Cinema Sunday: Top Ten Hammer Films!

Lets cut to the chase, I’m a Hammer studios addict, and that being said, we all know they’re the greatest studio to produce horror films that ever was, is, and will be. With stars like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Veronica Carlson, then adding great character actors like Michael Ripper, Oliver Reed, Andrew Keir, Andre Morell, etc., and under the direction of Terence Fisher, John Gilling, Anthony Hinds, and Jimmy Sangster, their films have no competition (overall in the broad sense).

Obviously an argument could be made for Universal, but I tend to look at it as Universal being the foundation and Hammer being the house. Yes, you do need a solid foundation but no one looking to be a home owner is excited about stone and mortar. When is the last time a party-goer entered a house and complimented the owner on the cinder blocks? Important, yes. The best part, I think not.

So, with all that being said, here are my top ten Hammer Studio films! Keep in mind, just straight up horror films here for the most part! Enjoy!

 

10. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

  • This film isn’t perfect by any means, and the rape scene is absolutely ludicrous (Dr. Frankenstein would never commit that act). But when there is action a-plenty, gruesome murders, and one scene of dialogue in particular that sums up the good doctor perfectly. Cushing is on top of his game for sure in this film, as usual. Oh, and the gorgeous (and most beautiful Hammer girl in my humble opinion) Veronica Carlson is in this film.

9. The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas (1957)

  • A Hammer film about a Yeti? Yes! This black and white gem is nothing short of incredible. It’s not because a Yeti invades an encampment and starts tearing people’s limbs off, then beating them over the head with them (although that would be cool), it’s because the film builds tension and the suspense is great. Think John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Yes, in that film there are plenty of gruesome moments, but its the suspense he builds that makes the film outstanding.

8. The Reptile (1966)

  • 1966 was a great year for Hammer studios. Five films and four of them were very solid films. This one in particular is a favorite of mine because of Jacqueline Pearce. She portrays a young woman who is seemingly kept prisoner by her own father. We later find out why he’s so overbearing. Her performance is quite good along with a larger than usual role for Hammer stalwart, Michael Ripper. Anytime he gets more screen time, the film is better for it! Good sets and atmosphere in this flick.

7. Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

  • Not wanting to be typecast, Christopher Lee bowed out of playing Dracula after Hammer’s first film starring the count (more on that one later). The franchise did suffer without him briefly, but he returned to the role that put him on the map a few years later in this film. With no dialogue (Lee has his version why and so does Jimmy Sangster (the writer) about why), Lee manages to be extremely menacing and cements himself as the best Dracula ever.

6. The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

  • In this movie, André Morell shows us just how good he can be in a horror film. Not only is he the “hero,” but also a concerned, loving father, a friend, a smartypants, and a gentleman, all at once. throw in another appearance by the lovely Jacqueline Pearce, along with Diane Clare, John Carson (a great lout in this one!), and once again, Michael Ripper! Great atmospherics, music (James Bernard), and sets in this one.

5. The Gorgon (1964)

  • This one is based on a classic Greek myth of old and stars Cushing, Lee, Shelley, and had Terence Fisher directing, and John Gilling writing. The gang’s all here for this one, and it really does put on quite a show. An insane asylum, a corrupt town hiding a secret, Cushing in more of a heel role with Lee more of the hero along with a fine performance by Richard Pasco. This is a film that can be watched every so often and never get tiresome. Another film with a noteworthy musical score as well as excellent sets.

4. (Horror of) Dracula (1958)

  • The first Dracula film by Hammer, and it’s still probably the best Cushing/Lee team up of all time. Cushing is an excellent Dr. Van Helsing, and Lee was born to wear the fangs and hiss at audiences with blood dripping from his lips. Michael Gough is also on top of his game here with George Woodbridge in a small role as he had in multiple Hammer films. Never miss an opportunity to see this film.

3. The Mummy (1959)

  • Hammer really went away from the original 1932 film (Boris Karloff), borrowing elements from other films and adding in their own ingredients, and mixing it all together. This film is definitely in Peter Cushing’s top five performances of all time. He really commands the scenes and shows why he, along with Lee are the faces of Hammer films. Very good sets, and the action scenes are tremendous.

2. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

  • Another film with the dual threat of Cushing and Lee, we also get André Morell as well! In this adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous novel, we see Cushing (Sherlock Homes) and André Morell (Dr. Watson), play off of each other wonderfully. Throw in a solid performance by Christopher Lee, an incredible score by James Bernard, all under the watchful eye of director Terence Fisher, and you get one of Hammer’s best films no matter what genre you compare it to!

And the number one film is…

 

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

  • In this first horror film collaboration between Cushing and Lee, you can see the teamwork and power these two have together. Cushing is perfect for his role as the morally ambiguous doctor, as is Lee in his depiction of the unfortunate creature. Good performances by Robert Urquhart, Hazel Court, and Valerie Gaunt, add to the great gift this film truly is for film addicts. The beginning of the film, the flashback that dovetails around right back to the beginning/end is marvelous in every sense that a film can be. This is the one that started it all (the great horror run for Hammer)!

Honorable mention for films that didn’t quite make the cut (pardon the pun)!

Brides of Dracula (1961)

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

 

 

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Cinema Sunday: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

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Title: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Distributor: Hammer Films/Warner Bros.

Writer: Bert Batt

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward

Released: May 1969 (U.K.)

MPAA: PG-13

 

After focusing on a film starring Christopher Lee last week, I couldn’t help but gravitate towards a film starring his Hammer Films counterpart, Peter Cushing! I’ve just about exhausted all Hammer’s Vampire/Frankenstein’s Monster films, but this little gem remains! A controversial film to say the least, this is one that features not only Cushing, but also the gorgeous Veronica Carlson! She’s one of those few starlets that lights up the screen when she appears, and plays a great counterpart to evil Doctor Frankenstein!

Cushing only did one more Frankenstein film after this one (Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell), and I’ll eventually get to it down the road, but for now, let us traverse back in time, to the turn of the century. To a time when a villain like Dr. Frankenstein could get away with his ghastly experiments!

 

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The film begins with a doctor walking down a foggy street, heading for his office. He’s suddenly accosted by a man who’s carrying a basket and some bladed weapon. The man (not seen clearly) slices the doctor’s head clean off! Just then, we see a burglar (Harold Goodwin) trying to break into a home. He hears footsteps, and cannot complete his mission, so he tries the nearest doorknob, and successfully gains access to another house. He wanders around for a few seconds, and then sees a laboratory filled with unusual devices and even a frozen corpse! He gets startled, and crashes into a table. The noise alerts the man whose home he’s broken into (the same man that frightened him into the home in the first place). As the burglar waits, he hears footsteps drawing nearer. He’s then confronted by a horrifically scarred man, and the two then fight. As the two brawl, a basket gets kicked over that the scarred man was carrying. A head comes rolling out, and we now know that it was the head of the doctor who was murdered just minutes before. The burglar eventually gets away, and the other man removes a mask, and it’s revealed that it is Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) himself!

