Cinema Sunday: The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)

Title: The Flesh and the Fiends (Mania- U.S. title)

Distributor: Regal Film Distributors

Writers: John Gilling (and Leon Griffiths)

Director: John Gilling

Producers: Robert S. Baker, Monty Berman

Starring: Peter Cushing, June Laverick, Donald Pleasance, George Rose

Released: February 1960 (U.K.)

MPAA: UR

 

 

By the time the year 1960 rolled around, Peter Cushing was blooming into a horror film star. He’d already launched Hammer Studios into the atmosphere (along with others like Christopher Lee), with films such as Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959). As if his incredible presence wasn’t enough, we get a very young Donald Pleasance (Circus of Horrors– 1960, Halloween– 1978, Escape from New York– 1981) as one of the main players as well!

Based off of a true story (Burke and Hare), this film is considered a horror film but is more like a noir film with other elements, like mystery, crime, etc. Let’s get on with the synopsis!

 

 

The film begins with some grave-robbers in a cemetery. They’re digging up a corpse, but for what purpose, we do not know. The scene then switches to a street in Edinburgh, and the Academy of Dr. Knox (the year 1828). We see a beautiful young lady, Martha Knox,  (June Laverick) the niece of Dr. Knox, as she’s exiting a coach. She knocks on the door, and is greeted by Dr. Geoffrey Mitchell (Dermot Walsh). They exchange pleasantries, and he explains that he didn’t recognize her at first because she’s been gone for three years (she’s matured a lot apparently).

 

Inside the classroom, Dr. Knox (Peter Cushing) is teaching a room full of students hoping to become doctors themselves one day. He jokes with them, but also tries to impress upon them the importance of striving to push forward and break down barriers. He gets a standing ovation, then exits the hall. He’s pursued by one student in particular, a young man named Chris Jackson (John Cairney). He wants some input about how he can get better and graduate, something he believes he would’ve done by now. Dr. Knox tells him that he can get some extra tutoring but must pay for it by helping out around the school to earn extra money.

 

Afterward, Dr. Knox comes into the living room (apparently the school is attached to his home), and i surprised by his niece. Before they can get the conversation going, Chris comes in and tells Dr. Knox that some gentlemen are around back with a “stiff.” Knox chides him for using such terms, and then heads back to inspect the corpse. He pays the men for it, then sends them on their way.

Later that evening, the men are at a local pub (The Merry Duke) getting drunk and tell about how Dr. Knox pays well for cadavers. Two other men that are on hard times financially overhear this. Both William Burke (George Rose), and William Hare (Donald Pleasance) realize this is a way to make a quick buck, so they begin digging up fresh corpses for the good doctor to use at his school. Burke and Hare are an unscrupulous lot, and after a short spell, the fresh corpse market dries up. The two then resort to murder, and their reign of terror haunts the back alleys of Edinburgh.

 

Meanwhile, the good doctor to be, Chris, finds himself a girlfriend. The only problem is that Mary Patterson (Billie Whitelaw) is a rather seedy type herself, and eventually breaks his heart. She just cannot turn away from her promiscuity and drinking, no matter how much Chris seems to love and care for her. As this is going on, Burke and Hare manage even to murder a poor, local boy, Daft Jamie (Melvyn Hayes), but as they do, a witness sees the deed going on, and informs the authorities.

 

Will Burke and Hare pay for their crimes? And what fate will befall Dr. Knox for his role in this murderous scheme? You must watch to find out the surprise ending to this film!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This story is a good one, and the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it all the better. Another fact is that the film being in black and white is for the best as well. As usual, Cushing delivers a rock-solid performance, and his fans expect nothing less. His ability to lift inferior scripts, casts, etc., to greater heights. Not that he needs to necessarily in this film, but the cast isn’t over the top great. There is one other outstanding performance, and that is the one portrayed by Donald Pleasance. He really turns on the creep factor, and is a very evil person in this film. Billie Whitelaw is also quite good in her role, if not slightly outrageous.

The sets, costumes, and music (Stanley Black), are all splendid. There are a couple of surprises in this one, and they’ll not be spoiled in this review, so no worries. The director, John Gilling, is most known for his work with Hammer Studios, as is Cushing, of course, but this film was actually put out by a smaller production company (Triad Productions). But don’t let that fool you, the film is a winner, and more than worth your time! This company had a few good films including one of my favorite sci-fi/horror films, The Trollenberg Terror!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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: The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)

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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!

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?!?

