Category Archives: Hammer Films

Blu-Ray Review: The Maniac (1963).

Directed by Michael Carreras
Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster
Director of Photography: Wilkie Cooper
Music by Stanley Black
Film Editor: Tom Simpson

Cast: Kerwin Mathews (Paul Farrell), Nadia Gray (Eve Beynat), Norman Bird (Salon), Liliane Brousse (Annette Beynat), Arnold Diamond (Janiello), Donald Houston (George)


(The) Maniac (1963) contains many of the things I love about 60s movies. It’s black and white ‘Scope, with some really cool camera stuff every once in a while. It wallows in what they could now put on the more-permissive screen — such as death by blowtorch, though they do it without actually putting it on the screen. It’s got a terrific jazzy score by Stanley Black. I could go on.

Being that Maniac is a Hammer film, none of this should come as a big surprise. In their hey-day, they pushed the envelope big time. What is a surprise is just how good this post-Psycho psychological horror picture really is — and how it holds up today. As a kid, I was cheesed off that it had no Frankenstein or Dracula. Now it’s creepy, lurid and downright cool.

So here’s the story. A young woman is assaulted by a man in a small town in the South of France. Her father kills the guy with a blowtorch and is sent to an insane asylum. An American artist (Kerwin Mathews) comes to town and is attracted to the girl, now a pretty young lady (Liliane Brousse), and her mother Eve (Nadia Gray). Mathews begins an affair with Eve, and they devise a plot to spring dad from the nuthouse. He says he’s give Eve a divorce if she’ll help him. From there on, nothing is as it seems.

Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what really strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, dumping a body into the bay and pounding gallons of brandy, is a little jarring. The previous year, he’d been in Hammer’s Pirates of Blood River (1962). Of course, Nadia Gray will forever be known for her stripping scene in that Fellini thing La Dolce Vita (1960).

Michael Carreras’ direction tends to be a bit flat, but this is his best picture. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. Jimmy Sangster’s script offers up some unexpected turns here and there. But what the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope photography. He gives the picture real flair, but pours on the shadows when needed. The whole thing is total claptrap, but it’s so well put together, who cares?

Cooper’s work is served very well on Blu-Ray by Mill Creek Entertainment. Maniac is paired with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic), and both look like a million bucks. Black and white tends to take on a lot of depth in high definition, and with Mill Creek’s incredible price point on these things, this thing’s a must.

The other Hammer double feature pairs up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960). It’s every bit as nice as this set.


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Filed under 1963, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray News #154: Two More Hammer Double Features From Mill Creek.

A couple years ago, Mill Creek Entertainment treated us all to a couple of twin-bill Blu-Rays of some Hammer horror pictures. While some folks had problems with the transfers — I thought they were terrific, you sure couldn’t complain about the price. My hope was that those titles would sell enough to warrant more, and it looks like they did. The next two double features pair up Scream Of Fear (1960) with Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960) and The Maniac (1963) with Die! Die! My Darling! (1965). All four of these were originally released by Columbia in the States.

Scream Of Fear (1961; UK title: Taste Of Fear)
​Directed by Seth Holt
​Starring Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee

These four films come from Hammer’s string of often Psycho-inspired thrillers of 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. This is a good one.

Never Take Candy From A Stranger (1960)
Directed by Cyril Frankel
Starring Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford

In a way, it’s hard to believe this story of an old man praying on young children even exists. But it does, Hammer made it, and while it’s hard to take (especially is you have a teenage daughter), by implying what’s happening rather than showing it, it becomes all the more effective. That’s a lesson I wish all filmmakers would learn. Not for everyone, for sure, but it’s excellent.

Oh, it was called Never Take Candy From A Stranger in the UK.

(The) Maniac (1963)
Directed by Michael Carreras
Starring Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Donald Houston

Aside from the psycho freak (Donald Houston) wielding a blowtorch, what strikes me about Manic is what a slimeball Kerwin Mathews is in it. To see Sinbad himself hitting on both a teenager and her stepmother, as he pounds gallons of brandy, is a little jarring.

Michael Carreras’ direction is a bit flat, and the movie suffers for it. He was a much better producer or writer than a director — his dad ran Hammer. What the picture really has going for it is DP Wilkie Cooper’s black and white Megascope — love those B&W ‘Scope pictures!

For some reason, Columbia dropped the The from its title in the US.

Richard Burton (center) is about to kick Donald Houston’s teeth out in Where Eagles Dare (1969)

Donald Houston, the picture’s maniac, would go on to appear in my all-time favorite movie — he’s the Nazi agent Richard Burton kicks in the face during the cablecar fight in Where Eagles Dare (1969). In Maniac, he’s appropriately over the top, and stills of him with his torch and goggles fascinated me as a kid.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965; UK title: Fanatic)
Directed by Silvio Narizzano
Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland

This time, Hammer aimed for something more in the vein of Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). They wisely got the great Richard Matheson to write it and the incomparable Tallulah Bankhead to star. Good, creepy stuff. This would be Bankhead’s last role, aside from her turn as Black Widow on Batman.

Mill Creek has these scheduled for a March release. I’m eternally grateful for their ongoing efforts to bring movies like these to hi-def at such low cost.


Filed under 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965, Alfred Hitchcock, Christopher Lee, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray News, Hammer Films, Mill Creek, Richard Burton, Richard Matheson, Robert Aldrich

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)


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.



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).


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.


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.


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).



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).


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.


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).


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.


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.



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