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

Blu-ray: Four Hammer horrors debut on ‘Horror Classics: Volume One’

HorrorClassicsV1Horror Classics: 4 Chilling Movies from Hammer Films(Warner, Blu-ray) presents the respective Blu-ray debuts of four films from Hammer Films, the British studio that revived the classic monster movies in gothic style and lurid color (to match the lurid atmosphere of sex and death).

The Mummy (1959) is the third of Hammer’s classic horror revivals and the fourth Hammer film to pair up its two marquee stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing stars as archeologist John Banning, whose dig for a lost tomb results in untold treasures but leaves his father a mumbling madman and marks the rest of the company for death. Lee is Kharis, a former high priest turned gauze-wrapped guardian of the tomb, a veritable Golem sent on a mission of vengeance by Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), a disciple of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris. “I’ve spent the better part of my life among the dead, but I’ve never worked in a place with such an aura of menace. There’s something evil in there.”

The scenes at the archeological dig and the flashbacks to the ancient burial are stagebound and frankly cheap looking, but Terence Fisher—Hammer’s top director—is back in familiar territory when the action relocates to the misty swamps and Victorian mansions of rural England. The towering, 6’3” Lee makes the most terrifying mummy to date. He covers ground in giant strides, smashes his way into rooms with heavy Frankenstein-like swipes of his arm, and takes shotgun blasts with barely a twitch, yet melts from rage to calm at the sight of Banning’s wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), a dead ringer for his dead Queen. He’s haunted soul, rampaging juggernaut, and a hugely powerful monster all in one. In the classic Hammer tradition there’s a sadistic twist to the flashback when Lee’s transgressive priest has tongue removed. It’s not as gory as it sounds, but it still carries a shivering eeriness about it. Hammer’s Mummy sequels, like Universal’s before it, are a spotty lot but the original is quite good.

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

Blu-ray: ‘Frankenstein Created Woman’

When British production studio Hammer Films first found success reviving the classic movie monsters with remakes of Universal horror films of the thirties in full, blood-dripping color and lurid Gothic style, they tried their hand at every iconic horror classic they could, but they found their biggest successes minting sequels to The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Horror of Dracula (1958). The Dracula films turned into a curious mix of spin-offs, sequels, and modernized updates, with guest bloodsuckers filling in for Dracula until Lee returned to title role. The Frankenstein movies, however, became a more connected cycle of films, variations on a theme centered not on the creature (as in the Universal films) but on Baron Frankenstein, played by Peter Cushing in all but one of the films. They followed a chronology (with minor exceptions) that charted the Baron’s monomaniacal obsession to create life at any cost and Peter Cushing defined him as a ruthlessly ambitious man of science, a pitiless rationalist ready to sacrifice human life in the name of scientific discovery. He was, in an odd way, both hero and villain of the series, and a very different portrait of the scientist than presented in either the novel or the iconic 1931 film.

The 1967 Frankenstein Created Woman, Hammer’s fourth Frankenstein film, is a loose sequel that finds the Baron in residence at a generic Bavarian village with a new assistant, Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters), an old, amiably befuddled, apple-cheeked country doctor, and a whole new plan of attack. Instead of the familiar surgical patchwork bodies cobbled together from unwitting organ (and body) donors and reanimated with electricity, he takes a more metaphysical approach this time.

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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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