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Tag Archives: Hammer Films

Sorry, Mr. Lee

Alas, I did not participate in Shop Small Saturday, so I cannot do a post plugging local businesses. I went running this morning, so I could have done Saturday Running Commentary.  And I am going to cook something for dinner, so I could yet do a cooking post.  But here I sit, wanting to get my post done and over with, and I’m just watching, in the most desultory fashion imaginable, a Hammer Horror film I DVR’d in October.

He looks so horrified by the cross. Do you suppose he went to Catholic school?

Who doesn’t love a Hammer Horror film with Christopher Lee as Count Dracula?  Well, Lee himself, as I learned in Ben Mankiewicz’s pre-movie commentary.  As it happens, I am not paying a great deal of attention to it myself, even less so than usual, which regular readers know is very little indeed.  I’m just not in the mood.  So obviously I cannot do a real write-up as I enjoy doing, necessitating a spoiler alert. I did a quick search of Facebook for public pictures, though, to punch up what I do post.

He looks as if he is rather relishing the role in this shot.

 

Dracula must look after his health, after all.

 

What a double bill!

I would not have thought of putting Trog with Taste the Blood of Dracula.  Steven and I watched Trog some years ago, back in the days of video stores.   It was Joan Crawford’s final picture, so we watched it to show respect.  There isn’t really much other reason to watch it, if I recall correctly.  Still, if it shows up on TCM I will DVR it.  Maybe I’ll let it play while I type a blog post.

 

An Unusual Voodoo/Witchcraft Kind of Guy

I’ve become suspicious of zombie movies, because the word “zombie” seems to cover such a wide fictional territory. Are they undead or just hypnotized? Flesh-eating or hate salt? Fast or slow? Body parts rotting or intact? There are many kinds of zombies.

Doubts aside, I DVR’d Plague of the Zombies (1966) from TCM in October. I ended up being glad I did. For one thing, it is a Hammer Film. I’m kind of a latecomer to the Hammer party, but I am a fan.

Spoiler Alert! I’m going to give away what seems to me important stuff, not just which kind of zombies these are. You might like to see the movie before reading this, if like me you like to be surprised.

The movie opens on some kind of voodoo ceremony. I don’t think the writers of horror movies research these things very well. I think they just put some half-naked Africans beating on drums and throw in whatever creepy stuff occurs to them at the time. In this case, it is a guy in a mask with a little doll (presumably a voodoo doll) and a vial of blood.

The voodoo doll is obviously female. Flash to a lovely woman sleeping restlessly. When mask guy starts chanting something weird, so does she. We see that her wrist is bandaged (and remember it later, of course). Suddenly she sits bolt upright and screams. End of prologue.

Next we meet a distinguished white-haired doctor and his beautiful blond daughter. They are going to Cornwall or the moors or someplace to help another doctor, who married an old schoolfriend of the daughter, investigate some mysterious deaths.

As the carriage rolls across the countryside, they see a fox, who is shortly followed by five guys in red coats on horses. What, no dogs? I don’t know much about fox hunting, but I thought there were always dogs. Anyways, the young bloods (I know that’s what they are, because that is how they are listed in the end credits) ask if anybody has seen a fox. Beautiful Daughter sweetly misdirects them.

Then it is on to the village, where a funeral is in progress. As Father and Daughter discreetly wait for the cortege to pass, the Young Bloods come thundering back and knock the coffin over a bridge. This makes for a nice creepy shot of the dead body.

The Young Bloods are mad at Daughter for misdirecting them. The brother of the dead guy is mad at both of them. I guess he blames them for the Young Bloods’ intrusion, which I personally thought a little unreasonable. Oh well, he is grief stricken.

It seems that twelve people have died. The families in this backward area will not allow autopsies, giving Distinguished Dad Doctor and Young Doctor a chance for some grave digging (“Could be worse; could be raining”) (oh wait, wrong movie).

We don’t have to wait too awful long to see the zombies, and they are scary. I was particularly fascinated by the motivations of the head bad guy, the leader of the voodoo/witchcraft kind of cult. He uses evil means to kill people and make them zombies, then utilizes them for a sound economic reason. He is also interested in beautiful young women for blood sacrifice purposes (less unusual in these pictures).

I kind of wish they had made more of the economic side of things, because that struck me as something different for a voodoo/witchcraft kind of bad guy. Any number of movie bad guys want to hypnotize beautiful young women for blood sacrifice purposes. However, zombie-izing young men to staff a haunted tin mine is a bit of entrepreneurialism that commands my respect.

