Cinema Sunday: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

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Title: The Curse of Frankenstein

Distributor: Warner Bros. (Hammer Studios)

Writer: Jimmy Sangster

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Hinds (also Max Rosenberg)

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart

Released: May 2nd, 1957

MPAA: X (originally in the U.K., but PG in the U.S.)

 

To say that this film was groundbreaking for its time, is an overwhelming understatement. What Hammer Studios did was take the foundation of horror that was laid by Universal Pictures back in the 1930’s, and build  a mansion of horror on top. It all began with this film, The Curse of Frankenstein, in 1957. The film broke down barriers that had been in place for a long time, and nothing would be the same after its release. Peter Cushing is an absolute superstar in this one, and it vaulted his career into the atmosphere. Let us now turn back the clock to 1957, and witness the birth of true horror.

The movie begins with a priest, as he rides along a windy path to a prison on a hill. Once there, he’s shown to a cell where a man is “raving”, but the priest enters alone anyway. Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is the man inside the cell, and he’s scheduled to be hanged in one hour. He tells the priest to sit down and listen to his story, so that he can pass it on to others over time. The priest tells him to start at the beginning, so Baron Frankenstein begins his story in his childhood days, when his mother died. He explains to the priest that he inherited the family fortune at the age of fifteen, and brought in a tutor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart- pic below), to finish his schooling. The two grow to be quite close, and after two years, the young Baron has learned all Paul can teach him. The two are fascinated by the possibility of regenerating dead matter, and go ahead with their plans to conduct experiments that will lead to such a result.

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After months of gathering information and equipment, they finally attempt to revive a dead puppy. The laboratory is filled with all sorts of arcane looking devices, and before you know it, they activate the machines, and revive the animal from the other side. At this point they theorize on what to do next. Paul believes they should share their findings with the medical federation that meets in London every year. The Baron disagrees, and tells Paul that now is the time to open Pandora’s Box, and “find what lies beyond it.” Paul seems confused, and the Baron tells him that they must build a man, piece by piece, and animate it, creating life, in the vein of God creating mankind itself. Paul seems skeptical, but agrees to go forward.

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A neighboring town has just hanged a man for being a criminal, and hung his body at the town limits to warn others of the punishment waiting if they should try anything. Paul and the Baron cut the body down, and begin their experiment. First, the Baron tells Paul they must cut off the head, because the eyes and half of the head were eaten away by crows. Paul stands in shock and awe, as the Baron flippantly cuts off the head of the corpse. He then tosses it in a vat of acid, disposing of it once and for all. The Baron then informs Paul that he’s going away for a few days to get something (a new pair of hands for the creature). The next day, Paul is talking with Justine (Valerie Gaunt), the maid. A knock at the door interrupts them, and the door opens to show Elizabeth (Hazel Court- pic below), the baron’s cousin. She announces that she’s coming to live there, and to be married to the Baron as it was arranged by her mother. Paul then tells the Baron (in seclusion) that he’s decided to stop helping him with the experiment. The Baron tells him to leave him alone, and continue on without any help.

We next see the Baron and Justine, sharing a passionate kiss in a dark hallway. She tells him that she’s jealous of Elizabeth, and that she wants the Baron to marry her, as he promised. He kind of chuckles at her request, and then carries on with the make out session. The following day, the Baron leaves once again for more “materials”, and this time he brings back a new set of eyeballs for the creature. He then is seen examining them, close up. A knock on his laboratory door by Paul interrupts him, and then the two have a conversation about what the Baron is doing. The Baron then reveals the creature to Paul, but he rebuffs him again, and leaves.

