Category Archives: Christopher Lee

Blu-Ray News #257: Hammer Volume 4 – Faces Of Fear.

The folks at Indicator have done a terrific job with their Hammer Blu-Ray sets — and I expect just as much from this one.

Scream Of Fear (1961; UK title: Taste Of Fear)
​Directed by Seth Holt
​Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee

Hammer made a string of Psycho-inspired thrillers in the early 60s. One of the best of the bunch is Scream Of Fear, which borrows more from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955) than it does from the Hitchcock picture. Susan Strasberg is terrific as the handicapped young woman who is being systematically scared to death by a conniving couple. Jimmy Sangster’s script, Seth Holt’s direction and Douglas Slocombe’s black and white photography are all top-notch.

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Eunice Grayson, Francis Matthews, Michael Gwynn

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958) is the second entry in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, coming after The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957). Hammer went a different route than Universal — they follow the Doctor, not the Monster, which lets the stories go in all sorts of different directions. And more important, it established Peter Cushing as a leading horror star through the 70s.

Revenge picks up where Curse left off. Frankenstein escapes the guillotine, flees to Carlsbruck and builds a successful practice under the name Stein. Of course, he’s conducting his usual experiments on the side — and they go horribly wrong. Frankenstein transplants the brain of a willing assistant into the newly constructed monster, giving the crippled young man a stronger, straighter body. Or that’s the idea anyway.

This, for my money, is one of Hammer’s finest films. Cushing is terrific as the brilliant doctor completely taken over by arrogance and misguided ambition (making it quite appropriate during this Presidential election). Eunice Grayson and Francis Matthews are good as the nurse and young doctor caught up in Frankenstein’s mayhem. Michael Gwynn is really superb as the monster, perfectly balancing the sympathy and horror the part requires. His performance is what makes the movie work as well as it does. Jimmy Sangster’s script is more disciplined than usual, free of the diversions that can lead his films astray. And Terence Fisher’s direction is as assured as ever.

The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll (1960; US Title: House Of Fright)
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher Lee, David Kossoff, Oliver Reed

Hammer always put their own spin on the horror standards they tackled, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde is no exception. Their Dr. Jekyll (Paul Massie) is rather boring, but his potion transforms him into the suave, yet lecherous and murderous Mr. Hyde. Minus the murder part, this seems like a precursor to Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor (1963). This framework provides ample opportunity for everything from rape and murder to snake-charming — the kind of stuff censors pounced on, resulting in a cut-up American release from American International.

The Damned (1963; US Title: These Are The Damned)
Directed by Joseph Losey
Starring MacDonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Viveca Lindfors, Oliver Reed

Fleeing the harassment of a motorcycle gang (lead by Oliver Reed), a couple (MacDonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field) winds up in a cave occupied by a group of children — the product an experiment to create a race of radiation-friendly humans.

Hammer sat on this one a while before releasing it, and in in the States it was cut to just 77 minutes. It’s never been given its due, though it’s cherished by fans of Joseph Losey. Indicator, of course, is offering up the original cut, not the chopped-up American thing.

Coming November 18, this Region-Free set loads each picture up with extras — from interviews and trailers to commentaries and photo galleries. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1958, 1960, 1961, 1963, AIP, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Indicator/Powerhouse, Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher

Blu-Ray News #249: Hercules In The Haunted World (1961).

Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Reg Park, Christopher Lee, Leonora Ruffo

Nobody can elevate a cheap movie quite like Mario Bava, and for my money, his Hercules In The Haunted World (1961) is the best of the peplum movies. And Kino Lorber is elevating the whole thing with this two-disc set — you get the European, the UK and the US versions (three, count em!), restored from the camera negative. There’s a commentary from Tim Lucas, an interview and trailers. And it’s all coming in October. Can’t wait.

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Filed under 1961, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Kino Lorber, Mario Bava

Blu-Ray News #244: The Devil Rides Out (1968, AKA The Devil’s Bride).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Screenplay by Richard Matheson
Starrings Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Niké Arrighi, Leon Greene

1968 was a really good year for Hammer Films — they released Quatermass And The Pit and The Devil Rides Out. 2019 is a great year, too, thanks to Scream Factory — they’re bringing the same two movies to Blu-Ray.

