Category Archives: Roy Ward Baker

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 #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 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

Blu-ray Review: Tales From The Crypt (1972) And Vault Of Horror (1973).

TFC PC comes back

Scream Factory really went the extra mile on this one. After announcing the Amicus double feature of Tales From The Crypt (1972) and Vault Of Horror (1973) for Blu-ray — two British anthology pictures based on the great EC Comics of the 50s, they ran into trouble finding uncut material for Vault. This pushed the release date from Halloween to early December. And the result turned out to be worth the wait.

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Directed by Freddie Francis
Written by Milton Subotsky
Director Of Photography: Norman Warwick
Cast: Ralph Richardson, Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice, Richard Greene, Patrick Magee

Tales bikeAnthology films are always a bit uneven, no matter who makes them. There’s typically one story that stands tall — and sometimes one that falls short. But Amicus had a way with them, and theirs tend to hold up pretty well. With Tales From The Crypt (1972), the visuals are very strong — the work of Freddie Francis and cinematographer Norman Warwick. Images like Peter Cushing coming back from the grave (top) or the biker skeleton are easily identifiable to anyone who ever flipped through a 70s horror movie book or magazine as a kid.

Of course, a lot of the credit has to go to the original source material — those great EC Comics. Milton Subotsky obviously knew how good they were and he wisely left the stories alone, though they traded a bit of the black humor for a Twilight Zone feel. I don’t have a favorite segment, but there are moments throughout the film that have stuck with me for decades. Again, those visuals.

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Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Written by Milton Subotsky
Director Of Photography: Denys Coop
Cast: Terry-Thomas, Curd Jürgens, Tom Baker, Dawn Addams, Denholm Elliott, Michael Craig

Amicus dug up five more stories from EC for their follow-up to Tales From The Crypt, Vault Of Horror (1973). Roy Ward Baker (A Night To Remember) directs this time, and while it’s not as visually arresting as Crypt, it better captures the overall EC vibe. The black humor is certainly more pronounced. Vault Of Horror was cut here and there over the years by various distributors in various countries, leaving Scream Factory with some real detective work to do to bring us a complete cut. They succeeded, and present both the cut and uncut versions.

Vault vampire

On Blu-ray, both Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror look better than I ever thought they would. The color is strong in Crypt, and a bit muted in Vault, but the grain is perfect and the blacks are fine. Both titles really put the distinctive look of film on your TV — and that’s what I want when I drop any disc in my machine. There’s a bit of dust here and there, and a few inconsistencies, all of which I prefer to a bunch of obvious pixel pushing. The mono audio is clear and strong.

Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Horror are good, creepy, stylish fun. I really appreciate the care Scream Factory put into this set and doubt many companies would’ve bothered. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1972, 1973, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Freddie Francis, Peter Cushing, Roy Ward Baker, Shout/Scream Factory

TCM Alert: That Old Sinking Feeling.

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Grab a life vest, a bowl of popcorn and a box of Raisinets. Because tonight, TCM is going down with the ships.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972) was a huge deal when I was growing up. I remember the TV spots and poster (“Hell, upside down”) hanging outside the theater in Thomasville, Georgia. I couldn’t wait to see it. It begins as a soap opera, then puts the entire cast through absolute hell. Movies don’t get much more entertaining than this one.

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A Night To Remember (1958) did more on its modest budget more than the newer Titanic picture accomplished with an endless supply of cash. (Don’t get me started on that thing.) A Night To Remember masterfully combines history, social commentary, excitement, heartbreak and suspense — even though we know how it’s gonna end — and made me the Titanic geek I am today. There are so many incredible touches in this film, courtesy of Roy Ward Baker’s assured direction. For instance, the serving cart that appears throughout to illustrate the listing of the ship — it sails across the room and crashes into the wall just as all hell breaks loose among the passengers still on board. Of course, the events of April, 1912 are a great story — and this is a great example of storytelling on film. One of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen. (The public library here in Raleigh had a gorgeous 16mm print of A Night To Remember that I checked out several times. Heard later that all those prints were pitched into the dumpster.)

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Filed under 1958, 1972, Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman, Roy Ward Baker, TCM