Category Archives: Christopher Lee

RIP, Barbara Shelley.

Barbara Shelley
February 13, 1932 — January 4, 2021

I grew up watching Barbara Shelley in pictures like Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966) and Quatermass And The Pit (1968). She was always terrific. She passed away today at 88.

Miss Shelley was one of those actors or actresses that didn’t look down on material like this, and her performances were as good as the genre ever saw. I’d have a real hard time picking a favorite — so I guess I’d recommend you watch ’em all. Which is what I plan to do.

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Filed under 1966, 1968, Barbara Shelley, Christopher Lee, Hammer Films, Terence Fisher

Merry Christmas.

My junior year in high school, I got to choose the movie that ran in the school auditorium on our last day before the Christmas break. (There was also a band playing in the cafeteria.)

I chose Freddie Francis’s The Creeping Flesh (1973), starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It was a beautiful 16mm print from Films Incorporated.

Now I don’t want to get callouses from patting myself on the back, but I think I made a wise choice. And ever since, I think of it as a Christmas movie. 

Here’s wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

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Filed under 1973, Christopher Lee, Freddie Francis, Peter Cushing, Tygon

Blu-Ray Review: The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Produced by Anthony Hinds
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
Based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Director Of Photography: Jack Asher
Production Design: Bernard Robinson
Makeup Artist: Phil Leakey
Music by James Bernard
Film Editor: James Needs

Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Victor Frankenstein), Melvyn Hayes (Young Victor), Robert Urquhart (Paul Krempe), Hazel Court (Elizabeth), Sally Walsh (Young Elizabeth), Christopher Lee (The Creature), Valerie Gaunt (Justine), Noel Hood (Aunt Sophia), Paul Hardtmuth (Professor Bernstein)

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With its first color film, and first foray into Gothic horror, Hammer Films created a brand that would change their direction, launch the horror careers of a couple of iconic actors, and ultimately change the horror movie itself. That’s accomplishing quite a bit, especially when you’re talking about a little company in the UK with a $250,000 monster movie — and working out of a house, not a proper studio.

Of course, we’re talking about is The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. And it’s just been given an incredible restoration and Blu-Ray release by Warner Archive.

While it varies quite a bit from the Shelley novel, it’s right in line with the cinematic Frankenstein story. A brilliant, obsessed doctor (Peter Cushing) assembles a man (Christopher Lee) from parts of dead bodies and brings it to life — with less than the desired result.

Seen today, it’s still a nasty little movie. Victor Frankenstein isn’t just an overly-driven medical researcher, he’s a manipulative lech. Actresses seem to have been chosen, and costumes designed, to highlight the female form. And every gruesome opportunity to dwell upon a lopped-off head, a severed hand or an eye in a jar is taken with relish. And remember, this is the first time audiences had ever seen such gore in color!

But what’s really important, and what makes this new Blu-Ray so essential, is we get to see the level of craft that went into Curse Of Frankenstein. Bernard Robinson’s sets are incredible, especially when you consider he was working in such tight spaces. Jack Asher’s cinematography, his first time working in color, uses shadow and light to draw  the eye to exactly what he wanted us to see and making those tiny sets look as big, as opulent, as possible. His experiments with color and light would continue with each film, making watching these early Hammer horror pictures in order of release a fun exercise.

Phil Leakey touches up Christopher Lee’s hairdo.

For Christopher Lee’s Creature, the makeup had to steer clear of the classic Universal/Karloff look, and Phil Leakey went in an effective stitched-up, patchwork direction. The Blu-Ray’s restored color really aids our appreciation of the look of the Creature, and we can see that Lee’s wounds seem to “heal” as the film goes on. 

James Bernard’s score is kinetic and dynamic, creating a signature sound (with an obviously small orchestra) that instantly IDs a Hammer film. A friend and I had dinner with Mr. Bernard in the early 90s. What a nice, charming man — and so humble.

Terence Fisher, Hazel Court and Peter Cushing on the set.

Terence Fisher’s direction brings all these elements together, beginning to set the tone for what Hammer would make into the mid-60s. He gets pitch-perfect performances from his cast. His camera rarely moves, but when it does, it’s always to great effect. But what probably makes the biggest difference is that he makes sure no one, from the cast to the cameraman to the caterer, looks down on the material. That made all the difference.

Warner Archive has done a remarkable job bringing Curse Of Frankenstein back to life. It’s sharp, the color is a huge improvement over anything I’ve seen before. (This one was shot in Eastmancolor.) We also get the original aspect ratio(s) — from the UK’s 1.66 to the 1.85 seen in the US to the 1.33 we saw on TV and videotape. (I recommend the 1.66.) The supplemental stuff is a real home run — a casket-load of commentaries, documentaries and a trailer. I was particularly happy to see James Bernard and Jack Asher singled out, with a short video on each. They’re key to the lasting impact of these films. 

