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Hammer Horror - Page 2

post #51 of 320
I've been interrupted in the middle of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. But, let me say this, the Baron outdoes himself as a complete and utter bastard in this one. He earns the title of the movie before the halfway point.
post #52 of 320
FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)

There's an odd realization that, for the first time, Frankenstein utterly succeeds in his experiments. The operations go off without a hitch. He fixes the brain. He outwits the authorities. And he still is unprepared for the full consequences of his actions as he gets carried into a literal hell at the end of the movie. His success is his destruction.

And a deserved destruction it is. The Baron murders, blackmails, steals, harasses, rapes, lies, commits various blasphemies, and is generally contemptuous of everyone and everything around him. A lot had changed in the decade since CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was released and this is the first in the series that really feels up to taking the Hammer legacy and responding to the raised game of others such as Polanski and Romero. It's quite the shock after the relatively tame FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN. I suspect that FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED was conceived first, the burned hands in CREATED WOMAN could come from the inferno in this one, but Hammer wasn't prepared to go that far first. This one makes up for it.

Cushing is particularly lively in this one. He was on the sidelines for CREATED WOMAN and wasn't particularly evil in EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, but here he gets to burst out and he appears to be savoring every cruel moment of it.

Veronica Carlson and Simon Ward are the doomed couple that get blackmailed by Frankenstein into being his assistants. One sometimes wonders why they put up with as much as they do, and Ward's arc gets cut short before the end as a better ending presents itself, but they're effective enough. Veronica Carlson certainly is more involved in the plot than many of Hammer's buxom babes.

Thorley Walters gets a new role after his turn in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN as a police inspector on the trail of Frankenstein. The role starts out promising, he appears competent and not liable to making assumptions, but ultimately turns out to be without much purpose as he never confronts Frankenstein, his assistants, or his creation.

Freddie Jones has a nice turn as the subject of Frankenstein's experiment. The irony that he shared the same dream as Frankenstein isn't lost on him. And the performance brings a much needed humanity and contrast to Frankenstein. One of the better "creature" performances, IMO, and a very satisfying one from a thematic standpoint.

Terence Fisher's direction is still efficient. Most of the shock effects work. There's blood. And some squirm inducing sounds as Frankenstein practices his medicine. There's also a very noticable use of the color red as a recurring motif throughout the film.

One of the most depraved and best of the Hammer films. One of Cushing's best performances as he's appropriately satanic. It would have been a fitting capstone to the franchise.
post #53 of 320
I'm about an hour into FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. Is something interesting going to happen in the last half hour? Cushing's basically a supporting character in this one and the bad wig he's wearing doesn't help.
post #54 of 320
FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)

I'm old enough to vaguely remember the evocative poster for this one, although I didn't see this until now. The movie doesn't live up to the poster. Even at just over 90 minutes, this one's a slog. Not flat out terrible, but everything has been done better in earlier entries. The only thing really new is the level of gore, which isn't even that great by 70s standards.

Clearly Hammer is second guessing themselves at this stage. Cushing's still Frankenstein, but he's pretty much a supporting character to Shane Briant as Dr. Simon Helder. Madeline Smith as the mute Sarah also features prominently. Clearly Hammer thinks that youthful casting, along with gore, would help the box office, but there's barely a story here. Helder clearly wants to be the next Frankenstein at the beginning of the film, but he has a conscience. Unfortunately, the end result is that he's wishy washy and never completely breaks away from the Baron.

The film is that way too, not even bothering to have a proper fate for the Baron, he's literally just sweeping up the pieces at the end ready for the next entry in the franchise, an entry that never came after this underwhelming effort.

Part of the problem is that the script is never in a hurry to get anywhere. We have about 10 to 15 minutes of Helder leading up to him being sentenced to the asylum. The movie then spends about 10 to 15 minutes of the Baron doing his rounds going over the case histories of inmates of the asylum, with none of that paying off at any point. By the time we go through the perfunctory plot points and medical procedures, we're basically an hour into the movie. The monster basically is relegated to the last 15 minutes of the movie with a very abbreviated climax.

There's a couple of relatively new ideas. This time, unlike REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the body overwhelms the brain. However, considering how unbelievable the body is and how little is spent on developing the creature, it's hard to develop any sympathy for the creature or appreciate the predicament. It's basically a plot point. Then they throw in the plot point of Frankenstein trying to mate the creature with Madeline Smith, which is never developed into much of anything, before descending into a by the book monster rampage.

The script seems to want to evoke Biblical imagery with a patient that believes he's god, Frankenstein is credited with creation of a new "man", "The Angel", and the Monster From Hell, but the imagery is ultimately empty and says nothing.

Cushing, of course, gets to chew the scenery with his usual style, although hampered by a really bad curly wig. Nothing new here, but still enjoyable. Frankenstein's backstory seems to change with every movie, although this one seems most compatible with FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN with his burned hands and being sentenced to an asylum for practicing sorcery.

David Prowse gets to portray the monster. In a totally unconvincing body suit. They're clearly trying too hard here as the creature is supposed to be of a man, but the visage is more of an ape, even overshooting caveman. Other than size, it's hard to spot the future Darth Vader under the pounds and pounds of costume and makeup.

The asylum itself is nicely put together. Nice to see some of the old equipment make a return to the laboratory too. Nothing too memorable though and the model work of the outside is laughably bad.

An underwhelming end to the series. They clearly had nowhere else to go and the whole thing comes across as filler. A poorly designed creature attached to a perfunctory plot and misjudged attempts to be in tune with current trends. It probably makes more sense than EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, but at least EVIL had energy. Either way, it's one of the two worst of the series.
post #55 of 320
So, to sum up the Cushing Frankensteins.

Highly Recommended (the essentials)
The Curse of Frankenstein
The Revenge of Frankenstein
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Modest Recommendation (tepid but some interesting ideas)
Frankenstein Created Woman

For the hardcore fan only
The Evil of Frankenstein
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell
post #56 of 320
Had a Halloween horror film party last night. Hammer was the theme this year and HORROR OF DRACULA and THE DEVIL RIDES OUT were on the menu. (Put me in the camp that has THE DEVIL RIDES OUT as silly fun.) And, non-Hammer, HORROR EXPRESS which is a little, whacked out, gem.
post #57 of 320

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter

I found this in the supermarket. It was only 6 bucks, but I still feel kinda gypped. I'd gotten a general sense of it's being legendary somehow.

It started off okay, with Kronos driving pell mell through beautiful English countryside, but that got a little stale after a while, as they drove and drove and drove.

The woods that most of the movie took place in were beautiful. But God, nothing happened for long, long stretches.

What a borefest. Caroline Munro was in it, and I guess that's the main thing that made everyone remember this fondly ... the wanton sex between Kronos and the Munro character (though all implied ... no real nudity in it at all).

Been waiting to see this since I was 12. Guess if I'd been 12 the implied wanton sex would have been enough.
post #58 of 320
I think it's thought of fondly because it introduced a new take (let's focus on the vampire HUNTER) after way too many Dracula and Frankenstein movies. There's something appealingly comic book like about the concept; bummed that it doesn't live up to that.
post #59 of 320
HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

It's been awhile since I last watched HORROR OF DRACULA. Still a considerable step above it's more exploitation minded sequels. There's at least a pretense of literary mindedness to the proceedings. It's a very loose adaptation though, the least of which is that it apparently all takes place within a nights carriage ride of the Count's castle instead of in England.

