More UK release dates confirmed and some notes about aspect ratios

Restoration work at Pinewood Studios on THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE (both films scanned and restored in 2k then mastered for Blu-ray; both films directed by arguably Hammer’s most underrated director, John Gilling) is now complete, and on May 7th StudioCanal release both features as double-play Blu-ray/DVD editions, enabling fans, at long last, to be able to watch two of Hammer’s finest films in glorious HD, and in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Both releases feature brand new half-hour documentaries directed by official Hammer historian Marcus Hearn, featuring interviews with original cast and crew, critic Jonathan Rigby, broadcaster Mark Gatiss, as well as experts on Bray studios (Wayne Kinsey) and Hammer’s music (Professor David Huckvale). Pre-order them here and here.

Which leads us to the subject of original aspect ratios (OARs) as promised in our first post. To keep it short (one could easily write several thousand words on the subject!) Hammer/Exclusive films (with a few exceptions) were shot and presented in “Academy” ratio (1.37:1) up until The Curse Of Frankenstein in 1956-57, which was shot to be presented at 1.66:1 (and that film will finally be presented 1.66:1 when we release our restored version). In the UK, Hammer’s films were from then on intended to be projected either at 1.66:1, or at 2.35:1 / 2.40:1 (if the film was shot in one of the varieties of scope used by Hammer over the years: “Hammerscope”, Techniscope, CinemaScope or Panavision).

Confusion over aspect ratios often emerges when the ratio of 1.85:1 is described as the “original aspect ratio” of a Hammer film, as it often has been, particularly Stateside. Actually, things are more complicated simply than 1.66:1 being the correct OAR and 1.85:1 being incorrect. This is because, by the mid 60s, and in reaction to the spread of TV, many US cinemas and cinema chains had adopted 1.85:1 as the standard presentation ratio due to its more “cinematic” appearance. For this reason, in 1965 Hammer’s film-makers would have been conscious that their films would be projected at 1.66:1 in the UK and 1.85:1 in the US, and would have taken account of this when framing their shots. Often full-frame prints would be sent out with projectionist’s notes describing how the film should be presented. Sometimes (more often in the US) the InterNegative would be hard matted, meaning that prints were subsequently created at the desired aspect ratio with no masking required in the theatre. So the upshot is that it’s perfectly acceptable to describe the OAR of Hammer’s films from the 1960s onwards as 1.85:1 in the US. In the UK, cinemas took much longer to convert to 1.85:1 projection, meaning that in the UK 1.66:1 was the OAR for the majority of Hammer’s titles other than those shot in scope.

For all our restored films not shot in some flavour of scope, we will be presenting them in the UK OAR of 1.66:1, which is not only both the original shooting ratio and the UK presentation OAR, but also the aspect ratio (other than full-frame “open matte”) which displays the maximum amount of the frame as shot (for many of our films for the very first time).

As an aside, when we were at one of our US restoration partners illuminate (fka HTV) we hung reels of the CinemaScope-shot RASPUTIN and viewed them unmatted. The full frame picture is ~2.55:1 with a marked concave effect at each side. Watching a camera pan unmatted made those in the room feel very queasy indeed, a horizontal motion-sickness if you will. Although it would be most unpleasant to watch the whole film like this, it’s remarkable how much extra information is contained at the left and right of the frame when not matted down to 2.35:1 (the film’s intended presentation ratio). We will however present as an extra a single reel mastered “open frame” so fans can compare the film “as shot” with the final presentation version.

For more on aspect ratios, visit Wikipedia here.

27 thoughts on “More UK release dates confirmed and some notes about aspect ratios

  1. I’m really pleased to hear that you’re going with the 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Quite a few previous Hammer Dvd releases have looked noticeably ‘tight’ at 1.85:1 (the most obvious example being the original ‘Dracula’, of course.)
    It’s terrific news that these restorations are clearly being done by people who know what they’re doing, and who obviously care to get the technical specifications correct. More power to your elbow!

    • bravo HAMMER for correct aspect ratios. However I feel an even more important issue is color timing.. Take 58′s DRACULA, anyone of us who saw it in the theaters remember it as being much darker and gloomier and the Warner DVD entirely robs it of its atmosphere. Compare the scene when Harker enters the hall at Castle Dracula with the DVD and an IB techicolor print…WOW! Anyway, I trust and know HAMMER will get this right for the Bluray.. Thanks for listening.. Bill Lettang

      • The 2007 BFI print of DRACULA was definitely a little bit darker than the Warner Dvd. And in the correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio, of course.

      • dear HAMMER, if I may,I’d lke to ask if there are plans to include a new commentary by Sir Christopher Lee on the upcoming DRACULA bluray… Thanks again.. Bill Lettang

        • A Lee commentary would be terrific, but you have to wonder at this stage if all his stories have already been told. Personally, I think I might prefer a more academic, fact-based commentary. Marcus Hearn and/or Jonathan Rigby would be the obvious choices. Sir Christopher Frayling would be another terrific choice – he’s a big fan of horror, and his commentary for Jack Clayton’s THE INNOCENTS is one of the best I’ve heard.

        • Nice posacdt. Some additional thoughts and information. Quatermass and the Pit is listed on Netflix, but they don’t have any copies for rent. All you can do is Save it for when it becomes available. Quatermass 2 is available through Amazon. The Quatermass Xperiment is unavailable. There are thoughts that with Hammer’s recent revival that they’ll try to regather the rights that they shipped off over the years.I’d suggest that Julian Glover’s Col. Breen doesn’t think it’s a German weapon simply because of stupidity. I think it’s just the easiest thing to grasp on to because he’s at heart frightened of the implications if Quatermass is right.I’m kind of surprised how you didn’t get much into the big ideas of race memory and the ties to superstition. The pit has satanic connections, of course. And the use of iron and water (through wet earth) at the end. It’s really amazing how the movie telescopes from a simple archeological find into something truly epic.Nigel Kneale also tied the inherited violence into stuff like the arms race and race riots. That’s more apparent in the original BBC serial than it is in the movie. It’s interesting that the movie made it to America in 1968. The same year as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both cover some of the same ground, alien influence on evolution, but in vastly different ways.You’re right that John Carpenter is a Quatermass fan. He used the pen name Martin Quatermass for Prince of Darkness. He also borrowed the names of some supporting characters from The Quatermass Xperiment for characters in that film.Stephen King also lifted the basic premise for The Tommyknockers. Vampire Circus really is a unique vampire film. Probably doubly so since Hammer had put out about a dozen vampire films previously and yet they were able to come up with something different.It’s not often when you see that many children end up victims in a horror film. There’s a real pedophile undercurrent to the movie. These definitely aren’t sparkly vampires.The nomadic vampires seem to be a precursor to Near Dark. With their stopping to pursue revenge being their downfall. Arguably, you see the collapse of different types of communities. The aristocrat at the beginning. The town elders. And the circus. The only thing that survives is the healthy family.That tiger lady sequence is really something. I don’t know where they came up with that, but it’s one of the most unique sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie.One of the things that I really appreciate about Hammer is that they set out to make real movies. There’s attention to writing, art direction, cinematography, and acting. Yeah, they’re exploitive, but they genuinely try for more than simple shocks and a reason to clutch your girlfriend. At least in most of their better features. How many modern horror films can claim that?

      • I think your aesnssmest of Breen is spot on. It seems like he simply leaps to that conclusion and holds onto it dearly as it is grounded in the only reality he knows.And I wish I’d remember the satanic connections that it had discussed, as that was one aspect of the film I really enjoyed. Iron also plays an important role in vampire Circus as well, which would have been a nice tie in between the two to discuss. I’ll blame James for this lack of foresight as he brought notes while I was flying blind.

  2. Thanks for the information as presented. I’m a widescreen fanatic since I first begun my DVD collection about ten years ago. As Martin Scorsese put, pan-and-scan ruins the film experience which I agree. As in the case of Rasputin, I’m interested to see how the film looks in its original aspect ratio rather than looking blown up when comparing the 2.00 ratio on the US Anchor Bay DVD to the (even worse) full screen version as seen on TCM.

    About 1.66, when 1958′s Dracula came out on DVD from Warner Home Video, many people were infuriated about the film showing in 1.85. At certain points in the movie, the top of the actors’ heads are cut off by the framing. It doesn’t bother me at first, but I now understand that the film deserves to “always” be seen in its original aspect ratio. Thank goodness for the upcoming Blu-Ray release.

    • I rent meiovs only on occasion, but I love the convenience of Black Dog because I’d rather rent than stream. What’s the answer, Darren? Do we buy a yearly membership? Do we form a pool of volunteers to help out the paid staff? Do you open a store in a library/community center/? and become associated with these resource centres to offset costs? Anyone else? What can we, as a community with diverse rental patterns, do to maintain the status quo? Or do we accept the passing of video and used book stores as progress – I hate that word- and live with the dumbing down our world?