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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 Reptile (1966)

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Title: The Reptile

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett, Michael Ripper

Released: April 6th, 1966

MPAA: Unrated

Hammer Studios is certainly most well-known for their interpretations of the Dracula, Frankenstein, and Werewolf franchises, but it would behoove you to also look deeper into their library for classics like this one! This film is one that I didn’t discover until a few years ago, but it quickly has become one of my favorites. Oh, it’s not the best of Hammer films, but it does have a couple of performances that really help it to rise above mediocrity. Lets get down to the plot!

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The movie begins with a man, Charles Spalding,  wandering around the countryside. He then retreats to his home only to find a note on the table. He then sets out to the residence across the moors. He knocks but no one answers, so he wanders inside. He walks down a hallway, and as he turns around, a man, Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman) shouts to him, warning him to get away. All of a sudden, something leaps out of the shadows and attacks him savagely. He falls down the stairs, and begins to have a seizure of some kind. As the man who warned him looks on in horror, another man steps out of the shadows, and disposes of the body on the moors.

The next scene shows us Harry and Valerie Spalding (Ray Barrett & Jennifer Daniel), as they are talking to a lawyer about his dead brothers (the man who was attacked in the fist scene) holdings. He informs them that his brother died without much wealth, but he did have a house in a rural town. They then take a train ride, and then walk to the village. At the local pub, Tom Bailey (Michael Ripper) is tending bar, but when Harry walks in, the patrons leave immediately. Tom Tells Harry where the house is located, and then they head out to the residence. As they open the front door, they see that the house has been ransacked. Harry returns to the pub later that day, and questions the patrons about the house. Again, they all leave, and Harry talks to Tom about what’s going on in this small village. As Harry makes his way home, he’s attacked by Mad Peter (John Laurie). Harry quickly realizes that Mad Peter is more of a foolish man, than a dangerous one. After some confusion, Harry invites Peter over for dinner, and to get some answers from him about his brother’s death.

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As they finish dinner, Harry asks Peter but his brother. Peter explains that he really isn’t “mad”, just that he doesn’t live by the same rules that govern most men. As they talk more, Peter explains that this village is evil, and that terrible things happen here. He tells him that someone killed his brother, and not some mysterious hear failure, as he was led to believe. Peter then hears some music nearby, freaks out,t hen leaves in a hurry. During the night, Harry is awakened by some noises downstairs. When he investigates, he finds Peter at his doorstep, on death’s door. He mentions the name Franklyn, and Harry rushes across the moors to get the good doctor. Dr. Franklyn doesn’t seem to care about Peter, but Harry urges him to come and see him. Dr. Franklyn then tells Harry he’s a doctor of theology, not medicine, but agrees to come anyway. By the time they get there, Pater is already dead though (image above), and Dr. Franklyn tells them that he’ll handle the arrangements.

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Valerie is visited the next day by Anna Franklyn, who seems a bit spooky, but nice all the same. Their little conversation is interrupted though, and Dr. Franklyn is furious at Anna for leaving the house. She did manage to invite the Spalding’s to dinner though, and later, we see that dinner date. Anna is not present, and Dr. Franklyn explains that she’s being punished for her earlier transgression. She joins them after dinner, and plays some music for them. The tune is almost hypnotic, and Anna seems to be getting into it, that is until her father erupts in anger, and smashes her instrument. Harry and Valerie leave in a rush, and head home.

Tom and Harry then formulate a plan to not only discover who or what is behind these killings, but also how to stop The Reptile!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Alright, I’ll be the first to admit that the lead roles in this film aren’t the strongest in Hammer’s catalog. They’re not bad mind you, just not up to the Cushing and Lee standard. There are still two bright spots. First, Jacqueline Pearce is fantastic, and not only does she make a convincing “troubled daughter” but she’s also a beautiful woman! She really lights up a room when she appears on-screen. The other great role is played by Hammer stalwart, Michael Ripper. He really gets to shine in this one, and has a huge role compared to his usual minor parts. He has a strong presence from start to finish. John Laurie (Mad Peter) was indeed a very good addition to this movie as well. His eccentric personality was absolutely superb!

The music score was pretty good, starting off with the opening scene/credits. A thunderous clashing of cymbals, and loud roaring wind section, lead us into this creepy classic. The sets, as with the overwhelming majority of Hammer films, were absolutely amazing. The house, the bubbling pit of oozing death in the basement, and the foggy moors, all set an incredible mood for this film. Definitely check this one out, it’s more than worth your time!