The opening at Dracula's castle is still well done. Even on a Hammer budget it's a nice castle. And a nice interior design. Well suited to Lee as well who just glides up and down them. Lee really isn't asked to do all that much acting wise, but he does everything that's asked of him fine and certainly cuts an imposing presence.

The big early twist is that Jonathan Harker isn't an unsuspecting visitor but a vampire hunter. Seems a pretty bad one though. He seems to have little suspicion of the vampire woman, a great heaving bosom there btw. And, as a friend pointed out, if he hadn't spent so much time writing in his journal he wouldn't have fallen prey to Dracula. Of course then there wouldn't be a movie.

Peter Cushing is always a welcome sight and he makes a solid presence straight off as Van Helsing. It's funny that a Transylvanian inn would have a bottle of Gordon's Gin displayed so prominently. Slightly disappointing is the lack of skin on the bar maid. It's not like Hammer to miss an opportunity.

Cushing's reaction to the discovery of Harker in the mausoleum is typical of the film. It's not a showcase for subtle method acting, that's for sure.

The early phonograph is an interesting way to get a bunch of exposition across. The "I was talking to myself" is only semi-successful as comic relief though. There's really no reason for Van Helsing to be coy about a piece of technology, other than being a dick.

Michael Gough as the skeptic Arthur is a welcome edition. Really amazing that the three principals would later take part in three of the biggest franchises of all time. His performance isn't any subtler than Cushing's. The mausoleum scene when Lucy gets staked being a prime example. Nobody underacts in this movie.

Lucy's illness is handled alright, although it's very perfunctory. Obviously they're aiming for sex appeal with the open door and Lucy's neatly braided hair becoming wilder. Lucy the vampire works a lot better. In fact, Lucy and Tania might be the best scene in the movie striking the right note of horror without trying too hard.

The girl actress portraying Tania doesn't annoy me either. More than I expect of kid actors from this era. Looks as cute as a button wrapped up in Van Helsing's coat too.

Lucy's staking is what really sets the movie apart from Universal's. It's very graphic for its time and still very effective. The fact that blood spurts forth and covers Van Helsing's hand is a really nice touch.

The comic relief officials don't do much for me. The fact that Dracula hides his coffin in a coffin shop is clever though. And that he later hides it in the Holmwood (not a very German name, is it?) basement is equally good. Dracula's second attack on Mina really plays well, almost as a rape / seduction. Certainly it's as graphic as anything that anyone had done up to that point.

The climax really works. Out of all the adaptations of Dracula, this is the one that really gets that Bram Stoker had an action packed exciting climax. Obviously the special effects have dated some, but it still really works. It occurs to me that Sam Raimi homaged the dissolution of Dracula in the original Evil Dead, albeit by turning up the gore factor some.

Other than the comic relief, the other thing that really didn't work for me was the score, which was just ponderous. The same little theme played over and over.

So, basically, this still works like gangbusters. Handsome, sexy, and exciting. Sure, it's over the top and blunt at points, but I'd say that Nosferatu is the only Dracula adaptation that's markedly superior.
post #60 of 320
Did you find it a little strange that none of the characters acknowledge the rape in MUST BE DESTROYED? That scene was added after production wrapped at the insistence of the studio head. Cushing in particular was not happy about its inclusion.

So you're skipping HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN. It's the only one of the series I've never seen, a comic reboot with Ralph Bates as a younger Dr. F. Would like to read your thoughts on it.
post #61 of 320
Yeah, the lack of the payoff from the rape in MUST BE DESTROYED is odd. That said, Frankenstein had run that couple through the ringer enough that I can deal with them being too shellshocked to deal with more. In the end, it probably doesn't fit into the plot, but it sure fits into the theme of the movie.

I've gotten ahold of HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, so I'll get around to it. I think I'll plow through the Dracula films though after going through 6 Frankensteins as a change of pace. I might do the Dracula's out of order since I've seen Brides of Dracula relatively recently, one of my favorites actually, and I think Prince of Darkness is a bore after they resurrect Dracula. Or not, if dealing with them chronologically is something people prefer.
post #62 of 320
"Just because", I took a look at the first half hour of HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN. "The CW Presents Frankenstein" was my basic reaction to it. It really seems like it wants to be a sex romp as much as a horror film. And a parody. Unfortunately, it's so deadeningly obvious in its setups / payoffs that there's no life or surprise to the thing.

And Ralph Bates is no Peter Cushing, that's for sure.

Not much positive to say. However, the women in the film are gorgeous and I have no idea how they manage to keep their breasts contained in some of the costumes. And the camera makes sure we get as good a view as possible. Goodness gracious!

Just to put it in perspective, YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was less than half a decade out.
post #63 of 320
So, I decided to go in order. Perhaps more fun that way.

BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)

The title is misleading. It's really about a disciple of Dracula, Baron Meinster (David Peel) rather than female vampires. There are two Dracula references in the whole movie. In the opening narration, which basically tells us Dracula is dead but his disciples remain, and Cushing refers to the bite mark on the neck as the "kiss of Dracula". I actually like that turn of phrase.

Although the title is misleading, the movie does provide several significant female parts. Yvonne Monlaur is in quite a lot of the movie as Marianne. I'm quite amused that she seems to think she's in a gothic romance where she has to rescue the handsome Baron from his confinement. That he's a vampire is an EC style twist. And, you know what, it works. Sure you know it's coming in a movie with Dracula in the title, but it's a nice unconventional first act of a vampire movie and it's not boring.

The Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) is actually an interesting character. Keeping her son "alive" but confined. And apparently luring young women to the castle to feed him. The fact that he puts the bite on his own mom is a nice bit of perversity as well. Perhaps more could have been made of her own sins, but it's a good role. Toss in Freda Jackson as a female Renfield type and you have more than your token allotment of women roles in a Hammer film.

Of course, things really get a move on once Peter Cushing shows up. It's really a shame that it's his last turn as Van Helsing until the 70s when he's too old to really engage in the physicality that he displays here. Even the simple act of getting out of a carriage is given a boost by Cushing gracefully getting out while it's still moving. There's some well staged action too. It's really an exciting film. In some alternate universe there's a whole franchise of Peter Cushing's Van Helsing fighting vampires and I'd like to see those. At least the girl ends up in his arms at the end of the film and I'd like to think that she stays there.

David Peel is o.k. as the Baron Meinster. He's too much of a pretty boy to really be menacing, but that helps sell the early twist. You can believe that Marianne didn't see the implicit menace. But, it doesn't help that when Cushing and Peel fight, it's tough to believe that Cushing doesn't kick his ass.

This is really a good looking movie with well designed sets. The Meinster Chateau and the wind mill ending in particular. The finish of the vampire is terrifically cinematic as well. Also there's a nice bit where it looks like they actually did film at night on location as you can see Cushing's breath after a chase.

There's a lot of upfront Christianity in this one. Christian symbols are very powerful and at the center of the fights. The Christian symbol doesn't just protect the wearer, it causes pain and repels the vampire. There's a really unique use of Holy Water too. And when Cushing splashes Holy Water on a vampire, the results look pretty terrible in a well done makeup effect.

