Cinema Sunday: X The Unknown (1956)

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Title: X The Unknown

Distributor: Warner Bros. (Hammer Studios)

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Director: Leslie Norman (and originally, Joseph Losey)

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Michael Ripper, Leo McKern, Anthony Newley

Released: November 1956

MPAA: Approved

 

Of course, everyone that’s a fan of the sci-fi/horror genre has heard of the 1958 classic, The Blob. I’d like to spotlight a film that has quite a few similarities…and was released two years previously. Not trying to imply that The Blob is a ripoff but they certainly seemed to “borrow’ a few ideas from this film. A film that was originally intended to be a sequel to Hammer’s successful sci-fi film, The Quatermass Experiment, but the writer of that film (Nigel Kneale) wouldn’t allow the use of his main character (Professor Bernard Quatermass) to be used, so they reconstructed slightly, and moved forward.

Limited budgets have never stopped Hammer Studios from producing great material, and this film is no exception. The cast isn’t very recognizable to fans of Hammer’s horror films (except for Michael Ripper!), but don’t let that dissuade you from watching. Alright, let the storytelling commence!

 

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The film opens with a soldier, Corporal “Spider” Webb (Anthony Newley), as he’s using a Geiger counter to search an area for radioactivity. He gets a reading, and then finds something buried just below the surface. We then see that it’s a training exercise, and the soldiers are prepping for a mission. We see Sergeant Grimsdyke (Michael Ripper) and he’s told to retrieve Major Cartwright (John Harvey) because one of the soldiers is getting a reading nowhere near one of the test areas. They then try to find the device they planted for the exercise, but the muddy ground begins to bubble near the other site, and one of the soldiers gets frightened. Grimsdyke orders the men to back off, but before they can get away, two of the men are caught in an explosion. We see a “Y”-shaped crack in the Earth, and smoke pouring out of it.

 

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Over at a lab, we see Peter Elliott (William Lucas), and Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger), conducting experiments. Royston seems like a bit of an eccentric old chap, and has an affection for oddities of all kinds. Royston then gets orders to go check out the radioactive area that the Army discovered. The area doesn’t seem to be radioactive anymore, so Royston is skeptical. He then gets a look at the soldiers that were burned in the incident, and changes his mind. He immediately requests for his equipment to be brought out to the site. There are some reporters there and they start to badger the military.

 

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Later that night, two kids are up to some shenanigans, and one ventures out to the restricted area by the fissure. He nears a structure, but then stops when he hears a noise. He’s stopped in his tracks by something horrific that is sizzling like bacon. He runs so fast that he passes out his mate that waiting for him. We next see the boy in the hospital (he eventually dies from the encounter), and Dr. Royston has been brought in to examine him. It seems the boy has radiation burns. Royston questions the other boy about their whereabouts the night before, and he confesses that they went near the restricted area.

 

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Royston heads to the Tower near the restricted area to do some investigating. He finds a old man making moonshine, and then also a metal canister from his lab. He rushes back to his lab, and sees that it has been broken into by some unknown person(s). The lab is ransacked, and there’s a strange film over everything. Peter arrives and is shocked at what has happened. Inspector “Mac” McGill (Leo McKern) is sent by the local authorities to investigate the strange goings-on. That very night, a doctor and a nurse are “fraternizing” but get interrupted by the same unforeseen force that burned the boy. It chars the man to ashes.

 

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Out on the marshes, two soldiers are attacked by the radioactive force, and killed. Royston concludes that there must be a sort of radioactive prehistoric creature that is causing this havoc, and that it must be stopped or many more will die a horrible death! They hatch a plan to repel down into the fissure, and see what exactly they are up against. Elliott volunteers to be lowered down, and as he’s being lowered down, he sees the remains of one of the soldiers that was killed. The creature then moves in to attack, and the army tries to fight it off with guns and flamethrowers. They next attempt to seal the creature below by filling the fissure with concrete. Royston tells them that it wont work, because it already made its way to the surface through tons of rock.

Will Dr. Royston be able to concoct a plan to stop this radioactive nightmare or will the entire countryside be burnt to a crisp?!? Tune in to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Although this film is very good, it does lack star power. The other films (in the Quatermass trilogy) have a very strong lead, and that certainly helped them stay a bit more on point. Dean Jagger isn’t bad or anything like that he just lacks any real “oomph” on-screen. The erst of the players are good but not great, so there’s really no support to help push the cast ahead. There is some great atmosphere and thrilling moments in this film, and they give it a feeling of comfort while watching.

The soundtrack is average, and the sets just above that bar. A few moments of humor are well placed, and throw a good curveball into the mix. There is one glaring omission from this film that you typically find in all of their films- an attractive but competent female role. It would’ve’ benefited the film immensely, and added a nice and missing angle from the film.

