Category Archives: Hammer Films

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 Review: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967).

F Created W artwork

Original poster artwork.

Directed by Terence Fisher
Script: John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Spencer Reeve
Music by James Bernard

Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein), Susan Denberg (Christina), Thorley Walters (Dr Hertz), Robert Morris (Hans), Duncan Lamont (The Prisoner), Peter Blythe (Anton), Barry Warren (Karl), Derek Fowlds (Johann), Alan Macnaughtan (Kleve), Peter Madden (Chief Of Police), Philip Ray (Mayor), Ivan Beavis (Landlord), Colin Jeavons (Priest), Bartlett Mullins (Bystander), Alec Mango (Spokesman), Mark McMullins (Villager), Nikki Van Der Zyl (Christina’s voice)

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For the fourth entry in their Frankenstein series, Hammer went with the simple twist of making the “monster” a woman, then cast a Playboy Playmate in the title role. When you put it like that, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) sounds really terrible. And it probably should be terrible. But somehow, it works, and works pretty well. Which shows the level of talent behind these things.

Turns out that simple plot twist isn’t so simple. It takes a number of contrivances to get us to the “created woman” part of the story. And rather than the usual “a piece here, a part there” type of creation we expect from Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), here he’s transferring souls, not just stitching together organs and limbs.

Frankenstein transfers the soul of Hans, a young man hung for something he didn’t do, into his girlfriend Christina (Susan Denberg). Hans finds his shapely new body of great benefit in getting his revenge on those who framed him. That sets up a fairly common last act for Frankenstein movies, as the doctor has to track down and stop his murderous creation.

While Hammer films from this period are top-notch in every category, and we’ll get to some of those in a bit, it’s the fine-tuned performances that put this one over. Peter Cushing is always incredible, and he really has a field day here. His Baron Frankenstein is by turns ruthless and compassionate, and it could have been laughable with a lesser actor in the role. The recent appearance of so many Hammer Films on Blu-Ray, thanks to Scream Factory and Warner Archive, has sent me off on a Peter Cushing binge. What a superb body of work. He never let budget and schedule, or the stigma attached to movies like this, get in the way of his commitment to his craft. Cushing is someone I admire as a person as much as an actor; he’s the Horror Film’s version of the Western’s Randolph Scott.

Thorley Walters is very good here, too. And Susan Denberg is terrific as Christina. Her voice was dubbed by Nikki Van Der Zyl since it was felt her Austrian accent was too thick, so it’s hard to really judge her performance. However, her transformations from young beautiful girl to murderess (and there are a number of these transformations in the last couple reels) are done through facial expressions and the sudden arrival of a knife or meat cleaver — and Denberg pulls them off very well. (By the way, the bandage bikini we see in these still does not appear in the movie. Pity.)

Terence Fisher and Susan Denberg.

Frankenstein Created Woman, with its title a takeoff on the 1956 Vadim/Bardot film And God Created Woman, will never make the list of Hammer’s classics, but it’s got plenty to recommend it. I’ve already brought up the cast. Terence Fisher’s direction is as assured as ever. Never flashy, but every setup seems just right. Arthur Grant’s cinematography is near perfect, though I’ve always been more of a Jack Asher man.

She was the better half of this happy couple.

About 30 years ago, I bought a 16mm print of Frankenstein Created Woman from a listing in The Big Reel. It was complete in every way, not a scratch or splice to be found, and hard-matted at the proper 1.66. But the color had turned that sickly combination of pink, brown and purple. Ever since, whether it’s laserdisc, DVD or this gorgeous new Blu-Ray from Scream Factory, this movie’s color is something I pay particular attention to. It looks terrific here, the best I’ve ever seen it look. The sound’s got plenty of punch, letting James Bernard’s score really shine. There are plenty of extras: two commentaries; interviews with Robert Morris (Hans), camera assistant Eddie Collins and 2nd assistant Director Joe Marks; two World Of Hammer episodes; the Hammer Glamour documentary; trailers and TV spots; radio spots; and still and poster galleries. Plenty of fun is to be had wading through all that stuff. Highly, highly recommended.

And remember, folks: Scream Factory’s bringing us Quatermass And The Pit (1967, AKA Five Million Years To Earth), too!

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Filed under 1967, 20th Century-Fox, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing, 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

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 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 News #219: Quatermass And The Pit (1967).

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Starring Andrew Keir, James Donald, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover

Scream Factory’s run of terrific Hammer releases continues with maybe their best science fiction movie, Quatermass And The Pit (1967). By the time it reached the States, this third Quatermass picture was retitled Five Million Miles To Earth — since we weren’t all that familiar wth Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass stuff for the BBC. Whatever you call it, it’s really good, with great performances from Andrew Keir and the lovely Barbara Shelley.

As if that wasn’t enough, they’re also prepping Quatermass II (1957), with Brian Donlevy as the scientist. They’re coming in May. This is essential stuff, folks.

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Filed under 1967, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Roy Ward Baker, Shout/Scream Factory