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, 28 December 2010

The Creeping Flesh

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

In 1893, Professor Emmanuel Hildern has returned from an expedition in New Guinea with a skeleton he believes to be of pure evil pre-dating the existence of man. As he experiments with his belief that evil is a disease that can be cured from the human race creating a Utopia on Earth, he uses blood samples from the skeleton that appears to be more dormant than dead as when it comes into contact with water it begins to regenerate. Using the blood from the skeleton he creates a serum that he believes will vanquish evil from a person, so he tests it on his daughter who he is concerned will end up like her mother; in an asylum, which he blames the mental illness on her having the disease of evil inside her. Now as he struggles to protect his daughter from discovering the truth about her mother spending the remainder of her life in an asylum he also has to stop his half brother from stealing his work, which could end drastically for all of humanity if the skeleton ends up in the wrong hands and is allowed to come into contact with water



The Creeping Flesh is a 1973 Tigon Pictures and World Film Services Production. It stars Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Lorna Heilbron. It was directed by Freddie Francis.

Right away we're off to a creepy start as the camera creeps around this creepy painting. It eases in and pans across this painting of what appears to be some sort of demon eating something bloody. The creature is surrounded by images of horror including hands with missing fingers and even those missing fingers floating in mid air. It is essentially a rather creepy painting, the perfect introduction for a film called The Creeping Flesh.



AWESOME! Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee play a pair of half brothers; Professor Emmanuel Hildern and Dr James Hildern. And not just that but there is a rivalry between the brothers. They are both competing for the Richter Prize, and coincidentally they are both experimenting in the same field about evil being in the blood and so on.

I love the fact that this isn't one of those typical “It should never have been discovered” kind of monsters. Instead Emmanuel states that it has been discovered 3000 years too early, it was always meant to be discovered but naturally when it would rise to the surface itself at a time when humanity would be much more advanced and capable of handling such an evil being. I also love this idea that it's a being from a war that started before humanity even existed, a war between good and evil. The fact that he has discovered this being that is beyond mere man and he is using it to win the Richter Prize is brilliant.



This film has a great story with several intertwining plot strands happening at once. I counted four plots within the same story.
1.Professor Emmanuel Hildern's experiments into evil and his discovery of the ancient skeleton.
2.Dr James Hildern's experiments into mental conditions which rival Emmanuel's chances for winning the Richter Prize.
3.Emmanuel's daughter, Penelope, who he is striving to protect from the knowledge of her mother being committed to James' asylum. Penelope instead lives in the knowledge that her mother died when she was very young. Emmanuel dare not let his daughter know the truth in case the knowledge makes her go the same way as her mother.
4.The patient who has escaped from James' asylum.

All these plot strands meet each other at various points throughout the film.

Since water is what gives life to the skeleton, then it was inevitable that the skeleton would go without touching water. So when James gets his carriage driver to steal the skeleton he carelessly lets it's hand fall into a tub of water whilst carrying it, which left me shouting “No, not the water! Anything but the water!”

I love the shot from the creature's point of view. This seems to be a recurring shot that Freddie Francis does in his films, he does it in both this and The Skull. Coincidentally both times the being that the point of view is of just so happens to be looming over Peter Cushing. These monsters do seem to have an eye for Peter Cushing.



WARNING! I'M ABOUT TO DISCUSS THE ENDING! WARNING!

The ending is great, it all turns out that Emmanuel has been in James' asylum the whole time he was telling this story to the man who visited him in what appeared to be his lab at the start of the film. So we the audience are left thinking was this all just the ramblings of a mad man? James explains to the man that Emmanuel believes a fellow patient to be his daughter pointing at Penelope, the man then informs James that Emmanuel believes that James is his half brother. Then James remarks that Emmanuel has been at his asylum for 3 years, in fact since the week he won the Richter Prize, then we see Emmanuel in his cell and then the camera zooms in on his hand which has a finger missing just as he did at the end of his story when the creature took it.

Overall, I think this is a great British horror. It stars both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing who are both great in this. I love the various plot strands that cross and intertwine. The film at times is rather creepy, especially scenes that feature the evil being, even more so when it begins coming to life. I just plain and simple enjoyed the story, above all what I liked most was the fact that it was something I haven't seen before. This idea of evil being a disease that can be cured, I'm not sure if this has ever been done in a film before or since The Creeping Flesh, as far as I'm aware it's a new concept, new since 1973 that is. All in all The Creeping Flesh is creepy, scary and intriguing, it's definitely worth seeing.

The Creeping Flesh 4/5

Friday, 24 December 2010

Asylum

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

Dr Martin arrives at a secluded asylum for an interview for a job. Once he arrives Dr Rutherford has a unique method of determining whether he is suitable for the job. The previous occupant of the now vacant job position was Dr Starr who has recently become one of the patients. So Dr Martin must listen to four patient's stories and determine which one is Dr Starr, if he is correct he will get the job.