Overall a good sci-fi flick that helps set the tone for the other Quatermass films that follow down the road. Definitely set aside some time for a viewing!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Torture Garden (1967)

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Title: Torture Garden

Distributor: Columbia Pictures, Amicus Studios Production

Writer: Robert Bloch

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Burgess Meredith, Peter Cushing, Jack Palance, Michael Ripper, Barbara Ewing, Beverly Adams

Released: November 1967

MPAA: Approved

 

As my regular readers know, I’m a humongous fan of the legendary British film company, Hammer Studios. They ruled the genre for quite some time, but definitely had rivals. The biggest, was probably Amicus Productions. This upstart company was a little different in one aspect though, as their movies weren’t period pieces, but rather in contemporary settings. This was about the only thing  that set them apart though, as they used the same actors, producers, and a lot of the same tropes in their films.

The cast is key in this one, and by the ending of the film, you’ll be surprised, no doubt about it! And let’s be honest, is there a creepier setting than a carnival? The bearded lady alone is enough to scare the pants off me! Alright, now, to the movie…

 

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The film begins with a side-show carnival barker trying to entice people to see his “torture garden.” A sign shows that the host, Dr. Diablo (Burgess Meredith), will have you screaming at these disturbing images. A small crowd shuffles in, and Diablo shows them an electric chair with what appears to be a man strapped in it. He throws the switch, and the “man” is fried. It obviously looks like a  dummy though, and some in the crowd aren’t impressed. Diablo then encourages the crowd to join him in his secluded area, where the real thrills are to take place. He tells them it costs £5, and most are skeptical. Diablo then uses basic high school peer pressure to get a few to pay up and go inside.

 

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Five people (Michael Ripper, Jack Palance, Michael Bryant, Barbara Ewing, and Beverly Adams) go inside, and Diablo does something very strange after they leave the first room. Diablo takes the money that the people gave him, and he throws it into the fire pit in the middle of the room! Awfully sure of himself, isn’t he?  One man, Colin Williams (Michael Bryant), pulls a curtain away, and sees a wax figure that resembles a fortune-teller. They all seem let down, but then Diablo appears and tells that this is no ordinary fortune-teller, but one that will reveal something ghastly about your future if you peer into her eyes. As Diablo lulls him into a sense of safety, the adventure begins.

 

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We see a scene where Colin drives his motor car to see his uncle, who’s very rich, but also, very ill. The door opens, and a woman walks out, and looks like the fortune-teller. He shakes his head in disbelief, and when he looks again, it’s just a regular woman. She’s apparently been taking care of the old man. Colin goes inside and tries to pry some money from his uncle, but he’s very dodgy about where he gets his money. Colin tells his uncle that he’s been asking around town how his uncle pays for things since he hasn’t worked in thirty years.  He wont tell, but then begins to have a heart attack, and needs his medication. Colin wont get it for him, and the old guy keels over right there on the spot.

 

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The coroner comes to pick up the body, and this leaves Colin to loot the house. Eventually, he finds a door in the floor of his uncle’s bedroom. He heads down into the secret compartment (basement?), and gets more than he bargained for. He uses a shovel to dig around but initially finds nothing. After some time, he finds a casket of sorts, and opens it using the shovel. Inside, he finds a skeleton, and a cat! The cat scurries away, and he continues to dig around.

 

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We then see him awaking on the couch upstairs, and the cat  growls at him. He then seems to go into a bit of a trance, and we get the impression that the cat is somehow communicating with him (possessed?). It tells him that he needs to do some favors for it, and he’ll be rewarded. The door then opens and the cat runs away, with Colin following. It leads him to a hobo sleeping in the barn. The cat begins to assert control over Colin, and forces him to pick up a pitchfork and murder the man. Again, Colin wakes up on the couch and believes it all to have been a dream. He sees the basement opened up and heads down to see what was real and what might be fantasy. As he gets down in the room, the cat is waiting for him, and once again claims to be ready to reward him for helping with whatever it needs. He picks up a shovel and digs up a chest full of gold coins.

Next, he quickly runs out to the barn, and sees that indeed he did murder the hobo, as the cat willed him to do. He dashes back into the house and down the steps into the basement, horrified at what he’s done. He begins to bury the gold, but the cat once again forces him to stop, and then tells him to murder the hospice worker that’s about to enter the house. As she enters through the back entrance, Colin picks up a shovel, and murders the old woman. Later that night, Colin is putting his trunk of gold into his car, when a policeman happens by, to warn him about a man who the police are looking for in the area (the hobo?). He tells him he’s seen no one, and the officer offers to help with the trunk, only to realize there’s blood on the handle.