Also, there's a new approach to vampirism to go along with this. In HORROR OF DRACULA, it was treated almost as a disease. In this one, Cushing describes it as a pagan cult. And, after dismissing that a vampire could turn into a bat in the first movie, in this movie vampires do just that and Cushing claims as much.

There are some little inconsistencies here and there and comic relief that falls flat. Looking at some of them, a servant(?) shows up menacingly at the beginning and then promptly vanishes from the remainder of the film after the first 10 minutes. A female is buried in a grave covered by just a couple of inches of dirt. Van Helsing apparently has no sense of punctuality showing up after dark when he should have plenty of time while there's still light out. The bat attacks, as noted uptopic, are dated (the ones in SCARS OF DRACULA are worse though). The fact that Marianne doesn't realize the Baron is evil for like 90% of the movie.

But, it's fast moving, good looking, and features Cushing at his best. Honestly, I prefer it to HORROR OF DRACULA although the latter is obviously the more important movie. This one is darn entertaining though.
post #64 of 320
Looking forward to more. I've seen about half of these.
post #65 of 320
Quote:
Originally Posted by EvilTwin View Post
But, it's fast moving, good looking, and features Cushing at his best. Honestly, I prefer it to HORROR OF DRACULA although the latter is obviously the more important movie. This one is darn entertaining though.
I prefer it to 'Horror' as well, especially since I've alway been put off by how oddly restrained and casual Lee's Dracula is in his first scene, his Dracula in that film doesn't come alive until he bares his fangs. You could say that for every one of Lee's turns as the Count, but at least he becomes more vicious and intimidating in his latter appearances, making up for the weak and/or non-existent dialogue.

Also, Cushing's Van Helsing is so scrappy and bad ass, I just love him, the definitive portrayal of the character in my view.
post #66 of 320
DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966)

Eight years after HORROR OF DRACULA, Hammer brought back Christopher Lee. Unfortunately, the movie really doesn't accomplish a whole lot beyond resurrecting the Count and doesn't give Christopher Lee anything interesting to do. Acts II and III are prefunctory as can be.

Act I is fairly interesting though. Four travelers get stranded near Castle Dracula and a driverless carriage shows up. And the horses have minds of their own and end up driving them up to the Castle where a mysterious servant, Klove, makes them welcome for the night. One of the things going here is that the movie is quiet here and sets a solid spooky mood. Almost like we're in for a ghost story.

And then Klove murders one of the travelers, suspends him over Dracula's ashes, and matter of factly slits his throat raining blood down on the ashes and reviving Dracula. That's a real visceral payoff for the drawn out setup.

Unfortunately, nothing really interesting happens after that. Dracula puts the bite on Barbara Shelley who goes from a prude to an erotic vampire with her hair let down. More could have been done with her trying to put the bite on her brother-in-law. Lee's Dracula really doesn't have anything more to do. He has no lines, perhaps by choice, and he ends up looking imposing while wearing bloodshot contacts and trying to put the bite on Suzan Farmer for the rest of the film. There's one good scene, Christopher Lee opens his chest to have Suzan Farmer drink his blood, echoing Stoker's novel, but there's too little to do.

And there's potential for more. After Dracula's revival, the two survivors flee to a monastery run by the gun toting, claret swilling, Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) who livens things up immensely. The four travelers are an altogether uninteresting lot. Too bad Keir is in so little of the film and a lot of that is to serve as exposition. There's a lot of potential for Dracula and a female vampire vs. a monastery of monks, looking for a way in, and tempting/picking off the guards. The monks even manage to capture Barbara Shelley at one point, a potentially exciting scene that's relegated to happening off screen. WTF is up with that? It's like everyone was looking at the running time and going, the setup took too long, we have no time for anything interesting to happen before Dracula grabs the girl and flees back to the castle.

Thorley Walters gets to portray a Renfield analog named Ludwig. Why he's not named Renfield is a distracting question. But, they establish some new vampire lore for the series as it's declared that a vampire can't cross a threshold without an invitation and that drowning via running water is one method of destroying a vampire. Hammer is also still running with the idea of vampirism as a pagan cult with Dracula as the fountainhead. And, of course, a cross is still a powerful weapon against a vampire.

The climax actually works though, even if it is a pretty blatant variation of the ending of HORROR OF DRACULA. Again there's a horse chase to the castle, although this time it looks a lot better with location filming and the chase is much more exciting. There's a fight on ice and an imaginative ending with the ice getting shot out from under Dracula leaving him to drown in running water under the end credits. It might not be original, but it's one of the few things after Dracula is revived that is truly interesting and exciting.

The movie does look good. Even as a horror programmer, it gets points for location filming and atmosphere. That's one dependable pleasure of Hammer's films and something I'm sorry too few horror films attempt today.

Overall, not terrible, but the second half of the film is really weak. Which is a shame because the first half promises better and the directing gets the most of what is there. If there's a central problem, it's with a script that can't figure out what to do with Dracula beyond revive him.
post #67 of 320
Yeah, it's truly a shame that Lee has no lines whatsoever in this one. Sandor was a funny Van Helsing replacement, however. Shame that the last times Cushing/Lee would team up as Van Helsing/Dracula would be in such shitty movies.
post #68 of 320
Yeah, it's truly unfortunate that there wasn't another Lee/Cushing Dracula film with them both in their prime.

I'm actually looking forward to the rest of the Dracula series. I haven't seen DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE in a long, long time (and I believe that's the first appearance of a truly well used plot complication to vampire lore) and I don't believe I've ever seen one of those past that in full. Yeah, their reputation isn't good, but I'd still rather watch one of these shitty later films than the shitty later films of several horror franchises of the 80s.

Also, I semi-apologized for picking BRIDES OF DRACULA in the Horror Draft as a Hammer fetish. I revoke that apology, BRIDES is a terrific film. Yeah, I'm guilty of the fetish, but rewatching it convinced me that it belonged.
post #69 of 320
Started watching DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. One thing to note is that this movie apparently takes place in 1906, which would place PRINCE OF DARKNESS in 1905 and HORROR OF DRACULA as 1895 if the timeline is accurate. I'm kind of betting that it gets thrown out the window with the next movie myself.

Also, I think this is the first movie that really distinguishes Lee's Dracula beyond the look. He's a bit of a sadist here.
post #70 of 320
Son of a bitch. Lost my writeup on DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.
post #71 of 320
DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)

Kind of sloppy. Kind of fun. It's formula with a couple of points of interest at this point instead of a legitimately good movie.

One of those good points is that it looks good, albeit not quite hiding that it's pretty cheap. Freddy Francis takes over as director for this outing and as you would expect from an award winning cinematographer, SONS AND LOVERS, THE INNOCENTS, THE ELEPHANT MAN, DUNE, GLORY, CAPE FEAR, & THE STRAIGHT STORY, he knows how to frame an image. The other points of directing elude him a bit, but reasonably good looking formula is more than a lot of later horror entries can provide. There's also a darn solid opening, which I'll go into.

There's a prologue set during the events of PRINCE OF DARKNESS, where a trail of blood from a belfrey leads to the discovery on a victim of Dracula stuffed into a church bell, desecrating the church. One of the quickest and best shock openings of a Hammer film to date. The movie then jumps a year with the disillusioned Priest (Ewan Hooper), he has no other name, saying Mass to an empty church and then going to the bar to get drunk. Needless to say this doesn't sit well with Monsignor Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies). Between the church desecration and the fact that the shadow of Castle Dracula touches the church, the locals will have nothing to do with the place. They won't even mention Dracula by name, shades of Voldemort. In a tit for tat, the Monsignor sets out to exorcise Castle Dracula with a big cross and drags the Priest along. Turns out that in between movies Castle Dracula has gotten a lot harder to get to, requiring a strenuous climb up a mountain. The Priest, due to a lack of courage and shaken faith, drops out but the Monsignor makes it an performs the rites of exorcism amid a raging thunderstorm and placing a cross on the doors. Perhaps this is the first exorcism performed on screen, perhaps not, but it's a good one. However, the Priest gets frightened during the exorcism and falls down a rocky slope bashing his head and unleashing a small stream of blood. Which finds its way to the icebound remains of Dracula. Almost immediately, Dracula is demanding to know who did the exorcism and sets out with the "fallen" Priest in his thrall for revenge on the Monsignor.

Too bad the rest of the film isn't up to the opening.

Given this is 1968, Hammer isn't about to have a film without a strong youth presence and the focus of the film abruptly changes from the Priest, Dracula, and the Monsignor to the Monsignor's niece Maria (the lovely Veronica Carlson) and her baker/student boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews). And their romantic difficulties as it turns out that Paul is <gasp> an atheist. The revelation of which gets him booted from Maria's birthday party and into the arms of slutty barmaid Zena (Barbara Ewing) who works at the pub/bakery where Paul lives and works. Dracula however has his eyes on Zena and then on Maria. Wacky hijinks ensue. And the Priest's loyalties shift a couple of times.

None of this is particularly bad. None of this is particularly inspired either. Except for the well exposed cleavage of Barbara Ewing who's outfitted in a particularly loose fitting blouse in most of the film. But it's here that the film loses its narrative drive for awhile.

Still, there's fun to be had. Some lovely women to ogle. Francis plays with color filters at the edge of the screen. There are some fine shots. Christopher Lee looks imposing and gets to act sadistic, savagely whipping horses, abusing the Priest and Zena, and saying lines like "You have failed. You must be punished." with particular relish. Dracula's attacks are also played as particularly sexual in nature.

The couple does a lot of traveling between their places via rooftops and there are a couple of encounters with Dracula up there. It reminded me of BATMAN RETURNS with the rooftop scenes at times. For old time computer game fans, the fact that Dracula's borrowed coffin in hidden in the sewers accessed via a stairwell in the wine cellar may be amusing.

It's also quite sloppy continuity wise. Lee's Dracula has bloodshot eyes in every scene except his bedroom visit to Maria. Dracula's reflection is seen twice, in the water post resurrection and in Maria's glass doors to her balcony. Sacks in front of the wine cellar door come and go at random. And there are plenty more little sloppy continuity errors for the sharp eyed viewer to spot. Plus the day for night shooting is really obvious and there's not a single set that looks all the impressive. There's the air of a really tight deadline and rushed production schedule about this.

This is also a film that despite Hammer's reputation for skin and shocks is ultimately quite conservative in nature. The slutty girl is punished. The atheist comes to believe. I think this is the first time that the idea that you have to believe in order to kill a vampire was used on film, although I think it ultimately was used to better effect in SALEM'S LOT and FRIGHT NIGHT.

Ultimately, there's another race back to Dracula's castle (which is a lot easier to get to at the end of the film than the beginning) where he's escaping with the girl. But even though it should be old hat, it still works. I think a good reason for that is that Hammer is good at finding new wrinkles for the climax and don't rely on the same method for dispatching Dracula. (Cameron's done this trick himself in ALIENS and T2.) This time it involves Dracula getting impaled on the big cross with the Priest's prayers and Paul's willingness to believe doing Dracula in. Darn it all if it doesn't work.

This is a far cry from the pleasures of HORROR OF DRACULA and BRIDES OF DRACULA. The absence of Peter Cushing is especially felt in this one as no one in opposition to Dracula is really that interesting or charismatic. But, despite some obvious sloppiness, this is essentially competent formula. Too bad a soggy middle kind of does it in from being more than that.
post #72 of 320
Is the next one the one with the gentlemen of leisure? TASTE THE BLOOD, I believe.
post #73 of 320
Yeah, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA is up next. Followed by SCARS OF DRACULA, DRACULA A.D. 1972, and THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA. I may do LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES, but I'm not exactly eager.

It is kind of amazing just how many vampire films Hammer was able to crank out.
post #74 of 320
TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970)

Definitely an atypical sequel. And definitely a product of its time. Unfortunately it's traded one set of weaknesses for another set.

Thematically it is somewhat more interesting than what's proceeded it. This is a film about the sins of the elders and the retribution for their sins delivered by the youth. That's certainly an appropriate theme for the era and tells us exactly where Hammer thought its bread was buttered. It also presents a change from the previous decade when Hammer had a more adult tendency with middle aged leads.

The climax of DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is revisited, with a traveling salesman finding his way to the site and scooping up the dried blood of Dracula as well as his signet ring, clasp, and cape. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense that he could be there without someone objecting. And, in the ever shifting continuity, Castle Dracula is once again readily approachable.

The narrative then shifts to London, first time in the series, as we're introduced to three "respectable" gentlemen Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), a puritanical tyrant at home, Paxton (Peter Sallis), who's defined as being weak willed, and Secker (John Carson), who really has no discernible personality but seems to be the know-it-all who moves the plot forward. And their children who are involved in various romantic entanglements. Jeremy Secker (Martin Jarvis) loves Lucy Paxton (Isla Blair). Paul Paxton (Anthony Higgins) loves Alice Hargood (Linda Hayden). Alice's father doesn't approve.

Turns out that the "respectable" gentlemen have a secret. Once a month they go out to engage in debauchery. And they've grown bored with it. Enter Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates) who seems to have ideas that they're lacking. They agree to sell their souls to the Devil, for the experience, buy the blood of Dracula from the salesman now set up in London, and then proceed to an abandoned church for a black mass. And chicken out. Courtley ends up drinking the reconstituted blood of Dracula, acts poisoned, and gets beaten to death by the gentlemen. They flee and Dracula rises from the corpse, 60s special effects style, with the promise of revenge for their destroying his servant. Things proceed from there with Dracula using the offspring as his instruments of destruction.

It's a far more interesting film through the resurrection than it is elsewhere. First of all, there's tits in the brothel scenes. And who can complain about that, even if it was brief flashes easily editable out for television? It was the first Dracula movie to get an R rating, after the surprisingly G rated previous film. It's nicely decadent.

Follow that up with a pretty good black mass scene in a pretty terrific abandoned church set and it's off to a good start. But, like several Hammer films, it doesn't know what to do once Dracula is revived.

