Thursday, 6 December 2012

Hammer Horror - Part 2

Watching these Hammer films from the sixties can be a rather surreal experience, especially if you've been raised on significantly higher-budgetted affairs. There's usually only a handful of sets, the coulours can seem slightly too bright (especially the blood) and the scripts usually have a sense of wry, understated humour.

They can also be very, very camp, which is what they are famous for I suppose, but generally not in a modern nudge-nudge-wink-wink look-how-silly-we're-being kind of way. These films, at the very least, and for all their faults, present their stories straight and straight-faced - there's no narrative flashbacks as such, few dream sequences (although there's a good one in The Plague of The Zombies). This can actually be quite refreshing, and bizarrely makes the films quite a bit less predictable. They are also very British.

The simple reason these come across sometimes jarringly to a modern audience is that they belong to a genre that doesn't really exist any more. They are serious horror films (No! Bad Andy! Don't start that debate!) They are mid-budget wide release horror and fantasy, which simply don't exist any more and died off in the early seventies. To say that they don't make 'em like they used to is literally true. 

Also, while I aim to provide a (semi-objective) overview, it is apparent by now that I have a huge affection for these films, in all their (sometimes debatable) glory. 


The Ultimate Guide to The Ultimate Hammer Collection!


Film #6: The Reptile


Summary and Review: I made the mistake of watching this one too soon afer The Plague Of The Zombies. It reuses a lot ofthe sets having been filmed back to back and undoubtedly the former is a much better film (or at least a scarier one). The plot revolves around an evil monster knocking off the locals which may have something to do with a sinister local Doctor, his Malay servant and his reclusive daughter (hint: it does). It also looks like it was shot through a yellow filter for some reason. A bit average, to be honest, but it has its creepy moments.

Best Moment:
The first appearance (well, second) of The Reptile.

Hammer Glamour:
Jennifer Daniel, looking a bit too much like Eleanor from The Haunting. Plus I had to google her as I couldn't remember, so not memorable.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The friendly publican's easy acceptance of going grave robbing. I was reminded of Bender in Futurama - "I'll get my kit!"

Bonus cameo:
John Laurie, best known as Private Frazer (We're all DOOOOOMED) from Dad's Army rather wonderfully plays a character here called Mad Pete.

Film #7: The Witches


Summary and Review: Joan Fontaine gets menaced by a coven of witches in a small community that may or may not be in her head. Nice and understated for about 80% of its length, it goes absolutely batshit insane for the last ten minutes or so. Nothing to do with the Roald Dahl book or film, unfortunately, although reasonably good fun if not at all scary. Could have done with more of a sense of humour about itself.

Best Moment: A bit with a doll's disappearance and reappearance is suprisingly sinister.

Hammer Glamour:
This was the last film role for Joan Fontaine and she looks great. Also she's apparently still alive!

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The appearance of the coven's leader "Behold! My magnificent headgear!"

Bonus cameo: Leonard Rossiter of Rising Damp plays a not-very-sympathetic doctor.

Film #8: One Million Years BC

Summary and Review: A film whose poster is arguably better known than the film itself has the distinction of being nothing like I've ever seen before. There's only about a minute and a half's dialogue at the beginning in English and the rest of the film is in 'cave-speak'. It's utterly incomprehensible as far as the plot goes (something to do with a conflict between two tribes), but the real stars are the creature effects by Ray Harryhausen. It's also the longest film so far, coming in at 97 minutes.

Best Moment: The fight between a Triceratops and a T-Rex is in full glorious stop motion animation. Amazing.

Hammer Glamour:

Unintentionally Funny Moment: "Akita!" is the word for freaking everything.

Bonus cameo: Robert Brown, the man who played M after Bernard Lee in Bond. Not that you'd be able to tell.

Film #9: The Viking Queen

Summary and Review: A retelling of the Boudicca story with an added love story and all of the names changed (for some reason). The titular Queen is the one person without a British accent (Finn Carita Järvinen). It's all lavish but very, very silly and overwrought, but wins points back by having Andrew Kier in a villain role and a druid played by Donald Houston who doesn't so much chew scenery as tear and devour huge chunks of it. Also there aren't any Vikings in it.

Best Moment: The chariot racing looks fun. I want a go.

Hammer Glamour:
I suspect Carita was hired for her 'other assets' rather than her acting ability.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: "This isn't what we dreamed, is it?" is supposed to be the big emotional pay-off at the end but it's freaking hilarious.

Bonus cameo: Patrick Troughton, just before he was in Doctor Who.

Film #10: Frankenstein Created Woman

Summary and Review: Hooray! Peter Cushing's back! This is the fourth in the Frankenstein series which follow the exploits of everyone's favourite mad scientist. This time he's trying to trap people's souls after death in a series of evil experiments. His understated and calm amorality is always a joy to watch, and this is a fantastic return to the 'good stuff' after the past couple in the box - this eventually turns into a pretty straightforward and grisly revenge thriller. Lovely jubbly.

Best Moment: "Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not..." Mwa ha ha

Hammer Glamour:
Susan Denburg, although she's evil and a bit crazy.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Frankenstein's response to being accused of witchcraft - although this was probably intentional.

Bonus cameo: Yes Minister's Derek Fowlds plays one of a trio of despicable cads. Nice.


