This is a mostly excellent transfer from Universal. It comes to us via VC-1 and breathes a lot of new life into Thompson's 1.85:1 print. Damage and age-related anomalies have been largely eradicated, with only the slight presence of specks and dots still remaining. There are no scratches or wobbles, and the print is rock steady and clean. Grain is retained, although there is some inconsistency here, which I will discuss a little further on.
The transfer does not suffer from any undue edge enhancement, but there are a couple of rather inconsequential instances of when artefacts crop up. Thankfully, we have no banding evident in the frame.
Despite a lot of naysayers regarding their treatment of back-catalogue titles, I'm very pleased with this transfer. Universal reward us lots of detail, both deep-set and finite. Background elements such as cars, patrons at the far end of the club, the marina or the bowling alley, and the vegetation of the riversides of Cape Fear, or the concerned faces on the onlookers outside the school, have a fine resolution that is tighter, cleaner and far crisper than I've ever seen them exhibit before. The close-up detail is just as confidently displayed. We can clearly see the stitching in clothes, the weave in jackets, the material in shirts. Facial detail is certainly apparent, with shots revealing skin texture and clean definition of eyes, hair and teeth. The froth from the poor poisoned dog's mouth dribbled over its snout – that's something that I've never noticed before. The grain of wood, the chips in paint and the delineation of leaves and bark and grass – this is all good stuff that was thoroughly masked in previous incarnations There are lots of chances for the encode to display some shimmering on close patterns and lined objects, such as railings, fences and clothing, but it comes through this sailing, with only the most minimal of minuscule wavering that I noticed.
But things aren't all perfect.
Now I think that there are moments, sometimes even just portions of scenes, in which the DNR button has been pressed a little too judiciously. For example, the scene when Sam tells his wife and daughter about Max, after the dog has been poisoned, seems to lose the texture of its grain and the image becomes much smoother and faces tend to go bland and waxy. I don't think that this harms the overall transfer, and it is something that I was specifically looking for in the first place. So, for most people, this may well be a non-issue, I'm sure. But this inconsistency is possibly down to either an unskilled restoration, or possibly from a couple of sources being used as a master. Basically, I'm guessing. But what we have is an image that is largely detailed and film-like, but with occasional moments when texture is lost and a sense of processing creeps in. Crucially, though, I doubt this will impair anybody's enjoyment of a fifty-year old movie.
There are no errors with the contrast, which is impeccable. And the blacks, whoa boy, they're impressive. Thick, deep, consistently robust and with acres of perfect shadow-play. Checking back with the SD disc, I found no element of undue crushing going on. This is a film that absolutely thrives on shadows, and it really delivers in the visually atmospheric stakes. The entire final act is set in the bayous at night during Cady's climactic assault … and this looks astonishingly well-rendered. Slivers of light are immaculately held, as is the detail within them. The strong shafts of darkness are heavy and tangible in their stark opposition.
Personally speaking, I think this looks great on Blu-ray. There are issues with the transfer, but they sure as hell aren't enough to put you off this visually atmospheric treat. Unofficially, this gets a 7.5 from me.
Again, this is excellent. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix is sublime and rich and crystal clear. Dialogue is clean and sharp. Hiss and other age-related signs of the film's vintage are of no concern and the atmospherics are at a premium.
I found there to be a surprising level of depth within this vintage mix. The sounds of the busy street are well-prioritised, and the hubbub in the bowling alley and then especially in the club in which Cady picks up Diane are very finely reproduced. This latter sequence manages to place bustle of voices and music and the tinkling of glasses with a degree of sublime authenticity. Listen to the warmth of the sax playing, really moving fluidly through the mix. And then there things like the distant barking and then whining of the dog, the bumping of something against the side of the houseboat, the muffled grunts and groans in the middle-distance as Cady is attacked by the thugs under the pier. Just because a soundmix is old and limited in scope does not mean that it is restricted in depth and detail.
When we turn our attention to Bernard Herrmann's supremely creepy score, we find that the audio transfer copes admirably. The strings quiver and lacerate the air. The brass clamours and rattles the nerves. The mighty trombone-shrieked main theme barges, larger than life, out of the mix. Instrumentation is keen and sharp, and the score, at large, is deliciously presented.
Overall, this is a finely fiendish track.
Insultingly, we get nothing. Even the old SD release had a making-of. Here, we have total zip. Get the picture, daddy? as Max would say.
The 1962 version of Cape Fear is a thunderous example of boundary-pushing suspense and emotive thumbscrew-turning. The story is magnificently insidious and the performances superb. Thompson's relentless grip on audiences is pure reference material and his steady twisting of emotions and anxieties is a masterclass of slow-burn tension and macabre eloquence. The two leads are awesome, and their performances absolutely classic linchpins of the genre, but then they are also supported by an impeccable ensemble. Each performer gives weight to the drama, nudging the excitement and the terror further and deeper as the plot spirals into ever-murkier territory.
For me, it beats the over-ripe and over-the-top excesses of the remake and remains the more penetrating study of a hellish scenario. It is is still hard to believe just how much they got away with. Psycho had broken the mould, of course, and Cinema would never be the same again … but Cape Fear brought the horror of wanton cruelty and criminality right to the family doorstep and demanded to know what you would do about it. People like Norman Bates certainly exist, but the chances of running into a confident sociopath like Max Cady were probably even higher. Cape Fear, then, was a wake-up call to a contented America that erroneously believed its laws could actually protect it.
It is unforgivable that Universal jettison the old "making-of" and supply nothing of supplemental value, but their UK region-free transfer of this classic chiller is mostly terrific. Both the image and the sound-mix are wonderful, although some will surely spot the tell-tale hints of the restorative process appearing. But this remains a sterling presentation of an incredible, and yet still surprisingly little-seen milestone of gut-punching culture-shock.
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