Category Archives: Hammer Films

Blu-Ray Review: From Hell It Came (1957).

Directed by Dan Milner
Cinematography: Brydon Baker
Film Editor: Jack Milner
Original Music: Darrell Calker
Written by Richard Bernstein and Dan Milner
Produced by Jack Milner

Cast: Tod Andrews (Dr. William Arnold), Tina Carver (Dr. Terry Mason), John McNamara (Professor Clark), Linda Watkins (Mae Kilgore), Gregg Palmer (Kimo), Grace Mathews (Orchid), Chester Haynes (Tabonga)

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When it comes to 50s sci-fi movies, I find that Quality and Entertainment have an often inverse correlation. (I’m tossing the concept of inverse correlation in here to prove I actually paid attention in those economics classes decades ago.) In other words, the more production values you pack in there, the bigger the budget, the less fun they seem to be. With that in mind, I’m happy to report that the super-cheap From Hell It Came (1957) is largely quality-free.

On some South Seas island, a prince is (unjustly) convicted of murder, and he’s executed with a knife in the heart — all orchestrated by the witch doctor. They bury the prince upright in an old tree trunk. Turns out the place is lousy with nuclear fallout, which reanimates the prince as a walking tree with the ceremonial dagger still sticking out of its chest. Called Tabonga, it quickly sprouts and starts killing people.

Some American scientists are on the island studying radiation levels or something. They get to the bottom of it all after spouting page after page of B-movie scientific nonsense — and putting away an awful lot of booze. And if all that isn’t enough, there’s some quicksand in the Big Finish.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this thing is great. It’s a whacked-out mix of the usual 50s science fiction monster trappings, the goofy pseudo-Polynesian aesthetic of the period, and concern about the perils of the Atom Age.

If it all sounds ridiculous, and it does, imagine seeing it on screen — somebody shuffling around in a cheap rubber tree costume. The Tabonga is the work of the great Paul Blaisdell, AIP’s favorite (cheap) monster maker, but constructed by Don Post Studios: “I designed the Tabonga the way I thought it should look in terms of the script, and the people that built it did a damn good job of reproducing a prop that was a nice concept and certainly an original one, but one that was very awkward. My hat goes off to the guy who had to act the part of the walking tree (Chester Haynes). I think he did a helluva good job under the circumstances.”

What’s interesting about From Hell It Came is that in some ways, it looks and plays like a fairly-decent movie. The acting is passable, most of the time. The cinematography, from Brydon Baker, certainly seems professional. The editing’s not bad. It’s the premise itself — a revengeful, walking tree — and the godawful dialogue that sink this one, and make it the hoot that it is.

Back in ’57, From Hell It Came played twin bills with The Disembodied. It’s not any good, either, but it features the always-wonderful Allison Hayes as a “killer-witch of the jungle.”

Quicksand is a terrific cheesy movie thing, and I love it. (Do you know someone who perished by sinking into quicksand? Or someone who’s even seen quicksand?) As a kid, I was always on the lookout for it — after all, South Georgia isn’t all that far from Louisiana, where Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.) had reposed in quicksand in The Mummy’s Curse (1944). Later, Christopher Lee’s Hammer The Mummy (1959) took the Scroll Of Life with him into the quicksand. Movies with a quicksand scene get extra credit from me.

Speaking of extra credit, Warner Archive gets high marks from bringing something like From Hell It Came to Blu-Ray period. Then factor in that it’s a stellar presentation, with its incredible clarity and perfect contrast giving us a chance to really study the rubbery goodness of that Tabonga outfit. You also get a trailer. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1957, Allison Hayes, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Lon Chaney Jr., Monogram/Allied Artists, Paul Blaisdell, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #107: The Blood Of Fu Manchu (1968) And The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969).

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Directed by Jess Franco
Starring Christopher Lee, Richard Greene

The Blood Of Fu Manchu (1968, AKA Kiss And Kill) and The Castle Of Fu Manchu (1969) — the last two pictures in producer Harry Alan Towers’ series based on Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, star Christopher Lee, Richard Greene and the Law Of Diminishing Returns.

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Directed by the Spanish cult director Jess Franco, they have their fans — and they’ll be happy to know that Blue Underground is bringing them to Blu-Ray some time this year. The previous DVD release had a lot of extras, which will make their way to the Blu-Ray set.