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Another day or so passes, and we see that the Baron is hosting one of the most brilliant minds in Europe. This older gentleman is a scientist that is possibly more brilliant than the Baron himself. As they have conversation, Paul enters the room, and the Baron introduces the two. The Professor then tells them that he’s tired, and needs to retire for the evening. The Baron agrees to walk him to his room, and shows him a painting at the top of the balcony. We see the Baron get a strange look on his face, and then tell the Professor that if he backs up against the railing, he’ll get a better view. As he backs up, the Baron pushes him over the railing, shouting as if the Baron is having an accident. We get the impression that the Baron planned this all along. He then offers to let the body of the Professor rest in his families crypt, being that he had no family. After the burial, the Baron sneaks into the crypt, and removes the Professor’s brain. Paul shows up, and the two argue over the fact that the Baron basically murdered the Professor. The argument gets very heated, and then Paul grabs the bag containing the brain. A brief struggle ensues, and the brain gets smashed against the wall. The Baron get furious, and pushes Paul out of the way.

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Paul the warns Elizabeth that Victor is meddling with things he cannot control. She tells him that she wont be leaving, and he leaves her room, very disappointed. Next, we watch as Victor fixes the damage done to the brain by the struggle with Paul (or so he thinks). He then begins the process of reviving the creature. Initially, nothing seems to happen, but as he leaves the room, he then asks Paul to help him, and threatens to involve Elizabeth is he wont help him. Suddenly, he hears a loud crashing noise coming from the lab. He returns to see the creature (Christopher Lee), alive, and extremely volatile. It attacks the Baron, nearly killing him, if not for Paul intervening. The Baron is in ‘full arousal’ over this (even though he’s almost killed), and Paul is mystified at this reaction. Paul then begs Victor to dispose of the creature, but Victor tells Paul it’s his fault because he damaged the brain in the fight they had previously.

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The following day, the creature gets loose, goes into the forest, and kills an old man and his grandson. Victor asks Paul for his help in tracking it down, then, Paul brings a rifle, and shoots the creature, killing it once and for all…or so he thinks. He and Victor bury the monster, but Victor then digs it up and keeps it secretly in his dungeon. Justine then threatens the Baron if he doesn’t marry her as he promised. He tells her that she had better not or face the consequences. He also tells her that she’d better be gone by tomorrow, or else. That night, Justine creeps out of her room to gather proof of what’s going on in the laboratory, so she can either extort Victor or hurt him by telling the police. Victor realizes this, and lays a trap for her. As she creeps into the lab, and then the dungeon, Victor slyly locks the door behind her, and the creature kills her.

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Once again, Paul confronts Victor after learning the creature still lives. Victor and Paul argue and fight in the lab, then out in the street as well. The creature busts out of his chains, and attacks Elizabeth on the rooftop. Victor grabs a pistol, and in trying to shoot the creature, accidentally shoots Elizabeth. The creature then attacks him, but he throws a lantern at it, and it is engulfed in fire. It then stumbles towards the window, and falls into the pit of acid.

We then return to the prison, as Baron Frankenstein finishes his story, and the priest seems unconvinced. The guard then tells the Baron that Paul Krempe has come for a visit, and he shows him in.  Victor begs Paul to corroborate his story, but Paul acts as if he has no clue what the Baron is talking about. The priest walks out, and Victor then attacks Paul, but the guards drag him off. Paul leaves and tells Elizabeth that Victor has gone insane. The last thing we see, is Baron Frankenstein being led to the gallows.

 

My thoughts are as follows:

In the beginning I said this film was groundbreaking, and that’s no exaggeration. It showed copious amounts of red blood, and now for the first time in color, it seemed even more revolting. Hammer is known for its “RED” blood, no doubt about that. The scenes of other grotesqueness include the Baron holding an eyeball right in front of the audience, the reveal of the creatures horrific face, when the Baron cut off the head, and disposed of it in the acid, and so on. This movie pushed the envelope of what it meant to be a “horror” movie like no other of its time.

Peter Cushing was marvelous, of course, and Robert Urquhart added a fantastic element of struggle against the Baron. Both men played off of each other very well, and showed how just two characters can carry an entire film literally by themselves. Yes, you did get Lee as the creature, and Hazel Court was beautiful, and well spoken, but those two men were the shining light of this movie, make no mistake.

