Archive for Hammer

Brides of Dracula

Posted in Dracula, Vampires with tags , on 20 November, 2008 by Cavan

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‘The Most Evil Dracula of All’

‘He feeds his unearthly desires on youth and beauty… As he turns a girls’ school into a Chamber of Horrors!’

Director Terence Fisher
Writer Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan and Edward Percy

Stars Peter Cushing (Doctor Van Helsing) Martita Hunt (Baroness Meinster) Yvonne Monlaur (Marianne) Freda Jackson (Greta) David Peel (Baron Meinster)

Certificate X
Year 1960

Dastardly Plot
Old Drac is dead but his vampires still haunt Transylvania (no wonder they can never get tourists). However this doesn’t stop French school-teacher Marianne Danielle from taking a position at a Transylvanian girl’s school (yup, clever career move there girlie.) Of course, this being Transylvania before you know it her pesky coachman’s done a bunk leaving her no choice but to take shelter at the nearest spooky castle, the guest of an even creepier Baroness. But why does the Baroness keep her son, who every one believes is dead, chained up in the castle? And will Marianne be stupid enough to fall for his charms and his bizarre hair and free him? 
Well, what do you think? Thanks heavens Dr Van Helsing has been called in for a spot of vampire-busting. Well, who else are you going to call? 

Vicious Verdict
OK, first of all it has to be said that the title is ever so misleading. Dracula doesn’t appear in this film. Yup, he’s mentioned repeatedly but at this point in Hammer’s history Christopher Lee’s bloodsucker was definately out for the count. 

Bizarelly this fatal flaw in its marketing doesn’t hurt the film at all. Quite the opposite in fact. You’ve got no time to miss old fang-features as the spell of the Brides washes over you. In fact, I would say (and this is where I commit heresy) that this is actually a better film. 

First up, it’s genuially creepy at points. The Baroness herself sets the skin crawling far more than Christopher Lee’s slightly wooden performance in Dracula (whoops, there goes that heresy again) and the idea of padlocks just dropping off a victims coffin is actually more unnerving than it deserves to be. And the cackling, insane Greta calling through the fresh earth, talking a newly-vamped member of the undead how to claw out of the grave is wonderfully disturbing.

Then there’s the pathos of new vamp on the block, Baron Meinster’s mother plea for Van Helsing to put her out of her misery and the shocking extent of the Baron’s vengeance on old Helsing (Did anyone actually see that coming when they first watched the film?). OK, so the resolution of Van Helsing’s fate makes no sense but at least it makes no sense with plenty of shocks and winces. Yes, the blood may be redder than ketchup but the violence is gritty and looks like it would hurt. 

As with many of the Hammer classics the plot is a little on the thin side and full of holes (for example, if the Baron can transform into a highly-unconvincing bat why couldn’t he do this to escape his mother’s chains?) but the shortcomings can be forgiven for the sheer style of the piece. 

Terrifying Trivia 

  • The pressbook for the film offered the following advice for cinema managers – ” Make sure that at all performamces of The Brides of Dracula you have nurses or St John’s men prominently patrolling your theatre. Rig up a First-Aid Station near the entrance fully stocked with smelling salts, aspirin and sal volatile…”
  • The original script was entitled ‘Dracula and the Damned. ‘ 
  • The climax of the film was originally have the baron destroyed by a swarm of bats. This was abandoned as too expensive but would be recycled three years later for the climax of Kiss of the Vampire

 

High Points 
Greta and the ‘birth’ of a new vampire by the grave, the Baron’s revenge on Van Helsing and the good Doctor’s brave return from the brink of death, the gruesome makeup after Van Helsing gives the Baron a little facewash with holy water.

Low Points 
Unconvincing villagers, even more unconvincing bats, the ‘Brides’ bizarre foundation – do the undead forget how to apply make-up?

Skulls out of Five

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Curse of the Werewolf

Posted in Werewolves with tags , on 16 November, 2008 by Cavan

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‘He fought the hideous curse of his evil birth, but his ravished victims were proof that the cravings of his beast-blood demanded he kill… Kill… KILL!’

‘He had but one body – yet lived with two souls!’

‘Half-man… Half-wolf’

‘Even the innocent girl who loved him was not safe… once the full moon rose!’