 

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The doctor realizes that the man will go to the police in all likelihood, so he opens a hatch in the floor, and dumps the body (and kicks the head down like a soccer ball), into a stream below. The burglar runs into a policeman, and then is taken to the station. After confessing, the police arrive and surmise that the man who beheaded the doctor earlier is probably the same man who had this secret laboratory. They then begin their investigation, and it’s headed up by Inspector Frisch (Thorley Walters), who’s an odd fellow to say the least. He doesn’t seem to have any ideas as far as who the killer may be, nor does he take advice from his fellow investigators.

 

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As Dr. Frankenstein leaves the house he was occupying, he then finds a room for rent on the other side of London. He knocks on the door and is greeted by Anna (Veronica Carlson), and with her mother currently elderly and ill, she is running the boarding house. We then switch to a local asylum, where a woman is screaming like a banshee. We are introduced to Dr. Karl Holst (Simon Ward), who is a very prominent young doctor employed there. He looks in on another patient, Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda), who has had a traumatic brain injury, and cannot even speak. The other doctors at the asylum believe he cannot be cured. Back at the boarding house, the other four tenants are discussing Dr. Brandt, and then after Dr. Frankenstein enters the room (under an assumed name), and they involve his name in the conversation. He tells them it’s fools like them that have blocked progress for centuries. They get furious with him, but he leaves (like a boss).

 

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Later, Karl comes to take out his bride-to-be, Anna. He drops a box (of medicinal cocaine) on the doorstep, and then heads inside to see Anna. Dr. Frankenstein finds the box, and uses this leverage to blackmail them into service of his dastardly deeds. They’ve been using the stolen drugs to sell them to support Anna’s elderly mother. The next day, Anna tosses the other four tenants out on the street to make room for Dr. Frankenstein’s experiments. He then tells Karl that he means to repair the damaged brain of Dr. Brandt, a man whom he’d been corresponding with about brain surgery. Frankenstein and Holst rob a medical supply store, and Holst murders the night watchman in fear of being caught. Frankenstein then uses Karl’s place at the asylum to kidnap Dr. Brandt from the asylum, so he can remove his brain and put it in another body, and repair it during the process.

 

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Will Dr. Frankenstein succeed in his devilish plot or will Karl and Anna find a way to not only clear their names but also put an end to the devious deeds of Dr. Frankenstein?!?!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

One scene aside, this is one of Hammer’s best films in the “Frankenstein’s Monster” franchise. It’s not the typical monster as was the first couple of films (and the Universal Studios film), in that the story revolves more around the doctor himself, and his machinations. Of course, when you have a lead like Peter Cushing this is possible. The supporting cast is great as well, and you get a wild actor like Thorley Walters, a solid job by a young Simon Ward, and the utter beauty and grace of Veronica Carlson (image below) to cap it all off.

At this point, Hammer was relying on film distribution companies in the U.S. to partially back their films, and of course, distribute them in America. So, in a roundabout way, they had some say in the content of the film itself. Hammer executive, James Carreras, demanded that director Terence Fisher (his first film back at Hammer after a few years break) add a rape scene to the film. This did not settle well with Cushing and Carlson (the two involved in the scene), but the did it, albeit begrudgingly. Quite honestly, the scene does seem a bit out-of-place, and for anyone that’s a Hammer aficionado, you’ll know that this isn’t something Dr. Frankenstein would’ve been interested in.

Definitely set aside some time to watch this one. It’s part of a great four film set by TCM Classics, and is one of my treasured compilations of Hammer Studios material!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Night of the Big Heat (1967)

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Title: Night of the Big Heat

Distributor: Planet Film Productions

Writers: Jane Baker, Pip Baker, Ronald Liles

Director: Terence Fisher

Producers: Tom Blakeley, Ronald Liles

Starring: Christopher Lee, Patrick Allen, Peter Cushing, Sarah Lawson, Jane Merrow

Released: May 1967 (U.K.)

MPAA: PG

 

I had an itch to do a sci-fi film, so I picked a good one! Patrick Allen is one of those actors that is often overlooked. He did work with Peter Cushing on the great Hammer film, Captain Clegg, and did a marvelous job. The fact that you get those two actors plus Christopher Lee, is a pretty good indicator on how awesome this flick is for anyone of the genre. Toss in another Hammer stalwart in director, Terence Fisher, and we all know the success rate is even higher!

Planet Film Productions had a very short life span, but definitely left a mark on the industry with just a couple of their films. Alright, let us now take a journey into the realm of science fiction!

 

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The film begins with a shot of a beautiful woman in a motorcar. Then we suddenly switch to a man, Dr. Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee), as he seems to be setting up camera equipment in a nearby wooded area. We then see a hobo (Sydney Bromley) snooping around the area after he leaves. Back on the roadway, the woman’s car breaks down, and a local stops to lend a hand. She stays with the car, and hears a weird noise. At about the same time, the hobo hears the noise, but is much closer to the source. He’s then stalked by the thing making the noise, and apparently killed.

 

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At a local pub, a man at the bar, Dr. Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing), is having a drink to keep cool. You see, it’s unseasonably hot at the moment on the island of Fara, and no one seems to know why. The woman serving him is Frankie Callum (Sarah Lawson), and both her and her husband own the inn. The young woman, Angela Roberts (Jane Merrow) from the motorcar finally arrives, and enters the establishment. She asks for Mr. Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen), who’s a writer that needs his own personal secretary apparently. Frankie tells her that he’s out now, and that they’ve been expecting her. Dr. Stone offers to buy her a drink, and she sits for a minute, then heads to her room with Frankie’s guidance.

 

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Dr. Hanson appears in the doorway, and grumbles at Frankie about a parcel that should’ve arrived. She tells him that her husband isn’t back yet, and he quickly barks that he wants it brought to his room immediately upon his arrival. Frankie and Dr. Stone have a quick conversation about his antics. She tells Stone that he goes out once a day with his camera equipment, then stays locked into his room the rest of the time. Jeff is driving down the road in his pickup truck, and almost runs over one of the pub’s patrons. He’s furious initially, but then the man tells him about hearing a strange noise, and they both wonder what it could be.

 

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Back at the pub, Jeff arrives and takes the parcel up to Dr. Hanson’s room. He brusquely snatches it out of Jeff’s hands and slams the door. Frankie then tells Jeff about his new secretary, and that she’s gone for a swim at the cove. One of the patrons gives him a ride, and when they arrive, both are stunned by her beauty. We find out right away that this meeting is no accident. The two apparently had an affair a while back on the mainland, and Jeff took his wife to the island to get away from the trouble. Angela asks Jeff what he’ll tell his wife, and he acts very odd. She then knows that he never told his wife about the affair, but before she can go any further, that same strange noise interrupts them, and they both get a bit apprehensive. They start to make-out, but then Jeff pushes her away.