Reportedly, Dracula wasn't even supposed to be in this film, but WB wouldn't distribute a Dracula film without Dracula. So, instead of Lord Courtley having his revenge, Dracula steps in. Only problem is that I can't buy Dracula giving a toss about one of his servants. And, even then, I can't see him handling things as indirectly as Dracula does here. Lee's pretty much a glorified cameo basically keeping count of the bodies. He basically hypnotizes and bites the children so that they can carry out his revenge. Lee gets to look imposing, but it's probably his least interesting appearance to date. Added to that, I just can't picture Dracula on the side of innocent youth.

And, again, the focus shifts to the youth and their romantic difficulties. Without anything of interest coming out of it. O.k., the women are attractive, but it's a thoroughly bland set of characters otherwise. With distracting modern haircuts to boot. The absence of a single actor as compelling as Peter Cushing really hampers the film.

The revenges start out pretty well though. Harwood, drunk, catches his daughter coming back into her bedroom at night and wants to beat her. At first you thought he didn't like Paul because of his father, but I think the scene makes it clear that Harwood has lustful, sadomasochistic desires towards his own daughter. He deserves all that's coming to him, which is a sharp-edged shovel to the head courtesy of his hypnotized daughter that's just bloody enough to be convincing.

The death of the weakwilled Paxton is also pretty solid. He ends up getting staked by Lucy, turned vampire, and the hypnotized Alice. A vampire staking a live victim is a nice ironic turn.

And that's pretty much it for interest as far as the plot goes. Paul eventually gets the news that Dracula is behind it all after Secker is killed, he reads a book, and heads out to the abandoned church to save Lucy, who somehow hasn't been turned into a vampire despite being with Dracula for several days. Apparently Dracula only can accomplish about 10 minutes worth of story a night. He basically undoes the desecration of the church which comes alive at the climax and destroys Dracula for him in a very ho hum climax.

This is a fairly decent looking film though. Particularly the exterior church yard locations, the brothel interior, and the abandoned church. The other sets aren't as good, but the big ones work. It's also a film that doesn't have the annoying continuity errors of the previous one.

It's a more interesting film than PRINCE OF DARKNESS at least. And there's thematic interest. But the plot is really rote following Dracula's resurrection and the movie ends flatly. There's promise of much more, but it can't deliver. The lack of a strong lead opposite Lee being one problem, common to several of the Dracula films after Cushing. But bungling the ending is a new problem for Hammer. Hit and miss despite a promising opening.
post #75 of 320
SCARS OF DRACULA (1970)

Hammer's last period Dracula movie shows all the signs of Hammer's upcoming collapse in the 1970s. What's shocking is that it's lacking in the relative polish that Hammer was known for. There are a couple of interesting things going on in this one, but I think it's easily the worst directed of the bunch to date.

I'm not sure what was the purpose of this film other than as program filler. Dracula's resurrection, always fun for the continuity minded, is handled in the first minute. A vampire bat drools blood on Dracula's powdered remains in Castle Dracula reviving the Count. How Dracula's remains got back to Castle Dracula after TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA is never explained. Worse, the bat is a laughably bad special effect. And it returns, again and again, throughout the film.

So, Dracula is revived quickly and the opening credits feature a villager carrying Dracula's latest victim. The villagers have finally had enough and they set out to burn down Castle Dracula, dragging along the reluctant Priest. The villagers encounter Dracula's servant Klove (Patrick Troughton) who warns them that his master will have his vengeance if they touch his castle. And Dracula does have his vengeance, unleashing a swarm of laughably bad bats which kill all the women of the village who had holed up in the Church. The scar covered faces of the victims being one of Hammer's goriest makeup jobs to date.

And then the film switches gears and we get bland Hammer leading man Simon (Dennis Waterman) who's in love with bland but pretty Hammer leading lady Sarah (Jenny Hanley). And Sarah is mildly smitten with Simon's brother Paul (Christopher Matthews) who apparently thinks he's in a version of Tom Jones as he's busy bedding the burgomaster's daughter, who we get a nice view of her naked rear at the beginning, before having to flee from the burgomaster. All the way, after a stop with the unhelpful villagers and a friendly barmaid, to Castle Dracula.

The usual things happen after that, although at least in this version they borrow heavily from Stoker as SCARS contains the most bits of the original novel since HORROR OF DRACULA. Paul disappears, Simon and Sarah follow and wind up at Castle Dracula, and Dracula intends to put the bite on Sarah. You can pretty much take it from there.

The one thing that's really fresh about the movie is Patrick Troughton's Klove. He's easily the most interesting character as he falls for a photo of Sarah and is constantly shifting sides throughout the rest of the movie. Troughton's flat out great in the role, whistling while he chops up and disposes of one of Dracula's victims, which is easily the best servant role of the whole series.

The other thing that's really interesting is that this is easily Christopher Lee's biggest part since HORROR OF DRACULA. Parts are taken directly from Stoker's novel, he gets to climb straight up a wall from his inaccessible resting place, he gets the most lines of dialogue of any Dracula movie, and he gets to be really sadistic, torturing Klove with a sword pulled from a fireplace for instance.

And there's easily the most gore in the series too. Mostly from the bat attacks, but Paul ends up with a meat hook sticking out of his chest.

Unfortunately, I really don't have much else to call a positive. The bat special effects are terrible and it's compounded by the director, Roy Ward Baker, lingering on them. The sets look cheap and its compounded by them being overlit. Some shadows in the vein of Val Lewton would have helped tremendously. And even by bland Hammer leading man standards, Dennis Waterman is terrible.

The finale is handled poorly too. Dracula menaces Sarah outside his castle, but she's protected by her crucifix. Which leads to a laughably awful reaction shot of Lee. Lee sends the laughably bad bat to remove the crucifix with the camera lingering on Sarah's bloody cleavage. Another laughably bad reaction shot from Lee. Simon runs to the rescue and throws an iron bar into Dracula, the one good part of the scene. Dracula pulls it out and intends to skewer Simon but lightning hits the bar instead and starts Dracula on fire. Perhaps this could have worked but the shock value as the director lingers on the bad special effects too long, as well as the looped scream of Dracula, until a bad flaming model falls off a bad model castle.

I'm perhaps making it sound worse than it is, it's really not that much worse than several of the preceding Dracula films, but it's a real tired endeavor without many of the charms of previous Hammer films. Usually you can count on a Hammer film at least looking good, no such luck here. It's no wonder they tried to reboot the series after this.
post #76 of 320
Watching the Dracula films, pretty much confirmed for me that the Golden Age of Hammer was basically THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT to THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. There are some gems after that, QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, but for the most part the latter Hammer entries lack the ambitions of the earlier films.

HORROR OF DRACULA and BRIDES OF DRACULA fall squarely into the Golden Age. They stand up well.

OTOH, DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, and SCARS OF DRACULA are only slightly better than standard programmers and they're clearly from another era. And they rely on formula a lot. I think it's almost right to call them a different franchise from HORROR and BRIDES. I'd probably rank them RISEN, TASTE, PRINCE, and SCARS from best to worst. None of them is a complete success, but even the worst at least has some points of interest. So, a scorecard of highlights.

