• The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review Part 2 Of 2

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: May 25th, 2021.
    Director: Warren Kiefer, Luciano Ricci, Guiseppe Vegezzi, George Ardisson, Camillo Mastrocinque, Terence Fisher, Harald Reinl
    Cast: Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy, Adriana Ambesi, Lx Baker, Karin Dor, Dieter Eppler
    Year: 1964/1963/1964/1962/1971-72/1967
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    The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection – Movie Review:

    Severin Films brings together a fantastic selection of content relating to the late, great Sir Christopher Lee, ranging from well-known films to obscure television shows to all manner of extra features, releasing it as The The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection. Here’s a look at the feature films included in this set, before we go on to the extra content.

    Disc Four - Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace:

    After Terence Fisher and Christopher Lee collaborated on Hammer Films’ The Hound Of The Baskervilles, they went back to the well of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation for another go round, this time with Lee in the lead role as the world’s most famous detective.

    When the story begins, Holmes is in disguise observing some strange behavior at the port where a ship from Benghazi has arrived. When he’s done, he heads home and, still disguised, pretends to be wounded outside of 13 Baker Street. It’s a trick to lure Watson (Thorley Walters) down, and it works. He brings Holmes inside and is promptly chastised for letting anyone into the home without Holmes around.

    From here, we learn that Professor Moriarty (Hans Sohnker) is once again up to no good, this time having stolen an extremely valuable necklace reported to have belonged to none other than Cleopatra herself. Holmes and Watson are only too happy to work this case – Holmes noting that he’d love nothing more than to see Moriarty hanged! While all of this is going on, it ties into the story of Peter Blackburn (Wolfgang Lukschy) and his wife, Ellen (Senta Berger) and their friend Paul King (Ivan Desney), who live just outside of London in a remote home in the country. Throw in a murder or two, a wily chauffer named Charles (Leon Askin) and Holmes and Watson clearly have their work cut out for them.

    A German-French-Italian co-production written by Curt Siodmak, the film also known as Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes in Germany was based on Doyle’s story Valley Of Fear and while it isn’t the best Holmes adaptation ever made, it is a great showcase for Lee’s ability. Fisher moves things along at a good pace but the tone is uneven, segueing sometimes into comedic moments that never quite feel at home with the more serious side of the story being told. Thought this was shot on a modest budget the movie looks quite good. There are scenes that definitely look to have been shot on a soundstage but at least they still manage to create some decent atmosphere.

    Lee, however, is the real reason most will be interested in this picture. He plays Holmes as frequently snotty and almost always condescending, and it’s quite fun to watch, suiting the character well. He also looks quite dapper here, running about in his trademark cap and coat. Lee shares decent chemistry with Thorley Walters, the later of who supplies most of the film’s ineffective comic relief. Not a masterpiece, but a fun mystery that lets Lee strut his stuff and craft a recognizable character in an interesting way.

    Discs Five And Six - Theatre Macabre:

    Theater Macabre was a Polish television series that ran twenty-six episodes and which was briefly shown on American television in 1971. A couple of the episodes have disappeared over the years but twenty-four of them have been included in this set, each one including an introduction and an outro with Christopher Lee, who seems to be having a good time playing horror host with the series.

    The series adapts stories by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ambrose Bierce, Robert Louis Stevenson and Oscar Wilde and includes early work from noteworthy filmmakers like Andrzej Zulawski and Andrzej Wajda. As such, there’s a decent pedigree in terms of the talent wrangled together for the show. That said, those expecting Theater Macabre to offer up a half-hour of horror in each episode may be disappointed, as the series is very uneven with many of the episodes playing out more like mini-soap operas with occasional moments of weirdness thrown in.

    That’s not to say that these aren’t worth checking out. The fact that they’re as obscure as they are is going to make them appealing to any Christopher Lee fan, but it’s important to go in with realistic expectations. Some episodes do qualify as horror –The Vampire and Tell Tale Hearts, for example, definitely qualify – but be prepared to sit through a good amount of melodrama to get to it.

    That said, the series does feature some nice production values. The acting is generally quite good despite the obvious dubbing, and the series benefits from some nice costuming and plenty of atmospheric sets and locations. There isn’t a lot of effects work featured here but when it does show up, it’s handled well. The use of music in the series is also quite solid.

