Category Archives: Hammer Films

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 Review: Quatermass And The Pit (1968).

Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keyes
Screenplay by Nigel Kneale
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Spencer Reeve

Cast: James Donald (Dr. Roney), Andrew Keir (Quatermass), Barbara Shelley (Barbara Judd), Julian Glover (Colonel Breen), Duncan Lamont (Sladden), Bryan Marshall (Captain Potter), Peter Copley (Howell)

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When I was a kid, there was a Sony Trinitron in the guest room. It was a great television, able to pick up out-of-town stations our other TVs couldn’t touch.

At 10 years old, armed with that television, the TV Guide and a Radio Shack earphone (with a 15-foot cord), I began the clandestine, full-scale rotting of my brain on old monster movies at all hours of the night. (If they have Internet service in Heaven, I sure hope my mom doesn’t see this!*)

One of the films I discovered late one night using that Sony/Radio Shack rig was Hammer’s Five Million Miles To Earth (1968). It scared me to death, and I’m sure I was totally useless at school the next day.

In the UK, Five Million Years To Earth went by the same title as the BBC TV serial it was based on, Quatermass And The Pit — which is how it’s billed everywhere nowadays. This movie doesn’t waste a second, plunging immediately into its story. A crew is digging in a London Underground station. They find a fossilized skull, followed by an entire skeleton. Dr. Roney (James Donald) is brought in, accompanied by his fellow scientist Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley). As they dig, they find what is believed to be an unexploded bomb. At this point, the military and the brilliant Dr. Quatermass (the brilliant Andrew Kier) get involved.

More and more stuff is ingeniously added to the plot as things get weirder, darker and a bit supernatural. The bomb isn’t a bomb after all, it’s an ancient spacecraft that seems to have brought grasshopper-looking creatures to earth millions of years ago (there’s the Five Million Years To Earth.) And those interstellar insects, well, they’ve been responsible for all sorts of evil havoc in this part of London for generations.

There are a few things about Quatermass And The Pit that have stuck with me for more than 40 years. To this day, I can’t see a grasshopper without thinking of this film. The scene where the rotting insects are dissected, as green “blood” oozes out and everyone complains about the smell, never ceases to give me the willies. And Barbara Shelley in her 60s plaid skirt has to be one of the loveliest women to ever grace the motion picture screen.

At 97 minutes, Quatermass And The Pit is one of the longer Hammer films, but it moves like a runaway train — thanks to director Roy Ward Baker, editor Spencer Reeve and writer Nigel Kneale — as it piles one plot point on top of another. To prove my point, the first skull is found before the movie’s two minutes in — and that includes the main titles. It maintains that pace throughout until all hell breaks loose in the last reel — as Quatermass and Dr. Roney save the world from heinous evil from another world.

Andrew Kier is just terrific as Quatermass, as is James Donald as Dr. Roney. Julian Glover is perfectly hatable as the military man who refuses to believe what Roney and Quatermass tell him is happening. And Barbara Shelley is great as the young scientist with a strange attachment to those weird grasshoppers from Mars. This is one of those movies were everybody brought their A game. As preposterous as it all sounds, the movie snatches you up and carries you along with its own logic.

Now, back to that Sony Trinitron and the earphone. Arthur Grant’s subtle, very effective use of color was completely lost on the late show (and on a faded 16mm run at a convention in the 90s), but it shines like a jewel on this Blu-Ray from Shout Factory. It’s beautiful. The audio, which includes all kinds of noises, sirens and screams is clear as a bell. Ad there’s all sorts of extras: commentary, interviews, stills, trailers, even an episode of World Of Hammer. It’s another terrific Hammer Blu-Ray from Scream Factory — they’ve been knocking these out of the park since that started this series. Highly, highly recommended.

* If they had Internet access in Heaven, Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven, would it?

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Filed under 1968, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Roy Ward Baker, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray News #254: Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971).

Directed by Seth Holt
Starring Andrew Kier, Valerie Leon, James Villiers

Scream Factory’s trip through the Hammer vaults continues with Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971), a later-period highlight for Hammer. This picture certainly had its troubles. Peter Cushing shot one day’s worth of scenes before his wife became ill. He was replaced by Andrew Kier. Near the end of the shoot, director Seth Holt had a heart attack and died on the set.

It’s based on a story by Bram Stoker, has really terrific cinematography by Arthur Grant and gives the lovely Valerie Leon a lead role for a change. Can’t wait to see what Scream Factory does with this. Their Hammer series has been really incredible so far. Coming in September.

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Filed under 1971, Andrew Keir, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Shout/Scream Factory, Valerie Leon

Blu-Ray News #246: The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas (1957).

Directed by Val Guest
​Screenplay by Nigel Kneale
Based on the teleplay “The Creature” by Nigel Kneale
​Starring Forrest Tucker​, ​Peter Cushing​, ​Maureen Connell, Richard Wattis​, ​Arnold Marle

Over the years, this early Hammer film has been as hard to see as its maybe-real namesake, The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas (1957). There was a letterboxed laserdisc and early DVD from Anchor Bay, which is now a collectors’ item. So Scream Factory’s announcement of an upcoming Blu-Ray is big news.

An early Bigfoot movie, The Abominable Snowman Of The Himalayas left some mighty big shoes to fill. It appeals to me on so many levels — Hammer Films, Peter Cushing, Forrest Tucker (a staple of 50s Westerns), Regalscope, Val Guest and on and on.

Black and white CinemaScope (which is what Regalscope was) looks great on Blu-Ray, and Scream Factory has done a tremendous job with all their Hammer releases so far. There’s no release date for this yet (it was announced at Comic-Con this weekend). I can’t wait. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1957, 20th Century-Fox, Forrest Tucker, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing, Shout/Scream Factory, Val Guest

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