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!

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