Then again, I am a recently converted horror movie aficionado. Economics could play a time-honored role in zombie movies and I just haven’t seen enough of them. Obviously I have more movie watching to do.

In any case, I found Plague of the Zombies a delight. The dramatic conclusion is very satisfying, and Andre Morell as Distinguished Doctor Dad is an excellent hero. In post-movie commentary, Ben Mankiewicz mentioned that Morell is Watson to Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes in Hound of the Baskervilles. That would be a good movie to see again. Love that Peter Cushing.

If You Like Voodoo Curses

When I started to watch The Devil’s Own (1966), another movie I DVR’d in October, I was delighted to find that it was from Hammer Studios. I love Hammer movies!

Unfortunately, this one did not entertain me as much as, for example. Frankenstein Created Woman. I think I like monsters better than voodoo curses and devil worshipers. But that’s just me.

Spoiler Alert! This is another write-up where I’m pretty much going to recount the plot. What can I say? These are fun for me to write.

The movie starts out scarily enough with Joan Fontaine frantically packing to leave an African village before… something happens. The natives helping her sensibly flee in terror. She turns around and sees a scary voodoo doll. OK, I cracked up a little at the doll.

Then the door bursts open and a giant mask comes through. You can’t even tell if there’s really a person behind it, so I can see where that would be a little disconcerting. Fontaine screams and collapses.

I thought at first she was about to get killed and that I had been mistaken in thinking it was Joan Fontaine. However, the next scene finds her, some time later, in England interviewing to be a headmistress at a school. With a nervous smile, she glosses over her “health problems,” by which we surmise she had some sort of nervous breakdown in Africa. Or something. Of course she gets the job; we knew that from the description on digital cable.

And then the movie slows right down. Oh, stuff happens. But it’s your basic human interaction kind of plot. This weird girl is being romanced by a boy, to the distress of her grandmother. Other villagers seem concerned as well, so there’s a bit of creepy foreshadowing.

About the time the boy falls victim to a voodoo curse (which we, the audience immediately recognize) (some characters are slower on the uptake, despite the headless Ken doll found on a tree branch), I made the note that I prefer monsters. After that, things get a little more exciting. Spoiler alert notwithstanding, I don’t want to give everything away.

It really was not a bad movie. When things got a little slow for my tastes, I amused myself by studying Joan Fontaine’s face, looking for a family resemblance with Olivia de Havilland. I think it’s there, especially in certain expressions, but I’ll have to watch Hush… Hush… Sweet Charlotte again to be sure.

The climactic scenes are scary or comical, depending on how you feel about devil worshipers writhing in a dance of… something or other. It gets suspenseful, although anybody paying any attention (even my desultory kind), knows how Fontaine can ultimately triumph. Oh dear, did I just give something else away? Sorry.

I enjoyed the movie. And I got a bit of crocheting done, which is important to me this time of year. But for my next Hammer film, I’m hoping for a monster.

What? No Peter Cushing?

Spoiler Alert! I’m actually not going to give a lot away, especially not the ending, because I had stopped paying much attention by that time. In my defense, it was Saturday night and way past my usual bed time.

I DVR’d Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) with high hopes, thinking it must be the sequel to The Mummy, which I enjoyed recently. As I learned from Ben Mankiewicz’s pre-movie commentary, it is the second of four Mummy movies made by Hammer Studios (I referred to them as Hammer Films in my post on The Mummy, but I specifically noticed Mankiewicz said Hammer Films this time) (in the interests of accuracy). The movie was directed by the son of the guy that owned Hammer at the time. I suppose that would explain it.

My first disappointment was that neither Peter Cushing nor Christopher Lee were in the movie. I like Lee better as Dracula than as the Mummy anyways, but I felt Cushing was a real loss. Still, I thought I would try to enjoy it. A Hammer Studios monster movie must be worth a watch, right?

The movie opens with some guy tied by his hands to two stakes in the desert, guarded by an Arab-looking guy (1960s Hollywood version) (but I didn’t need to tell you that). A group of nomad-looking guys ride up on horses. Without a word, one of them kills the guy and chops his hand off. This gives everyone a good laugh (except, of course, the dead guy), and they ride off with the severed hand.

Cut to a luxurious tent, apparently the living quarters of the archaeologists excavating the tomb. A guy is pouring a French lady another drink. She flirtatiously asks is he trying to get her drunk. He says he will try to do so when they return to London (another spoiler: he doesn’t), and she coquettes that she will let him. It must be pretty dry out there, even for a desert, because I didn’t think he was such a much.