 

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The scene turns back to the pub, and an old man that’s being helped inside. Jeff asks what’s going on, and the old man tells him that someone’s killed all of his sheep (a farmer, apparently). Dr. Hanson appears out of nowhere and attempts to question the old man. Dr. Stone tells Hanson that the old man is in no shape to answer questions, and they let him lie down in the back. Hanson storms back to his room, and we see that he must be a scientist but why he’s in this specific area, no one knows. One of the pub regulars, Bob Hayward (Thomas Heathcote), is at home and his television begins to act up. It eventually explodes, and the commotion is accompanied by that sinister noise once again. He heads over to see Jeff about this weirdness, but before he can get there, he hears that noise again, and it begins to drive him mad. He swerves the car, and ends up going over a cliff, and the car explodes.

 

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Later that night, we see Hanson setting up more equipment nearby. Angela then makes another play for Jeff, but it’s interrupted by the strange noise. Frankie then runs in and tells Jeff she saw something land in a nearby field. As the three head out to investigate, they see Hanson creeping around. They attempt to check things out, but the girls are too frightened. They head back, and Jeff confronts Hanson about his creepy actions. The two argue, but eventually Jeff comes to understand that something is going on, and Hanson is a scientist trying to solve the puzzle. He tells him that aliens are using this tiny island as a launching point for an invasion. At first, Jeff dismisses his theories, but eventually comes to believe him. The two then set out to find the origin of the noise and come upon the car that crashed with Bob Hayward in it. There’s nothing left but ashes.

Can they find a way to stop the invasion, or is the Earth doomed by these sinister forces? If not, it’s only the end of the world!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Without spoiling some of the good stuff, I’ll just say that you’ll be a bit shocked at who does and does not make it to the end of this flick. Not that it hurts the film in any way, it actually helps it climb a bit higher due to the unexpected nature. Christopher Lee is awesome, and does a great job playing the scientist, a role that you don’t typically see him in, I might add. Cushing’s scenes are few and far between, but as always, he adds a flavor to the film that would be missed if it was not present.

The sets were good, but the music score was average at best. As far as special effects go, this film was more about the unseen and not the seen. So, special effects weren’t really anything to talk about really. The tension building up throughout the movie between Frankie, Angela(Merrow was a tramp in this film, but gorgeous nonetheless – image below), and Jeff was an interesting angle. The movie would’ve easily moved forward without it, but it was a different angle for this type of film. I definitely rank this one up there pretty high on my all-time favorite sci-fi films, as the performances by the cast are excellent.

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

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Title: Sword of Sherwood Forest

Distributor: Hammer Studios (Columbia Pictures – U.S.)

Writer: Alan Hackney

Director: Terence Fisher

Producers: Michael Carreras, Sidney Cole, Richard Greene

Starring: Richard Greene, Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed, Sarah Branch

Released: December 1960

MPAA: Approved

 

A-ha! I outfoxed everyone with this week’s pick, didn’t I! OK, I’ll stop tooting my horn and let Robin Hood do it instead! Of course, Errol Flynn is who everyone thinks of when they hear the name Robin Hood, and rightly so, but don’t look past this adaptation. Richard Greene had played the character for quite some time on the television show, and he does a solid job in this flick from the legendary Hammer Studios! Whether you knew it or not, Hammer did produce a few movies that weren’t of the horror genre, and believe me when I say, most were entertaining at the very least.

You should definitely recognize a few faces in this one, as perennial Hammer favorites like Oliver Reed (The Curse of the Werewolf), Richard Pasco (The Gorgon), Jack Gwillim (The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb), and Peter Cushing are all prominent characters in this one. Throw in a seasoned veteran like Nigel Green, and you have a cast worth watching! Alright, let us journey to Sherwood Forest!

 

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As the film begins, we see a waterfall, and hear a man singing a song about the outlaw, Robin Hood. Over a hillside, a few of the sheriff’s men are detaining a man on horseback. One of them reaches into his pocket and pulls out an emblem. The man then grabs it, and takes off as if he’s stolen something. Of course, the sheriff’s men pursue him, and actually shoot him in the back with a crossbow. The man survives long enough to get to the edge of the forest, and then arrows come raining down on them, and they ride away, like the cowards they are. We then see the man ride down near the river, and fall off of his horse, near death. Two of Robin’s men, Little John (Nigel Green), and Roger (James Neylin) inspect the man, and think him dead, so they help themselves to his belongings. Robin (Richard Greene) stops them but then hears a rustling in the bushes nearby. He tells the person to come out or be shot with an arrow, and then a beautiful woman comes out. Her name is Maid Marian (Sarah Branch), and she seem to loathe Robin. She brushes him off, then leaves.

 

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Later that night, Robin and his men are treating the man who was shot, but it doesn’t look like he’ll pull through. They have some food and drink and even a song or two, and then Robin notices the man hasn’t moved since they found him, and he fears the worst. The next day, Maid Marian uses a dagger to post a note to a tree by the edge of the forest. The note states that she’ll be at a nearby Inn, if he should want to meet.He laughs, and tells Little John that he’s going to meet her, but Little John is wary, and thinks it’s a trap (insert Admiral Akbar joke here). That afternoon, Robin disguises himself as a peasant, and heads into the Inn. He tosses the dagger at the table where Marian is sitting, and she jumps out of fright. She seems surprised to see him, and after they exchange pleasantries, she makes her purpose known. She tells Robin that a friend of her’s is here and wants to meet him. Out from the corridor, pops the Sheriff of Nottingham (Peter Cushing)! He offers Robin money, then a pardon is he’ll turn over that man that he rescued yesterday. Robin refuses, of course, then gets chased by the sheriff’s men, but the men of the forest stop them.

 

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Back at the camp, Robin and Little John check in on the wounded man. He comes to his senses but only long enough to say that there is danger and he needs to get to Bawtry (the land of a nobleman that was recently killed). Robin and Little John are trying to solve this riddle, but need more clues. The sheriff doesn’t waste any time, and brings his men to the forest to try to drive out Robin and his men. He captures one of Robin’s men, and after telling him that he’ll give him a pardon, he tells the sheriff where the camp is hidden. In the meantime, Robin moves the camp to another location, thinking the sheriff might have found it anyway. The sheriff then kills him anyway, and then sets out to find the camp. Marian meets up with Robin, as they both find the young man who the sheriff killed in his death-throws. Now Marian knows what kind of jerk the sheriff is, and she then vows to help Robin.

 

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It is then revealed that there is a plot to kill the Archbishop Hubert Walter (Jack Gwillim). The two conspirators are Lord Melton (Oliver Reed – first image below), and Edward, Earl of Newark (Richard Pasco – second image below). Initially, Robin is tricked into being on the side of these two because they seem to oppose the sheriff, but Robin soon finds out about their insidious plot, and aims to take them down! Will he be able to stop them, and the sheriff? What about the lovely Maid Marian? Check out this classic to find out!

