Film Review: Paranoiac (1963)

Release Date: May 1st, 1963 (Italy)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Josephine Tey, Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Janette Scott, Oliver Reed, Sheila Burrell, Alexander Davion, Maurice Denham

Hammer Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Now I need to drink some more.” – Simon Ashby

Last week, I watched Nightmare, another rare black and white movie from Hammer and also directed by Freddie Francis and written by Jimmy Sangster. While I enjoyed it and felt like it slightly missed the mark, I feel like this picture, which came out a year earlier, is a better film.

Granted, a lot of that credit could go to Oliver Reed, as his performance here is intense and enchanting. And honestly, this is one of many movies I can now point too and say, “That guy is an underappreciated and underutilized actor and here’s why!”

Something else that helps this movie is that it is horror but it also has a film-noir type plot about family inheritance, a once dead sibling returning, a psychotic narcissist trying to turn his sister insane, an incestuous subplot and more twists and turns than that silly road in San Francisco.

Even though this doesn’t feel like a typical Hammer Films movie, it’s kind of cool and does a lot with very little.

The end sequence is really well executed and in both noir and horror fashion, the asshole gets some good comeuppance.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, as it’s one of the few Hammer films I haven’t seen but I was pleasantly surprised. Especially, when I just thought it’d be a lot like Nightmare. It definitely exceeded that decent movie and also provided a memorable performance by Reed.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’60s.

Film Review: Nightmare (1964)

Also known as: Here’s the Knife, Dear: Now Use It (alternative title), Satan with Long Lashes (Germany)
Release Date: February 28th, 1964 (Germany)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: David Knight, Moira Redmond, Brenda Bruce, Jennie Linden

Hammer Films, 83 Minutes

Review:

“You found me out there, didn’t you? That part of it wasn’t a dream! Where does the dream finish and reality begin?” – Janet

This movie is a bit of departure in style from what one would expect from Hammer Films in the mid-’60s.

To start, it’s in black and white. Secondly, it doesn’t really star anyone of note or any of the regular faces that you’d see in a Hammer production during their peak.

However, this is written by Jimmy Sangster, who penned a lot of Hammer’s best scripts. It’s also directed by Hammer regular Freddie Francis. So there was at least a solid crew behind the camera.

Still, this isn’t quite what one would expect from a Hammer picture and that probably has a lot to do with why I hadn’t watched it until now. It’s not a bad film, by any means, but it’s unique and strange.

I found it mostly enjoyable, even if it wasn’t as fantastical and visually alluring as the studio’s typical output. This felt much more like a low budget indie horror movie of the ’60s and tonally, reminded me a lot of the black and white Roger Corman productions of the time, as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13.

The story is about a young boarding school student that has nightmares of her institutionalized mother haunting her. Because of her horrible dreams, the girl is expelled from school and sent back home. Once there, things get even worse.

While it’s an interesting enough setup, the story does feel a bit paint-by-numbers. It kind of goes in the direction you’d expect.

I did like the over-the-top acting in some scenes and actually thought that it was really effective, as the main character slipped further and further into madness.

Still, this is far from Hammer’s best and while it’s a neat experiment and departure from their style, it also shows that the studio was at its best when it was sticking to the great style it had already perfected.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’60s.

Film Review: The Skull (1965)

Release Date: August 25th, 1965
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Milton Subotsky, Robert Bloch
Based on: The Skull of the Marquis de Sade by Robert Bloch
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Michael Gough

Amicus Productions, 83 Minutes

Review:

“All I can say to you is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade!” – Sir Matthew Phillips

I felt like I was going through Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee withdrawals, as it’s actually been awhile since I got to kick back and watch one of their many collaborations. I mean, there were 22 of them and I’ve already reviewed several but I just felt the need to spend some time with two of my three favorite horror legends, especially during this trying COVID-19 self-imposed social exile.