In typical Hammer fashion, we had sets that were awe-inspiring, and the locations were numerous but none more famous than Bray Studios. Fisher, Hinds, and Sangster, gave us a masterpiece with this film, and should be lauded for their efforts. Also in keeping with Hammer traditions, the music score by James Bernard will send chills up your spine and have you on the edge of your seat with his thunderous climaxes. If you’ve never seen this film, shame on you, and rectify this blemish on your record immediately. If you have watched this film but do not own it, buy this film in a set like I did (TCM Classic Horror), it includes four Hammer classics that every horror fan needs to own!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

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Title: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Distributor: British International Pictures (Hammer Studios)

Writer: Anthony Hinds (Jimmy Sangster -screenplay)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

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

Released: January 6th, 1966

MPAA: UR

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, here are my thoughts:

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Brides of Dracula (1960)

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Title: The Brides of Dracula

Distributor: Universal Pictures (Hammer Studios)

Writers: Peter Bryan, Edward Percy, Jimmy Sangster, Anthony Hinds

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Hinds

Starring: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, David Peel, Yvonne Monlaur, Michael Ripper

Released: July 7th, 1960

MPAA: Unrated

In this second installment of the Dracula/vampire franchise, Hammer threw a bit of a curve-ball at its audience. You see, “Dracula”, doesn’t appear in this film at all, and the absence of Christopher Lee was something that would be disconcerting normally, but this film rises above that fear. David Peel makes a fantastic vampire, that’s both creepy and demonstrative. He, along with horror stalwart, Peter Cushing, put on a performance that ranks right up there with any Hammer film, or horror film for that matter. Lets get to the story!

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The film opens with a narrator exclaiming that Dracula is dead, but that Transylvania is still full of magical and mystical entities. We next see a beautiful woman, Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur), as she’s making her way via coach to the Lange School for girls, to take a position as a teacher. The coach stops st the Running Boar Inn for some food and rest for the horses. The owners greet Marianne, but are wary that she’s traveling alone. The coach then inexplicably leaves without her, and she’s stranded. Suddenly, as the owners are panicking to find a way to get her out-of-town tonight, there’s a knock at the door. An old woman enters, and the owners are very frightened. The old woman (Martita Hunt), invites Marianne to come and dine with her, and after some coaxing, Marianne agrees to be her guest for the night, and head to her new job in the morning.

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Once they arrive at the Baroness Meinster’s castle, Marianne is readying herself for dinner, and she notices a young man in one of the other rooms. She questions the housekeeper, Greta (Freda Jackson), about him, and she blows her off about the subject. During supper, Marianne asks the Baroness about the man, and she tells her that he’s her son, but that he’s insane, and so he’s locked up. After the meal, Marianne once again retreats to the balcony, and she sees that same young man, and it seems as though he might jump off the balcony to kill himself. She shouts to him, and then runs to his room. He greets her, and asks her to come closer, and then she notices the reason he cannot come to her, is because he’s chained to the room. He convinces her that he is the Baron Meinster (David Peel), and the rightful heir to the castle and fortune, but his mother is evil, and keeps him locked up to keep the money to herself. He also convinces her to sneak into his mother’s room, and steal the key to open his bonds. She does it and then the Baroness confronts her, but the Baron Meinster is now loose, and he commands his mother to follow him into another room, while Marianne packs her things.

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As Marianne is getting ready, she hears Greta raving in another room. She asks her why she’s going crazy, and she tells him that the Baron isn’t mad, but that he’s dangerous, and basically a killer. Greta then shows Marianne the corpse of the Baroness, and this freaks her out, and she runs off into the forest. A carriage comes by the young woman, as she lays unconscious in the forest. This is when we see Doctor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing),  and his coachman. They revive her from her sleep, and take her back to the Inn in town. Meanwhile, there’s a funeral going on in the parlor, and Van Helsing goes in to investigate. He notices two bite marks on the girl’s neck, and he realizes that it was the work of a vampire.