 

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In the next scene, Colin is being locked up in jail, and tries to explain what’s been going on to a lawyer. He tells of the demonic cat, and how it forced him to do these terrible things. The lawyer looks at him as if he’s loony, and then asks him what happened to the heads of the victims. Colin tells him that the cat feeds on them, and if he doesn’t get to feed, he’ll come for his head. The lawyer leaves, and of course, everyone thinks he’s insane. A few minutes later, the cat appears on the ledge by the window. Colin begins screaming and the guard comes in to see what’s going on. By then, the cat has disappeared, but Colin is still hysterical. The guard tells him to calm down, and leaves the room. As he does, the cat returns, and takes Colin’s head as recompense!

One by one, the others are led to the fortune-teller, and see atrocities that they may be a part of in the future or maybe have already! Watch to find out the gruesome fate of these seemingly ordinary people, and the secrets they bear!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

The film is one that houses an idea that’s been put on the screen and in books before, there’s no denying that, but when these actors and actresses put their personal spin on the characters, that’s when the magic happens. I honestly think this is the best performance I’ve ever seen by Burgess Meredith. Now, before anybody goes ballistic on me, I haven’t seen many of his films outside of Clash of the Titans, and the Rocky franchise. All good performances, no doubt, but by the end of this film, you’ll believe he’s the devil himself! Now, to the others. Jack Palance and Peter Cushing share the final “future sequence” together, and it’s one for the ages. Not only do they do the film justice, but the scene also is about Edgar Allen Poe and his fantastic works!

Each of the dream sequences are different but the same. Not in a monotonous way really, but nothing really sets them apart so that you can single one out over the others in terms of better or worse. All of them have a charm to them in one way or another, but obviously I’m partial to the Cushing scene! The ladies in this film are absolutely gorgeous (Beverly Adams- image below, Barbara Ewing- even though she has a terrible hairdo or wig, and Nicole Shelby in her skivvies), and this era of woman is not only beautiful, but very commanding as well.

The music score was by two veterans of the industry, in James Bernard and Don Banks. These two gentlemen were stalwarts in the biz back then and really know how to get the music to match the scene. The writer, Robert Bloch, is another man who really shouldn’t need any introduction, but if you’re not familiar with his work, definitely Google him (you should at least know him as the man who wrote the story Hitchcock used for Psycho in 1960).

Definitely give this one a viewing, you’ll not be disappointed, I guarantee it! It’s one of those hidden gems of the era that you never hear about outside of circles that are hardcore fans of the genre.

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: The Pirates of Blood River (1962)

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Title: The Pirates of Blood River

Distributor: Columbia Pictures/Hammer Studios

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Michael Carreras

Starring: Christopher Lee, Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corbett, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, Andrew Keir, Marla Landi

Released: August 1962

MPAA: PG

 

Everyone knows about the horror films that Hammer Studios produced over the decades, but if you look even deeper into their catalog, you’ll find some other gems, such as this one. The range of the Hammer Studio was quite wide, but of course, they’re known for their Gothic horror films. But personally, I think they’re action/adventure films are a very close second.

This film in particular, gives you a (very small) bit of horror, but mostly just some great action with pirates fighting against a Huguenot colony. Action, intrigue, love, and war. Don’t take your eyes off of the screen for a minute, because you will miss something. An all-star cast, featuring some Hammer stalwarts, but also actors like Kerwin Mathews (7th Voyage of Sinbad)! Let’s get down to the plot!

 

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The film begins with a pirate ship sailing towards an island. On this island, there is a settlement of Huguenots. They live their lives, governed by the laws of the Bible, and are quite strict. Next, we see a young man, Jonathan Standing (Kerwin Mathews), and his lover, Maggie Mason (Marie Devereux), as they playfully run through the forest, to find a spot for some “courting.” They do, but before they can get busy, a whip strikes the back of Jonathan, and they both realize they’re in trouble. You see, Maggie is married to one of the town elders, and as stated earlier, they follow the teachings of God very strictly. Maggie runs away, but gets cornered near the river. She dives in, but as everyone else closes in on her, they back off, because the river is full of man-eating piranha. Maggie is toast.

 

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Back in the settlement, Jonathan is tried and convicted in record time. He’s convicted by his own father, Jason (Andrew Keir), and the rest of the council to spend fifteen years at the penal colony on the other side of the island. The chances of getting out of there alive are slim, because of the brutality of the guards, so when Jonathan gets his chance, he and another man work in tandem, and make a break for it. He ends up evading the guards long enough to be discovered by a pirate, Mack (Michael Ripper), that tells him his captain can help him get back to his settlement.

 

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As Jonathan is introduced to Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee), he gets the feeling he’s hiding something, but also knows he needs his help in evading the guards, and getting back to his settlement, so he agrees to lead him to the other side of the island. The journey itself introduces other characters that are under LaRoche’s command. We meet Hench (Peter Arne), a man who clearly has his own intentions. We also see another, Brocaire (Oliver Reed), who despises Hench.

