Sunday, 26 August 2007

The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (1962)

Madness and necrophilia are the themes of Riccardo Freda’s 1962 masterpiece of Italian gothic horror, The Terror of Dr. Hichcock (the original title is L'Orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock and it was released in the US as The Horrible Dr. Hichcock). Dr Hichcock is a great surgeon who has invented a new and very useful anaesthetic, which has the property of slowing down the metabolism; in large doses it slows the heartbeat and respiration so much that the patient almost seems dead. The good doctor has discovered that it also has some interesting recreational uses. Some years after the rather mysterious death of his first wife he returns to his home with a new bride, Cynthia (Barbara Steele, looking even more luminous than usual). The marriage has its problems, however – Professor Hichcock still seems obsessed with his first wife, and Cynthia suspects that there is something amiss in his feelings for her.

This movie gives Barbara Steele more opportunities for real acting than many of her other Italian movies, and she makes the most of it. Robert Flemyng is quite amazingly creepy as Dr Hichcock. Freda throws in just about every gothic trick in the book, even resorting to thunderstorms, but the results are remarkably effective. The pacing is excellent, the direction is skilful, lively and imaginative (with some very clever uses of the architectural layout of the doctor’s house), the Technicolor cinematography is gorgeous. Even the dubbing is reasonably good. This is a movie on which a good deal of care has been lavished. Italian horror is often accused of being stronger on style than plot, and while style and mood do predominate in this film the plotting is quite solid. This is Italian gothic at its best, in the same league as the best of Mario Bava’s gothic films.

This is the first DVD I’ve bought from Sinister Cinema. While it’s slightly disappointing that it isn’t widescreen I was pleasantly surprised by the image quality. It isn’t in the same class as some of the superbly restored recent offerings from companies like Blue Underground but it’s still reasonably satisfactory and a lot better than I’d expected. The colours are fairly vivid. The sound quality is good as well. I honestly don’t know if it’s uncut or not, although the running time of 84 minutes (compared to the 88 quoted on the IMDb) suggests that if it has been cut it’s still substantially intact. I’ve been wanting to see this movie for a long time, and it did not disappoint.

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