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Next, Van Helsing takes Marianne to her new job, across the way in the next village. They enter, and meet Herr Lang (Henry Oscar), and his wife (Mona Washbourne). He’s quite upset by her lateness, but Van Helsing calms him down. The good doctor next meets the man who called him to the area, Father Stepnik. The two discuss a plan to wipe out this plague, and make ready for this  evenings festivities. As the sun sets, the recently killed girl rises from her grave, and we see that Greta is the daytime servant to her and Baron Meinster. As the new vampire is rising from the grave, Father Stepnik and Van Helsing try to stop the two of them. They didn’t count on a giant bat (Baron Meinster) swooping in and attacking them though! Van Helsing scares it off with a cross, and then he heads to the Meinster castle. Once inside, he meets the now undead Baroness, but before he can do anything, he’s accosted by the Baron Meinster himself! A quick tussle, and the Baron gets away, but then Van Helsing puts the Baroness in her final resting place.

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Van Helsing must somehow find where the Baron is hiding, and try to protect the townspeople too! Can he do it? C’mon,  it’s Peter Cushing we’re talking about here! In the end, it will come down to an all out brawl between Van Helsing, Baron Meinster, his two brides, and Greta!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Listen, even though this flick doesn’t have Lee in it, it is still top-notch. David Peel makes a great vampire, and Cushing is his usual awesome self! Cushing really shows how much of a bad mamma jamma he is in this film. Jumping around like a grasshopper, fighting Peel, and his brides! Another great performance from Cushing and he and Peel definitely play off of each other quite well.

The older couple that own the school are hilarious, and add a lot of energy to the film. The moment when Baron Meinster meets the two of them is classic, and you couldn’t ask for a more comical scene. A quick scene with Michael Ripper adds his coolness to the film, and the other doctor, portrayed by Miles Malleson, another Hammer regular, is the icing on top of the cake!

A fantastic musical score, great cinematography, and the usual incredible production and directing crew, round out this very watchable film that somehow gets lost in the pile for non-Hammer fans. Believe me when I say, that this movie can hold its own against any other of its generation and genre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll

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Title: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll

Distributor: British Lion Films

Writer: Wolf Mankowitz (based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producers: Michael Carreras, Anthony Nelson-Keys

Starring: Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed

Released: October 24, 1960

MPAA: PG-13

 

This film is the best adaptation I’ve ever seen of the Robert Louis Stevenson story. It’s also the only film I’ve ever seen where Christopher Lee goes out like a punk. Oh, and so does the rough and tumble Oliver Reed! Hold on, we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Let me start out by simply saying that this movie is one of the most entertaining films you’ll ever see. Certainly one of Hammer’s best, and Terence Fisher, Michael Carreras, and the rest of the crew are who we have to thank for that! Lets get down to the film, shall we?

The opening scene shows Dr. Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie), and a colleague of his, Dr. Littauer (David Kossoff), as the two men observe, and discuss a group of children playing in his garden. They see two of the children get into a fight, and Jekyll believes that there is something inside each human being, a dark side, if you will, that is merely a slight push away from coming out. Dr. Littauer thinks Jekyll is off in his assessment, and feels he’s pushing himself too hard in his laboratory, and should take a break. Jekyll then brings him into his lab, and shows him his progress. He injects a serum into the animal, and it goes wild. He explains to Dr. Littauer, that he can harness that evil side of man, and will do miraculous things with this serum.

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Next, we see Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), an old friend of Jekyll’s, as he shows his “true colors” immediately, by asking Jekyll for money to pay off his gambling loans, and also by kissing his wife! Yes, Paul and Kitty (Dawn Addams), we are led to believe that they’ve had a relationship for some time. Later, Kitty tells Jekyll that she’s going out for the evening, but Jekyll tells her to go alone, as he has work to complete. She leaves, and then Jekyll injects himself with the serum. At a local club, Kitty and Paul are having a good time, dancing and drinking. As Jekyll awakens from passing out, we see that he’s changed, but not into a gruesome monster, but just the face of a different, ordinary man (he does look a bit off kilter, but not deranged or like a monster in other films).