 

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Richard Pasco  Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

I’m not going to tell you that this film is better than the Errol Flynn classic, because it’s not. But let’s also be honest and look at this cast. Cushing, Greene, Reed, Pasco, Green , and the beautiful Sarah Branch! Not bad, and when you consider that this was a Hammer film production, right in the midst of their horror revival, it makes this film even more cool! Cushing is absolutely believable as the sheriff, which is especially fantastic considering he’d been Van Helsing, Dr. Frankenstein, and a host of other mysterious characters over the last few years! Richard Greene makes a fine Robin Hood, and although I’ve never seen the TV show before, I’m definitely going to look it up! Nigel Green gives a wonderful performance as Little John as well.

The sets for this film were outstanding, and knowing Hammer, they were probably reused from earlier films, like Dracula or Frankenstein. The castles, outdoor scenes, etc., were all top-notch. The costumes were great as well, and we have Rachel Austin and John McCorry for that! The music was also another high point, and John Hollingsworth did a masterful job.

As you can see, this one certainly needs to be on your radar, so seek this one out the first chance you get!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)

StranglersBombay   Title: The Stranglers of Bombay Distributor: Columbia/Hammer Studios Writer: David Z. Goodman Director: Terence Fisher Producer: Anthony Hinds Starring: Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, Andrew Cruickshank, George Pastell, Marie Devereaux, Jan Holden Released: December, 1959 MPAA: PG-13     In attempting to let the masses know that Hammer Studios has a much more wide range of movies other than horror, I’m bringing this classic flick into the light. Not trying to take anything away from the awesome Gothic horror films from Hammer, which I consider to be the best of all, but they definitely offer some great films in different genres as well. For instance, this little movie from 1959. It’s somewhat of an oddity that it doesn’t offer any of the usual recurring Hammer players, but don’t let that scare you away, this film is a good one! Based off of a true story, about a cult and the British East India Trading Company, and of course, murder! It wouldn’t be a Hammer film if there wasn’t a shock value to the film, now would it? Filmed the same year as The Mummy, this one is only in black and white, but it does carry a bit of charm because of that fact, in my humble opinion. Well, rather than continuing with more of my feelings, let’s just get down to the story!   stranglers#1 The film begins with a shot of a statue of Kali, and the cult that worships her. There is one man who leads them, the High Priest of Kali (George Pastell – image above), standing tall, and reciting the mission statement for the cult. He basically says that Kali (image of statue below) has told them to wipe out defilers, by strangulation using a silk cloth. The crowd starts getting ruckus, and then pledges to convert the young among them. The High Priest then carves a symbol into a boy’s arm, and then they seal it with a hot iron. This “marking” is how you know who belongs to the cult (cue opening credits).   stranglers#5 Back in the city, we see a meeting between the British occupancy/soldiers, and the local government officials. As the meeting continues, the locals complain about the disappearances of their people and goods. The man in charge, Colonel Henderson (Andrew Cruickshank), tries to assuage the people but they aren’t haven’t it. They say they will stop paying their taxes if this craziness doesn’t stop. Another man walks into the meeting, Captain Harry Lewis (Guy Rolfe – image below), and makes his opinion known that he agrees with the people, and that something needs to be done. The  Colonel tells the Captain that he is in charge of this investigation, and he’s elated. His wife, however, seems to wish he didn’t take the job, but then after talking, sees it his way.   Stranglers#2 The next day, Captain Lewis and a detachment of men are heading out to protect a caravan heading on a long trip. As they approach the caravan, bandits are ransacking it, and attempting to murder the people. Captain Lewis and his men stop and capture them before they can get away. Both of the men have a silk scarf and a certain branding on their arm. Captain Lewis is wondering what this means, but needs more clues. On his way back into town, Captain Lewis runs into another soldier, Captain Christopher Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson – image below), who is a bit of a jerk. Once they’re both inside headquarters, Colonel Henderson tells Captain Smith that he will now be lead investigator of this operation, and not Captain Lewis. Lewis is devastated, and then Henderson tells Lewis that he went to school with Smith’s father, and now he understands why he was passed over.   stranglers#6 Back at the temple of Kali, the two men that attacked the caravan are now in the custody of Patel Shari (Marne Maitland), a local government official, who has ties to the cult. He tells them that they’ve violated the laws of Kali, and tried to kill for their own greed, so they must be punished. The men then have their eyes gouged out and their tongues cut out as well. Harry is back at home, and talking to his wife about getting passed over at work. One of his servants comes running in, and tells him that he saw a caravan and that he believes his brother (who was abducted years ago) was inside. Change the scene back to the temple, and we see that the High Priest is “training” one of the younger members on how to gain the trust of a stranger, just before killing them! In the brush nearby, a woman (Marie Devereaux) watches, as a man then rushes in, and tells the High Priest that Captain Lewis is asking a lot of questions, and then decrees that he must be punished.   stranglers#3 The next day, Lewis hands over his documents about his investigation of the missing persons. Captain Smith isn’t impressed and gives him the cold shoulder. Lewis is less than impressed with him, so he leaves. Lewis is almost immediately attacked  and the robbers take the piece of silk he had obtained from the men that attacked the caravan earlier in the week. Lewis spends a day tiger hunting with a friend, but he can’t concentrate on anything except the missing persons. He also gets a severed hand delivered to his dinner table, and this is another warning, one that Lewis doesn’t take lightly. He speaks to the Colonel the next day, but gets little satisfaction. The conversation gets ugly, and Lewis threatens to offer his resignation.   After resigning, Lewis begins his own investigation into the matter, and begins asking around the seedy parts of town about the missing people. One man seems to know something but is hesitant to speak. While out tiger hunting, Lewis and his party make a startling discovery. They find a mass grave of bodies, and they are all of native people, that have had their necks snapped. He reports his findings, but gets the run-around from Captain Smith. Lewis visits Patel, and tries to convince him to help with the investigation. He tells him he can do nothing, and Lewis shows signs of giving up. Back at headquarters, a man was caught trying to rob a house, and is going to be questioned. It’s here, that we see that Lieutenant Silver (Paul Stassino), is part of the cult, and obviously aiding them when he can.   stranglers#4 Will Lewis be able to single-handedly be able to thwart this fanatical cult? Or will he succumb to the stranglers silk?!? OK, here are my thoughts: Make no mistake about it, Guy Rolfe and George Pastell, made this film what it is. These two actors really give grade “A” performances that make you believe that the characters are real. The supporting cast isn’t too bad either, as Cruickshank and Cuthbertson also play solid roles. Cuthbertson is especially nasty, and really makes you dislike him from the first scene. His snotty attitude towards Rolfe is undeniably something that will make want to crawl into the movie and slap the taste out of his mouth! Pastell seems to be born for roles like this, and really shines here, as well as in the two Hammer “Mummy” movies he appeared in. The biggest and most awesome thing about this film aside from the two lad roles, has to be the sets. I’ve never personally been to India, but I feel like I have been after watching this movie. From the jungle scenes to the tiger, or even the temple where the cult practices its insane worshiping, the sets are completely believable. This film is something that probably wasn’t really socially significant when this was released, but in this day and age, it seems fearfully symmetrical in certain situations. Lost in all of this is the beautiful Marie Devereux (image below). Her hotness is undeniable, but she really doesn’t get much screen time, and that is a shame! Look for this one at the usual spots (Amazon, etc.), and give it a watch, because it’s definitely worth your time!   stranglers#7   Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Mummy (1959)

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Title: The Mummy

Distributor: Hammer Studios/Universal

Writer:  Jimmy Sangster

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys, Michael Carreras

Starring:  Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, George Pastell, Michael Ripper

Released:  September 25, 1959

MPAA: UR

 

It recently occurred to me. that I’ve never reviewed a “mummy” movie! This must be rectified immediately, and it’ll be in grande fashion in the Hammer Studios style! The acting credits include two giants, Cushing & Lee, the people behind the scenes are no slouches either (Sangster, Fisher, Keys, Carreras), so for those that haven’t seen this flick yet, what are you waiting for exactly? I’ll keep the intro short because I’m on a deadline for a few surprises for this spooky week! Get ready, because we need to set the WABAC Machine a long time for this one!

 

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The year is 1895, and we zoom in on an archaeological dig in the deserts of Egypt. Three men, Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer), his son, John Banning (Peter Cushing), and Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley), have just discovered the tomb of Ananka (the high priestess of the god, Karnak). As they’re just about to enter the tomb, a man (George Pastell) approaches, and begs them not to enter. He tells them that they will be cursed for doing this, but they dismiss him quickly. John has a broken leg, so he cannot go in, but his father, and uncle both enter. Once they see the remains of Ananka, Joseph runs out to tell John that they’ve found what they’ve been looking for after twenty years of research. Back inside the tomb, we see Stephen, as he’s searching for more relics. He removes the “scroll of life” from a cubbyhole, and it activates a nearby doorway. It opens, but before we see anything, the scene switches back to the tent, and the conversation between John and Joseph. Suddenly, they hear a blood-curling scream from the tomb. Joseph rushes in, and finds John, acting like he’s had a mental breakdown.

 

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A couple of years later, we see John and Joseph, as they’re wrapping up crating all the relics from the tomb. One of the servants then lights a fuse, and they seal the tomb, forever. They return to England, and John visits his father in the mental ward. Back in Egypt, the local man who warned them against this act, prays to his gods, to take revenge against these infidels. Back at the asylum, John’s father begins raving about a mummy that attacked him while he was inside the tomb, but John doesn’t believe him. His father again warns him about the scroll, and the mummy, but John just thinks he’s gone insane. We next see two men in a pub, discussing how they were contracted to transport some goods to a local home. The cargo is ancient Egyptian relics, and we get a feeling things aren’t quite right. Back at the asylum, John’s father goes completely off his rocker, and smashes the windows in his room. The delivery guys hear the racket, and drive the cart faster, it then is almost upset, and a large crate falls off.

 

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Later that night, the creepy Egyptian dude uses the writings on the scroll to call forth the mummy from the swamp where the crate fell into earlier. The mummy (Christopher Lee), emerges from the swamp, looking like he’s going to open up a can on somebody. The Egyptian dude then commands him to go and kill those who desecrated the tomb. The first victim is John’s father, over at the asylum. He’s now in a  padded cell after his outburst. He looks over at the window, and sees an enormous shadow approaching. He begins to shout and pound on the door, but they can’t hear him. The mummy rips the steel bars off of the window, smashes the glass, and kicks the fence in. He then descends on the old man, and throttles him to death. The police say it was a “lunatic,” and move on.

 

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John and his uncle Joseph talk about who could have done this heinous act. Joseph tells John about the Egyptian guy that warned him back during the dig, but he doesn’t seem to be worried. The two discuss the dig, and the origin of Ananka. We see a priest (Christopher Lee), as he performs a funeral for Ananka, and things end up going terribly wrong. As they attempted to bury Ananka, the priest violates the sacred tomb (he attempted to resurrect her from the dead) , and then must pay the price. The Egyptians cut out his tongue, and mummify him. They place a curse on him, and put him in the tomb, so that he may guard her for eternity.

 

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One by one, those who dared to desecrate the tomb are getting killed off. Will John be able to figure out the key to stopping this undead fiend or will the Mummy have his revenge!?!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

I know most are high on the Universal Studios version of “The Mummy” and rightly so, but honestly, if you watch this one, you’ll have to admit that its right up there too. Cushing delivers a grande performance, as is his calling card. He really sunk his teeth into this one, and you get a bit of his “Dr. Frankenstein” vibe to spice things up. The rest of the cast is solid, but nothing crazy awesome. Lee does his thing as the monster, but let’s be honest, you can’t even tell it’s him. Now, when he was in the flashback scenes as the priest, that was pretty cool.

The music score for this one is top-notch (Franz Reizenstein), and really has some fantastic spots where it lends so much atmosphere to the movie. The direction is also great, and when you have someone like Terence Fisher calling the shots, you know you’re in good hands. A few quick scenes with Hammer stalwarts Michael Ripper, and George Woodbridge, are the icing on the cake. Listen, you need to see this film, it’s definitely a must see for any old school horror fan!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Horror of Dracula (1958)

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Title: Horror of Dracula

Distributor: Hammer Studios/ Universal Pictures

Writer: Jimmy Sangster (Screenplay)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh

Released: May 8th, 1958

MPAA: PG

It just occurred to me that this film wasn’t among the many Hammer films that I’ve reviewed. This cannot be so any longer, as I intend to showcase the first vampire film that Hammer Studios released, and the one that vaulted the career of Christopher Lee into orbit! Peter Cushing was already a commodity, and Michael Gough, Lee, and others had plenty of experience, but Cushing is the driving force behind the movie, make no mistake. Rather than me slobbering on forever about it, I’ll just get to the plot, which isn’t exactly like the Bram Stoker novel, due to legal issues with Universal and the estate of the Stoker family, but rest assured, it still is a classic!

The film opens with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), a young man who’s making his way through the Carpathian mountains, to reach a castle. Once there, his internal monologue tells us that he has a “job” to do, but what that is, we’re not sure. He sees food on the table, and decides to sit down and dine. After starting a fire, he begins to go through his personal items. He accidentally knocks over a plate, and as he’s picking it up, a beautiful woman (Valerie Gaunt) approaches. He introduces himself as the new librarian of the estate, but the woman only wishes to be rescued from being held a prisoner by the owner of the castle. Just then, the woman quickly races away, and Harker has a feeling there’s a good reason. He slowly turns around, and at the top of the staircase, is a dark figure, looking down ominously. The man quickly descends, and greets Harker, introducing himself, as Dracula (Christopher Lee).

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After they exchange pleasantries, Count Dracula shows Harker to his room. He informs him that he’ll be away until tomorrow evening, so he can make himself at home. Dracula then notices a picture on the desk, and asks who the woman is, and Harker tells him that it is his fiancé, Lucy Homewood. Harker then writes in his journal, that he has gained access to the house, and that he is ready to do what must be done, about Dracula. As Dracula leaves, Harker is startled by the fact that he locks him in his room for the night. Later though, he hears the lock get unlocked, and he investigates to see who it was that was responsible. He heads downstairs, and runs into the same woman who approached him before. She pleads with him to rescue her from Dracula, but she isn’t clear about why she needs rescuing in the first place. As she hugs on to Harker, she also moves closer to his neck. He fangs pop out, and she readies herself to feed on the unsuspecting man.

Just as she attempts to bite him, Harker feels it, and shrugs her off. In the next seconds, you hear a godawful hiss, and we see Count Dracula at the top of the stairs, blood dripping from his mouth, and looking insane. He pounces on the woman, and scares Harker. But Harker tries to stop him from manhandling the woman. Dracula chokes him nearly unconscious, then grabs the woman, picking her up like a child, and carries her off to some other place in the castle. Harker then passes out in the living room.

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The next morning, Harker awakens in his room, and is horrified to see that the woman actually broke through his skin, and bit him on the neck. He breaks down emotionally, and we see that he has some knowledge of this affliction. He writes again in his journal, and leaves a message for someone who he hopes will read this, and be able to help.

The next day, Harker embarks on a mission through the castle, to find the resting place of Dracula. He finds the woman, slumbering in a coffin. He wastes no time in driving a stake through her heart, but then notices the sun has gone down. As he looks towards the door, Dracula creeps in, and you know that Harker is no more.

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Soon after, a pub is the new scene, and we watch as a man, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), enters and begins to ask questions about his friend who recently passed by, named Harker. The pub owner (George Woodbridge) acts as if he doesn’t know anything, but the waitress tells Van Helsing that she remembers him. The pub owner scolds her, and sends her into the kitchen. Van Helsing questions the pub owner some more, but he refuses to get involved. When the meal is ready, the waitress brings it out, and hands a journal to Van Helsing. It is the journal of Harker, and it details the happening at the castle. Apparently, both men are sort of vampire hunting team.

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Van Helsing goes to the castle, and searches for Harker (having not yet read the journal). He finds that Harker’s room has been ransacked, and that he seems to be missing. As he descends into the lower levels, Van Helsing finds Harker, dead in a coffin, with bite marks on his neck. He then reaches into his bag, and pulls out a stake and a hammer, then proceeds to do the deed. The next scene shows Van Helsing at the residence of the Homewood family. Van Helsing informs them that Jonathan is dead, and that he was cremated. Arthur Homewood (Michael Gough), is the brother of Lucy (Jonathan’s fiancé), and he is quite upset with Van Helsing, and his being very mysterious about Jonathan’s death.

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later that evening, Lucy is in bed, and she gets out, with a very creepy look on her face. She makes sure that her door is locked, then she unlocks the patio doors, that lead to her bedroom. She also removes her crucifix, and readies herself for a visitor. We then see that she has bite marks on her neck. Across town, Van Helsing is listening to a recording about ways of fighting these undead creatures, such as Dracula. The following morning, Lucy is very ill, and almost on the brink of death. Mina Homewood (Melissa Stribling) goes to see Van Helsing, and to ask for his help with Lucy. Van Helsing then examines Lucy, and sees the bite marks on her neck. He then instructs Mina to keep her doors and windows locked at night-time, and to keep garlic flowers in her room.

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After she does what Van Helsing instructs, night falls, and Lucy cries out to the maid to take away the flowers, and to open the windows. She does as Lucy asks, and the next morning, Lucy is dead. Van Helsing visits, and Arthur is very crass towards him. Van Helsing then tells him to read Jonathan’s journal, and then, he will understand. In the evening, a policeman visits and brings Tania (Lucy’s niece) back to the house. Tania claims to have been visited by Lucy. Arthur then goes to the crypt, and finds that Lucy is missing. He then witnesses Lucy, as she’s about to snack on Tania. He calls out to her, and she attempts to attack him, but Van Helsing is there as well, and brandishes a cross. He burns her forehead with it, and Lucy runs away screeching. Van Helsing and Arthur then go to the crypt, and pound a stake through Lucy’s heart, ending her nightmare, and releasing her soul.

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Dracula then focuses his attention on Mina, and it’s up to Van Helsing and Arthur to try to stop this evil entity!

OK, here are my thoughts:

If there’s anyone out there that hasn’t seen this film yet, get to it. Even if you aren’t the biggest horror movie fan or a fan of old movies, you need to see this one. This is the beginning of the Cushing-Lee horror combo, that Hammer Studios would use to build an empire. The acting is superb, as the two main characters, along with Michael Gough, put on performances that make this classic what it has been and always will be as a landmark in cinema. This film was made only one year after Hammer struck gold with Frankenstein, and the hits would keep coming for more than a decade.

Along with the great acting, the people behind the scenes were just as responsible for this gem. Starting with James Bernard, and his wonderful music score. You get some thunderous music, and other times a frightening interlude. He really nailed this one, and was simply perfect. The script by Jimmy Sangster was quite good considering he couldn’t use the story from the book or the screenplay from the Universal film either. Terence Fisher gives us his usual brilliance with direction, and the team of Hinds and Keys rounds out the production of the film. Everything from the costume designs, the sets, lighting, you name it, this film was top-notch. Hit up your local store or just get to Amazon and grab a copy, you wont be disappointed. I own a set a four Hammer Films that TCM put out a few years ago. It has this film, plus three other classics that you’ll love.

 

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Phantom of The Opera (1962)

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Title: The Phantom of the Opera

Distributor: Hammer/Universal

Writer: John Elder (novel by Gaston Leroux)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Thorley Walters, Michael Gough

Released: June 25, 1962

MPAA: UR

I own this version and the Universal film as well, but as with other previous reviews, you’ll find out why I think the Hammer Studios version is superior. Heck, just watch them both, and you’ll probably agree. Lon Chaney did a fantastic job as the Phantom, but Herbert Lom brings it to another level. This film did have the advantage of being shot many years after the Universal version, but it wasn’t some big budget film full of incredible special effects. No, it was the acting of Lom, De Souza, and Gough, that makes this film a winner. Now let’s get down to the story!

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The film begins with some organ music playing in the bowels of an empty opera house. We then see the Phantom (Herbert Lom) and his minion (roll opening credits). We next see the opera house, as it’s filling up for the first night of a new show, allegedly written by Ambrose D’Arcy (Michael Gough). Ambrose and the theater manager, Mr. Lattimer (Thorley Walters), are quite excited about the good showing of people. In a dressing room backstage, a woman is readying her voice for the show. She’s the lead in this version of ‘Joan of Arc’, and seems a bit nervous because of some shenanigans that have plagued the theater as of late. As she continues warming up, the light in her room is put out by a creepy looking hand. Another man then enters the backstage area of the theater, the producer, Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza). He speaks with the stage manager, and the conductor about more mischief around the theater, but then he’s summoned to the dressing room of Maria, the star of the show. She’s terrified and explains to him that a man, dressed all in black, and with only one eye, entered her room and scared the life out of her. She claims she can’t go on, but Harry convinces her otherwise.

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The play begins, and we see Lattimer and Hunter discussing the riddle of how a man like Ambrose wrote such good music. Ambrose then walks in, and sarcastically thanks Harry for his “compliment’, and Harry gives him a snarky comment right back. Harry then leaves the box, and Lattimer and Ambrose talk briefly. Ambrose notices an empty box, and questions Lattimer about it. Lattimer tells him that people do not like to sit there, because they believe it’s haunted. Ambrose gets angry, and tells Lattimer that he’ll speak to his superiors in the morning about this matter. Things are going fine, but then suddenly, we see something ripping through a piece of the set, and it reveals a man, hanging by his neck. People scream in terror, and the theater empties out. Ambrose instructs Lattimer to let no bad press attach itself to the opera, and the two part ways for the day.

Meanwhile, Harry is holding auditions for the lead role of St. Joan. One girl in particular, Christine Charles (Heather Sears), is singing her heart out, and impresses Harry. Ambrose and Lattimer walk in, and get angry at first, but when they hear the voice, they settle down. Ambrose is especially taken with Miss Charles (basically, he’s a horny dude that uses his money and power to get girls). He tells Lattimer to give her a note to meet him later for dinner. As the evening gets older, we watch, as Ambrose and Miss Charles have dinner, and at first, it seems very cordial. But, as Ambrose gets more and more drunk, he begins to show his true colors. He tells her that essentially, she has to sleep with him if she wants the lead role in his opera. She’s completely embarrassed, but gives in to his request in the end. Just as the two are leaving, Harry comes into the restaurant, and Miss Charles asks him to help her out of this jam. He gladly accepts, because he can’t stand Ambrose. When he realizes the scam is up, Ambrose leaves in a huff.

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In the next scene, the two (Harry and Christine), are taking a carriage ride through the park (driven by Michael Ripper). She tells Harry that she recently had an experience just like the previous lead role, and that the same man spoke to her in the dressing room, telling her to get away from this place, and Ambrose D’Arcy. Harry then instructs the driver to take them to the opera house, to look for clues (Scooby-Doo style). The cleaning ladies are still there and don’t believe him when he tells them that he’s the producer of the show. He then asks if ay of them have found a diamond broach, and they scatter to search for it (a ruse to get them out-of-the-way). As the two get to the dressing room, the lights go out, and that sinister voice orders them to get away from this place or else! Just as they’re trying to figure out who this is, the cleaning ladies shriek, and run off. Christine and Harry are then greeted by the rat catcher (Patrick Troughton- image below), and he offers a few of this evenings catches for a nice “pie”. They tell him that they’re vegetarians, and then give him a few pounds to get lost. As he leaves the room, he gets stabbed in the eyeball by the Phantoms diminutive sidekick. The rats then scurry away, and Harry and Christine wonder what’s happened to the rat catcher. As Harry investigates, Christine is approached by the Phantom, she screams in fear, then faints. This draws Harry back to the room, but by that time, the Phantom is gone.

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The next day, Ambrose is holding auditions for the lead role. When Harry finds out, he’s furious, and confronts him about it. Ambrose tells Harry that it’s his opera, and he’ll make the decisions. Harry accuses him of mistreating Christine, and basically firing her for not sleeping with him. Ambrose then fires Harry. Harry goes to see Christine, and tells her that he’s been fired as well, so they’ll go celebrate because they both ‘got the sack’ today. Harry notices some sheet music in the room, and asks the landlord where she got it from. She tells him that a musical genius named Professor Petrie used to live there, and wrote some incredible music while living at the apartment. Harry asks what became of him, and she tells him that he was killed in a fire at a printing shop years earlier. They (Harry and Christine)  then spend a beautiful day together, and are falling in love with each other.

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They later investigate the printing shop, and the man tells them that the man who broke in didn’t die, but ran off after being burned by a fire and some acid that he thought was water, trying to douse the flames. They go to the river (Thames), and then decide it’s time to call it a night. The two take another carriage ride (this time driven by Miles Malleson), and kiss in the carriage. Harry then takes her home, but not long after getting in the door, Christine is assaulted by the Phantom’s sidekick, and taken to his lair. Christine awakens to find herself as a captive of the two men, and then is told by the Phantom, that when she sings, it will only be for him. He will instruct her on how to become a great singer, or suffer the consequences!

Will Harry be able to save Christine, and figure out the secret identity of the Phantom? Will someone put Ambrose out of his misery?

OK, here we go with my thoughts:

As i said earlier, if you’ve seen both films, you’ll probably agree that this one is better than the Universal film overall. Herbert Lom is a great Phantom, but he really sells his role as Professor Petrie. Those scenes are extremely emotional, and he really shows his acting chops in them. As the phantom, he’s creepy, but the film has a different angle than the Universal film, and you’ll either love it or hate it, in the end. I won’t give it away, but the person who you really want to see get theirs at the end of the flick might not be the Phantom.

The supporting cast is very strong too, and Edward de Souza deserves the lion-share of the credit. He really has you believing he’s a big time music producer, and an all around butt kicking dude! He has a fight scene with the sidekick/minion guy, and tells off Ambrose every ten minutes. He’s a ‘man of action’ type in this film, and really reminds me of a James Bond sort of character. Michael Gough is also sensational, in his portrayal of the dastardly Ambrose D’Arcy. You really want to see this guy get throttled about ten minutes into the film. Thorley Walters adds his usual oddity to this one, and you get the quick cameos by Michael Ripper and Miles Malleson, too!

Listen, before you start throwing rocks at me for saying this one is better than the Universal flick, get out there and grab this movie, and give it a try. It’s extremely underrated, but has a great cast, solid plot, a top-notch music score, and incredible sets as you’ve come to expect from Hammer Studios!

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: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

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Title: The Revenge of Frankenstein

Distributor: Columbia Pictures (Hammer Studios)

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Released: June 1st, 1958

MPAA: UR

 

In what basically is a direct sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein, this film has a unique twist to the tale of the Frankenstein Monster. With the usual cast of characters, and production stalwarts, some consider The Revenge of Frankenstein to out-do the first film. I wouldn’t go that far, but it is a good film, and we’re going to dive head first into the plot in a moment. The film stars the incredible work of Peter Cushing, along with a solid performance by Francis Matthews. Now, let’s get down to business!

The film begins with good old Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), as he’s being led to the guillotine for his crimes against nature. There’s a few people surrounding him; a priest, a guard, and a man who appears to be crippled. This crippled man and the Baron share a quick nod, and as the camera goes off scene, we here a struggle, then the guillotine does its job. That scene then cuts to a bar, where a woman is howling because she’s having a good time. The view turns to two men, getting drunk, and talking about a job. One of the men tells the other that it’s a simple job of snatching a body from the graveyard. The other man (Michael Ripper), doesn’t seem to trust him on the real ease of the job, but he needs the money for booze (I guess), so he agrees to come along for the job. As the two men dig up the body, they realize the grave is marked Baron Frankenstein. Inside the casket though, is the body of a priest! This scares the one man off, but the other one stays to finish the job. Before he can do anything more though, a shadowy figure creeps out of the bushes, and introduces himself as Baron Frankenstein. This gives the old guy a heart attack, and he dies right there on the spot.

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Three years later, a few gentlemen that belong to a “medical council” in Carlsbruck, are discussing a doctor in town that’s been stealing all of their patients. They agree that they’ll send a delegation to meet him and convince him to join their ranks. One of their number is Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews image above), and as they visit Dr. Stein (Peter Cushing), he recognizes him, but keeps quiet. After Dr. Stein refuses the medical council’s offer, Hans returns later that evening, and calls out the Baron on his true identity. Dr. Kleve then tells the Baron that he wants to learn under his guidance, and will keep quiet in exchange for knowledge. The Baron then takes him to his laboratory, and shows him his latest achievement. He shows Dr. Kleve a new body, constructed from “spare parts”, and tells him that it will be the new body for the crippled assistant, Karl (The Baron made a deal with Karl, that if he saved him from the guillotine, he’d grant him a new body).

Next, we see a young woman, Margaret, (Eunice Gayson) at the hospital for the poor (where the Baron gets his spare parts from), as she informs Dr. Kleve that she’ll be working at the hospital doing charitable work for the patients. Her father, who’s the minister of this town, would be trouble if “Dr. Stein” refused, so he allows her to stay. That night, the two doctors descend into the laboratory, to give Karl his new body. The surgery seems to be going well, but then suddenly, the body begins to twitch violently, and requires restraining. Karl’s brain now resides in the new body, and they take him to a secluded room at the hospital.

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Once there, the janitor (George Woodbridge- image below)) sees them transporting the body there, and he also eaves drops on them as they discuss Karl (Michael Gwynn) and his new body. Karl screams out in pain, and the janitor shudders in fear. The next day, as Dr. Kleve is watching Karl (who’s still strapped down), he tells him that Dr. Stein wants to show him off to other doctors around the world. Karl gets upset because “people have stared at him his whole life”. Dr. Kleve tells him not to worry, and leaves for the day. The janitor wants to impress Margaret (image below), so he tells her of the “special patient” in the room upstairs. She visits him, and he asks her to loosen his traps, because they’re hurting him. She thinks nothing of it, and loosens them. Karl then uses this chance to escape the hospital. He doesn’t want to be ogled by anyone and wants to live his own life.

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Later that night, the Baron and Dr. Kleve head over to the hospital to check on Karl, and find that he’s gone. Karl heads over to the laboratory, and attempts to dispose of his old body. He makes some noise, and the janitor that’s cleaning up hears him, and investigates. He attacks Karl, hitting him with a chair, then punching him several times. This causes brain damage to Karl’s recently operated on brain, and causes him to begin to revert back into his old self. He violently kills the man, then runs away crying. Dr. Kleve tells Dr. Stein that he told Karl about the big plans for him, and they realize that he couldn’t handle the news, and ran off. They immediately head over to the lab and discover the dead janitor, and also that he burned his old body in the furnace.

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The next day, Margaret is finishing up some horseback riding, and heads into the stables to check on the other horses. She discovers a traumatized Karl (image below), hiding in her stables. Margaret tells him that he can’t stay there, but she’ll find a way to help Karl out without telling Dr. Stein (Karl tells her that he’s afraid of him). She returns to the hospital and tells Dr. Kleve about Karl. Meanwhile, Karl begins to relapse into his crippled state, and runs off into the night. In a nearby park, a young woman and her boyfriend are talking, but she soon dulls of his words, and leaves for home. She barely makes it around the corner, and she’s attacked and killed by Karl. Dr. Stein and Dr. Kleve are on their way to Margaret’s home, when they are stopped by the police. They tell them that there’s been a murder, and they investigate, and realize it may have been Karl. They then go to a party at Margaret’s house and speak to her bout what happened with Karl. In the next moments, Karl bursts through the window, and shouts “Frankenstein, help me!”

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The following day, the medical council meets, and they decide that action must be taken to oust Dr. Stein. The hospital is empty as well, as word has gotten out about “Dr. Stein”, and his true lineage. Dr. Kleve is summoned by the medical council, and urges Dr. Stein to leave the country and they can start anew somewhere else. He refuses to leave and actually joins Dr. Kleve in the meeting with the medical council. Dr. Stein denies his real name, and the council goes to get proof. They dig up the grave, and find the priest’s body in the casket. As they are doing this, Dr. Stein is in the hospital for the poor, making his rounds. The janitor was apparently telling the patients of the rumors, and they savagely attack him.

I’ll stop here for now, and leave the ending a secret, but rest assured, the old Baron has a plan up his sleeve, and also Dr. Kleve to help him survive…or does he?

OK, here are my thoughts:

Although I like this film a lot for its interesting perspectives and plot, it doesn’t surpass the original. It lacks any real scare factor, unlike the first movie. Maybe this is due to Christopher Lee not being the “monster”, or maybe the lack of someone of strong principles opposing Baron Frankenstein. Either way, it’s still a good film, due to the roles played by Cushing and Matthews. Both are very good, and even the janitor, George Woodbridge, does a good job as a a secondary character.

The sets were quite good, as you’d expect from being filmed at Bray Studios. The music is average, but that can probably be attributed to the absence of James Bernard. The colors didn’t seem as vibrant in this second film either. If that’s just to the copy I have, or just fact, I’m not quite sure. Oscar Quitak (Karl, before the operation), was also very creepy in the movie, even though he was only around for the first third of the film. The brief appearance of Hammer faithful Michael Ripper definitely puts me at ease. His mere presence in any Hammer production automatically elevates it no matter what the quality is of the film. Definitely check this one out if you haven’t seen it before. It’s worth a watch and owning if you’re a Hammer fan.