Category Archives: Christopher Lee

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)

Blu-Ray News #225: The Hemisphere Box Of Horrors.

You know, anybody can do a 4K scan of some perfectly-preserved studio picture made 10 years ago — or do what little is needed to put last summer’s digitally-shot blockbuster on a silver circle. But to take some cheap little independent, international piece of junk — that’s been beaten to crap wherever it’s been reposing for the last 40 years — and make it look as though it was made yesterday, well, that’s really doing something.

And that’s why I thank God for folks like Severin Films. With their upcoming The Hemisphere Box Of Horrors Blu-Ray set, they take a handful of films from Hemisphere and give them the love and respect few people would say they deserve.

The Blood Drinkers (1964, AKA The Vampire People)
Directed by Gerry De Leon
Starring Ronald Remy, Amalia Fuentes, Eddie Fernandez, Eva Montes
Some of this Filipino vampire picture was shot in black and white, some in color. The B&W scenes were tinted in various shades and promoted as “blood-dripping color. 

Curse Of The Vampires (1966, AKA Blood Of The Vampires)
Directed by Gerry De Leon
Starring Amalia Fuentes, Romeo Vasquez, Eddie Garcia
There’s a woman chained up in the dungeon of a jungle mansion. Turns out she’s a vampire who bites her son — and soon the entire family is on the prowl for blood.

Brain Of Blood (1971, AKA The Creature’s Revenge, The Oozing Skull, The Undying Brain)
Directed by Al Adamson
Starring Grant Williams, Kent Taylor, Reed Hadley, Regina Carrol, Angelo Rossitto
You can always count on Al Adamson for something terrible — and a lot of fun. It’s got everything from brain transplants to torture chambers to chained-up women to sinister dwarfs. Something for everyone. This was Reed Hadley’s last film.

The Black Cat (1966)
Directed by Harold Hoffman
Starring Robert Frost, Robyn Baker, Sadie French, Scotty McKay
This horror picture, shot in Texas, was picked up for distribution by Hemisphere. It was paired with The Blood Drinkers. This is one I’ve been wanting to see for eons.

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The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism (1967, AKA The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit And The Pendulum, Castle Of The Walking Dead)
Directed by Harald Reinl
Starring Christopher Lee, Karin Dor, Lex Barker
Count Regula (Christopher Lee) is executed for killing 12 virgins in his dungeon. Years later, he comes back for revenge. This West German production, co-starring Karin Dor and Lex Barker, is a lot better movie than it’s plethora of lurid titles would indicate. (The Torture Chamber Of Dr. Sadism has to be one of the greatest movie titles of all time.) This one and The Black Cat are exclusive to this set and will not be sold separately.

All these pictures will get the usual Severin treatment with lots of extras — interviews, cut scenes, trailers and more. For those of us who can’t get enough of these things, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1964, 1966, 1967, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Severin Films

Blu-Ray Review: Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys
Screenplay by John Sansom (Jimmy Sangster)
From an idea from John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Cinematography: Michael Reed
Film Editor: Chris Barnes
Music by James Bernard

Cast: Christopher Lee (Dracula), Barbara Shelley (Helen Kent), Andrew Keir (Father Sandor), Francis Matthews (Charles Kent), Suzan Farmer (Diana Kent), Charles Tingwell (Alan Kent), Thorley Walters (Ludwig), Philip Latham (Klove)

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Hammer Films’ approach to sequels has always fascinated me. It was smart, it was different. Their Frankenstein pictures followed the doctor, not the monster. Each film saw the good doctor hiding out someplace new, working on his latest experiment. Brides Of Dracula (1960), Hammer’s followup to their Dracula (1958, known in the US as Horror Of Dracula), went in the same direction. Since Count Dracula had been reduced to a nasty pile of dust, they kept their focus on Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Makes sense.

But I guess a Dracula movie isn’t a Dracula movie if Dracula’s not in it. So Hammer worked to bring Christopher Lee back. It would be eight years before Lee donned the cape, fangs and bloodshot contacts for Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966). Whether it was worth the wait is something Hammer fans tend to debate quite a bit.

Dracula – Prince Of Darkness was one of the first Hammer films I saw (it might’ve been the first), and it made a huge impression on me, particularly the resurrection sequence. The movie’s deliberate pacing and grim tone seems to explode once Klove gets out his knife. And as a kid, that scene pulled the cinematic rug out from under me — after that, anything could happen — and I watched the rest of the film with an odd combination of joy, distrust and absolute dread.

Bringing Lee back in Prince Of Darkness sent the series down a path of killing Dracula off in one picture, then bringing him back in the next. But they never got it better than this one. With Van Helsing (and Peter Cushing) missing, we get the vampire hunter Father Sandor (Andrew Keir). He’s terrific, but Cushing is missed — his mixture of obsession and morality makes a good backbone for a picture like this. One of Dracula’s victims is Barbara Shelley, whose performance — going from repressed rich lady to sexed-up vampiress — is really something.

Dracula was a model of efficiency — it looks like it cost much more than it did, its pacing is perfectly tight, and it works wonders with a very small cast. For Dracula – Prince Of Darkness, Terence Fisher and his team spread things out a bit in terms of both pace and space — this is one of the few Hammer horror films in ‘Scope, Techniscope, to be exact.

That Techniscope is one of the things that makes the new Blu-Ray from Scream Factory so important. Techniscope used far less frame space than an anamorphic process like CinemaScope or Panavision, so sharpness and graininess become an issue. But they’re not a problem here, and we get two different versions of the picture to choose from. The British cut is a bit shorter, and its color leans toward green — but it’s sharper. The US version is longer by about 12 seconds, its color is much better, but it’s a bit softer and the blacks are very dense. Of course, Hammer horror films are all about their color. Scream Factory was wise to give it to us this way. Combining the two wouldn’t have worked (the mismatched color would have driven us all nuts), and there would’ve been complaints about one vs. the other. (Personally, I prefer the US version.) The sound is terrific, giving James Bernard’s score the power it deserves.

There’s a coffin-full or great extras, from a short documentary to some behind the scenes home movie footage. All in all, this is an outstanding package — and a terrific opportunity to rediscover a film that has spent way too much time under the shadow of its predecessor. It’s time for its own resurrection. Highly, highly recommended.

Dracula – Prince Of Darkness played theaters paired with John Dilling’s The Plague Of The Zombies (1966), a smaller picture that’s a real knockout. It’s available from Scream Factory, too, and it’s essential.

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Filed under 1966, Barbara Shelley, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher