Category Archives: Christopher Lee

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 meeting the Marsh Phantoms along the way. The Phantoms’ scenes delivery 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, 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

Blu-Ray Review: (Horror Of) Dracula (1958).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
From the novel by Bram Stoker
Director Of Photography: Jack Asher, BSC
Music by James Bernard

Cast: Peter Cushing (Dr. Van Helsing), Michael Gough (Arthur Holmwood), Melissa Stribling (Mina Holmwood), Carol Marsh (Lucy Holmwood), Christopher Lee (Count Dracula)

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In the early 90s, I had the chance to see a 35mm IB Technicolor print of Horror Of Dracula (1958) run at a film festival in Baltimore. It was a great evening — one of my favorite nights spent in a movie theater, with a film I’d seen countless times taking on a whole new life. Technicolor let the fake blood (and Jack Asher’s color effects) really pop, and the stories of Hammer’s visceral late-50s impact suddenly made a lot of sense. The new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive gives us a near-perfect approximation of what that IB Tech print looked like.

To back up a bit, Hammer Films breathed new life into the Horror Movie with their violent, colorful takes on the monster classics. They began with Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), which was a huge hit. Next came Dracula (1958, Horror Of Dracula in the US), followed by The Mummy (1959). All three starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, were shot by Jack Asher and were directed by Terence Fisher. As the censors lightened up some and the ratings system came along, Hammer lost their way a bit. But along the way, they made some really cool movies — and had a huge, lasting influence on the Horror Film.

Dracula might be the best of the bunch. It’s a streamlined, yet faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, with an emphasis on the sensual side of the vampire thing that hadn’t made its way to the screen before. Lee is suave as the evil Count, whose female victims don’t seem all that much like victims. Peter Cushing is perfect as the moral, determined vampire killer Dr. Van Helsing — whose calling has relegated him to a life on the fringes of both Science and Religion.

Each time I see Dracula, I’m struck now by how well it moves. There’s not an ounce of fat on this film. It’s made up of set-pieces — a biting here, a staking there — that build to a final battle of Good vs. Evil. It feels, to me, like it’s about 20 minutes long.

Terence Fisher might be the Ringo Starr of film directors — subtle, nothing flashy, but with impeccable taste and a perfect sense of what is needed. He knows exactly where to put his camera, and no matter how lustful or blood-soaked things get, there’s a class to his Hammers that really sets them apart. This one is the perfect showcase for his talents.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mr. Jack Asher, BSC.

Over the years, we’ve been unable to really appreciate Jack Asher’s brilliant photography, due to faded TV prints, crappy VHS tapes and a pretty lazy attempt at a DVD. (The UK Blu-Ray release looked quite good.) Asher tosses an oddball colored light here and there, and his choices are theatrical, effective and just plain cool. These touches were perfect for Technicolor, and they’re perfectly presented by Warner Archive. So is the audio, with James Bernard’s score pounding out of your speakers with astounding impact.

This is one of the finest Blu-Rays in my collection, and I’m seriously considering a bigger, better TV just to give it a closer look. Essential.

Next up: Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966) from Scream Factory!

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Filed under 1958, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Michael Gough, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, Warner Archive

Happy Birthday, Freddie Francis.

Freddie Francis
(December 22, 1917 – March 17, 2007)

Freddie Francis was born 101 years ago today. He was one of the greatest cinematographers the movies ever had — a master of B&W ‘Scope (The Innocents, The Elephant Man) — and the director of a pretty good string of horror movies, usually for Hammer or Amicus.

He’s seen here (left) on the set of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968) with Christopher Lee and Veronica Carlson. They’re actually celebrating Lee’s birthday, but this photo’s close enough for our purposes.

Also, a happy birthday to Colin McGuigan, a friend of this blog and my Western one. His Riding The High Country gives us all something to live up to.

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Filed under 1968, Amicus Productions, Christopher Lee, Freddie Francis, Hammer Films

2018 In Review – Part 2.

When I started doing DVD and Blu-Ray commentaries, it no longer felt appropriate to survey the best DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the year. So, as a substitute (maybe a poor one), here’s a reminder of a few things we were treated to this year. We’ll let all the praise, complaints or ranking come from you in the comments. Part 1 can be found over at 50 Westerns From The 50s.

This was a banner year for old sci-fi and horror movies making their way to Blu-Ray. From what we’re hearing so far, next year might be the same for noir and crime pictures. Anyway, here’s some of 2018’s bounty — a few of which I’m still working on proper reviews of.

The Thing (From Another World) (1951)
This is one of the all-time favorite movies. I find something new in it every time I see it — a line, a look, a particular setup, the music, a new appreciation for the guy who did the fire stunt. It’s always something — and that, to me, is one of the requirements for a Great Movie. Warner Archive worked long and hard on this one, and I’m in their debt for sure.