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Jekyll then goes to the club, and is approached by two prostitutes. He dances with one of them, but then notices Kitty and Paul in the corner at a table. He disengages from the prostitute, and she gets angry because he didn’t give her any money. Jekyll walks over to Paul and Kitty, and tells them that he’s an old friend of Dr. Jekyll’s, named Edward Hyde! The three talk for a while, but then Kitty gets mad at Paul and asks Hyde to dance with her. He does, and Paul gets jealous. The two finish, but then the prostitute and the club bouncer (Oliver Reed-pic below) approach Hyde about the earlier incident. Paul and Hyde bet the crap out of him, and then leave for the night. Back at the house, Jekyll is back to his old “self”, and is destroyed knowing that Kitty and Paul are having an affair. He tries to talk to her about their relationship, but she scoffs at him, and then goes to sleep.

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As the film proceeds, Jekyll begins to lose his grip on reality, and Edward Hyde is more than happy to take the reins. He concocts a plan to win Kitty over, but she tells him that no matter how unscrupulous Paul is, she’d never leave him, especially not for Hyde, because she finds him repulsive. This sets off Hyde even more, and he and Paul explore some of the more seedy parts of London. After a weeks time, Hyde tells Paul that he wants Kitty, and Paul, who actually seems to have feelings for her, is shocked at the request, and leaves Hyde on his own for good. In the meantime, Hyde has developed a bit of a relationship with an exotic dancer from the club, that does some tricks with a snake, during her show.

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In the end, Hyde puts another plan in motion to kill everyone, including Jekyll! Sound crazy? It is and it is not at the same time. There’s only one way to find out what happens in this crazy psychological thriller!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

As I said before, this film is absolutely entertaining. The cast is marvelous, and really carries this film to great heights. Paul Massie delivers an incredible performance, both as Jekyll and Hyde. His portrayal as Hyde really steals the show though, but Christopher Lee adds his normal brilliance to the film as well. You know you can always count on him to deliver, and this role, which is more of an opposite than what we’re used to seeing, really is one that makes him ascend above most others in the genre (or any genre for that matter).

Two more things of note. The musical score was fantastic in this one, and we have David Heneker & Monty Norman. The music was really strong and lent itself to the more critical scenes of the movie. Secondly, we must give a shout out to Mayo (Antoine Malliarakis) for the beautiful costume designs in this film. Many scenes were filmed in the “club” scenes, and the costumes were fabulous!

Get out and grab this one, as it’s in a cool four movie set called “Hammer Films: Four Creepy Classics”! A great set that has three other Hammer favorites, and doesn’t disappoint.

 

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Hound of The Baskervilles (1959)

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Title: The Hound of The Baskervilles

Distributor: United Artists

Writer: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (story)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Michael Carreras

Starring: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Christopher Lee

Released: May 4th, 1959

MPAA: NR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, my thoughts are as follows:

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

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

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

Cinema Sunday: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

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Title: Frankenstein Created Woman

Distributor: British International Pictures/20th Century Fox

Writer: John Elder (Anthony Hinds)

Director: Terence Fisher

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Released: March 15th, 1967 (USA)

MPAA: UR

OK, listen, don’t let this title or some reviews fool you. This film is pretty good! It isn’t your typical Frankenstein franchise film, but it does have three things going for it. Susan Denberg, Susan Denberg, and Susan Denberg. Alright, that was my attempt at humor. The lovely, blond bombshell is one of the reasons, but the horror icon himself, Peter Cushing, is certainly one of the others! The last reason is simple. Any time you have multiple decapitations in a movie, you’re on the right track! This was one of the last films produced at the famous Bray Studios, a legendary site for Hammer Studios.

The film begins with a rough-looking fellow, as he’s being led to the guillotine. Just about the time when he’s to be killed, a boy, his son actually, is spotted in the nearby forest. It’s the son of the gentleman that’s about to be executed. The priest chases Hans away for the moment, and the convict tells the men to do the deed. Just as the blade is about to fall, the boy appears out of the trees, and watches his father die.

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Fast forward to a few years later, and Doctor Hertz (Thorley Walters) is being assisted by a now grown up Hans. They quickly retrieve a body from a freezer, and we now see that the body is that of Baron Frankenstein! He’s been on ice for one hour, and the two men use the arcane machinery to revive the Baron. After a scuffle at a local cafe’, Hans is arrested for his part in the melee. He’s released, and goes back to the cafe’ owners home, where the owners daughter, Christina is readying for bed. She’s disfigured, and has a bad limp, but Hans loves her, and she loves him, too. They make love, and then Hans goes home for the night. Back at the cafe’, the gentlemen that were involved in the brawl with Hans earlier, have returned to the establishment after closing, to pillage the liquor. The owner returns to the cafe’ after realizing he forgot his keys there, and is summarily assaulted by the youths.

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The next day, Hans is walking by the cafe’, and is arrested by the police under suspicion of murder. A trial is quickly thrown together, and Hans is sentenced to the guillotine at dawn. Baron Frankenstein knows this is his opportunity for a fresh corpse, so he makes the arrangements with Dr. Hertz to “obtain” the body. The Baron then tells Dr. Hertz that they’ll use the machinery to capture the soul of Hans, then put it into another body. Preferably one with a head. The next morning, Hans is beheaded, and this time, Christina is passing by, and witnesses it! The event drives her mad, and she runs into the forest, and throws herself into a nearby river. Dr. Hertz and the Baron get both bodies, and pull the switcheroo. Now, Hans’ soul resides inside Christina’s body, and her deformities have now been fixed by the two good doctors.

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At first, Christina seems fine, but when the Baron shows her the guillotine where Hans was killed, it ignites memories from him, of that fateful day when his father was killed, years before. She begins to have nightmares as well, and after waking up from one, she decides it’s time for a little revenge against the hooligans that wronged Hans from the wrongful murder charges. The first to feel her wrath, is Anton. She dresses up quite nicely, and hangs out on the corner by the cafe’ where Anton and his cronies hang out. As he leaves the establishment, she picks him up, and then they go to the abandoned house where Christina used to live. She goes into the backroom to change, and then calls out to Anton, but with the voice of Hans. The next thing we see, is the guillotine coming down, signifying Anton’s demise.

The next night, Karl and Johann are drinking away their troubles at the cafe’, and discussing Anton’s death. Johann then leaves, and Christina comes into the cafe’. She charms Karl into having a little “action”, but then Karl spills wine on her dress. She excuses herself into the washroom to clean it, and moments later, Karl hears the voice of Hans calling to him. Christina emerges with a meat cleaver, and we next see a shot of her chopping wood the following morning (obviously, Karl is dead). Some villagers then accost the home of the Baron and Dr. Hertz, and demand to see them about the recent murders. The Baron tells them to dig up the body of Hans, and they do just that next. The grave is opened, and the body is still there, but the head is missing!

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The next scene is Christina, in her bedroom, having a conversation with the head of Hans (she’s planted it on her mirror). We hear the voice of Hans, instructing her to kill Johann. As Johann is trying to make a speedy escape out-of-town, and as he just reaches the coach heading out of the village. He notices a pretty girl in the corner, and she offers him a drink. The coach breaks down, and the two decide to have a picnic in the forest. As Johann is laying in her lap, she pulls a knife out of the basket, and stabs him violently. We notice the head of Hans is in her hat box!

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I wont spoil the end of the film, as it’s not my style, but rest assured, you get your monies worth from this movie. It was a change of pace for the Frankenstein series, as this one dealt more with the spirit, than the body. Also, the aspect of a woman committing the murders, and not a man was a switch from the normal routine. Cushing is his normal, brilliant self in the film, and that is to be expected. Susan Denberg did do a fine job on top of being fantastic eye candy. Her performance, especially once she was resurrected, was very good in my humble opinion. Thorley Walters  character (Dr. Hertz) did a fine job of complimenting Cushing, and his child-like affection for Christina was definitely a great addition to the script.

Definitely look this one up (currently free on YouTube) if you’re a fan of Hammer or old school horror movies in general. It’s one of those movies that doesn’t get a lot of play, or great reviews, but trust me, you’ll enjoy it! See you next week!