    The twenty-four episodes included here are spread out across discs five and six in this collection as follows:

    Disc Five:

    First Love / The Man Who Demoralized Hadleyburg / The Tortures Of Hope / Mateo Falcone / The Vampire / The Swashbuckler / The Actress / The System Of Dr. Tarr And Professor Fether / The Rajah's Diamond / The Nose / Tell Tale Hearts / Markheim

    Disc Two:

    The Barrel Organ / The Canterville Ghost / Decameron / A Matter Of Conscience / The Husband Under The Bed / Pavoncello / The Song Of Triumphant Love / The Postmaster / A Terribly Strange Bed / The Fatalist / Resurrection Of The Offland / Boarded Window

    Disc Seven - The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism:

    Previously released by Severin in their Hemisphere Box Of Horrors collection, this film is a period picture that follows a man named Roger (played by Lex Barker) who is on a quest to uncover the mystery of his ancestral origins. As he travels through the area, he meets up with a priest named Father Fabien (Vladimir Medar) and wins the affections of a beautiful young woman named Lilian (Karin Dor). What Roger doesn't realize is that three decades before his arrival, a cruel nobleman named Count Regula (Christopher Lee) was put to death for his horrible crimes against the local population of busty young female virgins!

    As Roger and his pals travel through the woods, things start to take a rather macabre turn - mysterious horseman pester them and corpses hang from tree limbs. Once they finally make it to the castle, however, things get even stranger. Roger soon learns of his relation to Regula, who has risen from the grave to exact his vengeance on whoever he can get his hands on.... mainly a fresh batch of virgins he intends to murder in order to complete his horrible plan to gain eternal life.

    Very loosely adapted from Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit And The Pendulum by Manfred R. Kohler, The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism (also known as Castle Of The Walking Dead as well as about a dozen other alternate titles) is a fun gothic chiller with some gorgeous sets and impressive cinematography. It's also a very strange film with a few odd plot points that distance the film from Poe's source material by quite a large margin. That said, despite a few pacing issues here and there (the ending comes up very quickly!), the film is generally a very successful piece of gothic filmmaking thanks to the gorgeous atmosphere that the film contains. Performances from Barker and Lee stand out, with Barker playing the noble hero quite well and Lee doing a fine job as the macabre-faced villain (even if he's a little typecast here).

    The influence of Mario Bava is pretty obvious from start to finish and at times the film borrows from Black Sunday a little too much for its own good even if it never reaches that film's level of success. Regardless, director Harald Reinl certainly gets enough right here that the movie stands on its own as a completely enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining horror film.

    The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection – Blu-ray Review:

    Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace is taken from a new 2k scan of the German negative and framed at 1.66.1 widescreen. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer takes up 26.4GBS of space on a 50GB disc, the transfer is quite nice, though it almost looks a little bit sepia rather than true black and white. Regardless, the picture quality is very nice. There isn’t much print damage to discuss at all, this is a very clean picture, and there’s solid depth and detail here throughout.

    The 24 episodes of Theater Macabre are scammed in 2k from the negatives and framed at 1.33.1 full frame. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers are spread across two 50GB discs and while they aren't pristine and do show some print damage, they're more than watchable. Colors can sometimes look a bit flat but other times they look great. Small scratches aren't hard to spot but never really distracting. There is, however, what appears to be some noise reduction on these episodes, smoothing skin and making it look waxy and gobbling up some fine detail. It isn’t a total wax-fest the way that the worst offenders are, but it is odd not to see any pores on anyone’s faces. Given that there's roughly six-hours of content on each disc, compression is handled pretty effectively. Overall, if the picture quality here doesn't quite stand up to the feature films included in the set, it's still very good overall.

    The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism is framed at 1.85.1 and taken from a 4k scan of the original German negative. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, this transfer takes up 25.9GBS on the 50GB disc. This is a huge improvement over the previous Blu-ray release from Severin. The picture quality here is very strong and the colors look gorgeous. Black levels are nice and strong and there’s excellent detail, depth and texture throughout. Grain is present but never overpowering, and there’s really no print damage worth noting at all. Skin tones look nice as well, and there’s just a whole lot more to this picture to take in than we’ve seen in the past, this vastly improved image really helping to boost the film’s atmosphere in a big way.

    Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace gets English and German 24-bit DTS-HD Mono tracks with English subtitles provided for the German track and English SDH subtitles available for the English track. The German track sounds cleaner and stronger than the English dub but they’re both balanced well and quite clean. The English track suits the movie better (even if Lee is dubbed here), even if it is a bit thinner sounding.