 

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Once the trip is nearing its end, a couple of Jonathan’s friends, and his sister, have moved outside of the settlement, in protest of Jonathan’s sentence. It is here, when LaRoche makes his true intentions clear, and states that the pirates will plunder the village of any and all supplies. He does state that as long as Jonathan helps him, no one will have to die. A small boy sees the pirates and that they have taken hostages, so he runs off to the settlement to warn them. As the pirates approach, a huge fight scene occurs, and it looks as if it will be a stalemate. Some of the pirates manage to get inside the settlement walls, and grab the women, and use them to make the men surrender.

 

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LaRoche then gathers everyone inside the great hall, and makes a proclamation. He states that if they don’t lead him to a treasure that supposedly resides here, that he will begin to execute a hostage regularly until his demands are met. Meanwhile, Jonathan, his sister, Bess (Maria Landi), and her husband, Henry (Glenn Corbett), concoct a plan to stop LaRoche. Inside the hall, Hench and Brocaire have had enough of each other, so they settle their difference by having a blindfolded sword duel. Hench ends up winning, and of course, in true pirate fashion, the other man dies. As people begin to be executed, Jonathan begs his father to tell LaRoche where the hidden treasure is, but he refuses. He seems to have a convoluted idea that he cannot give up some gold for the lives of his fellow-man.

I wont spoil the end, but rest assured, you will see another huge battle scene where many lives will be lost, the gold will be found, a mutiny will happen, and the piranha will get to feast once more!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Hammer does an outstanding job with this movie in a way that some of their others films just can’t measure. You get an epic pirate movie, with so many characters, you can barely keep up. It does straddle that line slightly, but most movie aficionados will be fine. When you sit back at think that Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper, Andrew Keir, and Kerwin Mathews are all in this film, it makes your head spin! All of those actors can really bring it in their perspective roles,  and believe me when I say, that they truly do in this film.

The music score (Gary Hughes) offers some timely interludes, and the sets (Bernard Robinson) were magnificent. Not to be outdone, is Hammer makeup man, Roy Ashton. These actors and actresses looked like pirates and Huguenots. His work in this film should be applauded. The two “horror” scenes in the film seem slightly out of place, but don’t hinder the overall experience of the film. Heck, I would’ve loved more piranha action personally. And as always, you get some very lovely ladies (especially Marie Devereux! – image above) that give the film that Hammer feel! Check out the movie either at the usual spots (Amazon, etc.) or search for it online. You won’t be disappointed with this one!

 

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)

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Title: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Distributor: Hammer Studios/Columbia Pictures

Writer: Michael Carreras

Director: Michael Carreras

Producer: Michael Carreras

Starring: Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, Michael Ripper

Released: October 1964

MPAA: UR

 

 

After reviewing the first installment of the “Mummy” series from Hammer Studios, I thought it would be prudent to check out the next in the series as well! This film is pretty good, but not quite up to the standards of the first. It does however feature someone getting their arm ripped off, and a curb-stomp, so it will always have a place in my heart.

You don’t get the typical cast of Hammer regulars, but, you do get Michael Ripper! This dude is amazing, and even though he plays a small roll in this film, just seeing him on-screen is reassuring. You’ll notice in the credits, that Michael Carreras is running the show from top to bottom, so if you don’t like the film, blame him, I guess. A beautiful woman, artifacts from Egypt, and a really ticked off Mummy! Without further delay, here’s the plot!

 

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The film opens in the year 1900, and we see that some bandits have a man captured (Professor Eugene Dubois, played by Bernard Rebel), and they first stab him in the gut, then cut off his left hand! A few miles away, at a base camp for some Egyptology/explorer types, John Bray (Ronald Howard), is trying to ease the worries of Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland), the daughter of the man we just saw executed. Her father is overdue, and they soon find out why. The two share a moment of horny-ness, but then Sir Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwillim) bursts in and informs them that her father is dead. A couple of the slave workers get out of line, and Bray pimp slaps one of them for his actions. After he does, one of them (George Pastell), informs him that for desecrating the tombs of the dead, they’ll pay with their lives!

 

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No one seems to heed the ominous warning, and the relics are then packed up for transportation back to the U.K., for exhibition. Before that can happen though, the man, Alexander King (Fred Clark) responsible for all the financial backing arrives, and informs them that he’s taking the relics on a whirlwind tour, showing it off to the world. Sir Giles vehemently disagrees with this, and quits the job because he believes it is sacrilege. King then tells Bray and Annette and both of them are shocked to hear this news, but agree to join King on his “tour.” They have dinner with King, but it’s interrupted by a servant that tells them that Sir Giles requests their presence immediately. They arrive at the storage area, and find that the area has been ransacked, but nothing stolen other than the list of contents. They do find one of the servants dead (Michael Ripper – image above), and everyone looks at the mummy case nearby.