Anyway, I really love The Skull. It’s not the best film with these guys in it and frankly, they don’t share enough scenes but this picture is full of so many great actors from the era, that it is hard not to love. I especially liked seeing Patrick Magee, Nigel Green and Michael Gough pop up in this.

The plot is an interesting one, as it sees Cushing come into possession of the skull of Marquis de Sade. The skull itself is possessed by an evil force, presumably de Sade, and it makes those around it do evil acts. Cushing is driven mad and we even get a moment that shows him murder his best friend, Christopher Lee.

What’s really fun about this movie is how some scenes are shot in regards to the skull. While this is a low budget production and a product of its time, where effects were still fairly primitive, the skull truly becomes its own character because of the simple tricks the filmmakers did.

I love how you see through the skull’s eye sockets in many shots, giving you a first-person perspective of the evil force, as it enchants and takes control of its human vessels. The use of colored light within the skull added a certain mystique to these shots. Also, the way that they made the skull physically float through the air was done to great effect. Even though modern HD televisions make the strings more visible, it still works and most of these effects look really smooth, especially for the mid-’60s.

The tone and atmosphere of the film are also well crafted. The cinematography is effective, especially in regards to the lighting and shot framing. And even though most of the story takes place in what was modern times, it still has a very Victorian feel to it.

Most importantly, this is well acted from all the key players, as they gave this film their all and made it better than it needed to be.

Like most old horror, this relies on the imagination of the viewer. It’s a “less is more” suspenseful thriller that uses your own imagination as its real monster.

While Amicus wasn’t quite at the level of Hammer, the best of their pictures, this being one of them, definitely stood proudly alongside their closest competition.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films. Specifically, those starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Film Review: The Deadly Bees (1966)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Deming, New Mexico)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch, Anthony Marriott
Based on: A Taste for Honey by Gerald Heard
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Suzanne Leigh, Guy Doleman, Frank Finlay, Michael Ripper, Katy Wild, Michael Gwynn

Amicus Productions, Paramount Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[Referring to a liquid he has] I’ve made this especially for you, Vicki.” – H.W. Manfred

The Deadly Bees has a really low rating on IMDb and pretty much everywhere else you might look. Despite what seems to be most people’s disdain for the film, I actually like it.

I think this may be due to my love of British horror from this era but I’ll always have a pretty big soft spot for Amicus Productions, along with Hammer Films: the two studios that really made their mark in the ’60s and ’70s and epitomize the second wave of classic horror.

The Deadly Bees was also lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in one of the later seasons. I understand why it was rife with material to riff but there is still something truly eerie and effective about the film.

The biggest factor working against the movie is the special effects where the bee attacks are concerned. I mean, even for the ’60s, it’s kind of horrible. All of these scenes are comprised of victims flailing around, simulating a bee attack with yellowish bee blobs superimposed over the screen. It’s really bizarre looking and I know that funds on these sort of pictures were very limited but it bogs the rest of the film down in its cheap hokiness.

The plot is actually decent, most of the characters are good and there is a predictable twist at the end but I think it still works and it doesn’t diminish the feeling of dread when the damsel is in mortal danger.

The film also features Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn, two actors that you’d see pop up in several Amicus and Hammer films.

I thought that Suzanne Leigh was pretty good in this and put in a convincing performance. She truly is an old school beauty and with that, has an enchanting presence.

Guy Doleman did a good job too, as you never really knew where he stood in the story. Was he an evil bastard or was he just kind of a jerk?

The Deadly Bees does have some issues but I don’t think any of them outweigh the positives to the point that this deserves a 3.6 out of 10 on IMDb. I think that its inclusion on MST3K has negatively effected the public’s view of the film. It’s far from the worst movie that you’ll see on MST3K.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Film Review: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Also known as: Frankenstein’s Monster (Sweden)
Release Date: May 8th, 1964 (US)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: John Elder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Peter Cushing, Sandor Eles, Peter Woodthorpe, Katy Wild, Duncan Lamont, Kiwi Kingston

Hammer Film Productions, Universal Pictures, The Rank Organisation, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I realized long ago that the only way to prove my theories was to make something in my laboratory that actually lived. I never told you, Hans… I succeeded once.” – Baron Frankenstein

Continuity?! Who the hell needs bloody continuity?!