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The first and third Lee/Fu Manchu pictures, The Face Of Fu Manchu (1965, directed by Don Sharp) and The Vengeance Of Fu Manchu (1967) are available from Warner Archive. (I really like Face.) The second, The Brides Of Fu Manchu (1966), was released several years ago from Warners, paired with Chamber Of Horrors (also 1966). How deep you want to go in this series is a personal thing, but Lee makes a terrific Fu Manchu — and let’s not forget him as Chung King in Hammer’s Terror Of The Tongs (1961).

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Filed under 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, Blue Underground, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #100: When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970).

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Written and Directed by Val Guest
Starring Victoria Vetri, Robin Hawdon, Patrick Allen, Imogen Hassall

Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. (1966) was a huge international hit, thanks largely to Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs and Raquel Welch in a fur bikini. It’s followup, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970), boasts stop-motion effects from Jim Danforth — and Victoria Vetri in a fur bikini (or less).

Val Guest and Victoria Vetri

It presents a world where dinosaurs and cave people lived at the same time. Danforth’s work is excellent and Val Guest demonstrates his usual flair. Here in the States, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth had a G rating. Elsewhere, it was was longer and certainly racier. That’s the version Warner Archive will release on Blu-Ray in February.

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To help you make the most of your viewing experience when your Blu-Ray arrives, hang onto this Caveman’s Dictionary — its a poster that hung in the lobbies of U.S. theaters back in 1970.

By the way, Victoria Vetri is currently in prison for attempted voluntary manslaughter.

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Filed under 1970, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Val Guest, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #87: Nightmare (1964).

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Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring Jennie Linden, Moira Redmond, Brenda Bruce, David Knight, George A. Cooper, Clytie Jessop

It’s a Hammer horror movie. It’s directed by Freddie Francis. It’s in black and white CinemaScope. Those are plenty of reasons to be excited about its upcoming Blu-Ray release in the UK from Final Cut Entertainment.

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Filed under 1964, DVD/Blu-ray News, Freddie Francis, Hammer Films

Happy Halloween.

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Halloween in Wisconsin in 1960 looks like it was a lot of fun, especially the Paul Landres double feature at the Neenah.

Here’s hoping your Halloween is every bit as terrific.

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Filed under 1960, Hammer Films, Paul Landres, Roger Corman, The Three Stooges

Blu-Ray Review: The Return Of Dracula (1958).

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Directed by Paul Landres
Story and Screenplay by Pat Fielder
Music by Gerald Fried
Director Of Photography: Jack MacKenzie, ASC
Film Editor: Sherman A. Rose, ACE

Cast: Francis Lederer (Count Dracula/Bellac Gordal), Norma Eberhardt (Rachel Mayberry), Greta Granstedt (Cora Mayberry), Gage Clark (Doctor/Reverend Whitfield), Ray Stricklyn (Tim Hansen), John Wengraf (Merriman), Virginia Vincent (Jenny Blake), Jimmie Baird (Mickey Mayberry), John McNamara (Sheriff Bicknell)

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The late 50s were a good time for movie vampires, thanks largely to the first of Hammer’s Dracula films, Horror Of Dracula (US title, 1958). But there was also The Vampire and Blood Of Dracula in 1957 and Blood Of The Vampire and The Return Of Dracula in 1958. Oh, and let’s not forget the vampire Western, Curse Of The Undead (1959).

What’s interesting about all these blood-guzzling movies is how each took a different approach to the traditional vampire lore. Hammer, with Christopher Lee in Dracula (1958), dialed up the sex and blood — all of it in alluring Technicolor. The Vampire made vampirism a medical condition. Blood Of Dracula fits right in with AIP’s I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957), with a teenage vampire created by hypnotism, not a bite on the neck. The Return Of Dracula, which Olive Films has just released on DVD and Blu-Ray, goes in a different direction entirely — following in the steps of many of the Dracula movies that came before it, while moving the Lugosi-ish proceedings to modern-day California.

The Return Of Dracula comes from director Paul Landres and writer Pat Fielder. So did The Vampire. Landres worked mostly in TV, but his low-budget features from the 50s (Westerns and monster movies) are well worth seeking out. Pat Fielder also wrote the excellent The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) — and a number of episodes of The Rifleman.

