"His secret was a coffin named desire" and THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK digs his way back from the grave for more grave cuddles on Blu-ray from Olive Films.
Much like the Boris Karloff's ill-fated Dr. Thomas Bolton in CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, esteemed London physician Dr. Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemyng, THE MEDUSA TOUCH) has been perfecting an anaesthetic to slow down the heartrate and allow him to perform lifesaving operations. Dr. Hichcock, however, has a novel kink and has been experimenting on the anesthetic's dosages with his wife Margaret (Maria Teresa Vianello, THE GIANTS OF THESSALY) who plays dead for his necrophilic desires with the complicity of all-seeing housekeeper Martha (Harriet White Medin, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE). When Hichcock loses a sedated patient, he decides not to use the anesthetic again but his libido gets the better of him and he accidentally overdoses Margaret who suffers heart failure. After the funeral, Hichcock leaves the ancestral estate in Martha's charge and leaves the city to get away from Margaret's memory. Twelve years later, he returns with a new bride in young Cynthia (Barbara Steele, BLACK SUNDAY) but Margaret's memory is everywhere, haunting Cynthia first with visions of a woman wearing Margaret's boots outside her bedroom door, a white-shrouded woman wandering in the garden at night, and the screams of Martha's insane sister echoing through the corridors during stormy nights. At work, Hichcock is finding his attraction to corpses impossible to resist, and Cynthia's hysterical fainting makes for additional temptation until even he starts seeing and hearing evidence that Margaret might still be alive and looking to indulge his kinks.
One of the classics of the Italian golden age of horror – and one of the handful showcasing Steele – THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK's transgressive edge, gorgeous visuals, and other positives have largely been attributed to director Riccardo Freda (THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE) although it has become known in more recent years with expanded coverage of the films of this era from the likes of Video Watchdog and the translation of the book "Spaghetti Nightmares" that Freda took the film on a bet and that he had abandoned his previous gothic horror work I VAMPIRI (which was finished by Mario Bava) and returned to the genre only sporadically throughout his work-for-hire career with the Hichcock follow-up THE GHOST, the Edgar Wallace "adaptation" DOUBLE FACE, and his swan song slasher/gothic hybrid MURDER OBSESSION.
The film was produced by Luigi Carpentieri and Ermanno Donati who were also behind I VAMPIRI, THE GHOST, and Mino Guerrini's THE THIRD EYE (a modern gothic tale of necrophilia and taxidermy with Franco Nero later remade by Joe D'Amato as BEYOND THE DARKNESS), and the film's choice of necrophilia as subject matter was that of prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (LIBIDO) more concerned with novelty than pushing the envelope while Flemyng, Steele, and Medin have expressed their unfavorable opinions on the script in interviews (although none of that has detracted from their iconic performances in stock character roles of the Italian gothic). Some of the other works of cinematographer Raffaele Masciocchi (THE WILD EYE) suggest he was rising to the occasion here and in THE GHOST rather than developing a pseudo-Bavian style of photography while the barnstorming orchestral score of Roman Vlad (I VAMPIRI) lacks the finesse of the contemporary works of Roberto Nicolosi (BLACK SUNDAY), Francesco de Masi (THE GHOST), or Carlo Rustichelli (THE WHIP AND THE BODY) – although nowhere near as unlistenable as Aldo Piga (PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE) – apart from the elegant piano leitmotif that pops up with every lightning strike reveal of Margaret's portrait. As derivative of Hithcock's REBECCA and SUSPICION, the film moves at a quick enough clip through the old dark house atmospherics unlike NIGHTMARE CASTLE which has Steele going through the same hysterics as either the victim of gaslighting or the supernatural (revealing the HICHCOCK films more so than BLACK SUNDAY or BLACK SABBATH as being perhaps more influential on the direction of the Italian gothics during that short period). THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA's Silvano Tranquili has little to do as the film's nominal hero until the climactic conflagration. Even in the longest versions of the film, some details are left unclear ostensibly due to Freda pulling out either ten or twelve pages of the script to keep on schedule (recently deceased author Michael Hudson published a novelization of the film utilizing Gastaldi's script rather than the finished film and it may contain additional material).THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK was released theatrically in the United States on a double-bill with Jess Franco's THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF by Sigma III in a version that ran just under 75 minutes versus the 85 of the Italian and export versions. The shorter version moved the opening graveyard sequence ahead of the opening credits which were abbreviated (they were made up of Anglicized pseudonyms anyway) including the scream that delightfully disrupts the sequence and the opening theme replaced with some orchestral bombast (seemingly two or three cues badly edited together) by someone other than composer Vlad. Many sequences were elided by dissolves which actually added to the languorous atmosphere but also lead to some abrupt transitions including the feeling to time passing between Hichcock's departure and return twelve years later. More annoying than the cuts were the cheesy addition of dubbed-in dialogue, including the pallbearers remarking on the oddness of Hichcock burying his wife in his "laboratory" which is actually the family crypt as well as echoey voiceovers to remind Cynthia of the existence of her husband's laboratory on the grounds and the mysterious locked room. While THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF remained unavailable throughout the 1980s on home video, THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK fell into the hands of Republic Pictures and was released on VHS by NTA Entertainment.
The English export version of the film (83:45 in PAL) first appeared on fullscreen VHS in the UK as TERROR OF DR. HICHCOCK (onscreen title: RAPTUS – THE SECRET OF DR. HICHCOCK) and in France under its French release title but in a letterboxed transfer in English with French subtitles on the print itself (suggesting it was released in France in both French-subtitled and dubbed versions). During the 1990s, an English-subtitled Australian SBS broadcast was also making the rounds (a more recent transfer appeared on French television). Sinister Cinema brought this longer version stateside in a dupe of the UK tape with a replacement title card (as they had with Bava's BLACK SUNDAY using the UK MASK OF SATAN release). This transfer revealed more saturated colors that seemed more evocative of Technicolor than the NTA tape. Republic and subsequently Paramount's in-perpetuity ownership of the film prevented its release on DVD during the heyday of Euro horror releases as well as subsequent interest for Blu-ray releases. Medusa Entertainment in Italy provided the first new anamorphic transfer which was sadly not English-friendly, followed by a French edition from Artus Films.
Through Olive Films' arrangement with Paramount, they have released the U.S. cut of THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK (76:37) in a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer. While the colors were more saturated than NTA tape if not quite as boosted as the PAL-sourced imports, the enhanced definition does reveal that not every shot is as consistently drenched in gothic gloom as it seemed in earlier editions. Exteriors tend to be grainier, with the scenes of the coach traveling through the countryside seeming at times like stock footage from another film not unlike the London establishing shots. The enhanced detail does, however allow one to take in the sensuous details of the villa's décor from the floral curtains and murals to the smoke damage and peeling paint. There may be a bit of fading but the red gel lighting used judiciously throughout comes across without washing away detail (which is important during Cynthia's hallucination in which Flemyng was outfitted with a rubber mask likeness that was inflated with air as he moved further towards the camera and her POV). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is reasonably clean with some faint hiss and perhaps a little distortion in the high ends during the opening track (which was as mentioned above sourced from somewhere else during the American recut), and optional English SDH subtitles are also included are also included. There are no extras, not even the US trailer. Olive has reproduced the American poster art on the cover but has removed the taglines. (Eric Cotenas)
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