Christopher Lee is terrific and Terence Fischer was really at the top of his game on this one. Known as The Devil’s Bride in the US and based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley, is one of the best occult films ever made, if you ask me. (You didn’t, did you?) Coming in October.

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Filed under 1968, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher

Blu-Ray News #240: Scars Of Dracula (1970).

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring Christopher Lee, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, Patrick Troughton, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Scars Of Dracula (1970) has a weird place in the Hammer/Lee Dracula series. It’s the last of the period ones, coming right before Dracula AD 1972. It gave Christopher Lee more to do than a lot of these pictures did. In some, Dracula seems like an afterthought — not a good move when his name’s in the title. And it was directed by Roy Ward Baker, who made some terrific movies. His A Night To Remember (1958) is one of my all-time favorite films.

Scars Of Dracula has also been one of the harder films in the series to track down on TV or video over the years. Which makes the upcoming Blu-Ray from Scream Factory such a great thing. They’ve done a great job with their previous Hammer releases, and I’m sure this one will be just as good.

Coming in September. You know, if I was 12 years old again, most of my allowance would be going to Shout/Scream Factory.

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Filed under 1970, Christopher Lee, Hammer Films, Michael Ripper, Roy Ward Baker, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray Review: The Plague Of The Zombies (1966).

Directed by John Gilling
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys
Screenplay: Peter Bryan
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Chris Barnes
Music by James Bernard

Cast: André Morell (Sir James Forbes), Diane Clare (Sylvia Forbes), Brook Williams (Dr. Peter Tompson), Jacqueline Pearce (Alice Tompson), John Carson (Squire Clive Hamilton), Alexander Davion (Denver), Michael Ripper (Sgt. Jack Swift)

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Every kid who grew up watching horror movies (old or new) has a scene or two they remember fondly (or dreadfully) for how badly it scared them as a kid. Psycho‘s shower scene. Ben Gardner’s head in Jaws. The list goes on and on. Well, one of mine’s in Hammer’s The Plague Of The Zombies (1966).

Shooting the foggy nightmare sequence on a beautiful day.

There’s a nightmare sequence about halfway through the film with plenty of fog, odd camera angles, crazy colors and lots of dead bodies either coming out of the ground or wandering around a graveyard. It totally wigged me out as a kid (much like the zombie in the back of a hearse in a certain episode of The Night Stalker).

So I dropped the new Blu-Ray into my player with a mammoth pile of fondness (and gratitude to our friends at Scream Factory). And boy, this thing really knocked me out. The color is terrific, the sound has real punch to it, and the movie’s even better than I remember.

The Plague Of The Zombies features the old voodoo/Haiti kind of zombies (as seen in 1932’s White Zombie), as opposed to George Romero’s flesh-munching variety. They’re being used by Squire Hamilton (John Carson) as workers in an old tin mine. In the late 19th century, Cornwall evidently had a pretty severe labor shortage.

Brook Williams, Diane Clare and André Morell

When a rash of people in his village start dying, a young doctor (Brook Williams) turns to his old friend Sir James Forbes (André Morell) to help get to the bottom of things. Morell is terrific as the old doctor, but the prize goes to Jacqueline Pearce who pretty much walks away with the movie as one of the walking dead. By the way, Brook Williams gets killed off in the first 10 minutes of my all-time favorite movie, Where Eagles Dare (1969).

John Gilling wasn’t one of Hammer’s major directors — he came and went over the course of the studio’s heyday. But he made some of their better films, with this being one of them. His The Pirates Of Blood River (1962) and The Reptile (1966, made back to back with The Plague Of The Zombies) are well worth seeking out. His 1960, non-Hammer The Flesh And The Fiends, which puts Peter Cushing in the tried-and-true Burke and Hare grave robbing/murder story, is terrific — and way up near the top of my Blu-Ray Wish List.

But back to The Plague Of The Zombies. The geniuses at Hammer offered this one up in a twin-bill with Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966), the second of the Christopher Lee Dracula pictures. What a night that must’ve been for monster-loving kids circa 1966.