BEST CASTLE DRACULA - Dracula, Prince of Darkness
BEST LEE PERFORMANCE - Scars of Dracula
BEST SERVANT - Klove (Patrick Troughton) - Scars of Dracula
BEST RESURRECTION - Dracula, Prince of Darkness narrowly over Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
BEST STAKING GONE WRONG - Taste the Blood of Dracula
BEST DRACULA DEFEAT - Dracula Has Risen from the Grave narrowly over Dracula, Prince of Darkness
BEST RELIGUOUS FIGURE - Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) - Dracula, Prince of Darkness
BEST BLAND HAMMER HERO - Paul (Barry Andrews) - Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
BEST PRETTY HAMMER HEROINE - Maria (Veronica Carlson) - Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
BEST PRETTY VICTIM - Zena (Barbara Ewing) - Dracula Has Risen from the Grave narrowly over Helen (Barbara Shelley) - Dracula, Prince of Darkness
MOST INTERESTING THEME - Youth vs. Decadent Elders - Taste the Blood of Dracula
BEST ENTERTAINMENT SPOT/PUB - Brothel from Taste the Blood of Dracula
post #77 of 320
I may blow all of my credibility, but I'm digging DRACULA A.D. 1972 so far. If nothing else, the young actors Hammer is using fit in in a contemporary setting much better than they did in the last few entries and there's energy to the film.
post #78 of 320
Johnny... Alucard?

*Van Helsing squints for ten seconds*

OF COURSE

*writes painstakingly obvious anagram on paper*
post #79 of 320
My favorite thing about Scars of Dracula is that it's pretty clear Dracula just wants to relax a bit and rebuild his house, but people keep BREAKING IN! Then he has to politely give them room and board.
post #80 of 320
Quote:
Originally Posted by Luca S. View Post
Johnny... Alucard?

*Van Helsing squints for ten seconds*

OF COURSE

*writes painstakingly obvious anagram on paper*
Yeah, that is silly. And overacted too.

I just finished it this morning and I have to say that my overall impressions are positive, although I can't help thinking of it more in terms of FRIGHT NIGHT than in the rest of the Hammer Dracula franchise. That's not necessarily a bad thing though.
post #81 of 320
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gabe Powers View Post
My favorite thing about Scars of Dracula is that it's pretty clear Dracula just wants to relax a bit and rebuild his house, but people keep BREAKING IN! Then he has to politely give them room and board.
It's all Klove's fault. Can't keep people out at the beginning. And then can't stop bringing people in via carriage.
post #82 of 320
I know, right! It's very funny. I swear Lee rolls his eyes every time some one shows up.

"Sigh...welcome to my castle, please excuse the mess. We'll have a room made up for you shortly. If you'll excuse me I'm going to discuss swatches with my interior designer and take a nap."
post #83 of 320
DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972)

This has the reputation for being pretty bad, but I can only conclude that it's coming from purists as I found it good fun. Or that the really wretched reputation of SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA has carried over to stain this entry.

Right from the start it establishes itself as a more exciting movie than SCARS OF DRACULA and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA as there's a pretty exciting fight ontop of a runaway carriage between Van Helsing (Cushing) and Dracula (Lee). This fight takes place in 1872, which is nearly 20 years before any other Hammer entry, and in London's Hyde Park, where only TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA was set, and ends in a crash with Dracula buying it via a spoked wheel to the chest and Van Helsing dieing due to injuries. With a servant burying Dracula's ashes near Van Helsing's grave. With a promise that this isn't over.

A quick pan to the sky and cut to a jet liner and we're in swinging 70s London with a rock soundtrack. And a whole new style of editing and filming that's much more energetic than previous Hammer movies. And before you know it, we're at a party with the band Stoneground being hosted by a bunch of stuffy Londoners and invaded by a bunch of hippies. They're soon rousted when the cops are called, but not before we're introduced to a core group of hippies. And Johnny (Christopher Neame) who's a little bit like Malcolm McDowell from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and likes to play it "close to the edge". Oh, and Johnny has the surname Alucard, in a bit stolen from SON OF DRACULA, so you know right where it's going with him.

And the familiar Hammer tropes start. Pubs are all over the previous Hammer films and this time it's been updated to a 70s nightclub/coffee shop named THE CAVERN. Which the more you see of it it has some spiderweb like qualities to the design. Johnny convinces the group that a Black Mass would be good for a lark and has picked out a desanctified church to perform it in. This being the early 70s, the "hippies" think it will be fun and agree. Although Jessica (Stephanie Beacham) agrees reluctantly. It turns out that she has good instincts, she's a Van Helsing living with her grandfather, Cushing. And the church happens to hold the grave of 1872 Lawrence Van Helsing and the ashes of Dracula.

I doubt that the "hippies" represented in the movie are all that much like real hippies. Doesn't matter, they're fun. And if they're exagerrated, it's exagerration without a whole lot of winking. And since one of their number is the lovely Caroline Munro, displaying a whole lot of cleavage, who's complaining? If nothing else, they're a lot more authentic than trying to find young actors for another of Hammer's period films.

And the Black Mass is held, with Laura (Caroline Munro) volunteering to take the place of Jessica who Johnny wants to be the symbolic bride. Then things seem to go wrong, the hippies freak and run away, and Johnny pulls the stake from the grave of Dracula. The revived Dracula proceeds to put the bite on Laura and then sets out with the very straightforward plan to get his revenge on the Van Helsing family. A motivation I can buy.

Things proceed from there in pretty much the manner you would expect from a Hammer film. The police are called in when the body of Laura is discovered. And the police detective with the longest hair on record calls in Prof. Van Helsing since it looks like a cult murder. Van Helsing soon puts 2 and 2 together. Johnny fails to trap Jessica, but lures the lovely Gaynor (Marsha A. Hunt) after they both smoke an enormous joint to the Count, Drac's first black victim. (No way is this film PG today.) Marsha Hunt can't really act, but that's not the point. And it's revealed that Alucard's real goal is to become a vampire and immortal like Dracula, something Dracual accedes to.

Meanwhile, in a blazingly obvious scene, Van Helsing puts together that Alucard is an anagram of Dracula and Jessica spills the beans about what's going on. Figuring out that Dracula is likely after the Van Helsing's, he sets out to protect her and figure out Dracula's hiding place.

Cushing has become old between BRIDES OF DRACULA and DRACULA A.D. 1972 and it shows. But he still has the steely gaze and intelligence, and if he can't leap off of platforms anymore, he's at least still a presence. Which is a heck of a lot more than most Hammer leads can say after him.

The plot proceeds, Alucard puts the bite on Jessica's boyfriend Bob (Philip Miller) who covers it up with an ascot that makes him look like a relative of Fred from Scooby Doo. They lure Jessica to the Cavern where they overcome her. Cushing is then on the case, tracking down her movement to the Cavern, where he discovers her crucifix, and then, in a really lazy piece of writing, getting the address of Alucard. He's on the case and there's a decent fight at the apartment between Van Helsing and Alucard at dawn ending in Alucard, in a sundrenched bathroom being drowned in clear running water, apparently a vampire weakness. (Is the bathtub climax an influence on THE LOST BOYS?) It's then off to the finale at the Church with Cushing vs. Lee at the climax. With Cushing being cagey since he can't really stand up to Lee's physical presence. And it's a fairly solid climax and certainly better than the climaxes of the two preceding films.