That's Part 2 done, folks, so stay tuned for Part 3!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Hammer Horror - Part 1

A few weeks ago while doing my Christmas Shopping on Amazon (it's not that I don't LIKE going shopping, it's just there's a lot of other people) and among all the things I bought for other people I bought this thing for me:

...because what's Christmas without a bit of low budget 60s and 70s film making, courtesy of Hammer?

The trouble was, before I bought it I had real trouble finding even a list of films included in the box, let alone a comprehensive review. I'll also try and include some bits and pieces about the studio itself, for those who are interested, although feel free to skip the intro each time. So here's my new series, including everything you wanted to know about the films in this box...


The Ultimate Guide to The Ultimate Hammer Collection!


Film #1: She


Summary and Review: A fun romp in which Peter Cushing and two friends go in search of a lost city in somewhere that is either Egypt or Palestine (it's not clear) after the First World War. This city may or may not also contain an immortal sorceress who's hell-bent on resurrecting her dead lover. Also features Christopher Lee as her High Priest. Overall it's very pretty to look at, and the costumes are amazing. Almost like a very high budget episode of classic Doctor Who and definitely worth a look. 

Best Moment:
The Village Elder has his daughter 'returned' to him. Mwa ha ha.

Hammer Glamour:
Ursula Andress, best known as Honey Ryder from Dr No. Yowza.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Christopher Lee's collection of increasingly bizarre hats...

Bonus cameo:
Hey look! It's Bernard Cribbens!

Film #2: The Nanny


Summary and Review: Hammer's last film in black and white stars Bette Davis as a kindly old Nanny who is mistreated by an obnoxious brat. What is his problem? She hasn't done anything wrong...or has she? This is one of the best ones in the box so far, eschewing the lavish opulence, sexiness and gore in exchange for a tidy little psychological thriller. I dig that. This is probably the least Hammer-y Hammer film in the set (the booklet says it 'represented a bit of a departure') and probably worth watching even if you don't like the rest of these.

Best Moment: Can't put the main one without spoiling the film, so I'll just say any time Bette Davis is on screen.

Hammer Glamour:

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The kid's father goes so far beyond disinterested and stern he becomes hilarious after about two minutes.

Bonus cameo: Bit of an obscure one, but Bond fans will recognise Auntie Penelope as Jill Bennett, the skating instructor from For Your Eyes Only.

Film #3: Dracula, Prince Of Darkness

Summary and Review: Now this is more like it. In full, glorious colour, mostly red, and featuring Christopher Lee as the iconic Count, you can't beat this. Those three things listed in The Nanny review above? Yes, yes and yes. On Van Helsing duty this time is Andrew Kier as Father Sandor, an awesome, booming presence who is a worthy opponent for the evil Count. This is actually the third in Hammer's Dracula series, but as he always dies at the end it doesn't really matter where you jump in. My only criticism (and it is a small one) is that Lee doesn't actually speak, but in many ways he doesn't need to.

Best Moment: Undoubtedly the first appearance of the resurrected Count. There's a reason he's so well known for this.

Hammer Glamour:
Barbara Shelley as a sultry vampire seductress. Awesome.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: This is played very straight so not many laughs, but Francis Matthews' "I'm sure this deserted castle with food laid out for us is perfectly safe" attitude is somewhere between grim and very, very silly.

Bonus cameo: Peter Cushing replays his role as Van Helsing for the first few minutes or so. always nice to see him and Lee together.

Film #4: The Plague Of The Zombies

Summary and Review: Ultralow budget yarn about bodies going missing from a graveyard after a mysterious illness. Kind of understated it manages to exude a low-level menace and creepiness throughout, and not just through the shambling undead. Containing virtually no known stars at ALL (seriously, you will not recognise these people) it spins, as they say, a good yarn. Not half bad. Shot as the B-Movie to Dracula, Prince of Darkness. Do NOT go into this expecting Night Of The Living Dead, yoiu will be disappointed.

Best Moment: The dead rise...

Hammer Glamour:
Diane Clare is chirpy and quite nice to look at, even with a wierd haircut and an odd relationship with her on-screen father.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Not many, again, as it's played fairly well, but I like the way everyone says Haiti. Hay-eetee.

Bonus cameo: Like I said, there's no massive stars here, but classic Doctor Who fans might recognise the local constable as a doomed Kaled commander from Genesis of the Daleks (This is known as 'scraping the barrel').

Film #5: Rasputin, The Mad Monk

Summary and Review: For those of you (and me) that were disappointed that Lee didn't say anything in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, this is the antidote. Lee merrily eats his way through the scenery as the title character as he rises through the ranks of Russian Society after being kicked out of his monastery. It's all very camp and overwrought, but if you go with it, it's actually pretty effective, as Rasputin is Not A Nice Man. There's no one else who really stands out here, this is Lee's film, all the way, so if you're a fan then definitely see.

Best Moment: "Be careful little Peter, there are acids in here..."

Hammer Glamour:
Barbara Shelley's back as well, so...yes.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Dark and charismatic he may be, but sexy he ain't. The looks of disappointment on his sexy fan's faces when he decides his 'appointments' are done for the day are priceless.

Bonus cameo:Is that Last Of The Summer Wine's Alan Tilvern I spotted as a bar patron?


That's all for now, folks, but stay tuned for the next five!