Cinema Sunday: Shadow of the Cat (1961)

shadow_of_cat_poster_03

 

Title: Shadow of the Cat

Distributor: Hammer Studios (Universal in U.S.)

Writer: George Baxt

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Jon Penington

Starring: Andre Morell, Barbara Shelley, Freda Jackson, William Lucas, Conrad Phillips

Released: May 1961

MPAA: UR (est. PG-13)

 

 

As the week’s roll on, the temptation to review another film from Hammer Studios is gnawing at me. So, the way to stop it is to give my psyche what it wants! Obviously Hammer is known for their horror films, and this is one of the first they did once they committed to that genre. Their catalog is varied but let’s face it, horror/sci-fi is where it’s at.

One actor that made a name for himself with Hammer, was Andre Morell. He’s one of those guys that rarely gets mentioned but had a solid acting career, and really made a name for himself in the genre. Well, rather than go on more about this classic, we can just get right down to this black and white thriller!

 

shadowcat1

The film begins with an elderly woman, Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) sitting in an upstairs room as she’s just finished making out her last will and testament. She’s reading some Edgar Allen Poe to her cat, Templeton, just then someone enters her home and disturbs her. The person is not a burglar, but actually a family member. The man (actually the butler) enters the room, and she mistakenly thinks it’s Walter, her husband, (Andre Morell), but he’s downstairs, waiting for his role in this insidious plot. The younger man then savagely beats the old woman with a blunt object. The three conspirators (a woman as well as the two men), then take the body and bury it on the grounds of the estate.

 

shadowcat2

The trio seems to be worried about the only witness, the cat. It watches them bury the old woman, and you get a sense that it wants revenge. The following day, the police are called in, and the trio acts as if they know nothing about the altercation. At first, the police seem to believe there’s no foul play, but certainly don’t rule it out. An old woman missing is certainly nothing new, but one that was a homebody is puzzling.

 

shadowcat3

After the police leave, the three conspirators attempt to locate a will that was made out years ago. They don’t have much luck, and, at every turn, the mischievous cat is lingering. Walter then decides to call the niece of the deceased woman, so that they can persuade her to legitimize the new will Walter had her make recently. The cat makes an appearance, and the butler, chases it to the basement, where he and Walter attempt to kill it. They both seem very nervous, and fumble about in the basement trying to kill the cat. Walter strikes the butler by accident, then shouts at him to get out. Walter is then attacked by the cat, and suffers a heart attack.

 

shadowcat4

Soon, the arrival of the niece, Beth Venable (Barbara Shelley) adds a different dimension, as she loves the cat, and was also a favorite of her recently murdered Aunt. She’s very skeptical about what’s going on, and befriends the cat, which puts her at odds with the conspirators. Walter puts on a good act, and Beth buys it for a while. One of the policemen, Inspector Rowles (Alan Wheatley), and a newspaper man, Michael Lattimer (Conrad Phillips) begin to see a picture of what is going here though, and he intends to prove there was foul play.

 

shadowcat5

The conspirators eventually meet their doom, and the cat seems to be responsible, but is it? Watch to find out!

 

shadowcat6

OK, here are my thoughts:

I didn’t go into too much detail but you get the gist. Andre Morell plays a great scoundrel in this one, which is quite a contrast to his usual heroics. Somehow, he and the other conspirators make you believe that the cat has a supernatural makeup to it. Maybe it was buried in a pet cemetery? Anyhow, for a film from this era, and in black and white, it holds up well. Freda Jackson (Brides of Dracula) is great in this one too. She’s one of the conspirators that really is nothing short of evil. Of course, it’s great to see villains get their comeuppance and you do get that in this film.

Long time Hammer contributors like Roy Ashton (make-up) and Bernard Robinson (production design) are always names you want to see in the credits because their hard work always shows up in the movie. When you have a beauty like Barbara Shelley, that doesn’t hurt your chances either. She is definitely one of the actresses that needs to get her due, not only for being gorgeous, but for also being a good actor.