    Each episode of Theater Macabre gets a 24-bit English language DTS-HD Mono track with optional English SDH subtitles provided. The audio on these episodes doesn’t sound quite as robust as the feature films do but it’s still of very good quality and free of any major issues. There’s some occasional hiss in the mix and the fact that each episode is dubbed into English is quite obvious, but you won’t have any trouble understanding the dialogue even if the audio quality leans a bit towards the flat side for this material.

    Audio for The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism is offered in 24-bit DTS-HD options in both English and German language with optional English SDH subtitles offered. Again, both tracks sound quite good and it’s nice to have options here but the English track does appear to have Lee’s actual voice in it, making it the better of the two choices. Both tracks are clean and balanced.

    Extras are spread across the set as follows:

    Disc Four - Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace:

    The main extra on this disc is an audio commentary with Film Writers Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw that is quite informative and fun to listen to. They cover how the film has been tough to see in a decent version and how the movie is worth arguing for despite the fact that it has some major problems. They discuss Lee's ambiguous attitude to the movie, other times that Lee has played Holmes, other Holmes-adjacent roles Lee has played, how the film differs from the source material, how the film lacks a sense of period, what works and what doesn't in the film, Doyle's tendency to write Holmes as a nostalgic figure, the importance of the way that Moriarty is played in the movie, the importance of the Holmes stories on crime fiction in general, how the film compares to other international co-productions that Newman dubs 'Euro-thrillers,' how the film suffers from not having Lee's voice on the English dub and quite a bit more.

    Additionally, the disc includes two featurettes, the first of which is Tony Dalton Interviews Terence Fisher, a twelve-minute audio interview that plays over a selection of stills. Here Fisher speaks about how he came to direct his first Frankenstein movie for Hammer, how wonderful he felt Cushing and Lee were to work with, how much he liked working on Dracula with the two of them and some of the other movies that they made together.

    The second featurette is Tony Dalton On Terence Fisher, which is a twenty-seven-minute featurette that was recorded via Zoom duing the Covid-19 pandemic. In this piece, Dalton talks about meeting Fisher on the set of Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, where he was to interview Cushing about the film. Cushing introduced him to Fisher, they hit it off, and became friends. Dalton then got to know Fisher's family and stayed in touch over the years and this led to his writing a book on Fisher. He then goes on to discuss the details of Fisher's career, shedding some welcome light on his early years, and we learn how his going to the pub may have actually saved his life. We learn how he moved from editing into other positions and eventually started to direct, how he connected with Hammer Films, what made Fisher's films unique, his knack for working on smaller films rather than massive blockbuster pictures, Fisher's intentions with Dracula to portray an aristocratic villain rather than a monster, adapting Hound Of The Baskervilles, the history of Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace, Fisher's later films, his relationship with Lee and many of the other pictures they collaborated on and then the end of his career.

    The disc also includes a German theatrical trailer for the film.

    Discs Five And Six - Theatre Macabre:

    There isn’t much in the way of extras for Theatre Macabre but we do get a promo with Christopher Lee, sporting a seriously impressive moustache, which lasts a minute-and-a-half which serves as a fairly standard introduction to the series.

    Disc Seven - The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism:

    Extras on this disc includes a new audio commentary by Nathaniel Thompson and Troy Howarth. They start by going over the different title that the film has been known under over the years before then discussing how they each first encountered the film. From there, they note the lack of music over the English title sequence, the differences in various edits of the film, the use of the spike-lined mask and how it is a call back to Bava's work, details on Lex Barker and Karin Dor's respective careers, Lee's contributions to the picture, the influence of other gothic horrors and Hammer pictures on the movie, the quality of the score used in the film, what differentiates a lot of German pictures compared to other films made on the continent, how this was a relatively prestigious production for a horror film of its era, the international appeal of the cast and lots more.

    The disc also includes an audio interview with actress Karin Dor that is presented in German with English subtitles. In this twenty-five-minute piece, Dor speaks about how she got interested in acting after wanting to become an interior designer didn't quite work out. She then covers how she got her start in the business, some of her early roles, taking acting and ballet classes, landing a contract, her relationship with Austrian director Harald Reinl who was twenty-nine-years older than her and a few of the films she appeared in over the years. She also talks about having to speak English at certain times during shoots, how grueling a few of the movies were to make, getting along with Lex Barker, working with Klaus Kinski, playing a Bond girl in You Only Live Twice, working with Hitchcock on Topaz and quite a bit more.