Director Terence Fisher
Writer Guy Endore (novel), Anthony Hinds (screenplay)

Stars Clifford Evans (Don Alfredo Corledo), Oliver Reed (Leon Corledo), Yvonne Romain (Jailer’s Daughter), Catherine Feller (Cristina Fernando), Anthony Dawson (Marques Siniestro) Richard Wordsworth (Beggar)

Certificate X
Year 1961

Dastardly Plot
An old beggar stumbles on the wedding of the local Marques and his buxom wife (well, this is a Hammer film) After the rotter makes the hobo dance for his supper he promptly chucks him in jail. Years later, the beggar’s been left to rot, cared only by the jailer’s mute but (obviously) buxom daughter. He’s not alone for long though as, after the daughter resisted the Marques advances she’s also thrown in the clink where, to thank her for her years of kindness the beggar rapes her. On being released from behind bars she takes no time in stabbing the Marques and running off, only to nearly drown in the local lake. Found by Don Corledo she promptly has a baby and shuffles off this mortal coil to leave her cursed son in Corledo’s hands.
(Have you worked out this isn’t a happy film yet?)
After a trouble childhood of worrying sheep and therefore worrying his parents even more, young Leon grows up to be the spitting image of Olly Reed and promptly falls in love with a surprisingly not so buxom lass in all of 23 seconds. But can their love survive the fact that he gets a bit hairy when the moon is full?
Probably not…

Vicious Verdict
Let’s make no bones about it – Curse of the Werewolf is one grim movie. Don’t be expecting much in the way of comic relief here. The, slightly overlong, introduction to Leon’s parentage reveals a succession of characters that are mad, bad or scuicidal. Then as poor Leon enters manhood the curse weighs heavy on every scene with the wolfy-one murdering left, right and centre and then torturing himself in the aftermath.

Unfortunately, for all its pathos, the film hardly rarely raises the interest levels. There are plenty of original ideas, such as the fact that the lyncanthropy is a result of a curse from heaven for an unwanted baby being born on Christmas day rather than the traditional bite, but these are lost in the general tedium of the affair.

And you have to wonder why Fisher decided to wait so long to finally reveal the werewolf itself. The iconic make-up only goes under the moonlight in the last ten minutes or so, wasting the monster in a pointless romp around spanishesque buildings in an obvious case of padding. Yes, the reason was probably so that the film examined a man wrestling with his internal demons and struggling with an unescapable fate, but at the end of the day this is a Hammer monster movie and the people would have flocked to the cinema to see the monster itself. It’s a little too little too late.

No-wonder the box-office results didn’t prompt Hammer to go down the werewolf route again.

Terrifying Trivia 

  • The film is based on Guy Endore’s 1944 novel, The Werewolf of Paris which was originally optioned by Universal who later subcontracted it to Hammer. The company had been working on The Inquisitor, a project concerning the Spanish Inquisition but had taken the decision to drop the production after threats of condemnation by the Catholic Church. However, to at least salvage the expensive sets, the werewolf was transfered from France to a decidenly Kent-like Spain.
  • In one of the earlier drafts the beggar was also a werewolf but the censor decided that sex plus supernatural equaled one step too far.

Quaking Quotes
“A werewolf is a body where a soul and a spirit are constantly at war. Whatever weakens the human spirit, this brings the spirit of the werewolf to the fore. And whatever weakens the spirit of the beast… warmth, fellowship, love… raises the spirit of the soul…”

High Points 
The child with unnaturally hairy arms, the baptism’s ‘rejection’ of the cursed child, the iconic werewolf (don’t say Wolfman if you don’t want to be sued) make-up.

Low Points 
The fact that our anti-hero isn’t exactly known for his charm and yet manages to form a deep and meaningful relationship in less time that it would take Casanova to tie his shoe-laces. Hasn’t he heard that being too keen can scare aware a woman?

Skulls (out of five)

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Curse from the Mummy’s Tomb

Posted in The Mummy with tags , on 30 October, 2008 by Cavan

Half bone, half bandage…all blood-curdling terror!

For a movie about the curse of eternal life Hammer’s second Mummy movie is just plain lifeless. The plot, which is strangely obsessed with people’s hands being chopped off, is painfully drawn out and the acting lack-luster. Of the bad guys, Dickie Owen’s faceless mummy is a lumbering, uninspiring throw-back to the worst of the Universal Kharis pictures and Terence Morgan’s Adam Beaucamp is signposted so early on as the villain of the piece that any mystery is washed down the nile within seconds of his apperance. He might as well be wearing a sign saying ‘I’m controlling the Mummy, me, me, over here!’ The reason for his villainy is actually quite a nice twist and is one of the films few saving graces (one being the ever-watchable Fred Clark and the American showman determined to make his millions from the Mummy and our linen-wrapped juggernaut’s particularly nasty dispatch of George Pastall. It ain’t nice having your head popped beneath the foot of a 5,000 year old living corpse even if it does happen out of shot).
A weak effort from Hammer at the time where they could do little wrong.  