 

Barbara-Shelley-in-Bobbikins-(1959)
Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)

mummyshroud#1

Title: The Mummy’s Shroud

Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Hammer Studios)

Writers: John Gilling & Anthony Hinds

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Michael Carreras

Starring: André Morell, John Phillips, David Buck, Elizabeth Sellars, Michael Ripper, Eddie Powell (as the Mummy)

Released: March 1967

MPAA: Approved

To finish off Hammer Studio’s trilogy of Mummy movies (yes, the last one doesn’t count because there wasn’t an actual “mummy” in the movie! The Mummy- 1959, Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb- 1964, I’m taking a look at the 1967 film, The Mummy’s Shroud! The film does recycle some of the ideas from previous films of the genre, but it also has a good cast, and a fine job turned in by basically a stunt man! Sit back, relax, and get ready to watch some bandages fly as the Mummy is out for revenge! Let’s get to the flick!

mummyshroud1

The film begins with some narration informing the viewers that there was a child born to a king of Egypt in ancient times. This boy would soon be ushered away from his father as a coup took place, and the then king, was murdered. The boy was taken to the desert, but he and his caretakers died there from lack of food and water. End interlude…

mummyshroud#2

In the time around 1920, we see an expedition led by Basil Walden (Andre Morell), and his assistants, Paul Preston (David Buck) and Claire de Sangre (Maggie Kimberley). The expedition is financed by a greedy businessman named Stanley Preston (John Phillips). He and his wife, Barbara (Elizabeth Sellars), have arrived in Cairo, and are troubled about the expedition having lost contact with all outside persons. There’s also a man there to help Stanley Preston, by the name of Longbarrow (Michael Ripper). He seems to be more like a slave to Preston, but an honest man nonetheless.

mummyshroud#3

After a press conference, Stanley joins one of the search parties that are heading out to find Sir Basil and young Paul. Meanwhile, the expedition finds the tomb, and digs their way into the actual burial section of the boy-king. The team is accosted by an Egyptian man who shouts at them in a foreign tongue, and tells them that he guarding the tomb. After thinking about his warning for about ten seconds, they proceed inside. They head inside, but Claire is troubled by an ominous warning about disturbing the tomb. Sir Basil seems to pause, but then they all join in (except Claire) and excavate the bones and shroud of the boy-king. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Sir Basil gets bitten by a poisonous snake, and barely makes it out alive.

mummyshroud#3.5

Next, Stanley and his search party catch up to the expedition, and he sees an opportunity to seize all the glory for himself, even though he had nothing to do with the actual find. They remove everything from the tomb, and head back to Cairo to inventory the loot. Stanley wants to take everything back to England, but the others are worried about Sir Basil, as he’s taken a turn for the worse. Stanley has Sir Basil committed to an asylum because of his erratic behavior. Soon after though, he escapes. Stanley just wants to get out of town, but the police wont let anyone leave until Sir Basil is found.

mummyshroud#4

Speaking of Sir Basil, as he’s wandering around the city, evading the police, an old woman (a fortune-teller) approaches him, and tells him that she can help. Her and her accomplice (the man who warned the expedition in the tomb), tell him that he’ll soon die, and then we see Hasmid (the accomplice), steal the burial shroud from the mummy, and perform a ritual. This brings the mummy to life, and then it sets out to seek revenge against the defilers that sought to profit from his body and wealth! As the fortune-teller continues to taunt Sir Basil, he gets weaker by the minute, and then from behind the mummy approaches. It grabs his head, and crushes it like a grape (image above)!

He is only the first in line, and the clock is ticking for all those who entered the tomb!

mummyshroud#5

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is a bit underrated for sure. No, it isn’t the finest movie Hammer ever produced, but it’s also not the worst by far. André Morell is his usual self, and delivers a good performance, but too brief as well. After his other performances in Hammer films, you know what he brings to the table. The supporting cast is a good one too, and John Phillips is a great scoundrel in this film. His love of money and cowardice later in the film, are the textbook definition of the word miscreant!

The music score was a good one, and better than most latter-day Hammer films. Don Banks is probably the second person I think of (behind James Bernard) pertaining to Hammer music scores, and deservedly so. The sets are quite good as you also come to expect from Hammer, and really have you believing that you are in Cairo. The ever faithful, Michael Ripper gives a good performance as well, and just seeing his face makes a Hammer film feel more comfortable.