With both pictures available from Scream Factory, you can recreate that evening in the privacy of your own home. And I bet they’ll look better in your living room than they did at your local drive-in back in ’66. Arthur Grant created some great color lighting effects for The Plague Of The Zombies, similar to what Jack Asher had before him at Hammer. The improved color makes all the Hammer Blu-Rays essential stuff for fans of these things — remember, color was the main selling point with these pictures. Shout Factory gives us a slew of tasty extras, with my favorite being a short documentary on the making of the picture. Time has been kind to these movies. They seem better than ever. Shout Factory’s been kind to them, too. They look better than ever. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1966, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, John Gilling, Michael Ripper, Peter Cushing, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray News #233: Noir Archive Volume 3: 1956-1960.

I’ve been making my way through the first glorious volume of this terrific series from Kit Parker and Mill Creek Entertainment, and now they’ve announced the third. There’s another great lineup on the way (no pun intended).

The Shadow On The Window (1956)
Directed by William Asher
Starring Phil Carey, Betty Garrett, John Barrymore, Jr., Jerry Mathers

Jerry Mathers goes into shock after seeing his mom hassled by a group of thugs, then helps his dad (Phil Carey) and the cops rescue her. The Beaver is really good in this.

The Long Haul (1957)
Directed by Ken Hughes
Starring Victor Mature, Diana Dors

A British noir picture with Mature all tangled up in the shifty trucking industry — and a hood’s girlfriend.

Pickup Alley 6S

Pickup Alley (1957, UK Title: Interpol)
Directed by John Gilling
Starring Victor Mature, Anita Ekberg, Trevor Howard

Victor Mature and Anita Ekberg in a B&W Scope picture about dope smugglers — directed by the guy who did The Plague Of The Zombies (1966)! Where’s this movie been all my life?

The Tijuana Story (1957)
Directed by Leslie Kardos
Starring Rodolfo Acosta, James Darren, Jean Willes

Another lurid geography lesson from the great Sam Katzman. I love Rodolfo Acosta — his tiny part in One-Eyed Jacks includes one of the coolest single shots in all of Cinema, if you ask me (which you didn’t). Here, he’s got the lead!

She Played With Fire (1957, UK Title: Fortune Is A Woman)
Directed by Sidney Gilliat
Starring Jack Hawkins, ArleneDahl, DennisPrice, ChristopherLee
More UK noir, this one about a painting and insurance fraud.

The Lineup (1958)
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Eli Wallach, Robert Keith, Warner Anderson, Richard Jaeckel

The TV series is turned into a typically tough and tight Don Siegel film. Siegel’s San Francisco movies (this and Dirty Harry) really get in the way of the city’s whole peace and love/hippie vibe. This time, it’s a town crawling with dope, crooks and killers. This set’s worth it for this one alone!

The Case Against Brooklyn (1958)
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Starring Darren McGavin, Maggie Hayes, Warren Stevens, Nestor Paiva, Brian G. Hutton

A documentary-style, true-story crooked cop picture starring Darren McGaven. Paul Wendkos also did The Legend Of Lizzie Borden (1975). Produced by Charles H. Schneer in-between Harryhausen movies. Oh, and Nestor Paiva’s in it.

The Crimson Kimono (1959)
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Starring James Shigeta, Glenn Corbett, Victoria Shaw

On the surface, it’s a detective story, but that’s never how a Fuller movie works, is it? Fuller understood that the best way to tackle an issue/message in a picture was to wrap it up in something else like a cop story or a Western. He also knew that if you stuck to B movies, the suits didn’t pay much attention and left you alone to do what you wanted. This one’s terrific.

Man On A String (1960)
Directed by Andre De Toth
Starring Ernest Borgnine, Kerwin Mathews, Alexander Scourby, Colleen Dewhurst, Glenn Corbett, Ted Knight, Seymour Cassel

Ernest Borgnine stars in this 1960 spy picture based on the life (and autobiography, Ten Years A Counterspy) of Boris Morros, a Russian-born musical director in Hollywood (John Ford’s Stagecoach, 1939) who was first a Russian spy, then a counterspy for the FBI. Andre de Toth focuses on the double-crosses that stack up like cordwood.