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Fleeing Transylvania, Count Dracula (Francis Lederer) kills an artist and assumes his identity. Arriving in California, he moves in with the victim’s family, who only know him from letters. They eventually notice that their guest sleeps all day, goes out at night and doesn’t like mirrors or the local priest. Teenage Rachel (Norma Eberhardt) also becomes concerned when her friend Jenny (Virginia Vincent) starts wasting away.

Lederer makes a pretty good Dracula, aided by his Hungarian accent. Norma Eberhardt tries hard to convince us she’s a teenager, and almost pulls it off. And Jenny Blake has a great part as Rachel’s friend turned Dracula’s minion.

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But it’s the assured, creative direction of Paul Landres that keeps things interesting, and the cinematography of Jack MacKenzie that adds the atmosphere these movies rely on — both to create the right mood and conceal how cheap the sets are. MacKenzie shot Isle Of The Dead (1945) for producer Val Lewton, which should tell you something.

Olive Films has The Return Of Dracula polished up and shining like a brand new chrome-covered 1958 Impala. It’s a beautiful Blu-Ray, with contrast levels and aspect ratio (1.85) right where they need to be — and a cool color effect toward the end. Revisiting films like this, in this kind of quality, has been a real joy the last few years, and a number of them have come from Olive.

For fans of these things, or of the people who made them (I’m a big admirer of Landres’ work from this period), The Return Of Dracula comes highly recommended. And I’m hoping Olive gives The Vampire the same treatment.

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Filed under 1957, 1958, AIP, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Olive Films, Paul Landres, United Artists

Blu-Ray Review: Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 2 — The Revenge Of Frankenstein/The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb.

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Mill Creek’s Hammer Films Double Feature Volume 2 presents a couple more hi-def Hammer horror films — one a classic, one not so much, but both looking great.

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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 (then he went and did a little thing called Star Wars).

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.

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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.

One thing: why didn’t Hammer put the tattoo on Cushing’s right arm in the later films? What a cool touch that would’ve been throughout the series.

For some reason, The Revenge Of Frankenstein has never looked very good on video. Shot in Technicolor and 1.66:1 by John Asher, it should really pop off the screen, the way The Gorgon (1964) does in Volume 1. But it’s always seemed grainy and a bit blown out, with the color too muted to match the typical late-50s Hammer esthetic. Though not a thing of great beauty, Mill Creek’s Blu-Ray is a huge improvement over the old Columbia DVD. The grain is there to remind you this was once on film, but it’s not a distraction; the color is a lot closer to what it must’ve looked like in theaters back in ’58.

This, folks, is a really good movie.

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The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
Directed by Michael Carreras
Starring Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland

While Hammer knocked Dracula and Frankenstein out of the park, they had a harder time with the Mummy. The Mummy’s a difficult monster on the whole — cool-looking and creepy for sure, but not all that scary. In the Universal Mummy pictures, women have to trip and fall for the Mummy to catch them. Hammer’s The Mummy (1959) was pretty solid, but they seemed to have a hard time figuring out how to work the Mummy into the plots of the later movies. All that said, The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb (1964) still works pretty well.

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A group of Egyptologists bring an exhibit to London, backed by an American showman named Alexander King (Fred Clark). King is determined to exploit the artifacts for maximum profits, which doesn’t sit too well with the revived Mummy. The usual havoc follows.

This is an odd Hammer film. It wasn’t shot at Bray Studios, and there are very few of the regulars among the cast and crew. And while it suffers from the same limitations other Mummy films have (What do you do with this guy?), it has some nice atmospherics here and there. And it’s a thousand times better than the next one, The Mummy’s Shroud (1967).

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It’s easy to sing the praises of how The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb fares on Blu-Ray. It looks fantastic. The Technicolor is nicely presented and the Techniscope framing’s perfect. A big improvement over the DVD. And as with the first volume, you can’t beat the price.

The Revenge Of Frankenstein alone is worth the price of admission — it’s one of Hammer’s best, and it looks far better than previous releases. Think of The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb as a bonus. Recommended. And I hope Volume 3 isn’t too far behind.

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Filed under 1958, 1964, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Mill Creek, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher