In early March 2013 Millenium Entertainment announced a distribution deal of Exclusive Media's library of Hammer Films - including special edition blu-rays as part of a multi-tiered marketing approach. While the UK have been getting Hammer blu-rays on a steady basis (albeit generally medicore to poor releases) here in America the pickings have been pretty slim. It's barely a month later and Millenium has already released a quickie barebones 3-film DVD set "at an affordable price to encourage the general public to join the Hammer fanbase" according to their press release. Sales figures of this DVD set are likely to be a gauge for future blu-rays. After considering the pre-order of a measly 8 bucks, the weight it may have on future releases, and the fact I still don't own Dracula: Prince of Darkness then this DVD set was a no-brainer. For the sake of this review I'll be referring to the LONG out print Anchor Bay DVDs, which haven't been distributed in over a decade and now command some pretty outrageous prices.
Unfortunately, being an apparent rushjob, this first release from Millenium has some drawbacks. The first thing that strikes me is the case insert - it's so plain and unattractive, clearly a 15 minute Photoshop job. Granted, this bears nothing on disc content but it helps illustrate the expedited manner this set was created. The arrangement is a bit awkward in that Dracula: POD has it's own single-sided disc and the other 2 films are on a double-sided "flipper" disc. There are no extras, not even trailers, so that is something the Anchor Bay DVDs have over this. All 3 films do feature English SDH subtitles though.
DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS - The transfer on this film is quite solid with natural skin tones, a stable image, and minimal imperfections. The audio is very consistent and adequate. I do not own the Anchor Bay version to compare. As far as the film itself goes, I think this one is a little overrated. It's still a good movie but there are other Hammer Dracula installments that I simply enjoy more (namely the 2 that followed it: Dracula Has Risen From the Grave and Taste the Blood of Dracula).
LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES - By far, the worst of the 3 transfers in the set. Immediately upon viewing it is obvious the film speed is off, which results in unnaturally fast motion. The runtime here is only 85 min. instead of the 89 min. length on the Anchor Bay DVD. The increased film speed acccounts for the difference and it doesn't appear as if anything is cut. However this one is in Anamorphic Widescreen and the AB release is letterboxed, which isn't' very friendly with most widescreen TVs. Surprisingly this soundtrack is much clearer and more robust than AB's which is muffled lo-fi by comparison. Also, Millenium's color palette seems more natural than the Anchor Bay transfer. Unfortunately none of these improvements overcome the terribly distracting off-kilter film speed that renders the movie almost unwatchable. Anchor Bay wins hands down on this one, and their DVD includes the American cut of the film as well (The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula). I hope they straighten out the speed issue for any further release of this interesting east-meets-west flick.
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN - Another clean solid transfer with more natural color and even a little sharper than it's AB counterpart, although the print is a little darker overall. Audio once again is pretty tight with little to no hiss, pops, or crackles. This movie is one of the best in the Frankenstein series and definitely one of the more inventive ones. It's nice to see it in great condition here. Between the good technical aspects and artistic quality FCW is the most enjoyable in this set to watch.
All in all, this isn't a bad set. But having zero extras, minimal effort, and 7 Golden Vampires being a wash (which really needed an improved release) is enough to take off 2 stars. If you already have the Anchor Bay DVDs, then this set won't do much for you. But if you're looking for any of these films the pricetag alone makes it worthwhile. Hopefully Millenium will get around to releasing blu-rays sooner rather than later.