Take some time out to visit or revisit the Hammer “Mummy” films. When looked at as a trilogy, they might not make sense as they don’t continue on with the same story, but taken as separate films with the same antagonist, you’ll be delighted by the results.

mummyshroud#6

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

plague_of_zombies_poster_01

Title: The Plague of the Zombies

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Writer: Peter Bryan

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Andre Morell, Diane Clare, John Carson, Jacqueline Pearce, Brook Williams, Michael Ripper

Released: January 12th, 1966

MPAA: PG

 

After last week’s review of a zombie flick, I thought I’d go to that well once again, with one of my favorite Hammer films, The Plague of the Zombies! This little gem predates George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but features Haitian zombies, rather than flesh eaters. Either way, both films are great, but this one doesn’t get a fraction of the attention that NOTLD does, so I’m going to cast some light upon this one for all to see how truly awesome it is! The film was shot back to back with ‘The Reptile“, and you can tell for sure, but it didn’t take away from the movie in the least. So, now let’s get own with the show!

TPOTZ#1

As the film opens, we see some creepy dude dressed in a robe and mask. There’s also some crazy looking voodoo type guys pounding on drums, adding to the wild scene. The robed man begins to chant something in another language, and then the scene switches to a woman, Alice Tompson (Jacqueline Pearce), as she’s in bed with her husband, Peter (Brook Williams). She’s getting restless and the more the guy in the robe chants, the more unsettled she seems to get. Eventually, she bursts out with a blood-curling scream, and the credits then roll.

TPOTZ#2

The next scene shows a man, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), and he’s checking out his fishing equipment, while on holiday. His daughter, Sylvia (Diane Clare), comes into the room, and brings her father a letter from a friend in Cornwall. A former pupil of his (Sir James teaches medicine, and Peter was his brightest student), Peter Tompson, is having some trouble with the villagers getting ill, and a few deaths were involved. They decide to travel to Cornwall to help him out. On the trip to Cornwall, Sir James and Sylvia see five men hunting a fox. Sylvia tells them that she’s seen the fox, but points them in the opposite direction. Once they reach town, a funeral is taking place. Before they can even have a thought, the five hunters ride through town, and knock the coffin over an embankment. Sir James gets out of the coach, and yells at them, but they just holler back at Sylvia for her trick.

Once they arrive at Peter and Alice’s home, they’re greeted by Alice, and she looks terrible. She doesn’t even recognize her old school mate, Sylvia, at first. She begins to act slightly irrational, but makes them welcome. Sir James asks about a wound on her arm, but she’s very apprehensive about it, and gets a bit angry when he asks to look at the wound. Sylvia and Alice go to the kitchen to make tea, and Sir James sneaks off into town to have a look. At that time, Peter is at the pub, and getting harassed by the brother of the dead man who was knocked out of the coffin. Sir James tells everyone in the pub how lucky they are to have Peter as their physician, and then the two men leave. Peter then tells Sir James about the twelve deaths in the last year that are unexplainable. They all sit down and have dinner, then go their separate ways.

Later, at the house, Sylvia sees Alice leave after dark, and calls out to her, but Alice doesn’t hear her. Sylvia follows her, but gets lost along the way. Suddenly, out of the forest rides the hunters from the earlier scene, and they surround her. After she realizes there’s no escape, they grab her and take her to a large home at the edge of town. They play a card game to decide her fate, but the cards tell them to let her go. As they taunt her more, a voice rings out to let her go. Squire Hamilton (John Carson) appears, and pimp slaps one of the men. He tells them to get out, and apologizes to Sylvia. Her friend, Alice, told her about the Squire, so she gives him some slack, and doesn’t report the incident to the police. While this is going on, Peter and Sir James have taken it upon themselves to exhume one of the victims, and do an autopsy. As the two men are digging up a body, they are surprised by the police (Michael Ripper – image below), but rip open a coffin anyway. They’re all surprised when they see that the body is missing, and Sir James asks the police to help him to figure out this mystery.

TPOTZ#5

As Sir James is walking home, while Peter covers the grave back over, he sees Sylvia stumbling down the street. He runs to her as she collapses, and then he takes her to the house. The next morning, Sir James gives Peter the bad news, (as Sylvia has told her father that she found Alice dead out on the moors the previous night), and Peter goes off the deep end. They go to the police and then make the trip out to the moors. They find Alice, and also find the drunken man from the pub that was berating Peter (who’s also the brother of the most recent victim). They awaken him and he tries to run off, but the police catch him. Peter and Sir James take Alice’s body back to the house to do an autopsy, and find that the blood around her face is not hers, and not even human. The police question the drunken man, and find out that something else was afoot, something more sinister than just murder.

TPOTZ#3

Sylvia then explains to her father that the body of her friend wasn’t in the same spot where she’d seen it the previous night. As Peter and Sir James go out to do some detective work, Sylvia gets a visit, from Squire Hamilton. He “accidentally” cuts her finger on a broken piece of glass, and when she leaves the room to attend to it, he gets out a vial to put her blood in, and then excuses himself from the home. He races back to his mansion, and pulls out a small coffin from a drawer, and we see that it contains a voodoo doll of sorts. He then reveals that he has the vial of blood, and also that he’s gathered his cronies again, and the drums begin to beat!

Alice is now being buried, and Sylvia is overcome by the voodoo that’s now being used on her. She leaves the funeral with Peter, and Sir James asks the vicar if he can use his library to research witchcraft. He does, and finds out that someone in the village is practicing witchcraft, and using it to raise the dead. The clues are adding up, but can Sir James and Peter save Sylvia and the rest of the town before everyone is turned into a zombie?!?

TPOTZ#4

OK, here are my thoughts:

Anyone that doesn’t know of Andre Morell, is in for a big surprise, because he proves without a shadow of a doubt, that he can be the lead in a movie! He did do a great job as Watson, in Hammer’s “Hound of the Baskervilles”, but that was a very strong performance by Peter Cushing, that kind of overshadowed Morell. The supporting cast is also pretty good, especially Jacqueline Pearce (Alice), and John Carson (Squire Hamilton). Both were very convincing, and Carson was an excellent devilish fiend!

The “zombies” didn’t have a ton of screen time, and that is a bit of a downer, but when they were on-screen, they were pretty creepy. Not a lot of makeup on them, but just the way that they were portrayed and used in those scenes, made them rise above mediocrity. The graveyard scene was especially good, as was the last act in the bowels of the tin mine. Michael Ripper added his usual flavor to the film as the constable. He always finds a way to steal the scenes he’s in, and he certainly was a welcomed addition to this cast.

Grab this flick if you can, because any horror enthusiast would be happy to have this one. If it hasn’t been re-released lately, wait for that if you can’t find it at a decent price. Sometimes these online sites can really rip you off, but I know Hammer is putting out Blu-ray copies of films on a pretty consistent basis now and for the foreseeable future.

Watch the trailer here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Hound of The Baskervilles (1959)

369the_hound_of_the_baskervilles_1959_scan

Title: The Hound of The Baskervilles

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (story)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Michael Carreras

Starring: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Christopher Lee

Released: May 4th, 1959

MPAA: NR

In this big screen version of the classic tale from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we see the vile Sir Hugo Baskerville, as he and his drunken cohorts torture a man because he questioned Sir Hugo’s motives with his daughter. After nearly killing him (or maybe killing him), he turns his attention to the daughter upstairs. Unbeknownst to him though, she’s escaped through the window, and is running loose, towards the moors. He lets loose the hunting dogs to chase her down, and cries out…”let the hounds of Hell take me if I can’t hunt her down”! He eventually does hunt her down, and murder her, but as he does, a sinister howl rings,out from the darkness. Sir Hugo is then attacked by some monstrosity, and is killed.

hound-of-the-baskervilles

In the present day, we see that Dr. Mortimer (Francis de Wolff), is telling this tale to Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and his partner, Dr. Watson (André Morell). They seem unimpressed, which ticks off Mortimer. Holmes then uses his keen intellect to ask the right questions about a more recent murder in the Baskerville family, and then we realize that Holmes already knows of his motives for being at his home. Mortimer then explains that the next heir in line, Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee), is due to arrive today. Holmes tells Mortimer that he’ll meet with Sir Henry, and investigate the matter.

