Sunday, 17 February 2013

Hammer Horror - Part 4

So this is the end of the trek through Optimum Classic's Hammer Collection Box Set. It's had its highs and lows, but it's not the end of my series. Following this I'm going to write a short round-up of the box overall and then look at three films that have come out recently under the Hammer banner, after a hiatus of 35 years.

A few words about this set of six however, before I get too ahead of myself. Firstly, everything from She to Prehistoric Woman came out in three years: 1965-1968. The seven films from Scars Of Dracula to To The Devil A Daughter represent a much longer time - 1970-1976. They also represent what is considered by some to be the decline of Hammer Horror into exploitation, cheap titillation and senseless violence, before the studio finally all but bankrupted itself.

I may say more in the round-up, but for the purposes of these films, two things are worth remarking on; the slightly cosy, fun atmosphere of the earlier films was gone and all of the films rated 18 in this box are represented below. 


The Ultimate Guide to The Ultimate Hammer Collection!

Film #16: The Horror Of Frankenstein

Summary and Review: Ralph Bates takes over from Peter Cushing this time around in what is essentially a reboot of the franchise - and one with a pretty massive tongue in its cheek. Bates' Doc is less a driven scientist with a skewed moral compass and more of a complete bastard - cruel to women, sneering at his friends, dismissive of his (disposable) helpers. The monster looks good as well, when it eventually appears, and there's also a huge acid bath in which you know some people are going to end up. Very funny in a very understated way and highly recommended.  

Best Moment: Frankenstein sells an old school chum up the river with an amazingly display of feigned innocence. "He's babbling about a monster? Clearly he is hiding something!" Also the moment when Frankenstein 'finds' the brain he is going to use.

Hammer Glamour: The cleavages in this movie are taken to such ridiculous extremes I suspect it's another intentional poke at the genre. Also, how the hell did Veronica Carlson get her hair like this? (It also satirizes this part of my Hammer round-up, which was always intended to be partially satirical in itself anyw-*HEAD EXPLODES*)

Unintentionally Funny Moment: "He was actually a pretty nice monster" Apart from all of the murderin'.

Bonus cameo: The housekeeper is Kate O'Mara, who played The Rani in Doctor Who.

Film #17: Blood From The Mummy's Tomb

Summary and Review: An evil sorceress is discovered in an Egyptian tomb by an intrepid group of explorers perfectly preserved. One of the group's daughter grows up looking exactly like the dead princess, each of the expedition has a relic from the tomb and as she approaches her eighteenth birthday the rest of the movie writes itself.

I thought I'd enjoy this one more than I did (the opposite of the last one, in fact). The plot's fun, but it buries itself under loads and loads of characters, at least initially and should have just focused on the daughter, the father (Andrew Keir again!) and the creepy man across the street who Knows More Than He's Telling. Characters like the fortune teller and the boyfriend didn't add a lot. The ending is also pretty funny

Best Moment: Some poor bastard gets menaced by a cobra statue, of which we only see the shadow. 

Hammer Glamour: Valerie Leon is the daughter/priestess. There's a reason she didn't get many other lead roles, but she was a Bond Girl twice apparently.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The perfectly preserved sorceress is clearly breathing at a couple of points.

Bonus cameo: Aubrey Morris, who in the same year played the youth worker in A Clockwork Orange

Film #18: Straight On Till Morning

Summary and Review: A very odd tale about a young innocent  (Rita Tushinghamwho gets into an intense relationship with a murderous psychopath named Peter (Shane Briant) who names her 'Wendy'. As it's apparent from early on that 'Wendy's a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket this turns less into a stalky psycho-thriller and more into a weird romance between two damaged people. Yeah, not really my cup of tea either, but my girlfriend loved it. It also screams THIS IS THE SEVENTIES.

Best Moment: All of the costume designs are fantastic, as is most of the facial hair.

Hammer Glamour: Not as such, because that's part of the point of the film, but I have been reliably informed that Shane Briant is quite nice to look at.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Not so much funny, but I did wonder how Peter can commit extremely loud murders and then dispose of the bodies in a terraced house in the middle of London.  

Bonus cameo: James Bolam, who looks like modern James Bolam in a wig. 


Film #19: Fear In The Night

Summary and Review: After the weirdness of the last entry, this one comes as something of a relief. Peter Cushing stars as a very strange headmaster at a boy's boarding school. A teacher brings his young wife (recovering from a breakdown, naturally) to the school grounds to live after she is attacked by a one-armed man in her apartment. But where are the rest of the staff? Where are the boys? Why does only she seem to converse with the headmaster? A very nicely plotted thriller that sets up some odd occurrences and miraculously doesn't cheat in explaining them. 

Best Moment: The moment when a shotgun is fired - and the twenty seconds afterwards when you desperately try to work out what just happened. 

Hammer Glamour: Judy Geeson or Joan Collins. Take your pick.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Peter Cushing is immaculately polite, even when being shot at.

Bonus cameo: There's only really four main characters in this one, so two from the end is the first one where I didn't see anyone extra of note

Film #20: Demons Of The Mind

Summary and Review: This a mess. A brother and sister (twins?) who are way more into each other than they should be are kept locked up by their father in an effort to 'cure' their madness, which is apparently hereditary. A quack doctor is also on hand with an array of gadgets and a mad priest is living in the woods yelling about demons. Also the local girls keep disappearing. I patiently waited for what was going on to be explained but sadly that moment never came. The result is that this is plays like a cross between Witchfinder General and The Fall of The House of Usher but is much more of an incoherent mess than either.    

Best Moment: "The world will be a better place without me, and it won't even know that you died."

Hammer Glamour: Virginia Wetherall gets naked for such a flimsy reason, it actually becomes offensive. So it's going to have to be Shane Briant again.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The moment when a young doctor's efforts to 'save' the girl backfires on him badly.

Bonus cameo: Sir Michael Hordern plays the nutty priest.

Film #21: To The Devil A Daughter

Summary and Review: The last film in the box! And the last film Hammer made for 35 years. Do they go out on a high, after the bizarre experimentation? Fortunately yes. Christopher Lee (yay!) plays the head of a satanic cult aiming to turn a sweet, innocent young thing into an Avatar for Astaroth. Against him Richard Widmark plays a researcher bent on stopping the cult and saving the innocent young girl. This film is exploitative and nasty, but it also has the most convincing satanists in anything I've seen (much better than the suicidal nutters in The Omen) mainly because Lee's obviously trying so hard. Other than that though, I can also see where the huge amount of criticism this film gets comes from, so this is probably for hardcore fans only.

Best Moment: Too many to count - the apparition in the church is a personal favourite.

Hammer Glamour: Honor Blackman, aka The Best Bond Girl Ever.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Christopher Lee shows his butt for a good few seconds. Was not expecting that.

Bonus cameo: Honor Blackman. And Christopher Lee's ass.

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