So far I have been really pleased with the successful revival of the Hammer brand, especially the fact that the `new' Hammer has shown a welcome commitment to their legacy by investing in this restoration programme. The HD versions of Dracula Prince of Darkness, Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile (and Quatermass and the Pit and Paranoiac) have been excellent, as I'm sure the next suite of releases will be. And let us not forget that this is after all a commercial activity, and Hammer presumably want to appeal to older long-standing Hammer aficionados as well as entice a new generation to embrace the pleasures of British Gothic. Hence the enhancements that have been made to The Devil Rides Out, which I am in favour of as the dodgy (and unfinished) special effects have always marred the film for me and ultimately diminish its impact. (Having said that I do hope that this sort of interference is kept to a minimum and has only been applied judiciously in this instance to address a long standing and well known shortcoming - I would not be happy for this approach to be extended to other films with notoriously underwhelming special effects, say The Lost Continent for example where the papier-mache-and-string effects are part of the charm.)
However, in this instance, I don't think this Blu-Ray transfer of one of Hammer's crown jewels is going to satisfy either the old Hammer fan or the new devotee. Sadly, after a week of viewing and re-viewing this title, alongside a re-bought copy of the Warner DVD release - re-bought because I'd sold my original copy in anticipation of this Blu-Ray edition - my feeling is that this is the most disappointing of the official Hammer BR releases to date. I need to emphasise that the criticism here is not in the knee jerk `whatever they've done it's bound to be wrong' line. But comparing the image quality of the older Warner Bros DVD version with both the Academy and widescreen versions on the BR here, even though they are clearly derived from the same source (evident in the `young' Frankenstein scenes) , the image quality - the colour, the sharpness - is undoubtedly better on the older DVD. (I'm not going to talk about the version of the film on the DVDs in this new edition - as these simply replicate the image quality of the BR.)
I have absolutely no technical expertise or inside knowledge in these matters, but using just the evidence of my own eyeballs, there is no contest. The versions of the film on this BR are washed out, faded, blurry and lacklustre. The image on the WB DVD is cleaner and more crisp, the colour far more vivid, lush and just more `Hammer, than this muddy BR. In other ways the BR looks like a step backward. Look at the scene where Frankenstein and Krempe cut down the corpse from the gibbet. On the BR there is a continual flickering through the entire scene; on the WB DVD no such flickering is evident. (If other people could confirm this just to allay my fears that I might have a dodgy copy). This is even more dismaying because on the Universal Monster Box, the problem of flickering in the substantially older Universal movies has been highlighted and corrected. Annoyingly in Curse of Frankenstein, it seems to have been introduced where it did not before exist. So the bottom line as regards the film itself is that in future it'll be the WB DVD version that I'll be watching.
I've not even addressed the aspect ratio issue, which has been done to death on the official Hammer blog and elsewhere, but my reservations on this score are less pronounced than over the generally poor image quality. (Though I am persuaded that a widescreen presentation is the correct one, so the concerns expressed elsewhere as to how Hammer have dealt with this issue add to my wariness about ordering future offerings sight unseen, particularly in relation to the release of the Dracula Blu-Ray next year.)
Moving on to the rest of the package, there's the usual making of doc with archive of Michael Carreras and Jimmy Sangster plus the welcome irreverence of Melvyn Hayes, a short and moving tribute to Peter Cushing, and then in SD the earlier Terence Fisher Hammer feature Four Side Triangle, the lame duck (but fascinating historical artefact) TV pilot episode of Tales of Frankenstein and the World of Hammer `Frankenstein' segment. These are included as extras on the Blu-Ray and also included on the 2nd DVD. Exclusively on this 2nd Extras DVD is a pdf `booklet' (not provided as hard copy insert) on the genesis of Curse of Frankenstein. There is also the indispensable commentary by Jonathan Rigby and Marcus Hearn on both the BR and DVD versions of the film. All very worthwhile - it's just a shame that the jewel they are meant to offset is less than glittering.