Man Who Could Cheat Death Blu-ray

Sunday, 20 September 2015 23:00 Written by 

The Man Who Could Cheat Death - out now on dual-format Blu-ray and DVDHammer Pictures strike fear into audiences with this creepy, cautionary tale directed by horror stalwart Terence Fisher ("The Curse of Frankenstein", "Dracula"). Starring Anton Diffring, Christopher Lee and Hazel Court, the film centres on Georges Bonnet (Diffring - "Where Eagles Dare", Doctor Who), a pioneering doctor and artist with a penchant for beautiful women and very dark secret concerning his obsession with immortality.

Every decade the 104-year-old Bonnet must undergo surgery to replace his parathyroid gland, or else face a terrible fate whereby all of the illnesses and aging he has unnaturally evaded strike him down. The doctor's 10-year cycle is almost up and he must locate a new gland and an experienced surgeon who is willing to carry out the surgery. As he searches for solutions, a tonic temporarily keeps death from his door but time is running out.

Set in Paris in 1890, this movie looks superb. Dark and foggy streets lead into lavish interior sets and the actors sport some wonderfully ornate costumes, especially the female characters. Everything feels robust and that helps to establish a sense of place and atmosphere.

Diffring is spot-on in the central role, resisting the urge to dial it up to 11 and instead implying a fierce intelligence and ego. Rather like the split personas of Jekyll and Hyde, Bonnet can by turns be debonair and aggressively impulsive, a side-effect of the potion he consumes every six hours.

Lee, for once cast as a goodie, plays a very straight-laced surgeon called Pierre Gerrard, who happens to be attached to one of Bonnet's ravishing exes. The lady in question is Janine Du Bois (Hazel Court - "The Masque of the Red Death", "The Raven"); Janine realises she is still besotted with Bonnet, unwittingly putting herself in harm's way.

The special effects are naturally dated but still fairly effective, especially the washed-out contact lenses and sickly golden makeup Diffring wears when his character starts to feel the bite of his condition. Throw in the green light notionally reflected from his frothing elixir and you have a very ghoulish result.

"The Man Who Could Cheat Death" may not feature any of Hammer's classic monsters but it is an accomplished, atmospheric picture that still deals with some of the typical themes of Gothic horror such as corrupted genius, doomed love and the monster within. Blending The Picture of Dorian Gray, a thin slice of "Highlander" and the aforementioned Jekyll and Hyde, it succeeds in delivering a classy romantic thriller. Made over fifty years ago, its enduring longevity is the mark of quality.

Special features include:

  • Exclusively restored 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • New video interview with critic and author Kim Newman
  • New video interview with film scholar Jonathan Rigby
  • Full colour booklet featuring new writings by author Marcus Hearn, author of "The Hammer Story: The Authorised History of Hammer Films", and archival imagery

The Blu-ray image quality does a fine job of highlighting the care and attention that was evidently put into the sets and costumes, with a minor caveat that the introductory scene during the opening credits is very dark and hard to make out. Newman and Rigby cover some of the same ground in their interviews, but Rigby's is worth a listen if only for the part about experiments in longevity involving monkey testicles!

"The Man Who Could Cheat Death" (1959) is out now on dual-format DVD and Blu-ray (two discs), courtesy of Eureka Entertainment Ltd. The main feature has a running time of 83 minutes approx, carries a '15' certificate and retails for £15.95, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

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