This blog is a place for Me to review classic British films (in particular horror films) by Hammer, Amicus and the like. But I will occasionally branch out and review international films as these are the international counterpart to the British films, some of which will include works by American International Pictures, Mario Bava et al. I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Dracula

Jonathan Harker, posing as a librarian, arrives at Castle Dracula. After the exchange of courtesies Count Dracula shows Harker to his room, but as Dracula leaves he locks the door behind him, locking Harker in the room making him his prisoner. It's here where Harker begins writing in his diary and we then become aware of Harker's true intentions for coming to Castle Dracula; to kill Dracula. After a period of time of being locked in his castle, Harker manages to get his journal sent off to Dr Van Helsing. Harker then attempts to kill Dracula, but Dracula was ready for him. Van Helsing gets Harker's journal, then goes to Castle Dracula only to find a vampire Harker resting in a coffin, he takes no hesitation in staking his long time friend. Van Helsing then leaves to deliver the news to Arthur Holmwood, Mina and Lucy. Lucy of which is ill, which it is later discovered that she has been bitten by a vampire. She later dies at the hands of Dracula. Soon after Van Helsing and Holmwood lay siege to Castle Dracula to once and for all kill Count Dracula.



Dracula is a 1958 Hammer Production directed by Terence Fisher. It stars Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, Peter Cushing as Dr Van Helsing and Michael Gough as Arthur Holmwood. It marked Hammer's second reinvention of a classic screen monster after 1957's The Curse of Frankenstein. The film is in several ways different to the original Bram Stoker novel. It cuts bits out of the book, it changes locations and aspects of characters; notably in this film Jonathan Harker is a librarian and a vampire hunter whereas in the novel he was a solicitor who knew nothing about Dracula being a vampire. Another key change is that sunlight kills Dracula in the film, whereas in the novel sunlight only weakens his powers. The film was renamed Horror of Dracula in the US to avoid confusion with 1931's Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.

I love this film, I think it's brilliant. I think its the best of the three Hammer reinvention films, the others being The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy. As always with a Hammer starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, the acting is great. They are both well cast as Dracula and Van Helsing. Christopher Lee is perfect as Dracula, as the character talks very little in the whole film Dracula has to evoke fear by his physical presence which Lee is perfect for. As he has the menacing height of 6' 5'' and can express dark, sinister and at times creepy facial expressions, this results in a classic portrayal of a classic icon of horror. Peter Cushing is brilliant as Van Helsing, he exerts a considerable amount of energy into the role, especially in the final scenes where he gives chase after Dracula. Van Helsing is always enjoyable to watch with his vast knowledge of the supernatural and basically his very interesting persona. Van Helsing proves his doctor status, but he's not just any old doctor he's The Fonz equivalent to a doctor, as he cures a woman of her shocked and horrified state, after seeing Dracula which has resulted in her stuttering, by slapping her in the face to which she can instantly speak perfectly. This film is great, it has all the classic Hammer elements; horror, suspense, Gothic atmospheric tone, (for the time) strong violence and great melodramatic acting. This is one of my all time favourite Hammer Horrors, I don't actually have any problems with the film, so for that reason I can't fault it.

Dracula 5/5

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Curse of the Werewolf

Set in 18th Century Spain, a beggar is locked up in a dungeon, several years later a servant girl is threw in with him for not laying with her master. The beggar then proceeds to rape the servant girl. Shortly after, she is released form the prison and told to return to her master, who she then kills and escapes from. Months later, she gives birth to the beggar's baby on Christmas Day. Superstition tells that an unwanted child born on the birthday of Christ, is an insult to God and a curse upon the Earth, for this reason whenever there is a full moon the boy is cursed to transform into a werewolf and begin an uncontrollable killing spree.



The Curse of the Werewolf is a 1961 Hammer Production. It was directed by Terence Fisher and stars Oliver Reed as the Werewolf. It was based on Guy Endore's novel, The Werewolf in Paris. A 1975 film, Legend of the Werewolf, starring Peter Cushing was also based on the same novel. The film failed at the box office in the UK and US, so Hammer never made any more werewolf films, making this the only werewolf production by Hammer. Regardless of it's box office performance it still aided in the launch of Oliver Reed's career.