As the scene switches to another day, all are aboard a ship, setting sail for Europe. Sir Giles is still upset about the way things ended, but Annette and Bray seem to be OK with everything as they make out near a bannister. As Sir Giles heads into his cabin, he cries out, and Bray runs in to see what’s going on. Sir Giles was attacked, and the man responsible is till there, and he knocks him out as well. As the criminal tries to escape, he runs right into another man, Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan). Beauchamp beats the crap out of him, then tosses him overboard. He then quickly begins to slyly get on the good side of Annette (who was knocked over in the fracas). Bray is suspicious of him, but doesn’t object to his forwardness because Annette seems to like him. He convinces them to stay at his house when they get to England, and we can slowly see his intentions are not genuine.

 

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As the show is getting ready to open, Annette and the rest of the crew check out some of the relics. One shows a picture of ancient times, and Annette translates it for everyone. We then get a flashback (just like the one in the first film), and it shows a terrible betrayal centuries ago, and how the Egyptian priest named Ra, was killed by his brother’s minions. Beauchamp gets snappy with Annette about a relic that wasn’t found, but then the mummy is unveiled, and everyone gets a chill down their spine. Back at Beauchamp’s house, he continues to wine and dine Annette. She seems to be more and more receptive to it as time passes, and Beauchamp looks more and more like a snake. Bray walks in and gets the feeling the other two wished he wouldn’t have. He gets the drift, and after Beauchamp shows him an old relic, he agrees to have Sir Giles look at it for further examination and clarification (basically, Beauchamp wanted to keep Bray away from Annette).

Over at Sir Giles house, Bray insults Giles (who’s visibly drunk), and Giles then goes to bed for the evening. Bray stays up and uses Giles extensive library and materials to check out the relic. Someone creeps into the room silently, and steals the relic (after hitting him on the head). The next evening, King is ready to unveil his show t some guests and the press. Beauchamp is there with Annette, and even Sir Giles, but Bray is not there, because he’s recovering from the attack. As King narrates the story of their expedition, he finally gets to the end, and the coffin is opened. There’s only one problem…the mummy is missing. King is livid, and of course, thinks that someone has stolen it. He calls the police, but they offer little in finding the mummy.

 

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As King is walking home, he gives a hooker a couple of bucks, then he sees another trick, or so he thinks. Amongst the fog, he sees a shape, and that is the shape of the mummy. He believes it to be a joke, but before he can even react, the mummy grabs him by the throat, picks him up off of the ground, chokes him, then tosses him down three flights of stairs, killing him. Over at Sir Giles home, one of the servants is begging him to eat some supper, but he refuses. As she leaves, Giles hears a rustling at the doors leading to the back yard. As he looks, the doors are smashed open by the mummy, who enters, with death in his eyes. Giles shoots the creature, but it has no effect. The mummy throttles him, and then bashes his head in with a marble statue.

 

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Across town, Beauchamp has finally convinced Annette that he’s the man for her, so she writes a “Dear John” letter for Bray, and then she heads to her room. She hears a noise, and comes to the hallway. She sees the mummy choking Beauchamp, and screams. Her scream startles the mummy, and he turns to check her out. She faints, and then Beauchamp recites some Egyptian phrase, and the mummy comes to him, as if commanded. He still slaps him down, and then leaves. Bray and the police show up, because apparently he’s figured out that the mummy is the one doing the killing. They set a trap for him, and wait. When he arrives at Bray’s abode, and tries to kill him, the police throw a net on him, and almost capture him. The Egyptian guy that has hung around begs them to stop, and bows down before the mummy. He speaks to him, but the mummy isn’t impressed. It breaks free, and curb stomps the guy for his troubles.

I’m going to stop there, because I don’t want to give away anymore of the film. Let me just say that the ending is pretty cool (a bit of a twist), and involves someone losing a limb, and a bloody scene underground, where a mummy feels right at home!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Listen this flick doesn’t have a really strong lead like Cushing, but the sum of all the parts still make an interesting film that can carry your attention. Beauchamp is very sleazy, and you really can’t wait to see him get what’s coming to him. Howard, Clark, and Gwillim all do a solid job, but nothing Earth shattering. Jeanne Roland is pretty underwhelming, but easy on the eyes.