The Hammer Draculas
It’s like there was some sorta Monster Movie Summit, and it was decreed that the Hammer Dracula series would be given its due on Blu-Ray. Warner Archive did a lot of the heavy lifting with Horror Of Dracula (1958), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) and The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1974). In the meantime, Scream Factory came through with Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966). Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) hit Blu-Ray a few years ago. That leaves Scars Of Dracula (197) as the only Hammer Dracula picture not available on Blu-Ray. Who’s gonna step up to the plate for that one?

The Hammer goodness wasn’t limited to the Dracula pictures. Mill Creek included some Hammer pictures in their twin-bill sets, some of the best values in all of home video. Hammer Films, William Castle, Ray Harryhausen — there’s some good stuff in those sets.

The Creature From The Black Lagoon Complete Legacy Collection
That’s quite a name for a set that only includes three movies. But what movies they are — the first two, anyway. And they’re in both widescreen 2-D and 3-D.

Gun Crazy (1949)
Joseph H. Lewis hit it out of the park with Gun Crazy (1949). So did his cast — and this year, with a stunning Blu-Ray, so did Warner Archive.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
Don Siegel making it to Blu-Ray is always a reason to celebrate, and this is one of his many milestones. Over the years, we’ve all put up with some pretty shoddy-looking stuff when it comes to this incredible movie. Olive Films’ Blu-Ray is a huge improvement.

The Tingler (1959)
It’s hard to pick between this one and House On Haunted Hill (1958) for my favorite William Castle movie. Scream Factory did a wonderful job with this one, and they’ve given us other Castle pictures as well.

Dark Of The Sun (1968)
Warner Archive has been hinting around about this one on Blu-Ray for a while. It’s beautiful — and still one of the damnedest movies I’ve ever seen.

There’s a few that stood out for me. What DVD and Blu-Ray releases knocked you out this year?

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Filed under 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1959, 1970, 1972, 1973, 3-D, Barbara Shelley, Caroline Munro, Christopher Lee, Don Siegel, DVD/Blu-ray News, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Howard Hawks, Jack Arnold, James Arness, John Agar, Joseph H. Lewis, Julie Adams, Kenneth Tobey, Kevin McCarthy, Mill Creek, Nestor Paiva, Olive Films, Peggy Cummins, Peter Cushing, Richard Carlson, Richard Denning, Richarld Carlson, RKO, Rod Taylor, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher, Vincent Price, Warner Archive, William Castle

Blu-Ray Review: Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972).

Directed by Alan Gibson
Written by Don Houghton
Director Of Photography: Dick Bush
Film Editor: James Needs
Music by Michael Vickers

Cast: Christopher Lee (Count Dracula), Peter Cushing (Lorrimer Van Helsing/Lawrence Van Helsing), Stephanie Beacham (Jessica Van Helsing), Christopher Neame (Johnny Alucard), Marsha Hunt (Gaynor Keating), Caroline Munro (Laura Bellows), Janet Key (Anna Bryant)

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By 1972, Hammer Films was a bit of a train wreck. Where once they’d been a real innovator with their colorful, bloody takes on the horror classics, they were now chasing trends rather than creating them. Where they’d pushed the envelope a bit with sex and violence in the late 50s, the nudity and gore of the early 70s eliminated a huge part of their core audience — thanks to the R rating in the US and X certificate in the UK keeping kids out of the theaters. Seems like they couldn’t catch a break.

So when a picture like Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) made money by bringing the classic-type vampire into the modern day, doing the same with Christopher Lee must’ve sounded like it couldn’t miss. The result of that thinking is Dracula A.D. 1972 — and it does miss. But maybe not by as much as you remember.

It’s 1972 and some dude named Johnny Alucard is making the scene in London, crashing ritzy parties with his hipster entourage in search of kicks. As any of us could’ve told him, rich old people throw boring parties — and when Johnny figures this out, he figures it’s time for a Black Mass. They end up with Caroline Munro covered in blood and Dracula (Christopher Lee) back from the dead in a dilapidated old church — and wanting revenge on the modern-day descendants of Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). And as “movie luck” would have it, there’s a gorgeous young Van Helsing (Stephanie Beacham), in Johnny’s gang.

Every once in a while — mainly whenever Cushing and Lee are on the screen — Dracula A.D. 1972 really gets something going. Those guys can carry a picture on their backs without breaking a sweat, and director Alan Gibson owes them a tremendous debt for their work here.

The period opening sequence is cool, somehow seeming less dated than the “modern” stuff. And the final Dracula/Van Helsing conflict is very strong. But you can’t help but notice the desperation burned into each frame of film. And it’s a real shame.

However, if you’re like me, Cushing and Lee in the same movie is about as good as it gets. So while the results are disappointing, the opportunity to spend some time with those two makes me return to Dracula A.D. 1972 every once in a while. And with it now looking splendid on Warner Archive’s new Blu-Ray, the experience is much improved. The color’s splendid and the sound’s nice and bright and crisp. This is one of those times when the improved picture and sound actually improves the movie itself. So while I’ve certainly given Dracula A.D. 1972 a hard time, it’s not hard to recommend this new Blu-Ray.

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Filed under 1972, Caroline Munro, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing, Warner Archive