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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: October 23rd, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1962

The Horrible Dr. Hichcock - U.K. Import

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: S. Tony Nash
Radiance Films UK offers up the first complete experience of the Riccardo Freda/Barbara Steele classic The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, absolutely trumping the original Olive Films Blu-Ray by leaps and bounds. Featuring all three restored cuts of the film, new interviews – including an extensive one with Ernesto Gastaldi, two audio commentaries, and a booklet with new writings on the film, this edition is Highly Recomended for Gothic Horror buffs, Barbara Steele fans, Riccardo Freda fans, and film lovers in general.

OVERALL:
Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
New 2023 2K restoration of the film from the original negative presented in three versions across two Blu-rays: Disc 1: the 87-minute export version The Terror of Dr Hichcock with extras; Disc 2, exclusive to the limited edition: the re-ordered 76-minute North American version The Horror of Dr Hichcock; and the English dub of the complete 87-minute Italian cut Raptus: The Secret of Dr. Hichcock. Limited edition of 5000 copies.
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/MPEG-4 AVC
Length:
77
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
English / Italian: DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono
Subtitles/Captions:
English
Release Date:
October 23rd, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Riccardo Freda starts the film with a bang after the credits roll: We’re catapulted to London, England in 1885 and the first image is a mist and fog-laden cemetery where a grave is being freshly dug. The gravedigger momentarily stops for a drink and is subsequently hit over the head by an assailant kept firmly in the shadows. The mystery man opens the coffin and it’s shown to contain the body of a recently deceased woman, still very beautiful even after death. The man then proceeds to sensually caress the body, but the camera cuts before anything explicit occurs.

The real beginning commences within daylight hours at the hospital run by Dr. Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemyng), taking his staff through the process and procedures of his latest invention, a more effective and potent anesthesia for surgeries. Dr. Hichcock is shown as the atypical well respected and well-liked surgeon that everyone recommends and is the toast of Britain’s medical society, but he’s soon shown to have an edgier side to him. It’s revealed quickly that the doctor is a necrophiliac – someone who gets sexually aroused by the look and feel of lifeless bodies – and that his wife (Maria Teresa Vianello) indulges him in his fantasies by allowing him to inject her with his recently invented anesthetic that slows down all body functions, mimicking death. Freda teases audiences with the idea that it was the doctor at the cemetery at the start of the film, but because he already has an outlet for this bizarre fetish, it’s left ambiguous as to if he would go looking for the real thing.

Sadly, things go wrong very quickly for Dr. Hichcock when he, and again Freda leaves viewers ambiguously uncertain of whether it was intentional or not, gives his wife a fatal dose of the anesthetic and she dies in his arms, the doctor seemingly paralyzed with shock and fear. After the funeral, Dr. Hichcock decides to go abroad for some time to recover and gives his faithful maid (Harriet Medin) instructions to keep the house in order until he returns.

Several years later and a London newspaper headline appears onscreen announcing the long-awaited return of the much beloved and missed Dr. Hichcock. He isn’t returning alone though, having met, fallen in love with, and married a woman named Cynthia (Barbara Steele). The new Mrs. Hichcock is at first ecstatic at moving to England and going to live in her husband’s ancestral home, but it isn’t long before she senses something deathly eerie about the place and quickly begins to feel ill at ease. It isn’t too long before the deadly truth comes out.

Using 1885 as the setting, the story is staged right between Edwardian and Victorian Era England where moral character, dignity, fiber, and priority reigned supreme. This strict adherence to a proper code of conduct and forms of respectability naturally led to sexual repression, and anyone wishing to continue their natural inclinations would be forced to practice in secret. Dr. Hichcock is a very curious and interesting product of this era, on the one hand enjoying being a pillar in his field of medicine, and on the other enjoying the things that make men human, yet at the same time in complete conflict on how to make both worlds coexist. Necrophilia is as much as taboo today as it was way back when, and should the doctor’s secret erotic passion be revealed, it would’ve meant not only disgrace for him and his wife, but also criminal charges for desecrating corpses.