The sets are very good, and the mummy make-up looks pretty awesome. The film is certainly inferior to the 1959 flick, but this one definitely deserves a watch. I also thought that the music score was great as well. It did a nice job of sending an ominous message when needed, and thundering in when the moment was at the ‘crescendo’ (see what I did there). George Pastell was another nice touch, as he is a Hammer staple for films like this one. He always delivers a solid performance in these type of roles. Seek out a cheap copy in a bog box store or online, and settle in for a night at the mummy…I mean movies!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

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Title: The Curse of the Werewolf

Distributor: Hammer/ Universal

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Terence Fisher

Producers: Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds

Starring: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Michael Ripper

Release: June 7th, 1961

MPAA: UR

 

As I continue to cut a path of movie madness through the Hammer Studios catalog, there are still a few that stand out to me. One of them is definitely The Curse of the Werewolf. It’s the only Hammer werewolf movie to my knowledge, and why that is can’t be explained rationally to me considering how good this film portrays the monster. He’s a tortured soul (maybe even more so than Chaney), and really gets you to feel sorry for him by the end of the flick. So, without anymore interruptions, let us forge ahead with this classic!

The movie begins with a beggar (Richard Wordsworth- image below) making his way through a village. He notices that there is no one in the streets, and that the church bells are ringing. He knows that it’s not Sunday, so this is very puzzling to him. He asks the one passerby that he sees about this situation, and the man directs him to a poster hanging on the side of a building. Since the beggar cannot read, he keeps moving until he finds a pub. Once inside, the “gentlemen” that are drinking tell him that the local marques (nobleman) is getting married, and the reception is taking place at his castle. They instruct him to go there in search of food and money.

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The beggar makes his way to the castle, and inside we see the marques and his new bride. The marques (Anthony Dawson) is an evil and vicious man, and treats his servants like dirt. As the beggar knocks, a servant answers, and tells him to go away, but before he can leave, the marques tells him to come inside. He tells the beggar that he’ll give him food and wine if he’ll sing and dance for it. The beggar complies, and then after more of the shameless behavior from the marques, he intends to “retire” for the evening with his new bride (who appears to be half his age). On their way out, the beggar makes a snide remark, and the marques has him thrown into the dungeon. The only people he ever sees, are the jailer, and his mute daughter. Years pass, and the jailer dies off, but his daughter (Yvonne Romain), continues with the work load. One day, the girl is serving some food to the marques, and he attempts to assault her in his chambers. She bites his hand, and she is then thrown into the dungeon for her acts, with the beggar. The beggar then rapes her, but later, when she makes some commotion, and the guards take her back to the marques for a lesson. As he turns his back on her, she stabs him, and runs away.

Months later, after living in the forest, a man, Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans), sees the girl, and she’s on death’s door. He brings her back to his home, and his wife takes care of her, but they also find out that she’s a few months pregnant (from the rape). She eventually gives birth to a son, but dies shortly after delivery. Corledo and his wife then take the child as their own. As the baby is being baptized, the church rattles from a thunderstorm that’s raging outside. Corledo’s wife is very upset, and thinks this is a bad omen. Time passes, and in a nearby village, dead animals are being found with their throats torn out, and a wolf is blamed. The farmers have a hunter in their employ though, and he vows to kill the predator. He waits up one night, and hears a wolf howl. He sees something in the brush close by, and shoots.

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The next morning, Corledo and his wife are stunned to see that their little boy has been shot. The two of them are at a loss on how the boy got out of the house without them knowing about it, and, why he was shot. Corledo questions his son, and he learns that his son has had bad dreams lately. He notices that his arms and hands are hairy, and he gets a worried look on his face. Corledo talks to his local priest about his son’s issues, but gets little help. The priest does explain however that sometimes demons can gain entrance to a soul, if the person is weak (or young).

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At the local pub, a man (Michael Ripper), is going off about the full moon, and evil things being abroad during the night of a full moon. Corledo is next seen putting bars on the windows of his son’s room. The hunter is trying to figure out what to do, and then sees his wife’s crucifix on the wall. He then melts it down, and makes a bullet out of the slag. He now believes that it’s a werewolf doing these killings and that there is only one way to stop it from continuing. Again, he waits up for the beast, and is ready to shoot. He hears something close, and fires. As the gun goes off, we switch scenes to the Corledo home, and young Leon is struggling to pry open the bars and get out into the night (image below). Back outside, the hunter sees that he shot a dog, and believes it was responsible for the killings.

More years pass, and Leon (Oliver Reed) is now an adult, and leaving home for some work in another village. He seems to be cured, but there is an uneasy feeling from his surrogate parents. As he enters the town, a carriage splashes mud on him, but he seems to get over it quickly. A man then approaches him about work, and he gladly accepts. He’s shown a wine cellar, and then meets his workmate, Jose. The two bond quickly, and then one day, they hear a carriage approaching. They see a beautiful young woman (Catherine Feller), who’s the daughter of their boss. Within days, Cristina is running to the arms of Leon (after her boyfriend drops her off from their date), and the two kiss passionately.

