Film Review: The Camp on Blood Island (1958)

Release Date: April 15th, 1958 (London premiere)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Jon Manchip White
Music by: Gerard Schurmann
Cast: André Morell, Carl Möhner, Edward Underdown, Walter Fitzgerald, Phil Brown, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Michael Ripper, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve no use for shirkers and there’s no room for self-pity here.” – Col. Lambert

Being that André Morell is my third favorite Hammer actor after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it was cool seeing him in something from the studio that wasn’t horror. Well, it’s a war film and with war there are certainly horrors.

This also features other Hammer regulars like Barbara Shelley, Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn. Being that this came out in 1958 also makes it pretty early on in their Hammer careers.

The plot revolves around the tension between a Japanese prison camp commandant and a British colonel held captive. The colonel knows that Japan has surrendered but the commandant isn’t yet aware of it. The colonel hides this fact, as the commandant has promised to slaughter a nearby camp full of women and children if Japan loses the war.

It’s a damn good setup and the film slowly continues to build its tension to a point where things start boiling over.

Some of the acting in this is really hit or miss and even if the film is a product of its time, it’s still weird seeing a non-Asian guy playing a Japanese commander. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, I don’t have any qualms with Christopher Lee playing Fu Manchu in the ’60s, as he did a stellar job and was believable. Also, his makeup was done by someone making a real effort. Here, the guy really doesn’t even look Asian. It’s just kind of jarring and takes my head out of the film, as I can’t suspend disbelief enough to ignore the glaring detail.

The good acting, mostly by Morell, isn’t enough to offset the strangeness of the Japanese commandant.

Also, this film moves really slow at times, which is surprising to me as it is only 81 minutes.

This is still pretty good, though. Morell absolutely steps up and brings his A-game making this movie much better than it would have been, otherwise.

I also thought that Barbara Shelley held her own and put in a believable performance, as a regular woman trapped in a very perilous situation.

All in all, this was a real departure from what Hammer is generally known for but they still put in a solid effort and this was better than I thought it would be.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: Cash On Demand (1961)

Also known as: The Gold Inside (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1961 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Lawrence
Written by: David T. Chantler, Lewis Greifer
Based on: The Gold Inside by Jacques Gillies
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Richard Vernon, Norman Bird, Kevin Stoney, Edith Sharpe

Hammer Films, 89 Minutes, 66 Minutes (original 1963 UK theatrical release), 80 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“You know, I think banks are rather fun.” – Hepburn

This is a pretty cool Hammer Films production that I didn’t even know existed until I discovered it in a large box set I recently acquired.

This stars of two of Hammer’s greatest regulars in Peter Cushing and André Morell: both mostly known for being in several of the studios great horror flicks. However, this film was Hammer’s attempt at film-noir.

In this, Cushing plays a bank manager and Morell plays a man posing as a customer before revealing himself to be a clever bank robbery that’s willing to have his men kill Cushing’s wife at their home, if he doesn’t play ball and get Morell the money he’s trying to steal.

The film is really held together by the solid performances of the two leads but the script and story are well thought out and pretty clever. More so than what was the norm for the crime pictures of the era. Granted, there are much better film-noir pictures but this one displays a great attention to detail and a fresh take on the bank heist story.

André Morell is exceptional in this and it’s always been odd to me that he was never cherished at the same level as Hammer legends like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Maybe it’s because he didn’t do as many films as those other two men but he’s still Hammer’s number three guy and always brought his A-game, proving he could hang with the best of the best of classic British horror.

The film is also well directed and looks great. It feels very noir-esque, being presented in black and white unlike most of Hammer’s output. However, I wouldn’t call it as stylish as many of the classic film-noir standouts but it didn’t really need the high contrast and overabundance of shadows due to its setting.

In the end, this movie was a pleasant surprise and it boasts pretty perfect performances by two of my favorite actors of the era. For traditional film-noir fans and/or fans of Hammer, this is certainly worth a look.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other British noir films, as well as other films Peter Cushing did for Hammer.