Thinking back, I had fond childhood memories of The Curse of the Werewolf, so obviously a viewing after many years had to live up to my high expectations, it didn't quite reach these expectations but I did enjoy it nonetheless. Unfortunately, it was a bit slow going, it must have been nearly an hour before Oliver Reed made his first appearance, but once he did and transformed into the werewolf it was great. It's just a shame the film wasn't a bit longer or that Oliver Reed appeared earlier on in the film, either would suffice to give the werewolf a longer amount of screen time and the film would have been brilliant. Oliver Reed was well cast for the role of the cursed man, his sometimes dark and sinister looks suited the character as he could change so easily between portraying the good man that he wanted to be and the aggressive transformation stages that the good man is plagued to go through every full moon. As the film was, I enjoyed it and it was still a decent Hammer film, but it could have been so much better just by introducing the werewolf a bit earlier on in the film.

The Curse of the Werewolf 3/5

Saturday, 26 June 2010

The Mummy

In 1895 Egypt, an archaeological team, against the wishes of a native, disrupt and desecrate the tomb of Princess Ananka; the Princess of Karnak, and discover The Scroll of Life. After witnessing the desecration, the native who then reveals himself as a servant of Karnak swears that he will help aid the revenge of the Princess' desecrated tomb. Three years later, one of the archaeologists tells that he unwittingly resurrected the mummified remains of Kharis; the eternal guardian of Princess Ananka's tomb. The Karnak servant instructs the resurrected Kharis to exact revenge on those who desecration the Princess' tomb.



The Mummy is a 1959 Hammer Production, it was Hammer's third reinvention of a classic screen monster, after 1957's The Curse of Frankenstein and 1958's Dracula. It was directed by Terence Fisher and stars Peter Cushing as John Banning (one of the archaeologists) and Christopher Lee as Kharis.

I found The Mummy to be a decent enough film, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoyed Hammer's previous two classic monster reinventions; The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula, but I feel I may have a slight preference for Dracula and Frankenstein tales over that of Mummy tales, this may have effected my judgement of the film. But as always there were great performances from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Peter Cushing delivers another top notch performance in his classic melodramatic style. Christopher Lee as always gives a brilliant physical presence whenever he plays the villain of the story, equipped with both his menacing height and dark demeanour he is brilliant as the rampaging, vengeful mummy. The film continues Hammer's traditional atmospheric touch that audiences at the time would be getting to know through Hammer's Frankenstein and Dracula films, and in years to come would love.

The Mummy 3/5

Tales From The Crypt

Five members of a tourist group exploring old caves get lost from the rest of the group. They end up taking a passage into a crypt guarded by the mysterious Crypt Keeper, who tells each of the five people how they are going to die.



Tales From The Crypt is a 1972 Anthology Amicus Production based on The Vault of Horror, Tales From The Crypt and The Haunt of Fear comics, which were a bi-monthly horror anthology comic series published by EC Comics. The film consists of five short stories, all of which are based on stories from various issues of the comic series. It was directed by Freddie Francis and stars Joan Collins, Ralph Richardson and Peter Cushing. A sequel based on more stories from the comics, The Vault of Horror, was released in 1973.

I'd just like to make clear from the start that I love the Amicus anthology films. I think they're brilliant and obviously this is no exception. I love the creativeness of each story, the interesting and entertaining ways in which each person gets their comeuppance due to the deadly sin each one commits. There are some good performances, notably Peter Cushing's brilliant portrayal of a sweet, kind old man, who unfortunately is a widower, and the only joy he gets out of life is that of the children who live in his street. He finds old toys, fixes them up and gives them to the children. But he is resented by two snobbish neighbours who do as much as they can to ruin his life. It's also nice to see a lovely Christmas story about murder, and even Santa makes an appearance, well sort of. The film is presented with the classic dark and creepy atmospheric touch that is quint essential to this film form and is what the established audience have come to know and love. As good as it is, it still isn't the best anthology film, I do favour some of the others over this one, it's still good but there are a few others that I like just that bit more than this one, as you will see in later reviews.

Tales From The Crypt 4/5

Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Uncanny

Horror Author, Wilbur Gray, has discovered a terrible secret. He's discovered that cats aren't what they seem, we are not the masters, they are. They have been manipulating humans for centuries. In an attempt to prove his new found discovery, he tells three tales of feline terror to a publisher who he wants to publish the stories in order share his discovery with the world.



The Uncanny is a 1977 anthology film made up of three short stories. It was distributed by Cinevideo and The Rank Organisation and directed by Denis Heroux. It stars Peter Cushing as Wilbur Gray.