Yeah there are plenty of nits to be picked with this one. Lee isn't really used again as much more than a physical presence. Jessica assures her grandfather that she's only hanging around with the fellow hippies because they're fun and she's not doing anything bad, which really doesn't make a lot of sense. And the police presence is only there to further the plot. The soundtrack kind of comes and goes as far as effectiveness.

And it is really kitschy, which is a plus or minus depending on your mood.

But it stands out in the series, is energetic, and gets things right that some of the later Hammer entries can't manage. Plus Cushing as Lee's opposite adds a lot. All told, this wouldn't have been a bad final capstone for the series.
post #84 of 320
Unfortunately it's not the capstone. Unfortunately, Satanic Rites has yet to happen. Looking forward to it!
post #85 of 320
Quote:
Originally Posted by Luca S. View Post
Unfortunately it's not the capstone. Unfortunately, Satanic Rites has yet to happen. Looking forward to it!
That makes one of us!
post #86 of 320
I AM THE APOCALYPSE!

Haha. Now I'm going to go and watch it again tonight. Why? I really don't know.
post #87 of 320
It doesn't make sense. Who is Dracula going to bite if his plan works?
post #88 of 320
Just what have I gotten myself into?
post #89 of 320
Quote:
Originally Posted by Luca S. View Post
It doesn't make sense. Who is Dracula going to bite if his plan works?
The dialog in the movie makes it very clear: it's a genocide/suicide plot.

You also still have Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires to deal with, right? I recommend a couch full of friends and your favorite booze or weed of choice for that one.
post #90 of 320
I've seen 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES a few times, stone cold sober. Can't say it really delivers as Hammer horror, but as a goofy Shaw Brothers kung fu adventure it's a lot of fun. Also nice to see the big stars of both studios (Cushing and David Chiang) in the same movie.
post #91 of 320
Don't know if I'm going to get to SATANIC RITES this week. I've a very busy schedule here on out. I don't see not getting to it before the end of next week though.
post #92 of 320
So I'm doing an image search for Bruce Timm illustrations (Timm being the chief designer of Batman the Animated Series, Superman, and Justice League, and co-inventor of Harley Quinn), and I came across these Little Shop of Horrors covers he did. It's all Hammer stuff. I want posters.





post #93 of 320
That's awesome.
post #94 of 320
Timm's art is pretty terrific. And I know SATANIC RITES isn't that cool.
post #95 of 320
Love the sheepskin motorcyclist.
post #96 of 320
THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)

Proof that good intentions are the road to hell. I flat out hated this movie.

Most Hammer movies at least have an intriguing opening. This one has a guy that looks like a refugee from a porno escape from captivity by strangling another refugee from a porno, this one in a sheepskin vest, and basically limping out of a rather unimposing building in as unexciting a scene as possible. It is intercut with a satanic ceremony, complete with a nice pair of tits, which helps distract from just how lame the opening in.

It then turns into a lame conspiracy thriller for basically the 45 minutes. It turns out that four of the participants in the black mass are prominent people including people that could put a stop to the investigation. So they go outside the ministry and bring in Inspector Murray (Michael Coles) who, because of the occult connection, brings in Prof. Van Helsing (Cushing, of course) and his granddaughter, Jessica (now played by Joanna Lumley). What follows is a lame, third-rate James Bond/Avengers type investigation while the investigators are menaced by guys on motorcycles wearing sheepskin vests. Really, who thought that was a menacing costume?

We find vampire brides chained up in the basement. Van Helsing discovers that his biochemist friend involved in the cult is whipping up a batch of improved black plague. Van Helsing gets shot in the head, merely a graze although the angle makes that extremely unlikely. And, in one of the hugest leaps of "deduction" ever, Van Helsing figures out that Dracula is behind it all with an apocalyptic plan to wipe out all of humanity! Apparently thinking that deep down, Dracula is tired of his existence.

Yeah, maybe if it was a lame, emo Dracula. But Christopher Lee's Dracula has never displayed any of that lameness. He's too busy whipping servants and turning girls into vampires for that.

We then see the worst sniper attack ever filmed. Van Helsing confronting the reclusive billionaire D. D. Denham, obviously Lee's Dracula, in an unconvincing scene that ends in Van Helsing's capture. Heck, the most interesting scene leading up to that is Van Helsing forging a silver bullet from a crucifix in a scene directly inspired by CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

Murray ends up in the basement with the vampire brides. And finishes off one in a lame fight. Is it worth pointing out that the female vampire straddles Murray before getting impaled?

While Dracula monologues about his plan and forces one of his conspirators to break the bottle holding the bacteria and infecting himself, Murray makes his way to the upstairs surveillance post, fights a guy in a sheepskin vest, and starts the place on fire. Van Helsing, Murray, and Jessica escape with Dracula after Van Helsing and the place, and the bacteria, going up in flames.

Van Helsing finds a hawthorn tree, apparently a vampire weakness due to its association with Christ, lures Dracula into a tangle of thorny hawthorn branches, and then routinely stakes the disabled vampire. This very well could be the dullest ending of a Hammer vampire movie ever.

It's ugly, dull, nonsensical, and without energy. It very well could be the worst thing that Hammer ever did. There's probably potential in the idea of a supernatural, paranoid conspiracy thriller. Heck, Hammer did a similar thing two decades prior with a sci-fi paranoid conspiracy thriller in QUATERMASS 2. The only reason to watch it is for the tits, and we have the internet now which even takes away that purpose.
post #97 of 320
While I'm waiting for LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES to show up, a variation.

X: THE UNKNOWN (1956)

It's kind of a shame that the gothic Hammer horror films took off so much as I think Hammer's science fiction horror has a lot to recommend it. Albeit, that's the Quatermass films. And, X: THE UNKNOWN is pretty much a knockoff of them. But, it's a good, solid B-movie knockoff.

There isn't a whole lot of plot here. At an Army exercise involving training for finding radioactive materials, an anomalous reading is found. The earth ends up cracking open and there's an explosion. Killing one soldier and giving radiation burns to another.

Nucelar scientist Dr. Royston (Dean Jagger) is called in and investigates. Soon a couple of kids come across something at night and one ends up in the hospital with a fatal case of radiation poisoning. The British Atomic Energy Commission sends an investigator, Insp. McGill (Leo McKern), to look into it and he and Royston team up. There are more deaths, including an x-ray technician getting it on with a nurse who is surprised by something entering his lab, and there are radioactive materials that have been rendered inert.

Based on the evidence, Royston posits the theory that there's a radioactive creature from the earth's core that's "eating" the radioactive materials. Something relatively amorphous in shape, more energy than solid. And, sure enough he's right as the creature, now grown to be a large blob targets the nuclear plant he's working at. But, Royston has been working on a way to neutralize radioactivity himself, so they lure out the creature and trap it between the machines Royston has been working on. It appears to work, albeit there's a mysterious explosion at the end that implies that all may not be over.

It would be very fair to say that it's not as good as the contemporary Quatermass movies. The idea of a radioactive creature from the earth's core is pretty obvious early on so there's not that much mystery. And the creature isn't that impressive. The "mysterious" ending is kind of puzzling. The characters aren't that deep. There isn't any deeper subtext. Dean Jagger's Royston is likable with a distinct appearance in his stocking cap, but doesn't really capture the imagination like Brian Donlevy's driven, almost anti-hero, Quatermass. There's the idea that the creature shifts direction for some unknown reason, that seems to have the purpose merely of threatening a child. At what point closeness to the creature is fatal is inconsistent. The solution to the problem is a bit of a deus ex machina.