Film Review: Barry Lyndon (1975)

Release Date: December 11th, 1975 (London premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick
Based on: The Luck of Barry Lyndon by William Makepeace Thackeray
Music by: Leonard Rosenman, Ralph Ferraro (uncredited)
Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, Diana Koerner, Gay Hamilton, Steven Berkoff, Andre Morell, Anthony Sharp, Philip Stone, Pat Roach

Peregrine, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 185 Minutes

Review:

“Well then, look you now… from this moment, I will submit to no further chastisement from you. I will kill you, if you lay hands on me ever again! Is that entirely clear to you, sir?” – Lord Bullingdon

This is the only Stanley Kubrick film I had never seen, apart from his early documentary work. I always wanted to see this but I was intimidated by its length and usually, once I start thinking about Kubrick, I tend to go back to watching one of my three favorite films by him: 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange or The Shining. I often times mix in Dr. Strangelove and Eyes Wide Shut, as well.

I thought that I needed to see this, greatly, and that not having seen it already was a bit of a crime against myself, as I consider Kubrick to be one of the three men in my personal Holy Trinity of Directors. I do think I need to expand that to a Mount Rushmore of Directors, though, as there are really four at the highest level of craftsmanship that I always go back to, again and again. However, this isn’t about that.

This is a long, epic film but man, it’s pretty exceptional.

While I found it slow in parts and there were chapters in the story that weren’t as interesting as the best bits, I really enjoyed this and thought that if it were ever remade, it should definitely be expanded into a limited television series, as there’s just so much story. I have never read the book, though, so I’m not sure how much of it this film actually covered.

Still, this shows the entirety of a man’s adult life where he initially starts out as pretty likable but then slowly dissolves into a real piece of shit. The picture does a great job of showing you all the major events and turning points in his life, however, and it builds towards something quite incredible.

As should be expected, the cinematography is magnificent, as is the acting and the use of music.

In regards to the film’s score, Kubrick went a similar route to what he did with A Clockwork Orange in that he uses many classical masterpieces but often times uses distorted versions of them, which give off their own unique feel that does more for the tone of specific scenes than the visuals and the acting. If you’ve never seen this but are familiar with A Clockwork Orange, you probably know what I’m talking about. However, his use of altered classical works is more limited here and less noticeable, initially.

There is one character in this that you do grow to care about, as Barry Lyndon devolves into a pure prick, and that’s his stepson. Their hatred for each other climaxes in an old fashioned duel. It’s a fucking tragic scene where you can’t guess what’s going to happen and every single frame of film adds to the building tension in a way that I haven’t felt in a film in a really long time. It’s actually a breathtaking sequence that’s impossible to look away from.

They really don’t make movies like this anymore and honestly, it truly makes me appreciate this near masterpiece that much more.

Barry Lyndon is as great as I had always hoped it would be.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Stanley Kubrick films, as well as other epic, fictional biographical movies.

Film Review: The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)

Release Date: March 15th, 1967
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: John Gilling, Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Andre Morell, John Phillips, David Buck, Maggie Kimberly, Elizabeth Sellars, Michael Ripper

Seven Arts Productions, Hammer Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

“He says that death awaits all who disturb the resting place of Kah-to-Bey.” – Sir Basil Walden

Being that this was the third Mummy film by Hammer, the momentum started to slow and what we got was a formulaic mummy movie that feels pretty thin when compared to the two before it.

However, I did like the whole gimmick regarding the shroud and how whoever had possession of it had control over the undead mummy in the story.

Michael Ripper returns in a supporting role, although he is playing a different character than he did in the previous film.

One benefit this picture did have over the second one, though, is that it had one of Hammer’s top stars in Andre Morell. I always liked him and he’s my third favorite Hammer lead after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It was cool seeing him get to star in a Mummy picture, as he has a certain panache and a commanding presence.

Overall, though, this is just more of the same even if it does have a few things working for it.

I know that I’ve seen this one before and probably multiple times, as I own the DVD. However, everything about it slipped down the memory hole because it’s pretty much derivative of every other better known Mummy movie before it. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.

