Cinema Sunday: Shadow of the Cat (1961)

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966)

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Title: Rasputin the Mad Monk

Distributor: Hammer Studios/ 20th Century-Fox

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Don Sharp

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews

Released: March 1966

MPAA: PG-13

 

After a quick break (for a soccer tournament), I’m back and have a great flick in store for everybody! With the recent passing of Sir Christopher Lee, I thought I’d get at least one (if not two) movie of his out there that was a bit lesser known compared to his big hits. In 1966, Hammer Studios had a few different films that were not in their typical Dracula/Frankenstein’s monster vein. These films were so very good, because not only did they give us the atmosphere and sets that the previous films did, but also all the great actors as well!

I’m not a big fan of this character in history, and I do know that Hammer took a few liberties with the story, but it doesn’t really matter. The film is about entertainment, not being factual. Alright, now let us get down to the film!

 

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The film begins at a local pub in a small village. A doctor is there telling the landlord that his wife is gravely ill, and on her death-bed. As the patrons look on, the family is upstairs, trying to pray for the woman. Suddenly, the door to the pub swings open, and a grisly looking man clad in a monk’s outfit barges in. The monk tells them that there is fever in her, and that he will draw it out. He begins to perform a ritual of sorts, and the family looks concerned. Within seconds though, he succeeds in healing the woman, and everyone is astonished. The landlord then allows the monk to drink freely at his pub and to fraternize with his daughter.

The villagers seem to be skeptical of this man, and get an uneasy feeling about him. After everyone is good and drunk, the monk and the pub owner’s daughter disappear. The next thing we see, the two of them are in the barn making out. The girl’s boyfriend comes in and breaks it up, and he and the monk get into a brawl. Eventually, the monk chops off the guy’s hand with a scythe and he runs screaming from the barn. The monk then attempts to rape the young woman, but the rest of the villagers from the pub stop him. He runs off, back to the monastery where he resides. The next day the villagers confront the monastery about his actions, and he then introduces himself as Grigori Rasputin (Christopher Lee).

 

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He then basically gets cast out (or a punishment where’s he ejected from the monastery), and is on a wagon ride to nowhere. The man driving the wagon tells him that he should go to St. Petersburg because that’s where the action is to be found. Rasputin then commandeers the wagon and heads straight for the city. Once there, he goes into a pub and starts drinking. He then engages in a contest with another patron to see who can drink the most. Over on the other side of the city, we see a ball going on at the royal palace. We then see Sonia (Barbara Shelley) (a “lady in waiting” for the czar), as she’s bored to death by these events, and craves some real fun. Her brother, Peter, (Dinsdale Landen), his friend Ivan (Francis Matthews), and another girl, Vanessa (Suzan Farmer) (another “lady in waiting”), then take a trip to a local pub that can get rowdy (the same one that Rasputin is at).

 

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The group shows up and see Rasputin and the doctor, Boris Zargo (Richard Pasco), having their drinking contest. The contest is eventually won by Rasputin, and he then begins to dance like a wild man, and Sonia is getting very drunk at this point. She begins to laugh out loud, and as the music stops, it seems as though she’s laughing at Rasputin. He stares t her and demands that she apologizes for laughing at him. Peter attempts to get tough with Rasputin, but he gets slapped away like a child. Sonia is enthralled by Rasputin, and then she apologizes to him. The scene ends, and Rasputin takes the drunken Boris home.

 

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The following day, Sonia seeks out Rasputin, as he’s put the whammy on her. She again apologizes, and then he slaps her around a bit, then they have sex. Boris goes out for some food and wine, then returns to see Rasputin hypnotize her and tell her that while the heir to the throne is under her care, the boy will have an accident, and then she will send for a “holy man” that she knows can heal the boy. The following day, she and Vanessa are watching Alexei, when Sonia pushes him off a ledge, and the boy is hurt badly. None of the doctors or priests can do anything, so then Sonia urges the Tsarina to let her bring in Rasputin.

 

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After a few days, Rasputin arrives at the palace, and does heal the boy. The Tsarina is impressed and offers to reward him. Initially, he refuses payment, but after a few days, he then accepts a gift from her. He also takes full advantage of the opportunity alone with her to hypnotize her, and put her under his spell!

