Our rating: 4 out of 5
Many have attempted to fill the shoes of Sherlock Holmes, and many have failed. Since for me the definitive Holmes was Basil Rathbone, stomaching any other adaptation is always difficult. I have been occasionally fond of other adaptations but I'm not here to nitpick on the choice of actors or even the flaws in the story itself... after all, this is only a loose adaptation. For over three hundred years a demon hound has been stalking and killing the heirs of Sir Hugo Baskerville. Roaming the family estate set in the desolate and lonely moors of England, the massive black dog with its red glowing eyes is a supernatural curse.
Or so believes Dr. Mortimer, who has just discovered Sir Charles Baskerville dead at the wicket gate. The only living heir -- a young American by the name of Sir Henry (Jason London) -- is coming to England to take over his uncle's estates. On his arrival he is the target of a mysterious warning to not set foot upon the moors. Desperate to keep this last heir alive, Dr. Mortimer attempts to gain the aid of the illustrious Sherlock Holmes (Matt Frewer) and his mild-mannered roommate Dr. Watson (Kenneth Welsh) in the upper London flats. The case intrigues Holmes with its sinister elements but unfortunately he is caught up with another case at the time and sends Watson to Dartmoor to look after Sir Henry until he is able to tear himself away. What Watson finds on the heath is more than sinister in a dramatic cast of characters, from the mysterious Barrymore to the beautiful neighbor who urges Henry to abandon the Hall.
There are the magnificent cast of characters... from the eccentric patomologist to the mysterious Mrs. Lyons, the frightened Miss Stapleton, even the sinister wife of the houseman. Then there is Baskerville himself, who seems determined to elude Waton's watch and entangles himself in a mystery of his own. Stir in an eerie setting of expansive moors and creaking corridors, an escaped convict that roams the heath, and a nosy neighbor always out with his telescope, and you have the masterpiece that brought Doyle worldwide fame and has been pronounced as the most "chilling and classic murder mystery of all time." Although Holmes plays only a slight role in this epic adventure from Hallmark, his presence is always somehow noted through the constant correspondence of Dr. Watson. This time Watson is on his own... can he separate truth from lies in time to save the impressionable young Sir Henry's life? Or will this ghostly hell-hound rule the night?
Staying close to the book in some pursuits but wandering in others, this adaptation weaves the story together with a haunting soundtrack and a first-class cast. It moves along slowly at times but picks up toward the end for a startling climax unlike those of its predecessors. The story builds up Dr. Watson well, proving him to be an often humorous but also serious character capable of deep thought. Holmes' long-awaited appearance differs from that of the novel but is dramatic none the less. The glowing eyes of the hound will literally raise the hairs on the back of your neck. There is a spattering of violence, most of it having to do with the hound. He attacks and mauls several people, some gunfire is present and the viewer feels a sense of helplessness as the devil-dog leaps upon Sir Henry for one of the longest minutes in movie history. At the risk of giving away a minor plot point, the dog turns on its owner at the end and they are both sucked into the bog. It's not as hair-raising a climax as the Ian Richardson version but proves a much more family-friendly one, if only to those where the children are not too young. It stands on its own feet with beautiful costuming and witty exchanges of dialogue. As far as Holmes films go, this adaptation is it's on-par.