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After a long work week, both young men decide to go out to a seedy pub at the edge of town. A couple of prostitutes are showing them both a good time at the bar, and then Leon begins to feel queasy. One of the hookers takes him upstairs to “lie down”, and we now see that it is a full moon outside. As the young lady begins to do her tricks, she quickly finds out that Leon is more than meets the eye. In the next scene, the woman is lying on the floor, eviscerated. Jose comes to find his friend, and gets throttled for his trouble. Before the night is over, there is one more killing, as a drunk leaves the pub, and gets jumped by the werewolf.

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The next morning, Leon awakens in his bed back at home. He’s covered in sweat and there is blood on his hands. His father sees the bars on the window have been broken. His parents and a priest attempt to tell him about his affliction, but he’s in denial. He runs off, and when he reaches the village, the police are waiting there for him, to question him about the murder of his workmate. He doesn’t give them anything to work off of, and they let him go. Later, Cristina visits his room, but Leon shouts at her to get away. She stays with him, and for some reason, his change doesn’t occur. He realizes this, but then her father intervenes, and keeps her away from him just as they are about to run away together. Leon is then imprisoned and under suspicion of murder.

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As the moon rises, Leon gets that funky feeling, and transforms into the hairy beast once again. He kills the guard, and goes on a rampage throughout the village. Leon’s father feels as if it’s his responsibility to stop his son, so he grabs his rifle, and heads over to the village. The two then have a showdown in a bell-tower, Quasimodo style! Two enter, only one leaves!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This is one of the best werewolf movies of all time. It ranks right up there with the Wolfman (1941), no joke. Oliver Reed is a superstar in this film, and really steals the show. He’s strong as Leon, and even more dramatic when he’s the werewolf. The supporting cast really doesn’t add too much though, and other than Yvonne Romain (who dies 1/3 of the way through the film), most aren’t that memorable. A love story that has tragedy in it is very Shakespearean, and a lot like the 1941 Universal film, but this version was more vicious, and more exciting.

Of course, the sets were incredible too, and are a staple with Hammer films. The music score was quite good too, and lent some atmosphere to the film. The running time of the movie is standard for its time, but it just felt too short. More screen time for the monster, and more mystery about who the real monster was would have been better. Overall, those few things are more a nitpick than anything, and should never discourage anyone from seeing this Hammer classic! After viewing this film again, it seems to me that if the female lead roles would’ve been reversed (Yvonne is the love interest, and Feller the mother), things mat have been quite different. Not trying to downplay Feller’s contributions, but Yvonne Romain was definitely a better actress.

Get out there and look for this movie. I’m sure it’s available online or grab the Hammer Horror Series DVD set, and be ready for a Hammer marathon! See you next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968)

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Title: Dracula Has Risen From The Grave

Distributor: Warner Bros./Seven Arts (Hammer Studios)

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Freddie Francis

Producer: Aida Young

Starring: Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Barry Andrews, Michael Ripper

Released: November 7th, 1968

MPAA: G (PG, by today’s standards)

 

As I continue with my look at the Dracula/vampire franchise from Hammer Studios, the next movie in order is this under-appreciated flick. It is missing Hammer stalwart, Peter Cushing, but it does feature the best Dracula ever, in Christopher Lee! There are a few minor roles that are good too, and we’ll take a look at them for sure! There were some different names attached to this film that you didn’t see before (or after for that matter), but it still did have that awesome Hammer atmospheric mood to it. Lets get down to business!

 

The film begins with a boy, Johann, as he’s going to clean the church before mass. He quickly notices something dripping from the bell rope, and we see blood, covering the rope. Outside, the priest (Ewan Hooper) hears a scream, then rushes into the church. He sees that a woman has been bitten on the neck (image below), and her blood is dripping down the rope, and into the church. The priest exclaims…”when shall we be free of his evil.” Fast forward to a year later, and that same priest is saying mass, to an empty church (except for Johann). He then seeks asylum at the local tavern for a drink. Within minutes, his superior, Monsignor Ernest Muller (Rupert Davies) is coming for an inspection, but finds only Johann in the church. Johann, who is now a mute (due to shock from the incident a year earlier), takes the Monsignor to the tavern where the priest is boozing.

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The Monsignor  questions the priest about why the church was empty. The patrons tell the Monsignor that they are still afraid of Dracula’s presence even though he’s supposedly dead (he was killed in the last flick). The Monsignor tells the priest that they will head up to the castle in the hills, and perform an exorcism to ease the villagers fears. The next morning the two holy men make the trek up the mountainside. As they approach the castle, the priest begins to waver, and begs to stay behind. The Monsignor tells him it’s OK if he does, and he continues on the journey by himself. As he reaches the castle, night falls, and a storm begins. He reads the service of exorcism, and places a cross on the door.

