Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Spectral Hound?

Without a doubt, the most famous Sherlock Holmes novel would have to be "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that the novel has been adapted for film and television countless times. But few of those adaptations keep something about the hound the same as the novel. And that is the spectral, unearthly glow which the beast gives off.

On the page, the idea of the glowing ferocious hound is an interesting one and the way in which Doyle describes the scene from the novel is quite electrifying. I quote:

"I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralyzed by the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog. A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog."

This description certainly does make for some interesting reading. The atmosphere is perfect - the fog-shrouded night, the quiet, the threat of on-coming danger followed by a beast which is glowing fiercely in the night. All of this adds up create what in the early 20th century would have been a perfect witch's brew of a horror story. Recently, I re-read "Hound" and was astonished at how again after all these years, the above passage can still trigger shivers up and down your spine. But this begs the question - why would one of the book's most successful elements not be used in television - a medium which could make the hound quite terrifying with its phosphorescent glow intact.

The answer may be quite simple - it simply would look bad. I suppose that filmmakers do occasionally learn from the mistakes of others because when it comes time to adapt "The Hound of the Baskervilles" to the screen, most of them forego the spectral element and simply have Sir Henry Baskerville savaged by a very large, evil dog. It was attempted in one of the very first "Hound" adaptations to give the dog its characteristic glow by scratching the hound's outline frame by frame on the original negative. The pain-stacking process did not have the greatest results on film.

Tom Baker foregoes his fedora and long scarf
for the deerstalker in 1982's "Hound" adaptation
During the 1982 adaptation of the novel, which adhered to the novel's plot more closely than any other version, the hound made another glowing appearance. This time, the yellow-ish tint of the beast makes it look quite uproarious and the fact that the dog itself looks about as threatening as a poodle, is quite disappointing. Even the Jeremy Brett version of the novel adapted in the mid '80's tried to achieve the spectral look, and failed rather miserably. This hound is bright florescent green and quite laughable to look at. It detracts from an overall good adaptation and certainly and underrated one. Perhaps it is best that in the long-run, screenwriters and filmmakers removed the spectral glow and simply made the dog a big, nasty, killer dog. Those results look a bit better on film (with a few exceptions - cough 2002 version - cough).

It is interesting to look back on how "The Hound of the Baskervilles" has changed throughout the years. What began as simply a mysterious ghost story, has become part of our culture and has been embraced by fans of Gothic literature and Sherlockian fanatics throughout the world.

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