alexandra Heller-Nichols, a second equally interesting piece by Erica Shutlz titled ‘Are Those Maggots In Your Eyes Or Are You Just Happy To See Me: Necrophilia In Italian Horror Films’ (sure essay title of the year right there!) and last but not least, an essay from Thompson titled ‘The Shadow Of The Grave: Dissecting The Horrible Dr. Hichcock.’ All three pieces are well worth taking the time to read.

    The Horrible Dr. Hichcock - The Final Word:

    The Horrible Dr. Hichcock stands the test of time remarkably well, classic slice of gothic horror from the boom years of Italian horror cinema made by a skilled crew and with a great cast. Vinegar Syndrome’s UHD/Blu-ray combo offers up both cuts of the movie in excellent presentations and with some pretty decent extras to explore the movie’s history. All in all, it’s a great package for fans of the film.


    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized The Horrible Dr. Hichcock Blu-ray screen caps!

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