This is the third film in Hammer’s long running Frankenstein film series but it completely overlooks the solid second film and only builds off of what happened in the first one. So I guess it’s like an alternate “part two”.

While that’s pretty common in horror franchises these days, it’s a little strange that they ignored the second film, which I thought was pretty good and had a really satisfying ending that set up a formula for future sequels.

In this chapter, Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein searches for his creation from the first picture. He ends up finding the monster frozen in ice. The monster is then defrosted and brought back to life.

The film goes back and shows the creation of the monster but these flashbacks are new scenes and different from how they appeared in the original picture. So really, this kind of omits the context of the first film in a similar way to how Evil Dead 2 retells the events of The Evil Dead in its own condensed way.

Despite all that confusion, as I’m a stickler for continuity, I still like this chapter in the franchise. But if Peter Cushing is playing Baron Frankenstein, I’m probably going to like the film. Luckily, none of them are really bad.

This one was distributed in the United States by Universal Pictures, which gave the Hammer team the ability to make the monster look more like Universal’s classic design from the Boris Karloff movies. Weirdly, they made the creature’s head way too boxy in their attempt at creating the look of the Karloff creature. For most people it probably looks bad but it is at least a memorable version of the monster unlike the versions we got in parts two, four and five.

While this one isn’t directed by Hammer’s maestro behind the camera, Terence Fisher, it still has the same sort of spirit and tone. Freddie Francis did an acceptable job in place of the great Fisher.

The Evil of Frankenstein is a pretty strong outing by Hammer, even though it’s not one of the best in their long filmography. I still enjoy it for what it is and it kept the series interesting and fresh. And as always, Cushing was dynamite.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Hammer Films Dracula Series, Part I (1958-1968)

I have to break this into two parts, as there are eight films to review.

Christopher Lee was the greatest actor to ever play Dracula. In fact, he probably also has the most longevity as the character since he played him in seven films for Hammer over what spanned about two decades.

Lee has since gone on to get more notoriety in films outside of horror after playing Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. He also played Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. But before all that, he was the king of horror and this series featured him at his most iconic and memorable.

Horror of Dracula (1958):

Also known as: Dracula
Release Date: May 8th, 1958 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling

Hammer Film Productions, Rank Organization, Universal International, 82 Minutes

horror-of-draculaReview:

In the first film, we get a retelling of the classic Bram Stoker tale. Some of the characters are the same but the events differ greatly.

Jonathan Harker arrives at Dracula’s castle. However, in this version, he knows who Dracula is and he is there to destroy him. Before he gets that chance, he ends up a vampire himself. This brings in Van Helsing. In this series he is played by Christopher Lee’s constant co-star and lifelong best friend, Peter Cushing.

Cushing is most famous as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. So this film features two great Star Wars villains as leads. The film also features Michael Gough, who was best known in more modern times as Alfred in the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films that were released between 1989 and 1997.

As a film, this installment is the best in the series. It is some of director Terence Fisher’s best work. It has a great pace, a great atmosphere and the cinematography was total Hammer Horror style, which would become synonymous with the studio and many other studios that tried to knock it off and mimic Hammer’s success. Granted, the style was used in The Curse of Frankenstein a year prior but Fisher’s implementation (and probably invention) of the style was really at its best in these two films.

This movie is greatly acted, greatly directed and the special effects for the late 1950s are pretty damned amazing. Taking into account the limited techniques of that era, the Dracula death scene is pretty cool to watch and I can see where at that time, it would have been awe-inspiring and cutting edge. Hell, it is way more effective than the overabundance of CGI that we get now and it also looked more realistic because what you see on screen was actually physically on the set.