It turns out the dead guy of the previous scene is her father. She flees in tears.

“Let her go,” somebody says wisely to the boyfriend. People are always saying that in movies. I don’t know if they do in real life, because I am usually the one fleeing in tears, or at least I was in my dramatic adolescent past (although in my case, I sadly suspect it was more of a collective, “Thank God she’s gone!”) (but I digress). I think in the case of this movie, the movie makers wanted French Lady to be alone when she discovers in her bed (I did include a spoiler alert, didn’t I?) the severed hand (oh, you probably saw that coming; I did).

Another dramatic shock happens when they discover a dead body amongst the artifacts they are taking back to England. I got a good laugh over that, because, well, the body looked a little comical. Meaning no disrespect to the fictional dead.

Speaking of good laughs, Steven and I both cracked up when… I can’t remember who said what, but suddenly everyone froze in a dramatic pause and looked at… the sarcophagus. Which looked a little like Tutankhamen with a pig nose.

Soon they’re on a boat headed back to England. A couple more dramatic things happen, including the introduction of a mysterious, handsome stranger. He beats up a would-be assassin and tosses him overboard. That seemed a little careless to me. Wouldn’t you, for example, like to ask the guy who he works for?

Things get a good deal less exciting in London. French Lady starts playing Old Boyfriend against Handsome Stranger, but that isn’t very compelling, because Old Boyfriend doesn’t get very jealous. We find out, via dialogue, not demonstration, that French Lady is a rather brilliant Egyptologist, having studied hard to earn her father’s love (remember him? She doesn’t seem to). It seems Old Boyfriend wants her for her brain. What an insult! It is so refreshing that Handsome Stranger understands she wants a home and to stay in it. Well, this is before the feminist ’70s (no, I am not going to entertain a discussion on family vs. career; this is not that kind of a blog).

Where was I? Ah yes, losing track of the movie. It’s not what you call fast-paced and action-packed. And I don’t remember the ending. Something happens in a sewer after we find out a BIG secret about Handsome Stranger. So if this movie pops up again on TCM, I may try to watch it till the end. I may even write another blog post about it.

Not a Scooby Doo Plot

Spoiler Alert! I don’t really give much away this time, but it’s become a habit to include an alert.

I admit I DVR’d The Mummy on TCM thinking it was the black and white version. You know how I love old horror movies. When I found out it was the Hammer Films production from 1959, I figured it would still be worth a watch.

I already knew that Hammer had revitalized the horror genre in the late ’50s and early ’60s. What I learned from Ben Mankiewicz’s pre-movie commentary was that for the first few movies they made — Dracula and Frankenstein flicks — they had to be careful not to infringe on the copyrighted portions of movies previously released by Universal. After the success of the earlier films, Hammer was able to negotiate with Universal for re-make rights. The Mummy is the first of those re-makes.

That was very interesting to me. Now I want to see the older version more than ever, to see what they changed. And I may like to write a blog post contrasting the earlier, non-infringing movies with the re-makes.

The movie stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, veterans of previous Hammer films. Lee gets to be the monster this time, and he was not nuts about the extensive make-up, according to Mankiewicz. I can see where an actor might find it limiting, although Lon Chaney reportedly found it liberating. I wonder if George Clooney would like to try it. But I digress.

Cushing plays one of the archaeologists responsible for desecrating the tomb of… oh dear, I don’t recall the lady’s name. I may have written it in the TV Journal as I watched, but even if I did I am not at all confident in my spelling. It was some high priestess or other. There is a rather elaborate backstory about how the Mummy became her guardian. Someday I’ll have to look up some actual Egyptian legends to see how much Hollywood was really pulling our leg.

Speaking of leg, Cushing’s is broken, and his uncle has this nutty idea Cushing should return to civilization and get it properly set by a doctor. Of course he does no such thing. For one reason, he would avoid the Mummy’s curse and how would that have helped the movie? Later on he gets to walk around with a romantic limp that, quite frankly, I thought was going to figure into the plot more prominently.

Speaking of romantic, Cushing has a beautiful wife who, in one of those typical movie coincidences, happens to look JUST LIKE the lady in the tomb. Oh well, I suppose you could make up some rationalization about how Cushing is such a dedicated Egyptologist that he subconsciously fell in love with a girl who looked just like an Egyptian. Or something of that nature. I guess I don’t really have a problem with this sort of thing. It figures into the plot and makes the flashbacks easier to cast.