Film Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Release Date: May 4th, 1959 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Peter Bryan
Based on: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Christopher Lee

Hammer Film Productions, United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“I warned him! What could have possessed him to come out here alone?” – Sherlock Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes franchise is possibly the biggest of all-time, as the character has had more literary stories than I care to count and an endless stream of movies and television shows going back to the invention of celluloid. Maybe there are more live action Dracula adaptations but one can’t deny that Holmes has owned pop culture before the term “pop culture” entered the mainstream lexicon.

It’s only natural that Hammer would take a crack at a Holmes story after their success at adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, along with their versions of The Mummy and their other horror successes. Plus, they had the uber talented Peter Cushing at their disposal, who was definitely Hammer’s perfect man to play the world’s most famous detective. Add in Cushing’s best friend and the man he worked with the most, Christopher Lee, and you’ve got a solid cast. However, this also teamed the great duo up with Hammer’s third best male lead, André Morell. And then on top of that, this was directed by Hammer’s premier director, Terence Fisher. To put it simply, Hammer assembled their dream team to give life to the literary work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What I most enjoyed about this film, is that even if it takes some liberties, it doesn’t do what you would expect Hammer to do. What I mean is that it doesn’t give the story a supernatural twist. It could have been easily turned into a werewolf movie or had a bunch of black magic stuff but it kept things grounded in reality and honestly, that made for a better picture than conjuring up some sort of unnatural threat.

While I always loved seeing Cushing and Lee together, Cushing spends more time with Morell, which is fun stuff to watch, as I love both men and wish that they got to play off of each other more often. Morell should have been in more films with Cushing and Lee, as the three men are sort of Hammer’s Holy Trinity.

This is a very straightforward Holmes picture that does the material some justice and is a nice experience, overall. It has that standard late ’50s/early ’60s Hammer visual aesthetic, which just makes this cooler and helps to make it fit within their catalog of horror titles from that time.

I love Holmes pictures and I love Hammer, so this is certainly a film I really enjoy and appreciate for a myriad of reasons.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other early Hammer films starring Cushing and Lee. Also, the Hammer film with André Morell that deals with the undead: The Plague of the Zombies. I also like pairing this with another Hammer classic that stars the super cool Oliver Reed: The Curse of the Werewolf.

Film Review: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Also known as: The Zombies
Release Date: January 9th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Peter Bryan
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: André Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, John Carson, Alexander Davion, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, Seven Arts Productions, Warner-Pathé, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes

Review:

“I, I find all kinds of witchcraft slightly nauseating and this I find absolutely disgusting.” – Sir James Forbes

The Plague of the Zombies is truly the embodiment of a classic Hammer horror picture. Considering it is one that doesn’t star Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee makes it even more impressive. Also, it wasn’t even directed by Hammer’s top dog Terence Fisher. Yet, it somehow perfectly captures the quality, tone and vibe of a true Hammer classic.

Director John Gilling only did a handful of pictures for Hammer. Still, he really made something that embodied their style and feels like some of their earlier, better known work such as The Curse of FrankensteinHorror of Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

When singling out famous monster types, this is Hammer’s quintessential zombie movie in the same way that The Curse of the Werewolf was their quintessential werewolf picture. Hammer had vampires covered with at least a dozen movies.

This is also a zombie movie of the really old school pre-George A. Romero era. It features zombies created through the use of voodoo, which has always been the coolest type of zombie, in my opinion.

One thing that really makes this picture great is the performance of André Morell. He was really Hammer’s third biggest male star and he easily fills the void of this picture not having Cushing or Lee in it. Morell is underappreciated as a classic horror icon and this is one of his best films and performances. I wish this picture was a bit better known by horror aficionados.

In addition to Morell, John Carson puts in one of the best villainous performances in Hammer history. His evil voodoo practicing Squire is intimidating, haunting and weirdly alluring at the same time. Plus, voodoo in horror has always been a thing I’ve loved and this guy fits the part as the rich aristocratic British gentleman with his Haitian servants and horde of undead henchmen.

The Plague of the Zombies is a pretty perfect Hammer movie. It fits in perfectly with the best films in their oeuvre. Plus, it has zombies, voodoo and is a whole lot of fun.

Rating: 8.5/10