Rating: 9/10

The Brides of Dracula (1960):

Release Date: July 7th, 1960 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, Edward Percy, Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Malcolm Williamson
Cast: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, David Peel, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, Universal International, 85 Minutes

brides-of-draculaReview:

One could argue that this film should be omitted as Christopher Lee is not in it and neither is Dracula.

Peter Cushing returns however, as Van Helsing and this fleshes out his story more, which is good considering that a version of his character doesn’t return to the series until the final two films. Also, this film is directed by Terence Fisher. Regardless of those who don’t consider it part of the series, it is, at the very least, a spiritual successor to Horror of Dracula.

This film follows Baron Meinster (played by David Peel), who is a disciple of Count Dracula. The plot revolves around a girl who comes to town and tickles the Baron’s fancy. However, the Baron has an overbearing mother who literally has him chained up. He is said to be insane. The girl, Marianne, feels for the Baron and grows a bond with him. One thing leads to another, a girl winds up dead and Van Helsing, who just so happens to be in the right place at the right time, suspects vampirism.

This is a pretty good film and it is consistent with Terence Fisher’s great catalog of classic horror gems. Sure, Lee doesn’t reprise his role as Count Dracula but the story is engaging enough to keep one interested and Cushing is good enough to keep any film afloat – even some of the shittier horror films he found himself in throughout the years. This is not one of those shitty films, however.

Rating: 7/10

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966):

Release Date: January 9th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster, Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Thorley Walters, Francis Matthews

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

dracula-prince-of-darknessReview:

Finally, after an eight year hiatus, Christopher Lee is back as Dracula! And he would remain so for the rest of this iconic series! Unfortunately, Peter Cushing checked out and wouldn’t return until the seventh film in the series Dracula A.D. 1972.

This is my favorite chapter in the series. I find the story to be the most engaging and interesting of all the Hammer Dracula movies. Weirdly, Dracula doesn’t even have a line of dialogue in this film other than a few grunts and noises and intense stares. Truthfully, he doesn’t need words, as his motivations are pretty clear and it actually makes him more frightening and animalistic in this movie. Christopher Lee has a way of telling a story with his eyes and body language and even without words, Dracula felt more like the apex predator that he is in this film than any other Dracula film in history.

This installment is also directed by Terence Fisher and plays like the final part of his Dracula trilogy – encompassing this film and the two before it. This would be his last movie in the series and frankly, after this film, the quality started to decline. Granted, every film was still a positive experience except for the final one.

The plot in this film deals with four Londoners who end up in the Carpathian Mountains on vacation and are warned to stay away from the evil castle on the nearby mountain. Of course, they end up in the castle and are used to resurrect Dracula. The Dracula regeneration scene is pretty spectacular.

This is also the first film in the series to feature a bad ass religious figure taking on the evil vampire lord. They needed someone to fill that Van Helsing spot in the film, so this started the trend of having religious figures combating Count Dracula. This film also uses the formula the best, as Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor was like a kick ass Santa Clause with a high-powered rifle.

Rating: 8/10

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968):

Release Date: November 7th, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, Seven Arts, Warner-Pathé Distributors, Warner Bros., 92 Minutes

dracula_has_risen_from_the_graveReview:

Man, I really enjoy this film too. It brings back the religious protagonist. In this film he is Monsignor Ernest Muller. He is less effective than Father Sandor in the previous chapter and is actually the catalyst that unleashes Dracula, even though he doesn’t realize it.

This film also brought in another protagonist, one who is dating the niece of the Monsignor. This character was more interesting as he was a self-professed atheist that got under the skin of the religious know-it-all. In fact, I feel like they used the dichotomy between the religious man and the non-religious man to make a commentary on the subject within the scenes of this film.

As things would go, Dracula wants the girl, the boyfriend must protect the girl and conflict ensues. While this isn’t the best in the series, the plot is fresh and the series isn’t falling victim to redundancy at this point.

Lastly, the Dracula death scene in this film is phenomenal and beautifully shot; props to the director, Freddie Francis.

Rating: 7/10

Continued in Part II shortly.