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Meanwhile, the priest is having a drink of booze, and the Monsignor begins the journey back down the mountain. The priest then slips, falling to the icy river below. This is the spot where Dracula was killed off, and we can see his ice-covered body right under the priest. The ice cracked from the fall, and some of the priest’s blood seeps into the ice, and on to the lips of Dracula. This is enough to revive the fiend, and before the priest can get his bearings, the bedeviled master of all that is evil, is ready to get down to business. He then enslaves the priest to be his daytime minion. The Monsignor theorizes that the priest went down before him, and leaves town for his home.

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Next, we see the Cafe’ where a young man, Paul (Barry Andrews-image below) works. His girlfriend, Maria (Veronica Carlson), who is the niece of the Monsignor, lives with her mother and Uncle. Max (Michael Ripper), the owner of the cafe’, gives Paul some advice before he heads out to meet Maria. In the bar, Zena (Barbara Ewing-image below) is entertaining the drunks with her wit and voluptuous figure. The regulars play a joke on Paul, and he gets soaked with beer, just as maria shows up to meet him. She seems to be quite upset at first, because Paul is meeting her mother this evening, but she quickly forgives him, and they head out to her home. Once there, Maria is shocked to see that her uncle has returned from his trip, and you get the feeling that she didn’t want Paul and him to meet. After dinner, we find out why Maria was uptight about them meeting each other. Paul is an Atheist, and he tells the Monsignor this, and they get into an argument. Paul then leaves, and Maria is very upset.

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As Paul returns to the cafe’, Zena is closing up. Paul orders a large Schnapps, and Zena uses this to try to put the moves on Paul. As Paul retires upstairs, Zena attempts to seduce a drunken Paul. Maria shows up however, and puts a damper on that idea. Paul and Maria then make whoopee, and maria sneaks home along the rooftops of the village. As Zena walks home in disappointment, a carriage runs her down, and chases her into the woods. As she twirls around, Dracula is there, and he bites her. The next morning, Paul finds Zena in the basement of the cafe’. She hides her bite marks, and heads upstairs.

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The following morning a priest comes to the cafe’ (Dracula’s new slave), and obtains a room with Zena’s help. He hides Dracula in the basement, and then Dracula orders Zena to bring Maria to him, so he can exact revenge on the Monsignor for the exorcism and the such. Zena doesn’t acre for this request, but Dracula pimp slaps her, and she changes her mind. Once Maria shows up, Zena quickly lies, and tells her that Paul is in the basement waiting for her. As Maria heads down, Zena jumps her from behind, putting a sack over her head. Zena then tosses her into the other room, and Dracula nearly bites her. Paul broke things up by calling out to Maria, and Dracula then takes out his frustrations on Zena. He bites her, and drains her blood, killing her (image above). Maria heads home after Max and Paul calm her down a bit. Maria sneaks into her bedroom, but her mother is waiting, and scolds her for sneaking out. As she does, Maria faints, and appears to be unconscious. Dracula then commands the priest to dispose of Zena’s corpse, and he does so by tossing her into the furnace!

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The next evening, Maria gets a visit from Dracula (image above), and this time, there is no one there to stop him from biting her. The Monsignor sees the bite marks on her neck, and realizes what’s going on. He waits for Dracula the next evening, and chases him across the rooftops. Just as he starts to catch up, the priest smashes a pot over his head, and leaves him to die. He doesn’t die right away, but crawls back to his home, and tells Maria’s mother to get Paul. He explains the situation to Paul, and how he must stop Dracula, or Maria will become his servant or die. Can Paul stop this bloody reign of terror? Or will Dracula keep Maria for his bride?

 

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OK, here we go:

This is my second favorite Dracula movie of all time. I really enjoy this one because it feels true to things Dracula would probably do if you crossed him. Think about it. If you did something to Dracula’s home, don’t you think he’d want revenge? Of course, you can’t guess about everything he would do, but his arrogance would definitely be something you could count on. Lee is very creepy in this film, and his action scenes are absolutely fantastic! He leaps out of a window like a panther in one scene, but also commands the room even when he’s stationary too.

The supporting roles were solid in this one as well. Rupert Davies was a great protagonist, and then was replaced after his demise by Barry Andrews. Both actors brought different things to the film, but both also delivered. The anguish of the priest was another very good angle in this movie. It added the last part that was needed to bring about some chaos in the movie. And let’s be honest, looking at Veronica Carlson doesn’t hurt the movie either.

Michael Ripper is his usual awesome self in this one too. You can always count on him to stabilize the dialogue, and bring some humor into the mix. He owns these secondary roles, by giving a strong performance, and being the utmost professional as well. He knows exactly how much energy is needed to bring to the table without stepping on the toes of the other actors performances. Another great film from the Hammer vault!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!