The next day, we see Sir Henry, at a hotel room, as he’s getting ready for the visit. Homes and Watson arrive, and tell him that they’ll take up the case. Before they leave, Sir Henry is the victim of an attack by a tarantula. Holmes has Watson accompany Sir Henry to the home, and he attends to other business. At the ancestral home, Sir Henry and Watson are taken care of by the housekeepers. Sir Henry does a toast but the female housekeeper drops her drink when he mentions the family curse. That night, Watson can hear a howling in the distance. The next morning, Sir Henry meets the local bishop (Miles Malleson), and they discuss the family history. After a short trip to the village, Watson is walking through the moors, when he’s approached by a man, warning him of straying off the trail. Watson continues on his trek, and runs into a beautiful girl. He asks her if he’s still on the right path to Baskerville Hall, and she runs away upon hearing that name. Watson pursues her through the moor, but then falls into quicksand. He’s rescued by the man he met earlier (Stapleton), and his daughter. They return Watson to the castle, and Sir Henry meets the girl (the daughter of Stapleton, who’s a local farmer), and the two get off to a rocky start.

Later that evening, Watson and Sir Henry see a light flashing out on the moors. They investigate, and find a man running loose on the property. As they are in pursuit, they hear a howling noise. Sir Henry appears to have some kind of panic attack. Back at the castle, Dr. Mortimer tells him that he has a heart condition that he’s inherited from the family. Watson goes back out to the moors to look for clues. As Watson sifts through the old ruins, he’s surprised by Holmes. who’s been watching things from a distance for days. As the two are talking, they hear a scream. They find a dead body, and assume it’s Sir Henry. They make their way back to the castle, and discover that it wasn’t Sir Henry, but an escaped convict that was roaming the area.

Another day passes, and they return to the spot where the body was left. It’s now missing, and they find tracks leading to the old ruins. They discover that someone or something not only killed the convict, but also mutilated his body. They find a dagger with the family crest on it, the very one that was used to kill decades earlier by the evil Sir Hugo. Holmes finds out that the housekeeper was related to the convict, and that she’d been taking him food and clothing. He was wearing one of Sir Henry’s suits when he was killed. Holmes visits the bishop, to decide what he knows about the recent disappearance of a tarantula. He tells Holmes that Dr. Mortimer had paid him a visit days before.

hound1

Sir Henry pays a visit to the Stapleton’s house, and puts the moves on the daughter. She has a strange look in her eyes, but then she invites him to dinner for that evening. Watson and Holmes discuss who might be behind these acts, and they are still unclear about who is responsible. Holmes deduces that there is something more to the moors than meets the eye. Dr. Mortimer and Holmes are at odds over Sir Henry. Holmes tells Dr. Mortimer about a local mine that needs investigating, and he agrees to come with him. Holmes then pulls out the dagger he found earlier, but Dr. Mortimer doesn’t seem surprised to see it. Next, Holmes, Stapleton, and Mortimer descend into the mine. After a few moments, Holmes makes a discovery, but then there’s a howl of an animal, and a cave i seals Holmes in, for good apparently. In the next scene, Watson is attempting to dig his way down to Holmes, but Mortimer and Stapleton tell him that there’s no way he survived. As they walk back to the cart, they’re shocked to see Holmes sitting in the cart.

Hound4

Back at the castle, Holmes and Watson are putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Holmes had locked the dagger he found in a drawer in his dresser. It was forced open, and the dagger stolen. Sir Henry comes to see how Holmes is doing (he hurt his leg in the mine), and tells them that they’ve been invited to dinner by Stapleton. Holmes then realizes that this is the night Sir Henry is to die, so he intentionally annoys Sir Henry, so that he;ll go to dinner without them. Sir Henry leaves, and the two detectives make their plan! I wont spoil the ending, but rest assured, that Watson and Holmes see the action they’re looking for, and Sir Henry must face the hound from Hell!

OK, my thoughts are as follows:

The picture is without a doubt, one of the best films Hammer Studios has ever made. Cushing is astounding with his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes! He really “gets” the character, and what Doyle was trying to convey in his novel. André Morell has another magnificent performance, and really does his best at giving us a Watson we can believe. The bishop, Miles Malleson, is another Hammer regular, and has a knack with his depiction of the bumbling gentleman.

I definitely need to mention the man who wrote the screenplay, Peter Bryan. This adaptation was quite good compared to others. Not that you need to compare it, because it can stand alone against any other movie. The music score was fantastic too, and nothing less can be expected from James Bernard. It really set a thunderous mood during the high points of the film.

Long story short is that if you haven’t seen this movie, you need to right away. It is the definitive Sherlock Holmes movie! If you love mysteries, thrillers, or any type of classic film, get out and grab this film now!