Asylum is a 1972 portmanteau Amicus production. It stars Peter Cushing, Britt Eckland and Herbert Lom. It was directed by Roy Ward Baker.

Right away the first person that graces our screens is ROBERT POWELL! Obviously this is before he became the messiah and then downgraded to the dim witted Detective Briggs.



At various points there is a noticeable use of music that is reminiscent of Hammer's music especially that of what was used in Dracula (1958). Very loud and powerful, bounding music that uneases the viewer. It's used rather effectively as Dr Martin mooches about the asylum looking at eerie drawings on the walls.

The first story is about a man and his lover who plan to kill his wife who studies voodoo, after killing her the the wife and the voodoo have a few tricks up their sleeves.

After hacking her to pieces with an axe and packing her into a freezer he says “Rest in pieces.” HO-HO-HO BU-DUM-TSH.

When all seems well (except the fact he has the hacked up body of his wife in his freezer) he hears a noise then turns to find her head rolling, of it's own accord, towards him. So what does he do? He throws his bottle of whisky at it. Then next thing, the head is gone. So he investigates further. He wonders down into the cellar where the freezer is only to find the freezer door wide open. Now he knows he closed that door and he's just seen the head moving, so logic would tell you to get out of there. If the head is moving then surely other parts could be too. But no he sticks his head in the freezer and gets himself strangled by one of her hands.



What started out as rather surreal and eerie becomes ridiculously funny once the lover turns up and finds her lover's corpse in the freezer. As after that every body part starts to wriggle it's way towards her; legs, arms, the head, even the torso! The torso which has no limbs to move it somehow glides across the floor towards her. It all ends with a hand grabbing at her face and her trying to get it off by hitting it with an axe. Then we return to the asylum where we see that she has scars on her face from the axe.

The second story is about the owner of a tailor shop in desperate need of customers to pay off his bills. Just as luck would have it Mr Smith turns up wanting a suit made for his son from an odd material, which he states must be made precisely to his instructions, which includes only making it between midnight and 6am each day. After making the suit, the tailor discovers that the man's son is dead and that the suit is some form of black magic to resurrect him. After telling him he has no money yet to pay him the tailor refuses to give him the suit, resulting in a brawl with a gun ending with Mr Smith getting shot. The tailor flees the scene and returns to his shop where he tells his wife of what happened and tells her to burn the suit. But instead she places it on the shop mannequin which brings the mannequin to life with the life force of Mr Smith's dead son. Then after the story the tailor proclaims to Dr Martin that the mannequin is still out there killing people.



I have found that Peter Cushing always has this way of playing these small but very poignant roles. As such this is no exception. Playing the grieving father of a dead son who has sold everything he owns in order to buy a book of black magic which details how to produce the suit that will bring his son back to life. He's brilliant, you watch him and you believe his sorrow, you actually feel sorry for him. He may well be meddling with nature but in that moment when he explains everything you want the tailor to just give him the suit.

The third story is about Barbara who is returning home from a period of time in an asylum. She's being looked after by her brother and her nurse. Then after taking some medication, Lucy appears who proceeds to “free her” and in order to do this she kills Barbara's brother and her nurse. Then we return to the Asylum where she proclaims to Dr Martin that it was Lucy who did it. And says she's here in the room with them, pointing at the mirror.

Possibly the best imaginary friend ever (except Drop Dead Fred of course) BRITT ECKLAND!

The whole Lucy being an imaginary friend and being a manifestation of Barbara's personality was clever but still very obvious. I pegged from the start as soon as she took the medication and Lucy appeared. Unless of course the writer was trying to be clever and bluff us only to surprise us with the fact that the bluff was in fact a double bluff all along. Even with the obviousness of the shock ending to that story what is creepy is the shot when Barbara points at the mirror and there we see Lucy as her reflection looking back at her laughing.



The final story is about Dr Byron who has been constructing miniature figures of himself which he believes he can transfer his life force into and control. Without listening to his full story Dr Martin leaves to see Dr Rutherford and tells him how this asylum is a disgrace as the patients aren't even being helped they're just being locked away and left in their own worlds. All the while Dr Byron is transferring his life force into a miniature figure which he makes go downstairs and stab Dr Rutherford in the back of the head. Dr Martin horrified that Dr Byron was telling the truth stamps on the miniature figure revealing that inside it isn't all nuts and bolts but instead blood and guts. Dr Martin then dashes upstairs to Dr Byron's room only to find he too has been crushed. After this he wonders into another room and discovers a dead body here he discovers the true secret of the asylum and his predecessor.