2 (out of 5) Tana Leaves

The Mummies Live

Posted in Mad Monster Merchandise with tags , , , , , , on 22 October, 2008 by Cavan

These are amazing. I followed the link from the ever wonderful Frankensteinia and found myself browsing the site of Cheshire born sculptor Mike Hill who has left the UK for the sunny climbs of LA. I’d seen his amazing Batman and Superman wax-statues in the DC Mythology book but have never seen these amazing busts. His Frankenstein sculpts have to be seen to be believed but the accuracy on these mummy busts of Karloff and Lee is staggering. Just look at that expression in the Hammer Mummy’s face and Karloff’s the Uncanny’s gaze has perhaps never been so hypnotic… 


The Mummy’s Shroud

Posted in Hammer, The Mummy with tags , on 21 October, 2008 by Cavan

Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet

Some people hate this movie, and I’ve yet to work out why. Sure, it has its faults (what Hammer horror doesn’t) but it also contains some bona fide chills that set it head and bandaged shoulders over other mummy capers.

It’s true that you do have to wait an awful long time for any mummy-action – the prologue is almost unbearable and when you get past a flashback sequence which features acting and sets that a school play would be ashamed off you then have to cope with a lot of mucking around in the desert – but when it happens, it’s certainly worth the wait. The mummy itself has been the cause of some controversy. Some say that it’s a step back from the make-up of either the Universal flicks or Hammer’s own 1959 effort. But there’s one thing to remember. This bad-boy was actually based on a real-life mummy (so to speak) found in the British Museum. While you’re missing the pathos of Lee in The Mummy, you’re treated to an unstoppable killing machine. It’s like the Terminator wrapped in linen. And once the killing starts, the fun begins. Our avenging slave, Prem, is as creative as he is unrelenting. My favourite death (which is an odd-thing to write sometimes) is Prem’s second victim who is knocked to the ground and then burnt to death after the mummy has smashed a bottle of acid over his head. Nasty doesn’t begin to cover it. Here we also have a mummy who kindly clears away after himself by hanging up the corpses in the cleaner’s cupboard, but still is apposed to braining someone against the wall when time is short. The fact that this is all carried out by a killer with an emotionless mask for a face is all the more unsettling.

Of the mummy’s co-stars, John Philips shines in his blustery performance as the glory-hunting bigot, Stanley Preston, but is acted off the screen by Michael Ripper as Preston’s put-upon and eternally nervous agent, Longbarrow. I challenge anyone to remain unmoved by his sad exit, poor soul.

Yes, I will admit that The Mummy’s Shroud has its problems. The low budget means that the sets leave a lot to be desired and some of the supporting players seem plain bored, but there’s still much to enjoy, not-the-least in the final showdown in the museum complete with an axe in the neck, words of death, a pre-Doctor Who Roger Delgado and a fantastically crumbly undead head. 

3 (out of 5) tana-leaves

It’s Hammer time: The Mummy (1959)

Posted in Hammer, The Mummy with tags , , on 18 October, 2008 by Cavan

Torn from the tomb to terrify the world!

You have to wonder about Peter Cushing’s archealogist John Banning. He’s been studying the ancient Egyptian priestess, Princess Ananka for most of his adult life, and is so dedicated to the cause that he risks being crippled forever rather than missing the opening of her tomb, and yet he doesn’t twig that his wife, rather conveniently, is the spitting image of her. What a plum.

After enduring The Mummy’s Curse I was more than releaved to fast forward fifteen years to Hammer’s 1959 The Mummy. Of course, the Terence Fisher flick is almost a Universal mega-mix. There’s the scroll of life from The Mummy, the legend of Kharis from The Mummy’s Hand and the swampy finish of The Mummy’s Curse. But while the Universal Mummy’s were set in the present day (or even the future) Hammer’s offering was firmly set in what was becoming its signature gothic style. 

There’s another Hammer icon here; Christopher Lee as the living corpse himself and without doubt Lee is the joy of this film. Encased in wonderfully rotting bandages, his is a Kharis who is brutal and driven. Though stiff-legged, when he’s set you in his sights, you don’t stand much chance. Smashing through doors and windows, he’s like a juggernaut, marching forward with terrifying speed. And then there’s those eyes. They really are the window to Kharis’s troubled soul; terrifying one second and bursting with pathos the next. The scene when he first spots the doppelgänger of his beloved Ananka is simply beautiful and on a level of Karloff’s best monster performances.

The movie does have its faults. The opening is a trifle slow and you have to question why Ananka’s tomb has escaped tomb robbers as it’s defenses seem to be a couple of doors from MFI and a piece of garden twine, but as soon as the action moves to Britain, its a full on creep-fest with sinister fez-wearing priests, drunken peasants, lunatics and even a debate of whether displaying ancient corpse’s is morally right. Mummy movies never got better than this. 

4 (out of 5) Tana Leaves

TERRIFYING TRIVIA
Ananka’s High Priest, Mehemet Bey, is played by George Pastell who eight years later, in the guise of Eric Kleig, would be raiding tombs of the planet Telos, in Doctor Who’s first tribute to the Mummy genre, .