Will Rasputin gain control of all of Russia? Will anyone be able to stop his madness? Watch to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

If you haven’t seen this film, it’s a must. Lee is very impressive in this film and will convince you of the evilness of Rasputin! Barbara Shelley is also absolutely incredible in this one (and looking as beautiful as ever! image below). Her chemistry with Lee is undeniable, and after working together before (Dracula Prince of Darkness) probably helped. The supporting cast is right there as well, and Richard Pasco, Suzan Farmer, and Francis Matthews are all splendid.

This film was a double-bill with Dracula Prince of Darkness, so you see a lot of the same sets, but in typical Hammer fashion, they redress everything well enough to make it seem like two separate locations. The music score was good too, and Don Banks is one of those guys I consider right up there with the greats of this time/genre.

Get on this one immediately if you haven’t already viewed it and if you have but not in a while, sit down and enjoy this masterpiece by Christopher Lee (RIP)!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

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Title: Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth – U.S.)

Distributor: Hammer Studios, ABPC, (20th Century Fox (U.S.))

Writer: Nigel Kneale

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: James Donald, Andrew Keir, Barbara Shelley, Julian Glover

Released: November 1967

MPAA: Approved

 

I feel like its been a while since I did a Sci-fi film, so why not take a peek at a Hammer film from that genre! This is the third installment (big screen) of this franchise, and for reasons I’ll get into later, they switched actors for the main character, Professor Quatermass. The replacement was a fine actor, and with a regular Hammer leading lady, the film carried on the tradition well. The series was initially on British television, and the adaptation is well worth the watch. Alright, let us journey into the past, and see some cool science fiction, Hammer studio style!

 

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The film begins with a Bobby walking down a dark street. He enters a subway outlet called “Hobbs End” and sees a sign telling the viewers that it’s under construction. The scene switches to the construction workers below, as they continue their mind-numbing work. As they dig deeper, they discover a skull, but keep going anyway. Within seconds, one of the other workers finds a complete human skeleton! They realize they must stop at this point, and call in reinforcements.

 

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A  few days later, a team of researchers is seeking answers, and one man, Doctor Roney (James Donald). tells the press that he needs their help in seeking public approval to influence the government to let the work continue. As this conversation is continuing, Barbara Judd (Barbara Shelley – The Gorgon, Rasputin the Mad Monk), and another assistant make another discovery. They find something metallic, but can’t figure out what it might be. Suddenly, a man believes it could be an undetonated bomb from WWII. The police, and then the bomb squad arrive to take action, but they’ll soon find out that this “bomb” will be much more deadly than any other!

 

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As they dig out around the supposed bomb, they come to realize that they are more than likely wrong about the device. Doctor Roney then questions the young officer about his experience, so he calls his superior for a second opinion. The phone calls goes to a man named Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), and he’s actually in a meeting with a certain renegade scientist, Professor Quatermass (Andrew Keir)! They are discussing a government operation that he started, but that they are taking over. The government wants to get into space and have missiles to get the upper-hand. Breen and some pencil-pusher tell Quatermass that he’ll be on board or out on his own. Breen then gets the note about the “bomb,” and the two head over to check it out.

 

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Once they arrive, Breen and Quatermass have differing opinions on what’s going on below. A local policeman tells Quatermass that the area was abandoned years before the war, so those remains can’t be of the British populace. Some kind of superstition was keeping people away. He investigates some of the houses in the area, and they see some claw marks on the walls. The policeman can’t explain them, and he gets very nervous while they look around. So much so that he leaves abruptly. Miss Judd joins them, and gets spooked too, and then tells Quatermass that the name of the area, “Hobbs,” was an old nickname for the devil.

 

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Later, over at the Doctor’s lab, Quatermass questions Roney about the authenticity of these skulls, and seems to be suspicious of the “ape-man” theories. Miss Judd shows up and has some newspaper clippings about some of the supernatural goings-on in Hobbs Lane years before the war. Back at the dig site, the military has just about unearthed the entire “bomb” and now must finally come to the fact that it isn’t of this Earth. The Sargent and Quatermass seem to be on the same page and that page is not the one that Breen is on. Just as they are theorizing about it, a scream comes from inside the shell, and they find one of the soldiers raving. He states that he’s seen something terrible, and that it reached out for him.

