Horrible Dr. Hichcock, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 29, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Horrible Dr. Hichcock, The (4K UHD Review)


Riccardo Freda

Release Date(s)

1962 (February 27, 2024)


Panda Cinematografica (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: B
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: B+

The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (4K UHD)

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In the annals of horror cinema, there have been many landmark films that are noteworthy for the way that they advanced the genre. Starting in the late Fifties, Hammer Film Productions and a variety of Italian companies were releasing horror movies that pushed the boundaries of graphic violence, something that Herschell Gordon Lewis and George A. Romero would end up taking to the next level during the Sixties. Yet in the middle of all that in 1962, director Riccardo Freda and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi still managed to push boundaries in an equally disturbing direction, but without the buckets of blood and gore. The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (aka L’orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock, Raptus, and a variety of other titles) put subject matter front and center that had only been hinted at previously: necrophilia. It’s still treated relatively discretely—this is hardly Nekromantik—but the implications are unmistakable. The Horrible Dr. Hichcock takes the traditional Gothic horror that was Hammer’s bread-and-butter and spins it into something less graphically violent but far more perverse.

Professor Bernard Hichcock (Robert Flemyng) is a brilliant doctor who has created a particularly potent new anesthetic that could potentially revolutionize the medical profession. Unbeknownst to the outside world, he’s discovered a much more radical use for it: to indulge his predilections toward necrophilia. He’s been secretly using it to drug his willing wife Margaretha (Maria Teresa Vianello) and have sex with her comatose body. When their disturbing games go too far one night, Dr. Hichcock flees England, only to return years later with his new wife Cynthia (Barbara Steele). His old housekeeper Martha (Harriet Medin) has been keeping his former wife’s memory alive while barely holding the estate together, and she’s not happy about having to accommodate the new replacement. When Cynthia starts hearing voices and seeing ghostly visions, Dr. Hichcock is initially dismissive, but soon even starts to suspect that there might be real ghosts from his past present in the house. Unfortunately for Cynthia, his loyalties will be tested in the process. The Horrible Dr. Hichcock also stars Silvano Tranquilli and Lamberto Antinori.

Regardless of the unnatural desires on display throughout The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, at its core, it’s still Freda and Gastaldi’s spin on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, with Dr. Hichcock as Maxim de Winter, Martha as Mrs. Danvers, the unnamed heroine as Cynthia, and Margaretha as a somewhat more corporeal Rebecca. Yet in many ways, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is really a variation on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. Dr. Hichcock is wracked with guilt over what he’s done, and as much as he tries to escape the consequences for it, the still-beating heart of his desires keeps coming back to haunt him. The difference is that while Poe’s unnamed protagonist ultimately allows his untrammeled guilt to get the better of him, Dr. Hichcock ends up embracing it—literally so, in this case—and chooses to make amends by sacrificing the new as a way of bringing back the old. He was already held in thrall to his own monstrous desires, but rather than being overcome by the resultant guilt, he overcomes the guilt to become an even bigger monster instead.

As all of that should make perfectly clear, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is pure Gothic, and Freda was more than up to the task of crafting a Gothic atmosphere to support this kind of story. Like many Italian genre directors of the era, he worked quickly, so the actors and even the script were at best secondary considerations to him. Gastaldi’s original ending was tossed in favor of a something simpler, and the actors were all left on their own. Flemyng still does fine work, although Steele does seem a bit lost at times. Yet the effective Gothic atmosphere still thrives in the finished film, from the amazing location at the Villa Perucchetti in Rome, to the set decorations, costumes, cinematography, and the extraordinary score by Roman Vlad. However sordid that the subject matter may be, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is still beautiful when viewed through a Gothic lens. It’s a horror landmark not just because of its open treatment of necrophilia, but also because it manages to respect tradition while breaking taboos. It buries that taboo-breaking nature under a deceptively conventional Gothic veneer, and that may be The Horrible Dr. Hichcock’s most perverse trick of all.

Cinematographer Raffaele Masiocchi shot The Horrible Dr. Hichcock on 35mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. There are two different versions available here: the full-length Italian cut running 87:43, and the shortened American release that was cut to 76:34. Vinegar Syndrome simply describes everything as “newly scanned & restored in 4K from its 35mm original camera negative,” which presume ably means that the American version presented here is a reconstruction based on the negative scans, rather than being fully transferred from the shortened interpositive and/or internegative that would have been used as the source for American prints. The Horrible Dr. Hichcock has been graded for High Dynamic Range in HDR10 only.

Unsurprisingly, the title sequences, any optical work, and stock footage like Big Ben at the beginning of the film all look softer and rougher than the surrounding material. Everything else is sharp and detailed, barring any focus issues that were present on the negative (especially one bad bit of focal instability in the shot at 48:45). There’s some debris visible at the edges of the frame, a bit of flashing, and occasional scratches that do get worse toward the end of a few shots (like when the nurse is handing over instruments at 4:58). The contrast range from the new HDR grade is excellent, with more detail visible in the darkest portions of the frame. The colors are vivid, though not excessively so as can sometimes happen with Vinegar Syndrome HDR grades. Are they accurate? The 2023 Blu-ray release from Radiance Films in the U.K is being touted online as the gold standard, and while I don’t have that disc, there are definitely differences when comparing screenshots (although the usual caveat needs to be applied that there are inconsistencies in the HDR to SDR conversion process when viewing screenshots). However, it’s impossible to judge which one would have been more accurate to the original theatrical release or the intentions of the filmmakers, so I’ll simply say that it looks very good here.