I like the concept, this idea that cats have been manipulating man since the very beginning and that we've been fooled into believing that we are the masters when really they've been pulling the strings. Generally, I did like it, it entertained in all the areas you would expect especially for a horror film about evil cats. But where it falls short is the part where humans aren't these innocent, kind people that cats have manipulated into being evil and made them do the bad things they do, like we are led to believe at the start. But instead, the people are already bad, in some cases the cats haven't even manipulated them they've just killed them for being evil so does that mean that cats are good? None of the people that feature in the three stories are to be pitied, I didn't find myself particularly caring about the people who featured in any of these three stories, and instead just enjoyed the violent and sometimes comical methods the cats used to kill the people instead. To be honest, the only human I found myself caring about was Wilbur, and I think that was probably due to him being played by British national treasure Peter Cushing. It's a silly film, so for a silly horror film about cats manipulating and killing people its not bad, but its far from being as good as any other films Peter Cushing has been in.

The Uncanny 2/5

Horror Express

The film is set in 1906, in China anthropologist Alexander Saxton has discovered a frozen body of a half-man, half-ape creature. He believes it to possibly be the “missing link” and if so would be the discovery of the century. So Saxton loads the creature onto the Opulent Trans-Siberian Express in order to get himself and his find back to Europe as soon as possible. On board the train is Saxton's rival anthropologist Dr Wells. But both, all though they have their differences, soon have to team up as the creature thaws from it's icy prison and begins killing passengers by absorbing their knowledge from their brain out through their eyes.



Horror Express is a 1973 Spanish made film directed by Eugenio Martin. It stars Christopher Lee as Alexander Saxton, Peter Cushing as Dr Wells and Telly Savalas as Captain Kazan who unfortunately doesn't appear until over half way through the film. The film wasn't successful in Spain, but in the UK and other countries where the Hammer style horror audience was pre-established the film did rather well. When Peter Cushing arrived in Madrid to begin filming he told one of the producers that he couldn't do the film as he was still distraught over his wife's recent death. But Christopher Lee stepped in and put him at ease just by talking to him about their films together and changed Cushing's mind.

I was intrigued to see a foreign take on a British stylised horror sub-genre that had been created by Hammer and the like. This Spanish take on this type of film works, it succeeds in making a horror film in the spirit of it's British counterpart. It is different to the British ones, it does have that feel but it is in no way negative. It's very enjoyable, it has horror, violence and even humour. The actors are great they are playing roles they are best at; Christopher Lee as a more angry, non-social person, a person who is dedicated to his work. Whereas, Peter Cushing plays a more approachable friendly character, a perfect rival for Christopher Lee's Saxton, an almost polar opposite style character the only thing they have in common is their profession and thus their passion. Peter Cushing delivers one of the best lines in the film in response to “The two of you together. That's fine. But what if one of you is the monster?” with “Monster? We're British, you know.” But a special credit has to be said for Telly Savalas, who portrays the “coolest” character in the film, the brilliant Captain Kazan, who with ease can slowly swing underarm throwing a knife almost effortlessly into another man's back. It captures what Hammer did best but shines a different light on it to give us another perspective, a perspective that is new and fresh as it is from a new audience's view of British horror films, an audience from a different part of the world.

Horror Express 4/5

Monday, 21 June 2010

The Curse of Frankenstein

The film opens with a man of the cloth arriving at a prison at the request of one of the inmates; Baron Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein requested him to visit so that he could tell him his story, the story of what he did and what led to him being in prison awaiting his execution. He begins his story; we begin with the teenage Victor Frankenstein shorty after becoming Baron of the estate and inheriting his family's riches. He hires Dr Paul Krempe to be his tutor and teach him all his knowledge of the sciences. We see a montage of them working and experimenting together over a period of years up into Frankenstein's adulthood, where we then see them conducting an experiment on a recently deceased dog. They conduct an experiment which results in the revival of the dog, this marks their first successful experiment on a living being. From the success of this experiment, Frankenstein decides he wants to step it up a notch and experiment on humans, his plan; to create the perfect human being, a being who is of both physical and mental perfection. In order to do this he will need to collect the best body parts from various people e.g. the hands of a sculptor. Dr Krempe realises that this is too far, that it is against the will of God and decides not to help Frankenstein any further with his experiment but this doesn't stop him, Frankenstein continues on, determined to achieve his goal. Eventually his hard work pays off, his creation comes to life. But the brain was damaged that Frankenstein placed in the creature's head, so he attacks and kills people, and armed with his immense physical strength he's not going to be easy to take down.