There are a collection of comically silly moments (the little mini tin versions of Dr Byron being able to kill Dr Rutherford even with the immensely slow speed in which it was moving towards him. The torso gliding across the floor towards her husband's lover.) but they're not bad, they're just funny and then we get the brilliant ending which shouldn't be spoilt, you have to see it. It was great, it completely surprised me. The ending itself made me like the film even more than I already did up to that point. With it's running theme of bringing life to inanimate objects; the mini tin men, the shop dummy, hell even the chopped up dead body, Asylum scares, amuses and haunts. One of the most haunting moments for me was the hysterical laugh at the end that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a baby's cry, it was eerie enough when I heard it in the trailer but when you see it in context it's horrifying. Another aspect I really liked about Asylum is that, aside from the last story, you don't actually know which stories, if any, are true or if they are simply the ramblings of the mentally insane. The decision is completely at the viewer's discretion.

Asylum 4/5

Sunday, 12 December 2010

And Now The Screaming Starts!

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

England 1795. Catherine has just married Charles Fengriffen and moved into his castle. Unbeknown to her there is a dark secret surrounding the castle and the Fengriffin family, but no one dares to tell her the truth as they fear the ghost with the severed hand will kill them. Terrorized by the ghost she goes in search for answers only to discover the horrifying truth about Charles' grandfather.



And Now The Screaming Starts! is a 1973 Amicus production. It stars Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom and Patrick Magee. It was directed by Roy Ward Baker. It is based on the novel Fengriffen by David Case.

This is from Amicus, the production company most famous for it's portmanteau films, this is one of the company's few full length horror stories. Others include The Skull (1965), I, Monster (1971) and The Beast Must Die (1974).

If you liked the short story in Dr Terror's House of Horrors where a severed hand hunts and attacks Christopher Lee, then this is the film for you.

There's a great jump scare pretty early on in the film, I'm saying nothing more as I don't want to completely spoil it but yeah it caught me off guard. Enjoy.

I love the make up used on the ghost. It's very well done to appear like he has no eyes and a severed hand. Accompanied with a blood dripping stump it looks great and rather scary.



I was disappointed to find that although Peter Cushing is top billed in this film he doesn't actually appear until over half way through. As it is, his presence is great as ever.

There are some brilliant and beautifully creepy shots that feature in this film. This is one of my favourites.



Although And Now The Screaming Starts! is very appropriate for this film as all Catherine does is scream, I still can't help but feel it's a bit of a lazy title, surely Amicus could have come up with something better. But I have to hand it to them with a title like And Now The Screaming Starts! it's pretty hard not to be sold on that alone, and it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Severed Hand “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH”
Ghost “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH”
Smashed Window “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH”
Medicine “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH” (Well for the medicine it was more of a horrified look then a hysterical laugh)

A moment of awesomeness is when the ghost comes to Catherine and tries to open the window, but when she locks it shut. He then smashes it by punching it with his stump. This ghost is awesome!



The big reveal of the family secret is horrible, Charles' grandfather, Henry, rapes Silas' wife on their wedding night and cuts off Silas' hand for fighting back and trying to stop him. So in return Silas puts a curse on the Fengriffen family promising that the next virgin bride to enter the household shall be violated just as Henry had violated his wife. Now this explains why the ghost haunting Catherine has a missing right hand, but it doesn't explain why he has no eyes. But then by the end of the film the woodsman who bares a remarkable resemblance to Silas even down to the birthmark on his face gets shot in the eyes, so his face looks like the ghost but he has both hands. So what confuses me is why the ghost has a severed hand and missing eyes, he has features of both Silas and the woodsman; whom I believe to be Silas' son. But if he isn't his son then somehow without ageing the woodsman is Silas then that wouldn't explain the ghost unless it was a future ghost. So either this film doesn't make a lot of sense or I've missed a very big plot point, I think this is one of those films that requires a second viewing, just in case you've missed an important plot point as I obviously have.

Overall, it's far from being a bad film but it equally doesn't stand out amongst the greats, I'd say it's an average Amicus production and although a decent film with an interesting plot, I still believe it'll be forgettable. The visuals in it were great, the violent bits were just right, again the make up for the ghost of Silas was great and really creepy, and it was at times just beautifully shot. The atmosphere was really good, it was dark and eerie. The ending was good but rather predictable. Even though it had so many good points it was still missing something, and for that it was just an average Amicus horror story.

And Now The Screaming Starts! 3/5

Friday, 3 December 2010

Frankenstein Created Woman

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!

Baron Frankenstein is now experimenting into the metaphysical aspect of life, specifically the question of one's soul and it's relation to the human body. At the same time a young man (Hans) and a disfigured young woman (Christina) fall in love, all the while she is constantly bullied by three snooty upper class young men. After they get Hans framed for murder and executed, Christina kills herself. Frankenstein then comes into possession of their bodies. He repairs Christina's disfigured body and places Hans' soul into it. With a new, seductive look and the souls of both Hans and Christina they go about avenging each other by killing the three upper class men.