Audio on the Italian cut is offered in Italian and English 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles for the English dialogue, and English translations from Italian for the Italian audio. (The disc will default to the proper subtitles when selecting languages from the menu.) Audio on the American cut is offered in English 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. Flemyng was the only actor to do his own dubbing for the English-language version (even if Barbara Steele didn't, unfortunately), so that’s an argument in its favor, but the choice is yours. There’s a bit more background noise to the English track, but the treble is also a little more prominent. There’s also some echoing in the shot starting at 8:16, but that’s always been present in the English versions so it’s not an error here. Both tracks distort occasionally on the peaks, but once again, that’s inherent to the elements.

The Vinegar Syndrome 4K Ultra HD release of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with 1080p copies of the film and most of the extras. (Both cuts of the film are available on each disc.) The insert is reversible, featuring alternate artwork on each side. There’s also a gloss hard slipcase/slipcover combo designed by Chris Barnes that’s available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the 8,000 units. That version also offers a 40-page booklet. The following extras are included in HD (note that the American cut on the UHD is selected when first playing the disc, but it’s under the Extras menu on the BD):


  • Audio Commentary with Eugenio Ercolani, Troy Howarth, and Nathaniel Thompson


  • Audio Commentary with Eugenio Ercolani, Troy Howarth, and Nathaniel Thompson
  • The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (American Cut) (76:43)
  • The Horrible Dr. Freda (20:11)
  • The Most Honorable Julyan Perry (30:35)
  • Necropolises and Necrophiliacs (16:33)
  • Selected Scene Commentary with Barbara Steele (26:28)
  • English Raptus Title Sequence (1:56)
  • Italian Trailer (2:53)
  • Still Gallery (1:29)

Film historian and extras producer/director Eugenio Ercolani is once again joined by author and film historian Troy Howarth for a commentary on the Italian version, this time joined by Nathaniel Thompson of Mondo Digital. They waste no time deciphering The Horrible Dr. Hichcock by deciphering all of the myriad pseudonyms that were used during the opening credits. (Italian horror films during that era often tried to disguise their origins by using fake English names in the credits.) “Deciphering” is a good description for the commentary track as a whole, because they try to sort out fact from fiction in the legends about the making of the film; explain the differences between the script (plus its novelization) and the finished film; and the differences between the Italian and American versions. (They don’t have any answers for the mystery of why Robert Flemyng starred in the film, but that’s understandably been lost to time.) While they do occasionally get sidetracked by qualitative comparisons to other films and/or filmmakers, something that I don’t find to be particularly illuminating, they do offer plenty of valuable insight into The Horrible Dr. Hichcock here, so it’s well-worth a listen.

The next two extras are new interviews that were conducted by Ercolani. The Horrible Dr. Freda is with second assistant director Marcello Avallone, who describes what it was like to work with Riccardo Freda. The director worked quickly with little concern about the performances for his actors—or their safety, for that matter. (Avallone tells a more detailed version of the story from the commentary track about the out-of-control fire at the end of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock). Avallone is a bit dismissive about Barbara Steele, saying that she was undisciplined and arrived late on set. Freda got so frustrated that he slapped her at one point, so she walked off the set. Freda ended up putting Avallone in drag to double her in a few shots. The Most Honorable Julyan Perry is with Ernesto Gastaldi, who explains how he became involved with The Horrible Dr. Hichcock and why necrophilia was chosen as its subject matter. He also talks about Freda’s rushed working methodology—while accounts vary, it was an incredibly brief shoot—and how that resulted in the finale from his script being mostly discarded. (If you’re wondering about the title of the interview, “Julyan Perry” is the pseudonym by which Gastaldi was credited in the film.)

Necropolises and Necrophiliacs is a different interview with Avallone from 2017, also conducted by Ercolani, set at the Ara del Tufo necropolis in Tuscany. While he does make mention of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock, it’s actually a broader discussion on the themes of death and the afterlife that have appeared in his own work. The Selected Scene Commentary with Barbara Steele is moderated by archivist Russ Lanier, and it gives her the opportunity to present her own perspectives on the film and working with Riccardo Freda. It’s really more of an interview set to clips from the film, rather than an actual commentary. Finally, the English Raptus Title Sequence offers the opening titles under the original English-language title for the Italian version, Raptus.

Radiance Films in the U.K. released their own 2K restoration of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock on Blu-ray in 2023, and none of the extras from that version are offered here. That includes two different commentary tracks, one with Kat Ellinger and Annie Rose Malamet, and the other with Tim Lucas. There was a visual essay named Murderous Husbands: Bluebeard and Gothic Melodrama in The Horrible Dr. Hichcock by Miranda Corcoran, and two different interviews, one with Madeleine Le Despencer and the other with Gastaldi. Radiance also used different artwork, and they had their own limited-edition booklet. The 2012 French release from Artus films offered an interview with critic Gérard Lenne, while the 2018 German release from Ostalgica offered a commentary with Lars Dreyer-Winkelmann, the Features of the Gothic featurette, and a CD with Roman Vlad’s soundtrack. You’ll want to hang onto those, especially the Radiance and Ostalgica releases, but this 4K presentation of The Horrible Dr. Hichcock has the edge, so it’s well worth picking up if you’re a fan of the film. As die-hard physical media fans, we’re all accustomed to double-dipping at this point, so the more, the merrier.

- Stephen Bjork

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