The Curse of Frankenstein is a 1957 Hammer Production directed by Terence Fisher. It stars Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Robert Urquhart as Dr Paul Krempe and Christopher Lee as The Creature. Although Hammer had produced other colour films prior to this one, this was Hammer's first colour Hammer Horror, and also marked their first step into Gothic Horror territory, which would come to define the film company in years to come. At the time, this film concerned the BBFC as not only did it contain horror and graphic violence, but this new level of graphic violence was to be presented in full colour.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Curse of Frankenstein. I found it to be dark, creepy and atmospheric. I thought it very interesting that the protagonist; Victor Frankenstein, is portrayed as a dark, sinister character, and not at all the type of protagonist that the audience can relate to or even like for that matter, yet I still found myself intrigued and fascinated by this man and by his determination to create this “perfect being”. Even though I knew the ending, him being in a prison cell awaiting his execution, as we'd seen at the start, I was still interested to find out how the story develops towards that point, how he gets caught and what happens with The Creature. I'd also like to pay a special credit to Peter Cushing; one of Britain's finest actors to have ever lived, his sometimes melodramatic acting is part of Hammer History and was one of the key elements to Hammer Horror and what made them so great.

The Curse of Frankenstein 4/5

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Hands of the Ripper

The film opens in Victorian London, with a man running away from the police. He manages to escape them and returns to his apparent home, as there, his partner/wife is there to greet him with his daughter sat across the room. She tells him that Jack the Ripper has killed again, the man then pulls out a knife and stabs the woman to death, all the time his daughter is there baring witness to her own Mother's murder. Next we skip fifteen years, to a séance taking place. Once it finishes the guests leave except one; Mr Dysart, who has paid to sleep with Anna, a young orphan girl whom the medium took in and has brought up. Mr Dysart gives her a gift, a jewel of some sort, at the sight of the glistening reflection from it Anna sees flashbacks of her Mother's murder and the glistening reflection of light off the knife that killed her. This sends her into a trance state in which Mr Dysart gets angry and lashes out at her, the medium enters the room and intervenes. Whilst the medium and the man argue, Anna grabs the coal fire poker. Then we see one of the other guests; Dr Pritchard a Psychiatrist, who is outside at the time. He hears screams coming from the house and rushes back in to find Mr Dysart traumatised, Anna in a trance and the medium pinned to the door with the poker. After this there is no substantial evidence for anyone to be convicted of the grisly murder as Anna was in a trance state and therefore doesn't remember a thing, and Mr Dysart is the only one who suspicion falls upon, but Dr Pritchard covers for him and claims he saw him leave before the murder took place. After this, Dr Pritchard decides to take Anna into his care to analyse her and study her behaviour. He later discovers that light glistening off shiny objects reminds her of the shiny knife used to kill her mother and sends her into a trance state where she is almost possessed by her father; Jack the Ripper and goes about committing grisly murders.



Hands of the Ripper is a 1971 Hammer Production directed by Peter Sasdy. It stars Eric Porter as Dr Pritchard, Angharad Rees as Anna and Derek Godfrey as Mr Dysart.

My initial reaction before I knew anything about this film, before I knew the plot or even who was in it, all I knew was the title and my initial thought was “oh another Jack the Ripper film.” Now there are some rather good Jack the Ripper films out there, but I thought well how different could another Jack the Ripper tale possibly be, its a story about a man no one knows anything about. But this film really surprised me, the only part that features Jack the Ripper is the pre-credits sequence which we then see glimpses of when we see Anna's flashbacks, there after the story is all about his daughter Anna and the murders she is committing because of him. I rather enjoyed Hands of the Ripper, it had the appropriate level of violence for a Jack the Ripper tale and for that of which Hammer audiences expect of a Hammer Horror. It kept my interest right up until it's very end. It delivered, what I felt, was everything you expect from a Hammer Production, entertainment, intrigue, enjoyment and (for the time; 1971) shocking violence. This is possibly one of the best Hammer Horrors I have seen, and I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking of trying a Hammer Horror or to anyone who has already been introduced to the film series and was thinking of trying this one.

Hands of the Ripper 4/5