All the usual elements are here: warned against desecrating the tomb, desecrating the tomb anyways, leaving the Mummy’s first victim alone so that nobody quite knows what happened. At one point I said, “Oh, that would be a good plot: the guy that warned them does the killing himself and makes it look like the Mummy’s doing it.” Then I remembered that is the plot of almost every Scooby Doo mystery (although they didn’t usually deal in murder). I only steal from the best.

Cushing indulges in some typical stupid movie male activity. I know I usually rail against stupid movie females. In fact when movie males do it, it is brash or daring or refusing to play by the rules. As usual I must admit, if people in movies had any brains they would sit quietly at home and we would have boring movies (although I bet these days there is some yahoo with a webcam showing exactly that on YouTube). Cushing’s wife doesn’t do anything too stupid. Alas, she does not do much of anything else, either, the sad fate of many a movie female.

The movie does have what was for me a major “Waaaait a minute” moment, but to tell you that would entail quite a long plot summary and a major spoiler (alert notwithstanding). I enjoyed the movie. I think I am becoming a Peter Cushing fan.

Can’t Be Too Cheesy

Spoiler Alert! I’m not going to give away the whole plot, but I might ruin a surprise or two.

TCM has not shown any Whistler movies lately, but they have obliged with a few Hammer Films.

I made a note of “It’s a Hammer Film” in the TV Journal when we watched The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) last Sunday. Last night I found I was correct to do so. Ben Mankiewicz, in pre-movie commentary to another Frankenstein movie, informed us that Hammer Films became known for the horror genre.

Revenge of Frankenstein stars Peter Cushing as the mad doctor. I first became aware of Cushing many years ago, when he had a part in the first Star Wars movie (that’s the first MOVIE, not the first “episode,” of which I know very little). Cushing, as I understood it, was one of a couple of older, highly respected actor’s actors brought in to class up the operation. Now it’s a name which, when I see it in a movie, I say, “Can’t be too cheesy.” Still, any horror movie from the ’50s or ’60s is going to have a certain kitsch factor, especially one about Frankenstein. Hello! Sewing together dead people to bring them back to life! Even Kenneth Branaugh could bring only so much weight to that.

The movie opens with Dr. Frankenstein facing the guillotine for his crimes. Apparently this is not the first Frankenstein movie in the series (“Revenge of” kind of clued me into that already). But there is no problem following the plot from where they start, no need for lengthy flashbacks. Actually, in a Frankenstein movie, flashbacks look a little silly. I mean, we all KNOW the story or at least enough that we can follow along (I, of course, know the whole story; I read the book) (sorry, didn’t mean to sound smug).

I was a little disappointed that Dr. F didn’t get beheaded and sew his own head back on, but that would have been a whole other movie, I suppose. Instead, the scene changes before the blade clangs down and I don’t think anybody is too much surprised to learn that our “hero” escaped execution with the help of a confederate (that’s all we’re told about how it was done. I personally would have liked a flashback showing the trick) (after all, you never know when you might need to know these things).

The next thing we know, a certain Dr. Stein (subtle!) is practicing medicine in, oh, I forget where. Presumably a country with no extradition policy or no guillotines. The local medical association is a little miffed he hasn’t tried to join or otherwise seek their permission before stealing all their patients.

It seems the ladies love Dr. Stein. Hmmm. I guess the young Peter Cushing had a sort of charm. Maybe it’s that crisp, businesslike aloofness. That unattainability that drives some women nuts.

At any rate, Dr. Stein’s waiting room for his upper crust patients who pay through the nose is always full. He uses this income to subsidize his free clinic for the poor, which is another thing that the ladies love about him. So unselfish! So dedicated! They don’t realize he is using that clinic as a source for body parts (but you knew right away, didn’t you?).

I do hope he washes the parts before he uses them, because a lot is made of how the poor people don’t wash. One fellow in particular — I think he is employed at the clinic in some menial capacity — brags his head off about how that’s why he’s so healthy. Um, he does not literally brag is head off, although I guess that would have been appropriate in a Frankenstein movie that opens with a guillotine.

Dr. Stein has a crippled assistant named Carl, and he acquires a young doctor protege. The young doctor recognizes who Dr. Stein is, but does not think he is evil. He thinks he is brilliant and wants to work with him and learn. There is a also a beautiful, young, upper crust girl who volunteers at the clinic, and the stage is set.

And that is about as far as I want to go, because, spoiler alert aside, I really don’t want to give any more away. There are some unexpected twists and turns. You may see the ending coming, but it’s still pretty satisfying. I didn’t see it coming a mile away, but pretty much guessed it just before it happened. I felt pretty pleased with myself that I guessed right.