Frankenstein Created Woman is a 1967 Hammer production. It is the sequel to 1964's The Evil of Frankenstein. It stars Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg and Thorley Walters. It was directed by Terence Fisher. It was originally planned to be the sequel to 1958's The Revenge of Frankenstein but eventually went into production in 1966. It is one of Hammer's most critically acclaimed films. It is one of Martin Scorsese's favourite films, he even chose to show it as part of his 1987 National Film Theatre season. He was quoted as saying "If I single this one out it's because here they actually isolate the soul... The implied metaphysics are close to something sublime."

What's different about this one from all the other films in the Frankenstein series is that it's not just about science. It crosses science with religion. Frankenstein is experimenting with the transference of one's soul and it's connection to the physical body.

Another difference from other Frankenstein films is that there are two interweaving stories happening at once. Firstly, that of Baron Frankenstein and his experiments. Secondly, that of the two lovers; Hans and Christina. In fact their story seems to be more important than Frankenstein's. Obviously his is important too as it's his experiments that allow for the revenge plot but it's the story of Christina and Hans that is prominent throughout, Frankenstein's is almost a sub-plot to the love story one. They start off separate with Hans connecting the two, as he works for Frankenstein and is in love with Christina. Then about half way through the stories merge into one when Frankenstein acquires their dead bodies. Although Frankenstein is doing stuff that is key to the plot, it's still almost as if he is a secondary character featuring in a story about Hans and Christina. Which I have to say by no means is a bad thing, it's just different to the usual format and as a change spruces it up a bit and makes for a very interesting new format. This format also allows for character development of Hans and Christina, as they are the two new main characters to the series that can develop, whereas Frankenstein on the other hand doesn't have much where else to develop to as we've seen his character take centre stage for the three films prior to this one. So to have some of the individual film's characters develop is great.

Frankenstein in the court room made me chuckle for two reasons. 1. It's probably the only time he's been in court without being the one on trial. 2. He's a terrible witness, as he's being questioned about the accused (Hans) he is just idly flicking through The Bible and asking if he has to be here because he's a busy man.

When we get the reveal of Christina's new look after Frankenstein's surgery to repair her damaged body, we see that he has completely removed all evidence that she was ever disfigured, he has made her a beautiful, young woman. She doesn't even have her limp any more. What's more is that she now has blonde hair where she was once a brunette. Obviously removing her disfigurements wasn't enough, he had to dye her hair too because dying hair is a very skilled scientific process on par with plastic surgery.



In Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, Frankenstein says “If I succeed this time then every sacrifice will have been worth while.” But he obviously hasn't succeeded, one reason being that he never does, his creations ALWAYS go wrong. Maybe he should go for another occupation, like a hairdresser we've all seen in this how well he dyed Christina's hair. The other reason is just looking at the “monster from hell” he obviously hasn't succeeded in creating the perfect human, his greatest achievements have been in The Revenge of Frankenstein where he created a normal looking bloke and in Frankenstein Created Woman where he made an “ugly” woman beautiful, he removed her disfigurements and her limp creating a “perfect” and beautiful woman. His skills obviously peaked with Christina because after her he just went downhill. In the next film he creates a bald man, and in the final film he creates the “monster from hell”. So look at his creations and you tell me which was the closest to a success. Bare in mind I'm talking physically because they all end up with mental problems, whether it's a damaged brain caused by a bullet or their lover's soul telling them to kill.


Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967


Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, 1974

The one niggle I have with this film is the order in which Christina kills the three upper class men. Generally in revenge plots the avenger takes out the henchmen first and builds up towards a climactic finale with the head of the group. In this she kills the leader (Anton) first. Now the other two aren't henchmen, all three are of the same level, but Anton seems to be their leader. So for him to get killed off first and then the other two afterwards confused me. But it's no biggy, it doesn't spoil the film.

I really like this Hammer film. I agree with critics in that it is one of Hammer's best productions. It's one of my personal favourites along with 1958's Dracula and The Revenge of Frankenstein. I love the changes it made compared to other films in the series, the introduction of a love story that doesn't involve Frankenstein, and the fact that he isn't the main character in this film. I found it to be a very ingenious change to the usual template, and it worked. It gave new life to the Hammer format. Another thing I'll point out is that it didn't seem as violent as I would have expected for a Hammer. You don't even see the detail of Christina killing the three men, it cuts away before hand. We see a couple of decapitated heads, well the same head but at different times. But it has a great story so the lack of the usual amount of violence doesn't effect the quality of the film. On another note, I really liked the blending of science and religion in this film, where in the past they've always been about science, to bring in the aspect of one's soul and link it with science was fantastic. It's a brilliant tale of love and revenge, science and religion with a dash of murder and monsters. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is into Hammer.

Frankenstein Created Woman 5/5