That said, it's all done with nice pace and mood. It's a professional job throughout. It's set in the moors of Scotland which helps a lot. It's also obviously cold out, which subtlely helps. They actually film at night and you can see people's breath in the air. There's a night sequence with a tower in the moor and the kids which is moody enough, before you throw in a radioactive creature. And did I mention that they go out and kill a kid? And in one of the most gruesome effects from the 50s, the flesh of the X-ray tech, melts off revealing a skull underneath? The photography is crisp and uses shadows well at night. And the radiation burns and such hold up well compared to some of the more naive ways that radiation was treated in the 50s.

And while it's fair to say that the characters aren't deep, they're at least presented as human beings and not caricatures. The Army Major behaves sensibly military-like in sealing up the crevice with concrete when evidence points to a creature using it. Even complains that scientists want to make things too complicated. McGill acknowledges his place in the bureaucracy and is altogether reasonable. Leo McKern doesn't have much to do, but he's a welcome presence and he and Jagger have good chemistry together. Even the extremely skeptical director of the atomic lab behaves in a reasonable manner.

It's a B-picture. But, it's a really solid one. And certainly worth a watch if you like 50s science fiction.
post #98 of 320
THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974)

While I wouldn't actually call this one good and it certainly has almost none of the features of classic Hammer, it's a whole lot more palatable than SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA. Then again I'm no aficionado of Shaw Bros. martial arts films and wouldn't know a particularly inspired one from a really mediocre one.

I can certainly see why Christopher Lee bailed on the franchise finally. Dracula is a glorified cameo in this one. Dracula (John Forbes-Robinson) shows up at his castle in Transylvania at the beginning where he's asked to help revive the sleeping 7 golden vampires by the evil priest Kah (Shen Chan). Dracula responds that he doesn't do boons for servants, but promptly takes his shape and heads to China to escape the confines of his castle. And literally doesn't resume his form until about the last 3 minutes of the film. John Forbes-Robinson is particularly awful as Dracula, with awful makeup that makes him look like a drag queen. The Castle Dracula set is terrible as well, looking like paper mache with terrible bats.

Also, the timeline makes no sense. The prologue is set explicitly in 1804. However, we soon jump to 1904 with Van Helsing (Cushing) lecturing a group of students in China about the legend of the 7 golden vampires. And how one was destroyed by a farmer. So, if Dracula has been in China for the last century, when did he fight Van Helsing? Also, this is clearly in a different continuity than the DRACULA A.D. 1972 Van Helsing who died in 1872. Considering that Van Helsing is in China specifically to deal with vampires, I like to consider this a sorta sequel to BRIDES OF DRACULA with globe trotting Van Helsing fighting vampires.

It turns out that one of the students Hsi Ching (David Chiang) doesn't scoff at Van Helsing's tale. It turns out that he's the grandson of the farmer, and that he and his 6 martial arts specialist brothers and his martial arts specialist sister, Mai Kwei (Szu Shih), need Van Helsing's specialized knowledge to help rid the village of vampires once and for all.

They end up bringing along Van Helsing's son Leyland (Robin Stewart) and wealthy heiress Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege) both who have really awful 70s hairdos. At least Julie Ege is good eye candy though. And, frankly, Van Helsing should have slapped his wife, because Robin Stewart is about as un-Cushing-like as possible. Frankly, the elderly Cushing probably could take him out in a fight. I like to think that Robin Stewart takes after his father, the milkman.

Anyways, they journey to the village. They're attacked by bandits and the martial artists kick their asses. There's some romance elements between Leyland and Mai Kwei and Vanessa and Hsi Ching. There's a vampire raid on the village where we get to see some lovely breasts exposed. The group journey's some more and hole up in a cave. They're then attacked by 3 vampires and their undead servants in a martial arts brawl. There's a nice bit where bats turn into the vampires basically through invisible wipes. Three of the vampires are defeated.

They arrive at the village. Make some fortifications, seven samurai style, and have a big confrontation that night. (Incidentally, you can spot some of the cheapness in the movie as when they close the gates, they're obviously very light and off their hinges, likely from a previous shot.)

There's a big fight. About 4 brothers are killed. Vanessa and bitten and she and Hsi Ching end up impaled on a big stake. Isn't that romantic? Mai Kwei ends up kidnapped by the last vampire with Leyland Van Helsing riding to the rescue after her. Followed by Cushing and the remaining brothers. Leyland fight just long enough (and lamely enough) to buy time for Van Helsing to show up and shove a silver spear in the last vampire.

All's well that ends well. But wait, Kah confronts Van Helsing. He shapeshifts back to the lame Dracula version and they fight briefly before he too gets stabbed by Van Helsing and the silver spear. The end. It's about as anti-climatic a Dracula/Van Helsing showdown as possible.

This is really more a Shaw Bros. feature than a Hammer movie. There's some stock Hammer gore effects, including dissolving vampires, and basic Hammer vampire folklore, but most of the movie is just an excuse for martial arts fights. Nothing particularly memorable, IMO, but at least stuff is happening and it's modest fun. Cushing is basically Mr. Exposition, but it's a credit to Cushing that even that small task is delivered with aplomb and it's well above the rest of the cast. And, frankly, it looks like Cushing is enjoying a trip to Hong Kong. But, it's not really a movie that asks for acting.

It's not a film that I ever expect to revisit. Other than the setting and Cushing, most of its charms aren't something that really appeal to me. It's not particularly bad for what it sets out to do, but it's not something that's really compelling to me. It's a little better looking than the previous couple of films, due to the outside filming and a 2.35:1 frame, but it's still visibly cheap. As a one time goof, it's acceptable, but it certainly wasn't the future for Hammer.
post #99 of 320
FYI, now that I'm done with the Dracula series, I do plan on hitting the Quatermass movies. Probably not on so quick a timeline though. I'm watching the Quatermass serials and films with a couple of friends over the next month or two, so expect some thoughts.
post #100 of 320
More sci-fi than the type of Horror talked about in this thread but Hammer's production of Joseph Loseys' These are the damned is a very good film. It's slowly paced but intelligently written and beautifully shot.

Ful of social commentary, it covers themes that are still very relevant today, especially in its examination of mob culture. It brings up the old "nature vs nurture argument" with the message that the actions of our antisocial youth is inconsequential compared to the dangerous future we are are building for them.
It even throws in a bit of incest as the leader of the Teddy Boy gang King (Oliver Reed) is unhealthily obsessed with his sister Joan and her chastity. All quite heady stuff for a 60's sci-fi flick.

The core of the story is that in the seaport town of Weymouth, the british government are secretly experimenting on children that will be able to survive the "inevitable happening" ( strangely, the word "nuclear" is never once used) when it eventually occurs so that the human race will be able to survive. King, his sister and an american tourist through a series of events happen to stumble onto the military base and the strange shenaningans that are happening within.

The ending is haunting as we're left with an aerial shot of Weymouth with the children's cries of "Help us!" "Help us!".
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