While Horror Of Dracula* (1958) may get a lot of the glory, Curse Of Frankenstein is where it all began. It’s an important film, and a really cool one. As essential as they come, both as a movie and as an upgrade to whatever format you might currently have it in. 

* Also available (and stunning) on Blu-Ray from Warner Archive.

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Filed under 1957, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Hazel Court, Jack Asher, Terence Fisher, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

Blu-Ray News #319: The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhardt, Christopher Lee

Boy, this is going to be great! You get The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), the first of Hammer’s Frankenstein series three different ways (on two discs), restored from preservation separations — the 1.66 UK aspect ratio, 1.85 as it played in the States and 1.37 as we saw it on TV for years and years. There will be commentaries, documentaries and a trailer. And if you’re familiar with what a lot of Warner Archive’s stuff has been looking like lately, you can only imagine how stunning this one would be. Essential!

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Filed under 1957, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Hazel Court, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, Warner Archive, Warner Bros.

A Universal Halloween?

I’ve been thinking about a classic Universal monster movie for Halloween night, but there are a lot of them — and they’re all so great? (They’re represented by this wonderful ad for the Aurora monster model. Click on it and it gets, well, monstrous!)

What are your thoughts? Mummy? Frankenstein? Dracula? The Wolf Man? The Creature? Or a one-off like The Invisible Ray (1936)? Or, maybe a different direction, like something from AIP or Hammer?

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Filed under 30s Horror, Abbott & Costello, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Hammer Films, James Whale, Lon Chaney Jr., Peter Cushing, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #308: Hammer Films – The Ultimate Collection (1958-1971).

I’ve been really impressed with Mill Creek’s Hammer releases. They don’t have the extras we get from someone like Scream Factory, but they look good, they’re often in double bills or sets (with us DVD/Blu-Ray collectors, shelf space is always a concern), and the price is certainly right. 

Mill Creek’s newest Hammer project is the 20-picture Hammer Films – The Ultimate Collection. It’s got some great stuff — some are repeats from previous MC releases, some not. It focuses on Hammer films that were distributed by Columbia in the States. Here’s the lineup:

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)
The Snorkel (1958)
The Camp On Blood Island (1958)
Yesterday’s Enemy (1959)
The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960)

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The Stranglers Of Bombay (1960)
Cash On Demand (1961)
Scream Of Fear (1961)
Stop Me Before I Kill! (1961)

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The Terror Of The Tongs (1961)
The Pirates Of Blood River (1962)
These Are The Damned (1962)
The Old Dark House (1963)
The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1963)
Maniac (1963)
The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

The Gorgon (1964)
Die! Die! My Darling (1965)
Creatures The World Forgot (1971)

I can’t wait to get my hands on this thing. These films are essential stuff. A few of these I haven’t seen in quite a while — and never on Blu-Ray. It’s coming in November.

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Filed under 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1971, Arthur Grant, Christopher Lee, Columbia, Don Sharp, DVD/Blu-ray News, Freddie Francis, Hammer Films, John Gilling, Kerwin Matthews, Mill Creek, Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing, Stanley Baker, Terence Fisher, Val Guest, William Castle

Blu-Ray News #274: The Pirates Of Blood River (1962).

Directed by John Gilling
Starring Kerwin Mathews, Christopher Lee, Glenn Corbett, Marla Landi

Our friends at Indicator/Powerhouse have dug up some real treasure with their latest Hammer set — Passport To China (1961), The Pirates Of Blood River (1962), The Crimson Blade (1963) and The Brigand Of Kandahar (1965).

John Gilling’s Blood River is absolutely essential. Christopher Lee is terrific in it.

Called Hammer Volume Five: Death & Deceit, the set is limited to 6,000 units. Coming ashore in March.

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Filed under 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965, Christopher Lee, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Indicator/Powerhouse, John Gilling, Kerwin Matthews

Blu-Ray News #264: Rasputin – The Mad Monk (1966).

Directed by Don Sharp
Starring Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco

Just last night, I checked out Scream Factory’s new Blu-Ray of The Devil Rides Out (1968). It’s one of the best-looking Hammer pictures I’ve seen in high definition. Really something else. (A review is in the works.)

So, with that fresh in my mind, I was really stoked to see today’s announcement of Hammer’s Rasputin – The Mad Monk (1966) and X: The Unknown (1956). Scream Factory’s Hammer series shows just how nice these old horror movies can be on video. They’re all stellar.

Rasputin stars Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley and is one of the few Hammer films in ‘Scope, actual CinemaScope this time. X: The Unkn0wn was to be Hammer’s second Quatermass film, but Nigel Kneale wouldn’t give them the rights to the character. It plays like a Quatermass movie (Joseph Losey directed some of it before he was replaced by Leslie Norman) and is very good.

These movies, and what I’m sure Scream Factory will do with the Blu-Rays, come highly recommended.

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Filed under 1966, 20th Century-Fox, Barbara Shelley, Christopher Lee, Don Sharp, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Joseph Losey, Shout/Scream Factory

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, Peplum