 

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Quatermass and Judd then head to the archives to investigate further into the matters from decades before. A historian tells them about the things that were seen, and then Quatermass gets an idea, then heads back to the dig site. The military has procured a special drill to try to get inside the structure, but not even that works. In the process, they seem to have activated a defense mechanism, and it nearly drives them mad. They leave the pod for a minute to gather themselves, and another soldier looks inside. He sees a hole where they were drilling, but one that is bigger than the drill, so it couldn’t have been them. Suddenly, the hole gets bigger, and the entire wall disintegrates.  Behind that very wall is a honeycomb like area that is housing dead (but gigantic) locusts!

 

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Were these giant creatures the aliens or their food? And what do the ape men have to do with all of this? Your questions will be answered by the enigmatic Professor Quatermass!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Let me start out by saying that I love Andrew Keir as an actor. He does a fine job as Quatermass, he was outstanding in Dracula Prince of Darkness,  and in the Pirates of Blood River. That being said, I prefer Brian Donlevy to him as Quatermass. His demeanor was perfect for the role, and although Keir did act mildly abrasive sometimes, he just wasn’t quite as good. Barbara Shelley (image below) added her usual electricity to the film, and was very lovely as well. James Donald (Roney) was another fine addition to the cast. He commanded the scenes he was in, and really played well opposite of Julian Glover (Breen). Also look for a small role by Hammer films stalwart, Duncan Lamont!

I’ve got to say that with a limited budget, the special effects were pretty good. There was a group of five gentlemen that worked on this film, uncredited. Musically, the film doesn’t offer much, but does hit some good peaks during/leading up to the action. The film was a little dark in some scenes, but nothing too terrible. Overall, I’d rate the film a “B” for the action, acting, and cool story and effects. I’ll definitely be reviewing the first two Quatermass films eventually, and probably in sequence as well. Look for them in the near future!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

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Title: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Distributor: British International Pictures (Hammer Studios)

Writer: Anthony Hinds (Jimmy Sangster -screenplay)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Thorley Walters

Released: January 6th, 1966

MPAA: UR

 

I’ve decided after last week’s review, to continue with Hammer’s Dracula franchise, and give Dracula: Prince of Darkness a look! Now, this film is actually a continuation from the first film (Horror of Dracula in the U.S.), and keeps the ball rolling with the greatest Count Dracula- Christopher Lee! He reprises his role as the venomous vampire, and really cranked up the crazy in this film! It’s definitely one of my favorites in the sub-genre of vampire films! Well, without further delay, here we go!

The film begins showing stock footage of Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) killing off Dracula from the first film (to get you back on track after The Brides of Dracula). Next, a funeral procession is moving through the forest, and seems to be ready to do something terrible to a girl that has just died. As they are about to put a stake through her heart, a monk, Father Sandor, (Andrew Keir) is passing by, and whips out a hunting rifle, and puts a shot near them, stopping them from staking the corpse. He tells them that they’re fools, and they explain that they cannot take any chances with suspicious deaths. He again calls them idiots, and orders them to bury her in the church yard.

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In the following scene, the local tavern is bustling with patrons, and four of them specifically are spotlighted. These four travelers are having a good time, all except Helen (Barbara Shelley). She thinks that her brother in-law, Charles Kent (Francis Matthews), is being foolish with his money by buying drinks for everyone at the bar. They disagree about the subject, but as they are about to leave, the door swings open, and Father Sandor (image below of Andrew Keir & Francis Matthews) steps inside. He greets the travelers, but scoffs at the locals for having garlic to “keep out the boogeyman”. The locals seem like they couldn’t care less, and keep pounding down the ale. Father Sandor asks them to come visit the monastery when they travel his way, but warns them about their next destination. He tells them that evil abounds there and that they should avoid it altogether.

