Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Man Who Could Cheat Death Blu-ray Review

Cinematographer Jack Asher, who pretty much established Hammer's vibrant gothic-horror look, thanks to intense and vivid lighting, often deep blues, greens and purples, gives it his all with richly coloured photography and expressive, fluid camera work roaming cramped interiors, but Jimmy Sangster's screenplay for The Man Who Could Cheat Death is bogged down by far too much talking and offers mere spurts of action and horror. His adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula were clever, but here his typically economically-minded work falters. 

The majority of the story takes place in haute bourgeoisie, fin de siècle Parisian parlour rooms (shot on sound stages at Bray). The atmosphere conjured is clearly of the kind befitting Hammer's brand of gothic, however, the signature visual style is ill-matched to a staid and rather lifeless drama about a scientist rallying against the process of growing old. 

Having relaunched iconic monsters with The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula), Hammer entered into distribution deals with the American majors (Columbia Pictures and United Artists, for example). The Man Who Could Cheat Death is based on a play by Barré Lyndon and a 1944 Paramount Pictures production titled The Man in Half Moon Street. The film tells the story of Dr. Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring), a surgeon and part-time sculptor who has uncovered the secret to immortality. He procures the parathyroids gland of female models, who he meets under the pretext of them sitting for him. A spate of murders lead directly to his door...

Directed by Terence Fisher, it's a minor work for both the renowned genre filmmaker and Hammer Pictures, but it did afford what would become an increasingly rare opportunity and role for Christopher Lee: playing the good guy. Of course, he wasn't established as the Christopher Lee we came to love, and the late genre star was cast as second fiddle to Anton Diffring, today a minor, barely remembered figure among the Hammer constellation of names. 

If you're not into 'Hammer Horror' or at all interested in seeing some of the studio's more obscure offerings, it's a hard one to recommend. There are good things, not least Asher's ravishing cinematography and the literally fiery denouement, but Fisher's monster mash (it's a concoction of Wilde's Dorian Gray, Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and the vampire figure) is hardly a graveyard smash. Chalk this one down as for Hammer nerds only. 

Extra Features

The film is presented in 1080p HD and comes with option subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The two interview featurettes with Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby are excellent. Both discuss the background of the movie and each offers different morsels of info and context. The booklet, featuring an informative essay by another Hammer expert, Marcus Hearn, an original pressbook and lobbycard and poster images make for a slim but nonetheless enriching extra features. 

The Blu-ray cover

The Man Who Could Cheat Death is available on dual format (Blu-ray and DVD) from 21st September. 

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