Category Archives: Peter Cushing

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

Hammer Holidays!

Having a Star Wars nut for a daughter worked out very well for me this Christmas. Presley got me a couple Peter Cushing toys — perfect for a holiday season filled with Hammer films on Blu-Ray.

Here’s a Grand Moff Tarken (Cushing) action figure hanging a wreath on his mid-century modern home.

Now he’s enjoying cocoa in front of the TV. Guess he’s waiting for me to fire up Horror Of Dracula (1958) again. Hope you’re having a holiday as nice as my family and Mr. Cushing are.

These cool photos were done by Presley.

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Filed under 1958, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing

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

DVD/Blu-Ray News #205: Horror Express (1972).

Directed by Eugenio Martin
Starring Telly Savalas, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing

There’s something special about a movie with both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in it. Even the crummy ones. Horror Express (1972), which is coming to Blu-Ray from Arrow in February, is far from crummy.

Arrow’s promising a train load of extras, but the real sweet spot will be a new restoration. Horror Express deserves it. Keep an eye out for it. (Sorry.)

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Filed under 1972, Arrow Video, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray News, Peter Cushing

Blu-Ray News #203: Horror Of Dracula (1958).

Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Peter Cushing,Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling

Warner Archive is giving us all a terrific surprise for the holidays — bringing Hammer’s Horror Of Dracula (1958) to Blu-Ray. It’s the first of their Dracula series and certainly the best. Today, it’s hard to understand the impact these films had upon release — luckily they still hold up as great movies.

Here’s what Warner Archive had to say: “This is the UK version titled “DRACULA”, and featuring footage previously restored by the British Film Institute and Hammer Films. Warner Archive’s new release restores the original color palette of the film, using dye-transfer Technicolor prints as reference, and has been meticulously cleaned of film-related damage for a superior presentation.”

I saw a 35mm Technicolor print of this about 20 years ago and can still remember how gorgeous it looked. As soon as those red titles came up, we knew we were in for a real treat. The UK Blu-Ray is terrific, and this should be just as good, if not better. Essential — especially since most of the series has recently been resurrected in HD, too.

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

Happy Birthday, Frankenstein.

Saw the other day that Frankenstein is 200 years old, with Marry Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus first published in 1818.

The great Boris Karloff.

So here’s to Dr. Frankenstein, his monster, the monster’s bride, and anybody who ever helped bring the many Frankenstein movies to the screen — particularly the Universal and Hammer films.

Peter Cushing sits while his monster (Christopher Lee) hangs around.

It was a very shrewd move for Hammer to focus their series on the doctor and his misadventures rather than inviting strict comparisons to the Universal classics, which would be very hard to top. And, of course, casting Peter Cushing in the role was simply inspired.

So happy 200th, Frankie. You’re holding up pretty well.

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Filed under Abbott & Costello, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Glenn Strange, Hammer Films, Jack Pierce, James Whale, Peter Cushing, Terence Fisher, Universal (-International)