    An eight-minute location featurette compares the German locations used in the film, showing how they appeared in the sixties against how they appear now. Markus Wolf provides a quick introduction to set the piece up and, as is usually the case with pieces like this, it's interesting to see what has changed along with what hasn't.

    The disc also contains a German theatrical trailer with English subtitles under the alternate title of The Snake Pit And The Pendulum, a German teaser trailer and two German Super 8 Digest Short versions of the movie, one as Die Schlangengrub-Die Burg Des Grauens running seventeen-minutes and the second as Die Schlangengrube Des Gafen Dracula running sixteen-minutes. Both of these are German language with optional English subtitles. The transfers are a bit beaten up but it's always great to see odd little Super 8 versions of feature movies included as extras, they're just really interesting artifacts.

    Finishing up the extras on thid disc are a poster gallery, a behind the scenes still gallery, a restoration gallery, menus and chapter selection options.

    Disc Eight - Relics From the Crypt:

    The bonus disc in this collection is a veritable treasure trove of content that is sure to place Lee’s fan base. First up on this disc is a sixteen-minute documentary from Swiss television from 1964 entitled Horror!!! That includes some great interviews with Lee as well as with Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Roy Ashton and Roger Corman. On top of that, it also includes some fantastic behind-the-scenes footage shot on the set of Hammer’s The Gorgon and Corman’s The Masque Of Red Death. This black and white piece traces the history of horror cinema and discusses the importance of works like Frankenstein and Karloff's work as well as Jack Pierce's contributions, how Hammer brought Frankenstein back for a newer audience, Corman and Price's then recent contributions to the genre, the enduring appeal of horror movies in general, other classic tropes like Gorgon's and werewolves, the popularity of vampires in film and more. Here, Lee offers his thoughts on Bela Lugosi's tragic end years, the sex appeal of vampire characters and how he feels about seeing himself killed on screen.

    Behind The Mask: Christopher Lee Remembers Boris Karloff is a ‘new edit’ of an unfinished 1991 documentary by Ian Rough that runs for thirty-four-minutes in length. He starts by talking about how Frankenstein made Karloff a star before then going on to talk about how he got to work with and get to know Karloff as a person. He then goes on to talk about what he was like to be around, how he had an immense range as an actor, some of the highlights of his life and career, befriending Karloff's widow Evie, Karloff's love of cricket, his great sense of humor, his remarkable appearance on This Is Your Life which showed his gentle side to a bigger audience than ever before, how he was frequently seen under makeup for many of his better known roles, how he was so good at using his eyes to relay emotion in his characters and much more.

    Cinescope is a 1976 Belgian TV interview with Lee conducted by Sélim Sasson that runs for fifty-two-minutes in length. It's interesting to see Lee converse in French with Sasson in this piece. Here they cover the many different iconic characters that Lee has played over the years, his thoughts on children seeing his films, his thoughts on whether or not horror pictures influence people to commit acts of sadism, how he got into acting after the Second World War instead of going back to his job as an 'office boy,' how he started working with Hammer Films and some of the highlights of his association with the studio, thoughts on the real life Vlad The Impaler and the history of Dracula, working with Boris Karloff, having to embody some rather villainous characters and what goes into that and lots more. This

    Colin Grimshaw Interviews Christopher Lee in 1975 is pretty much what it sounds like – Grimshaw interviewing the man for sixteen-minutes about working on The Devil Rides Out. Here they cover Lee's thoughts on playing evil characters, showing things like devil worship on the screen and the existence of Satanism in the real world, the importance of remembering that 'it's only a film,' how and why people get involved in Satanism in the real world, landing a part in The Man With The Golden Gun and quite a bit more. The quality is a little rough on this one but the interview is pretty fascinating.

    The disc also includes an audio interview with Christopher Lee recorded in 1985, accompanied by stills from The Del Valle archive and with an eleven-minute video introduction with David Del Valle which explains how this interview was all put together. In this twenty-seven-minute piece, Lee talks about working on The Howling II, how the press often misquoted him when it came to his thoughts on doing horror movies, working with Danning on the movie, appearing in films like Captain America and Uncommon Valor with Reb Brown, how To The Devil A Daughter was in his view the last real horror movie he made, thoughts on John Carpenter's films and why he never worked with him and more.

    Monsters & Vampires is a fifteen-minute interview with "Pioneering Horror Movie Historian Alan Frank" who talks about having to defend horror movies on television before then talking about some of his own projects, one of which got him booed (that being I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle). From there he speaks about how he got into horror movies, growing up in Cape Town, moving to the UK and how he got into reviewing films. He then goes on to talk about publishing a few different horror film reference books, the reserach that was required to do so, having to explain what he did for a living to associates as his daughter's school and then his own thoughts on on both Lee and Cushing, their ties to Hammer, their shots at Hollywood, what they were able to bring to different projects, how film reference books have changed a lot since the advent of the internet and the importance of remembering that films aren't real.

    The Crypt Keepers is a thirty-five-minute making of featurette that goes over the history of Crypt Of The Vampire. Interviewed here are screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, assistant director Tonino Valerii and film historian Fabio Melelli. Gastaldi talks about his career up to this point and how he came to write Crypt Of The Vampire, the use of ghost writers in Italian cinema, how he was broke around this period, connectiing with the film's producer and not complaining when he was asked to write another vampire movie and writing the script non-stop under very rushed circumstances. He also talks about his expeirences on set, how the title was changed at the last minute and more. Valerii also covers his early career and how he came to work on this picture, noting that his career was moving quite nicely at this point, how he had a knack for filming certain scenes more so than others, how he considered director Camillo Mastrocinque a father figure and a complete gentleman, what it was like on set, having to add props as needed during the shoot, why assistant directors are important especially on American films, and how great Lee was to work with. Melelli talks about Camillo Mastrocinque's career and his ability to get the best out of his actors even when making B-films and offers up his thoughts on the movie and the cast members that appear in it. This is very good and a great addition to the set.

    We also find, on this disc, some amusing music videos for “O Sole Mio / It’s Now Or Never” and “She’ll Fall For Me” documenting performances by Christopher Lee and Gary Curtis, available with optional commentary from Curtis who talks about how much he enjoyed working with Lee, the strength of his operatic voice, his expressions, how Lee was having a blast doing this and how it was important not to smile during a key line! He also gives some background information on how these collaborations came to be, some of the musicians that they worked with and quite a bit more. Fun stuff.

    The disc also includes a nineteen-minute featurette comprised of outtakes from the 2001 interview sessions that David Gregory conducted with Lee for Blue Underground's releases of To The Devil... A Daughter and Theater Of Death. Here Lee covers locations and black masses, films that he has personally found frightening, when there can be such a thing as 'too much of a good thing' as an actor, a project where he played Jinnah and some of the issues that this involved given some of his past roles and a book project that he was involved with written by Johnathan Rigby. Neat to see this material included here.

    Finishing up the extras on this disc is a University College Dublin 2011 Q&A session with Lee that clocks in at just over eighteen-minutes. He speaks here, with a good sense of humor, about his inability to speak Gaelic, his experiences doing a film called Triage with Colin Farrell in Ireland, how he holds the world record for doing sword fights on film and has the scars to prove it, how he feels the best him he was involved with was The Wicker Man, working on Lord Of The Rings, what he wanted to bring to the character of Dracula and his appreciation for Stoker's work and his thoughts on some of the Dracula movies that he made and how he made some of the later Dracula films for Hammer to help keep his friends employed. He also talks about his recording career and penchant for singing opera and his Charlemagne project where he sang symphonic metal. He also talks about working with Manowar and receiving an award from Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath.

    Severin has also included an all-new eighty-eight-page book by Lee’s biographer Jonathan Rigby entitled Christopher Lee: The Continental Connection. Beautifully illustrated with loads of archival stills and promotional art, it examines Lee’s career in quite a bit of detail with a good bit of emphasis on the films that he made outside of England during the sixties. It’s an excellent addition to the set, which sees the Blu-rays stored in black keepcases, each with its own unique cover sleeve art. These cases then fit inside a handsomely produced and very sturdy cardboard box that allows the top cover to lift off and on for easy access. Severin’s done a great job with the packaging here.

    The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection – The Final Word:

    Severin’s release of The Eurocrypt Of Christopher Lee Collection is a winner. We get a great upgrade on Sadism, the TV series is a great obscurity and interesting to finally see and the eighth disc full of exclusive extras and the packaging all add a lot of value to the set. Highly recommended!

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