Director Freda and Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi don’t put too strong an emphasis on the subtext of the film, but they offer good insightful inclinations of the doctor’s conflict with what ignites his urges. A fine example is a sequence where Dr. Hichcock seemingly caves and goes to the hospital morgue to have his way with a recently brought-in young woman who died of a severe illness. The look on Robert Flemyng’s face showcases a mix of natural revulsion of what he’s about to do, but also a primal lust of a man in the throes of passion. Background information on the film’s history mentions Flemyng purportedly wanted to quit the production when he found out what his character’s fetish was, and adds quite a bit to the actor’s performance in showcasing the character’s seeming inner conflict.

Barbara Steele, known and famous for her portrayals of strong-willed, resilient, and often crafty heroines, and devilish, scheming villainesses, gets to apply her skill to the role of the not so weak damsel in distress character. While most certainly afraid of what she might find, and equally concerned looking for it entails danger, Cynthia Hichcock is more determined to end what is causing her torment than the fear consuming her. While it might be odd to some to see Steele playing a woman in peril type of role, Cynthia Hichcock is far from a one-dimensional figure going through the motions. Yes, she goes through the common tropes of Gothic Horror, but Ms. Steele does it with such grace that it feels anything but common.

Much of Robert Flemyng’s performance has been discussed earlier, so these details won’t be rehashed, but his overall acting in the film is spot-on. The story of Flemyng looking to quit because of the necrophilia content loses some of its potency given his performance in the film. If Flemyng truly had been fooled into the role, evidence of overall discomfort would’ve been noticed even if he was doing his best to hide it. The scene where the character fights the urge to molest the corpse of a newly deceased young lady is naturally meant to be uncomfortable, and Flemyng doesn’t do much different than another actor would’ve done with the scene. Whether the story of Flemyng wanting to quit is true or just a piece of backstage rumors that became cinematic folklore might never be known, but what is true is Flemyng delivering an excellent piece of acting.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray

The Horrible Dr. Hichcock arrives on Blu-ray in the UK from Radiance Films in a two-disc set, featuring a 2K restoration of the original 87-minute cut of the film, presented in both the L’Orribile Segreto del Dr. Hichcock in Italian with English subtitles and Raptus: The Secret of Dr. Hichcock in English cuts, plus the English dubbed 76-minute recut The Horrible Dr. Hichcock edit on a 2nd disc. Both discs are Region B Locked and are housed in a clear Scanavo two-disc case, featuring reversible cover art, both newly commissioned and original poster art. Limited to 5000 units with a 65-page booklet and 4 postcard art cards.  

The 2nd Disc of this Two-Disc Limited Edition is exclusive to the release, and won’t be available once the 5000 Units sell out and the general retail edition comes into print. This 2nd disc contains the 76 min. North American cut of the film, which for a long time was the only way to see the film on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films.

Video Review

Ranking:

The L’orribile Segreto del Dr. Hichcock and Raptus: The Secret of Dr. Hichcock Cuts: The original 87-minute cut of the film is near pristine in the new 2023 restoration and scan. Colors such as red, blue, green pop vibrantly throughout, and the entire color spectrum is used to full effect. A particular good effect of color is the light blue utilized as lightning in the scenes involving storms. A good example of the use of color is when the character of Cynthia has a nightmarish vision of her husband with a demonic face, this face silhouetted with a deep shade of red against a dark background. Every piece of furniture, every stitch of clothing, every blade of grass, every leaf of tree, and facial features all come off clear and crisp, nothing is missing from the restoration.

The color black and the black levels offer solid contrasts, especially in the night and stormy scenes, the colors and hues playing off of each other nicely. Film grain appears occasionally throughout the film, but are not distracting in any way and are balanced nicely, the majority of the film being very smooth looking. Only minor print and color age exist within the print of the film, the image being 97 to 98 percent clear and crisp. The main differences between these two cuts is in the opening credits and the sole onscreen text: The Italian release being all in Italian and the first English dub being in English.

