I cannot remember how old I was when I first read The Hound of the Baskervilles, but I was in my early teens and could not wait to read portions of it aloud with glowing eyes to my friends. I snatched it up off the bedside table and read them a ghostly passage with much enthusiasm. I don’t think they were quite as obsessed with it as I was, but that didn’t matter much: I had officially joined the ranks of devoted fans of Sherlock Holmes.
An eccentric and somewhat arrogant private detective, he is one of the most represented literary characters in film (sharing that honor with Dracula). I have not seen all the movies (over 200 in total) but most of them have at some point or another fallen into my DVD player. From Basil Rathbone to Christopher Plummer, if it’s available I have seen it. If I liked it, I bought it. Black and white or brand-new, my opinion of Holmes is one of quintessential perfection. I adore him. I love the fact that he “respects the female intellect” too much to trust us. I love the fact that he affixes his correspondence to the fireplace mantle with a jackknife, and has fired Queen Victoria’s initials ever so patriotically into the wall with his trusty revolver. I love the fact that he knows he is the best and is never afraid to admit it.
And while there are many fantastic stories in the Holmes collection, the one about the devil hound and the moors remains my favorite. Perhaps it is the haunting nature of the story, the notion that Holmes is pitted against what the natives believe is a “supernatural” evil, or maybe the fact that it is one of the first “ghost mysteries” ever published. I have seen a dozen or more adaptations, and own several, this one among them. The truth is, Peter Cushing is far too short to play Holmes. But apart from that minor problem, he does an admirable job. In fact, he even has occasional brilliant moments. There’s something very calm and composed about him that is lovely.
Hammer took the original plot and not unlike is their tradition, changed quite a bit of it — it took the heroine and made her very different — a Spanish girl, rather vicious and bad-tempered, added a few unusual details (webbed fingers? really?), and a touch of the grotesque. I must admit though that this has perhaps the most impressive version of the hound that I have ever seen — a large spotted Great Dane with an oddly-shaped head (the prop department must be congratulated). And Christopher Lee makes quite an excellent Sir Henry Baskerville — I felt rather sorry for him at times.
One might wonder what it is about the story that is so haunting. After all, it seems a bit dull at times with only Watson narrating … but once Holmes turns up, the game is truly afoot. I’m not sure why it’s so brilliant. It just is.