Dr. Georges Bonnet has figured out a way to live forever. All he needs are the glands of some very unwilling donors! Anton Diffring stars as the mad doctor in this chilling Hammer Horror classic. As he struggles against the inevitable icy grip of death, the doctor begins a descent into madness that threatens to destroy the laws of nature and the lives of those he lusts after. It's up to horror legend Christopher Lee to stop his unholy quest before it takes a final deadly turn!
Body Horror is quite possibly my favorite sub-genre. This idea that the vessel that facilitates our day to day lives could turn on us and become a monster, or cause us to become monsters ourselves. It's why movies like David Cronenberg's 'The Fly' or to a certain extent 'Alien' remain terrifying experiences for me no matter how many times I see them. It's also why I love stories like Oscar Wilde's 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein,' the idea that we can be our own worst enemies in a quest to get the most out of life and become addicts. Hammer's 1959 film 'The Man Who Could Cheat Death' from veteran director Terence Fisher plays with all of these themes to create a chilling and effective horror picture.
Dr. Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring) is young, handsome, youthful and yet experienced in ways beyond his years. He's a doctor with a vast, seemingly impossible knowledge of medicine for a man so young. He's also an accomplished sculptor capturing the likenesses of Parisian society's most beautiful women in clay. As the lovely Janine Du Bois (Hazel Court) recently posed for him, she grew to love the enigmatic man. While Dr. Bonnet may be a picture of health and vitality, things are not what they seem. Some would estimate his age at 35, no more than 40, but Bonnet has loved for over 104 years. For decades he's survived through an experimental procedure that replaces an important gland every 10 years. With time running out, Bonnet survives by drinking a mysterious green liquid that is slowly causing him to go insane. When his old colleague Dr. Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marlé) is no longer able to perform the gland replacement, Bonnet must enlist the help of esteemed surgeon Dr. Gerrard (Christopher Lee). With an intrepid inspector (Francis De Wolff) investigating a mysterious string of murders, time and mortality may have caught up to Dr. Georges Bonnet.
'The Man Who Could Cheat Death' is a terrific entry in the Body Horror sub-genre. The film plays with the ideas of ego and the horrors of immortality while also playing to a traditional serial killer thriller story model. Every ten years Bonnet must kill in order to survive and his victims tend to be the beautiful young women who recently posed for a statue. It's a chilling idea in its own right, but then we get to follow Bonnet's decent into madness. Where we initially could almost sympathize with a man, a victim of his exploitation into God's domain of dolling out life and death, we quickly become repulsed as the true monster emerges.
Director Terence Fisher working from a script by Jimmy Sangster takes the Barré Lyndon play and casts it perfectly within the realm of a traditional Hammer horror film. We have longtime studio stalwarts like Christopher Lee, Arnold Marlé and Francis De Wolff to set the scene with a bit of familiarity, it's character actor Anton Diffring who steals the show. At first, he pays his Dr. Bonnet as a sort of dandy, a bit of an egotist who turns his nose up at people. It's a comical bit of overacting, but when the character's addiction to the green liquid grows and he starts to see his own mortality looking back at him, Diffring ratchets up the insanity and creates a uniquely human monster. The monster is just a man who wants more life and is ironically willing to kill anyone to guarantee his prolonged existence.
At a brisk 83 minutes, 'The Man Who Could Cheat Death' thankfully doesn't overstay its welcome, nor does it speed things along too quickly. As the film plays equal parts of 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and 'Frankenstein' with a dash of vampire lore for flavor, the focus isn't so much about the bloodletting but the race against time. We have our hero surgeon racing to save his love and a monster running to beat his mortality. The results are engaging, and damn creepy with a rather shocking end that doesn't let the audience have that final peaceful coda. The film socks you in the gut and leaves you there in the mess. It's a hell of a creepy little movie and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Man Who Could Cheat Death' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard, sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
'The Man Who Could Cheat Death' is given a pretty terrific 1.66:1 1080p video transfer. The film does exhibit a strong yet controlled grain field providing some great detail levels. Facial features, clothing, and the 1890 period set design work look terrific. Occasionally colors can appear a little bleached and very pale. Thankfully these moments are relatively few. There is some great primary pop, reds can appear quite vivid and the blue velvet dress Hazel Court wears at the beginning jumps out of the screen. Black levels can also appear quite thick at times causing the actors wearing black suits and cloaks to disappear into the darkness and become floating heads while other moments everything looks spot on with plenty of shadow separation and an appreciable sense of depth. The source elements for this transfer are in pretty decent shape with only some mild speckling to report. All around I feel like this is a case of the best it's going to get. Not ideal, but not terrible either.
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix provided gets the job done. This is a relatively dialogue-heavy show and the dialogue keeps front and center and never loses prominence. Sound effects work is appreciable, but as the film mostly takes place in a handful of interior location, there isn't much scene-setting work required. There is a scene that takes place in a pub towards the end that is well layered with primary and background dialogue with plenty of revelry sounds to give a nice sense of atmosphere and space. Scoring rounds out the mix well enough without dominating the mix and really only perking up during the scary bits. All around a solid audio track that serves the nature of the film perfectly.
Audio Commentary: Film Historian Troy Howarth does a terrific job discussing the film and providing a great amount of information about this flick as well as other Hammer productions.
Kim Newman Interview: (HD 17:09) Critic and novelist Kim Newman provides a terrific amount of Hammer related material and the studio's move into gothic horror.
Jonathan Rigby Interview: (HD 16:52) Author and historian Jonathan Rigby jumps right into Hammer's release of 'The Man Who Could Cheat Death' and how American companies were trying to get into bed with the studio. It's a great interview.
Trailers From Hell 'The Skull': (HD 2:36) Joe Dante briefly discusses this Hammer films competitor.
'The Crimson Cult' Trailer: (HD 2:03)
'Twice Told Tales' Trailer: (HD 2:43)
'Madhouse' Trailer: (HD 1:48)
'The Oblong Box' Trailer: (SD 1:56)
'Tales of Terror' Trailer: (HD 2:21)
If you love your horror films grim and gothic and the Hammer touch, it doesn't get much better than 'The Man Who Could Cheat Death.' It's a chilling, creepy blend of 'Frankenstein' and 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' and the results should please just about any classic horror film fan. Kino Lorber has done a solid job with this release providing a strong A/V presentation with a host of interesting bonus features to pick through. For a great night in under the covers, give this Blu-ray of 'The Man Who Could Cheat Death' a spin. Recommended.