The 76-minute version of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is taken from the Olive Films print. While not as thorough as the cleanup of the 87 min. original, this print still looks pretty darn good and fairly pristine, though there are still moments of spec dust blots in the night scenes, but this can very well be a pre-existing issue in the print that Olive had acquired. Film grain is again nicely balanced for good overall image quality.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The L’orribile Segreto del Dr. Hichcock and Raptus: The Secret of Dr. Hichcock Cuts: The original 87-minute version offers two audio options – Italian and English DTS-HD MA 2.0. Both sound great, the volume never having to constantly be readjusted due to dropouts or the music cues being louder than the dialogue exchanges. The Italian track comes from a mono sound source whereas the English dub track comes from a stereo source. While the sources are very different for both audio choices, neither have suffered damage and were able to be restored with the same care as the video/picture elements. No pops or hisses exist at all or are very minor early on in both.

The Horrible Dr. Hichcock Cut: The 76 minute re-edit only has the English dub option. This audio track didn’t fair as well as the audio for the longer version, but still doesn’t sound bad. Pops are a little more evident and some hiss exists very early on, but given that this was the only print floating around in the USA and Canada for the longest time, this isn’t entirely bad. The music cues are slightly louder than the dialogue exchanges, but not by much. The score was apparently redone for the re-edit and rerelease, sounding very different from the original, and even a little on the annoying side. Both Robert Flemyng and Harriet Medin looped their own dialogue for the English dub releases, while another actress loops Barbara Steele.

Special Features

Ranking:

  • Audio Commentary by Kat Ellinger & Annie Rose Malmet: Ms. Ellinger, critic and Co-Founder of the review website Mondo-Digital, and Ms. Malmet, critic and film podcaster, discuss the film in general and cast and crew info. Ms. Ellinger and Ms. Malmet’s commentary is the livelier of the bunch and viewers will be enjoy the banter between them. 
  • Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas: the Genre and Cult film historian explains the three different cuts of the film and its production history, along with cast and crew biographies. Tim Lucas is equally eloquent in his delivery of commentary, but he can be monotone and dry at points that some will find boring, but those who’ve enjoyed his Mario Bava commentaries will find something to enjoy.
  • Interview with Ernesto Gastaldi (HD 45 min) In this extensive interview, the prolific genre screenwriter Gastaldi talks about his screenplay for the film, his collaboration with Riccardo Freda, and some miscellaneous bits. Gastaldi’s interviews are always fun to watch, and his memories of the glory days of Italian genre cinema preserve a record of a unique period of time.
  • Visual Essay by Miranda Corcoran (HD 28 min) The author, critic, and historian delves into the history of the Bluebeard killer character and the dark, edgier elements of melodrama that were major influences on the Italian Gothic Horror boom, particularly in relation to The Horrible Dr. Hichcock. This visual essay is quite entertaining and informative, and will make a fine introduction for anyone who hasn’t experienced 1930’s and 40’s Melodrama cinema yet. While more of a historical piece, Ms. Corcoran does explain in detail how the tropes of Dark and Gothic Melodrama began, how they evolved from being abstract and suggestive to more explicit, and finally into an art form all its own.
  • Interview with Madeleine Le Despenser (HD 18 min.) The visual artist and scholar takes viewers on a deep dive into the uses of Necrophilia and Taboo in general in the arts and entertainment industry. Ms. Le Despenser’s interview has more to do with The Horrible Dr. Hichcock’s thematic use of Necrophilia and Taboo than the film itself, but is still interesting. The interview can get a little unnerving at times as Le Despenser does speak quite frankly on the subject at moments, but still offers a fascinating phycological aspect of the human mind.
  • Image/Poster Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • 65-Page Booklet 

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Riccardo Freda’s lush Gothic masterpiece The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is a must-watch for Horror buffs young and old, offering something for everyone. It will also appeal to the film buff who is very eclectic in their tastes and looking to experience something new. The controversial subject matter can be a little uncomfortable at moments, and while most definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, it has enough appeal to attract viewers from all over. The original 87 minute version in either Italian with English subtitles or English dubbing is the preferable way to watch the film is the 76 minuite re-edit cuts about 11 minutes of footage, mainly in trimming scenes and not cutting any out completely. Radiance Films offers up a fantastic Blu-ray release of the film, featuring three different cuts, trumping the original bare-bones Olive Films Blu-ray by miles. The release is Region B locked, so any US and Canada customers will want to invest in an All Region/Region Free Blu-ray Player. A Highly Recommended piece of classic Horror. 

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