  3. I hear there’s excessive noise reduction on the upcoming Dracula, Prince of Darkness blu-ray. I hope not–hopefully you guys know that grain is good. These blu-rays/restorations better look like the original film!

  4. Great News !!, hammer films finally restored to HD quality, are there any
    plans in the future for restoration on universal releases such as ” Kiss Of
    The Vampire ” & ” Brides Of Dracula etc, with the first ever release for
    hammer on blu-ray ” Paranoic”, one has to wonder wether there maybe
    more universal hammer titles in the pipeline.

  5. All hail the new Hammer for turning out to be exactly what he had all hoped and not what we had all feared! From the classic films to the new, the studio is intent on keeping true to the original Hammer brand, and this diehard American fan is truly grateful for it!

  6. With regard to “Rasputin” aspect ratio. If the original negative has no gap for the optical soundtrack, which will be on the left when viewing through the emulsion side there will be picture across the whole frame, as mentioned above.
    However, the image should not be cropped both sides to bring it to 2.35 as there is more than likely a built in ‘off-set’ which is not immediately visible and will be apparent during the titles. Therefore the image should only be cropped on the left side, otherwise the picture will be off-center.
    There have been many CinemaScope transfers that show distortion on the edges and that has never bothered me so I think no attempt should be made to hide it like it was done on the original laserdisc.

    • Very well said Stephen, I was always concerned about previous versions that had been zoomed, like the laserdisc and subsequent DVD. Would be great to see the entire Cinemascope frame on this title.

  7. I’m delighted that someone has (finally!) decided to release classic Hammer films in their European aspect ratio. Quite a number of DVD releases stateside were presented in 1.85:1, with clearly noticeable severing of important information top/bottom. What’s odd is that I remember seeing various Hammer films in U.S. theaters where the matting would be more generous, as if the projectionist was following UK rules instead of U.S. ones.

  8. All this is of course wonderful news. I have always been a Hammer purist and long grieved the rather poor DVD tranfers derived from prints theatrically released by Twentieth Century Fox. As for the aspect ratio debate, I have not particularly enjoyed any of the Hammer transfers on DVD that have cropped off the top and the bottom of the frame. Some truly awful visual vandalism has been wrought upon Dracula, Lust for a Vampire, The Vampire Lovers, Frankenstein Created Woman… the list goes on. Out on a limb I must be the only person on the planet who would much rather view the open matte frame versions of those films not shot in a wide ratio. It would be a good thing to include such as an ‘extra’ if not as the feature, but I know this option is a vague hope. While mentioning The Vampire Lovers (unashamedly my fav Hammer Horror- it was released when I was 10) the censored decapitation in the opening reel and the original UK title cards would be some nice elements to turn up. LWT included the uncensored head lopping (imagine my disappointment when MGM did not include this important moment in their much hoopla-ed video/DVD ‘restoration’) in a doco from 1993 entitled Bram Stoker’s Dracula (a promo for Coppola’s overwrought soapie) produced by Daniel Wiles and edited and presented by Melvyn Bragg. Incidentally, this brief moment is included on the Koch Media German DVD of The Vampire Lovers as an extra, lifted no doubt from someone’s poor quality TV recording of that very program.

  9. Its about time that we had a region 2 release of The Mummy which is probably one of my favorite films.Any idea if this will happen at all?

  10. Pingback: Classic Hammer films being restored, released on Blu-ray

  11. Hello Hammer,
    I already have Quatermass & The Pit,Dracula-Prince of Darkness (awaiting the replace discs) and pre-order The Reptile & Plague of the Zombies.Do you have any information if the German Company Anolis will release Blu-rays as well ? The company speaker haven’t any information (or won’t tell them).Thank you.Can’t wait for the next announced Blu-rays.

  12. According to Amazon, The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies have now got an estimated shipping date of 21 – 23 June. I expect the wait will be worth it. Keep up the good work, Hammer/Studio Canal!

  13. listed 2 more Hammer movies for September 10th: “The Mummy’s Shroud” and “Rasputin-The mad Monk”.I don’t know if these will be the correct dates.I’m really excited :)

  14. I really enjoyed the clips from Stolen Face in the ‘Wicked Women’ episode of World of Hammer – is that a film that you will be releasing on Blu-ray?

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