Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Film Reviews, Horror

Blu-ray: ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’

Seven years after resurrecting Count Dracula for a new generation in Hammer Films’ The Horror of Dracula, Christopher Lee returned to role under the direction of Hammer’s defining director, Terence Fisher, for a direct sequel. In fact, Dracula: Prince of Darkness opens a recap of the Horror of Dracula finale, which is the first and last time we see Peter Cushing in the picture. But while the film is a genuine sequel with a new story (scripted by Jimmy Sangster from an idea by producer Anthony Hinds, both using pseudonyms in the credits) it reworks many details from the classic novel and Hammer’s adaptation on a smaller scale.

This time the innocents are a group of English tourists–brothers Charles (Francis Matthews, speaking with a Cary Grant lilt) and Alan (Charles Tingwell) and their wives Diana (Suzan Farmer) and Helen (Hammer regular Barbara Shelley)–vacationing in the Carpathian Mountains. Dumped in the woods by a terrified coachman just before darkness falls, they are taken to Dracula’s castle in a driverless carriage and take refuge in the seemingly empty yet oddly kept up place, despite the warnings of travelling priest Father Sandor (Andrew Keir in holy monk warrior garb) and the ominous arrival of the castle’s sole living occupant, Klove (Philip Latham), servant to long-dead master. Klove delivers the film’s best line to his guests, who enquire about the Dracula legacy: “My master died without issue, sir, in the accepted sense of the term.” (Curiously, Klove is nowhere to be seen in the original The Horror of Dracula). He’s enough to put you off the main course, and it does exactly that to Helen, the only member of the party with sense enough to want out of there.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews, Science Fiction

These Are the Damned and Blu-“Rings” Times Two – DVDs of the Week

The British film studio Hammer is legendary among horror fans for their lurid and lusty Technicolor revisions of the classic monster movies of the thirties, but they came the horror revival through a general focus on genre films, notably (but not limited to) thrillers, mysteries and science-fiction films. The Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films (Sony) gathers six black-and-white thrillers made between 1958 and 1963, all distributed in the U.S. by (and some co-produced by) Columbia.

These Are the Damned

These Are the Damned (1963), Hammer’s answer to Village of the Damned, is the highest-profile film of the set, and the most anticipated. It’s a rare auteur piece (directed by American expatriate-turned-continental class act Joseph Losey), a long sought after science fiction item (Losey’s only true genre film outside of noir and crime cinema) and a Hammer rarity that was cut for American distribution and has been restored for its home video debut. And it’s a strange collision of exploitation elements, visual elegance and emotional coolness, a fascinating oddity with strange angles that don’t all fit but certainly add intriguing elements.

It begins as a different kind of genre film: in a cute little seaside vacation town in Britain, Teddy Boys on motorcycles led by the almost simian-looking King (Oliver Reed, with a dark glower and hulking menace) send out a gorgeous young bird (Shirley Anne Field) to attract the interest of an older American tourist (Macdonald Carey). Then they jump the gent for his cash, beating him brutally and dancing away while whistling their theme song (“Black Leather,” a weird quasi-rock chant that doesn’t sound like anything these chaps would adopt but does include almost nihilistic lyrics with nursery rhyme simplicity: “Black leather, black leather / Smash smash smash / Black leather, black leather / Crash crash crash”). “The age of senseless violence has caught up with us, too,” explains Bernard (Alexander Knox), a local authority figure who run a secret project nearby and has his own younger woman (Viveca Lindfors), an eccentric artist who sculpts eerie-looking statues in a small vacation home known as “The Birdhouse” perched, as it turns out, over the heart of the project. It’s all strangely complicated and almost arbitrary the way Carey’s ugly American Simon Wells sweeps Field’s frustrated sweater girl Joan out of King’s clutches, down the bluff from The Birdhouse and into a secret cave system where a small group of children of the atom are raised without human contact beyond video communications.

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