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The next morning, the foursome is taking a carriage ride to their next stop, in Carlsbad. Once it nears sunset though, the driver stops, and orders them to get off of the carriage. They do, but can;t understand why he has asks this of them. He drives off after telling them he’ll be back in the morning. As they quibble about what to do, another carriage, all black, pulls up to them. It has no driver, and this scares Helen, but Diana (Susan Farmer), Alan (Charles Tingwell), and Charles all agree they should use the carriage to get to Carlsbad. Once in the carriage though, it takes off and wont follow the instructions of the driver. It arrives moments later at a less than auspicious castle in the hills.

Once they decide to go inside, which is against the warning s of Helen, they are not greeted by anyone, and can find not a single soul at home. The dinner table is set for a meal though, and all the candles are burning. The men go upstairs to search for someone, and as they do the ladies are shocked to see the shadow of an odd man coming towards them. They shriek in terror, but when the men come back downstairs, they all realize that it’s just a servant. The man identifies himself as “Klove” (Philip Latham), and tells them that his master always has a table and rooms waiting should any passersby need help. Helen is irked by Klove and the house, but the others think she’s being a wuss. Klove tells them about his former master, Count Dracula, and how great of a guy he was back in the day. After a nice meal, they retire upstairs for the night.

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As the two couples are bedding down for the night, Helen still has an uneasy feeling about the situation. Everyone goes to sleep, and Helen cries out, thinking someone has called her. Alan tells her she’s been dreaming, but then he hears something in the hallway. As he peeks out, he sees Klove, dragging a trunk through the hall to a room. As he leaves to investigate, he follows Klove into a lower level. As he sees a coffin placed in the middle of a room, Klove pops out from behind him, and stabs him to death. Klove then hoists the corpse over the coffin, which we can now see is full of ashes, and slits Alan’s throat, spilling the blood all over the ashes. As the ashes turn to smoke, then to an eerie fog, we get a feeling of dread. As the fog clears, we see Count Dracula, reborn! Before he can even get his bearings, Helen, who has gone looking for her husband, reaches the lower chamber. Before she knows what’s going on, she’s hypnotized by the gaze of the Count! He then moves in for the kill.

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After this wild night, Diana and Charles are befuddled by their missing family members. Charles searches for them diligently, but cannot find any trace of them. Charles takes Diana to a nearby woodcutter’s shack, and returns to the castle to look for them again, and more in-depth. A while after he’s left, Klove pulls in with the carriage and tells Diana that Charles asked for him to come and get her. Meanwhile, Charles has discovered his brother Alan’s dead body. Klove then returns to the house with Diana, and Helen, who’s now a vampire, attempts to bite Diana, but is interrupted by Dracula! He hisses at Helen and grabs Diana, but Charles shows up, and fights them. Diana then uses the cross to send them packing for now.

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Charles and Diana then make for the monastery where Father Sandor lives, and tell him the horrible story. He agrees to help them fight Dracula and his minions, but first they must fight off an attack on the monastery itself! Can they defeat the Prince of Darkness? Or will they become part of his undead army?!?

OK, here are my thoughts:

If you love vampire/Dracula films from back in the day, you’ll love this flick. Lee gives a chilling performance in this one, and his lack of dialogue doesn’t hinder the creepiness of his character. After the second film not having Lee in it, this was a great return for him, as the previous vampire (David Peel) was also pretty good. Barbara Shelley was also quite good in this film, adding the “nagging wife”, but also giving the movie some of that eeriness by being so frightened. Her performance was very  believable.

Another fine role was that of Klove. He was supremely weird and creepy, giving us all something to shudder about! I think the best acting role was by Andrew Keir (Father Sandor). He was hilarious when the need was there, but also very serious and tough as nails as well! A scene where he had to clear up a vampire bite on Diana’s wrist. He holds a scolding hot lamp on it, and then stakes a vampire through the heart later in the movie!

Overall, I’d give this one high marks for the roles, and for the music score too. James Bernard is probably the best Hammer composer of all time, and rightly so should he be labeled. Always thunderous, and oft his music sets an ominous tone for the entirety of the films he composes! Kudos to the regular gang of people as well that also were involved -Jimmy Sangster, Anthony Hinds, Anthony Nelson Keys, Terence Fisher, etc. Get out there and grab this flick, it doesn’t disappoint!