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Filed under 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, Andre de Toth, Christopher Lee, Columbia, Darren McGavin, Diana Dors, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, Ernest Borgnine, John Gilling, Kit Parker, Mill Creek, Nestor Paiva, Sam Fuller, Sam Katzman, William Asher

Night Creatures (1962, AKA Captain Clegg).

Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Based on Russell Thorndike’s Dr. Syn character
Music by Don Banks
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins

Cast: Peter Cushing (Parson Blyss/Captain Clegg), Yvonne Romain (Imogene), Patrick Allen (Captain Collier), Oliver Reed (Harry), Michael Ripper (Mipps), David Lodge (Bosun), Derek Francis (Squire), Jack MacGowran

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What if Heaven was a place where you’ve got a stack of old movies starring, or made by, all your favorites — that you’ve never seen? Like maybe another couple Scott-Boetticher Westerns, a second George Lazenby Bond movie — or a Peter Cushing Hammer picture you somehow missed while here on Earth. Well, that last little slice of Heaven materialized here in Raleigh, North Carolina, over the weekend. I finally got around to checking out Night Creatures (1962, UK title Captain Clegg).

There’s an interesting bit of history to this one. Hammer Films planned to remake Dr. Syn (1937), which starred George Arliss as the mysterious smuggler Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn — based on the novels by Russell Thorndike.

But it turned out that Disney also had their eye on Dr. Syn, for their Wonderful World Of Disney TV show, and had acquired the rights to the novels themselves — versus Hammer’s remake rights to the old movie. Disney’s eventual three-part TV program starred Patrick McGoohan and William Sylvester. (In the mid-70s, it was re-cut and played US theaters as Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow. I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.)

Anyway, back to Hammer. To avoid any legal hassle from the Disney people, Hammer changed the character’s name to Captain Clegg and made a few other modifications. There’s still a scarecrow, there’s still plenty of brandy to be smuggled and taxes to be avoided. But we now get the creepy Marsh Phantoms. Stills of the Phantoms that turned up in my monster movie books and magazines had me wanting to see this movie to a ridiculous degree.

Somehow, it took me more than 40 years to catch up with Night Creatures. But it was worth the wait.

Turns out, it’s not really a horror movie at all, it’s a dark, moody pirate/adventure story. Hammer was pretty good at pirate movies. Their The Pirates Of Blood River, from the same year as Night Creatures and with some of the same cast, is a hoot — and they’d follow it with The Devil-Ship Pirates in 1964. Both star Christopher Lee.

I’m not gonna spoil things by giving you a synopsis. It’s too good a movie for me to screw it up for you.

Night Creatures is Peter Cushing’s movie all the way, in spite of some strong work from Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper (who’s got a bigger part than usual) and the lovely Yvonne Romain. Cushing gets to do plenty of action stuff, which he’s always very good at. It’s shame he’s known these days primarily for standing around and being mean in Star Wars (1977). Cushing is so versatile, and he really gets to show his range in this one, going back and forth from ruthless pirate to compassionate preacher numerous times over the course of the picture’s 82 minutes. Over the last year or so, I’ve developed a real love of Cushing. He’s a joy to watch.

Patrick Allen is appropriately hateful as the government man sent to track down the band of smugglers and clashing with the Marsh Phantoms along the way. The Phantoms’ scenes deliver the goods I’d be waiting decades for — though I’d love to have seen what Jack Asher, Hammer’s other DP, would’ve done with those scenes on the moors. His stylized color effects always knock me out. There isn’t a thing in this movie that isn’t cool.

Peter Graham Scott directs Yvonne Romain.

I finally came across Night Creatures in the Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection Blu-Ray set from Universal. It looks great, as do all the other pictures. I saw Hammer’s Phantom Of The Opera (1962) on film repeatedly as a kid, and the spot-on transfer looks exactly as I remember it. Night Creatures gets my highest recommendation. It’s become a new favorite around my house.

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Filed under 1962, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Michael Ripper, Peter Cushing, Universal (-International)