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: Moon Zero Two (1969)

Also known as: Alerte Satellite 02 (France), Gangsters na Lua (Brazil)
Release Date: October 20th, 1969 (Denmark)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Michael Carreras, Martin Davison, Frank Hardman, Gavin Lyall
Music by: Don Ellis
Cast: James Olson, Catherine Schell, Warren Mitchell, Adrienne Corri

Hammer Films, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, 100 Minutes

Review:

“If we’re gonna play, we’re gonna play by my rules!
[flips the artificial gravity switch, so the bar fight is now happening in slow motion]” – Kemp

Moon Zero Two was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but it isn’t as bad as such an honor would suggest. Sure, it is fairly terrible and bizarre and also, incredibly dated. However, it is a wee bit better than other schlocky ’60s space movies.

First of all, it was made by Hammer Films in the UK. The studio famous for their re-imagining of classic Universal Monsters characters. They gave us Christopher Lee’s Dracula and Mummy, Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein and Van Helsing and a slew of other offshoots, sequels and stylish gothic horror remakes. They also dabbled in straight up sci-fi too with the respected Quartermass films.

This film is also directed by Roy Ward Baker, who was hired by Hammer to helm several films. One of those being one of the Quartermass movies. Baker wasn’t as great as Terence Fisher but he was still pretty accomplished and had a lot of good experience under his belt.

I guess the real problem with Moon Zero Two and why MST3K had to take shots at it, is the overall style of the film. It is low budget, boasts shoddy effects, silly costumes, silly hair and looks like a retro-futuristic 1960s relic. But at the same time, those are also the things that make this movie kind of cool.

The film also stars one of Hammer’s scream queens, Adrienne Corri, who was fantastic in Vampire Circus and probably most famous as the home invasion rape victim in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Catherine Schell is also in this and she would go on to be in the similar styled television series Space: 1999. In fact, I think this movie had some influence on the style of that iconic British show.

Moon Zero Two came out at the height of the space race when everyone was lunar crazy. But it takes that and gives an interesting twist to a film that is really just about a real estate scam. This was also marketed as “The first western on the Moon”. I don’t really get the western vibe from it and IMDb doesn’t categorize it as such but I guess the Moon’s surface can look like the wilderness of the Old West if you squint and ignore the lunar rovers.

I like this hokey, groovy motion picture. I can’t realistically give it a good rating but it certainly isn’t going to be run through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer either. It exists in this weird limbo between good and bad but with a peculiar stylistic panache that keeps its head above the muck.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Space: 1999, the Hammer Quartermass films, When Dinosaurs Ruled the EarthOne Million Years B.C. and At the Earth’s Core.

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

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.

Film Review: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Also known as: The Devil’s Bride
Release Date: July 20th, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Niké Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Sarah Lawson, Paul Eddington, Rosalyn Landor, Russell Waters, Eddie Powell (uncredited)

Hammer Film Productions, Associated British-Pathé, Seven Arts Productions, 20th Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“The Angel of Death was summoned. He cannot return empty-handed.” – Duc de Richleau

The Devil Rides Out is not a film that is widely recognized today but it is one of my favorite Christopher Lee pictures. It is also in the upper echelon of Hammer Studios gigantic horror catalog.

Lee’s Duc de Richleau is actually one of the coolest characters that he has ever played, which is pretty big considering that he generally played cool characters. For a guy that was Dracula, The Man With the Golden Gun, Count Dooku and Saruman, none of those characters felt as authentically Christopher Lee as this one.

The film also boasts a pretty amazing cast with Charles Gray, a man who has been in several classic James Bond pictures, as the sinister villain of the story. Gray is stellar as the evil Devil worshiping madman hellbent on shaping the world into the Devil’s playground.

Another really cool thing about this movie is that the Devil shows up in physical form. While he simply sits on an altar and disappears at the first sign of trouble, it is still a mesmerizing scene today.

This picture does have its share of hokey effects, like the giant spider and the evil knight on the winged horse but its coolness offsets its flaws. And that is what this is, a cool motion picture.

The film is dark, brooding but still lighthearted and adventurous. It has some good action, fun monsters and the sets are fantastic.

It was also directed by Terence Fisher, who was Hammer’s premier director and a longtime Lee collaborator. His films are considered to be some of Hammer’s greatest and with good reason. The Devil Rides Out isn’t as well known as Fisher’s movies featuring famous monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Mummy but it is one of his absolute best.

Also, the script was written by Richard Matheson, the accomplished novelist who wrote I Am LegendHell House and a slew of old school horror pictures.

The Devil Rides Out is truly the most quintessential Hammer Studios films that doesn’t feature a famous monster. It has a strong and powerful atmosphere, really good cinematography, top notch acting for its genre at its time and is also a lot of fun.

Film Review: Vampire Circus (1972)

Release Date: April 30th, 1972 (UK)
Directed by: Robert Young
Written by: Judson Kinberg, George Baxt, Wilbur Stark
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Adrienne Corri, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder-Brown, Lalla Ward, Robin Sachs, Lynne Frederick, David Prowse

Hammer Film Productions, Rank Film Distributors Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 87 Minutes

Review:

“The Circus of Nights! A hundred delights!” – Michael

Vampire Circus is a little known Hammer Studios film from the early 1970s, when they were on their way out as a dominant horror studio. It came out at the same time that Hammer’s Dracula series was winding down.

I have always liked Hammer’s non-Dracula vampire spectacles, however. And to fanboy out a little bit, Vampire Circus has always been a favorite of mine. That may have something to do with Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, being in the film, as well as one of my favorite Doctor Who companions of all-time, the second Romana, Lalla Ward. Realistically, I just love the premise.

The story is pretty original and really fun. A troupe of circus gypsies shows up in town and captivates the people. The reality is that they are vampires out to get revenge on the town for killing their master Count Mitterhaus.

Speaking of which, the opening sequence, which features the original defeat of Mitterhaus, is one of the best things Hammer has ever created. It was also a great way for director Robert Young to start his career, as it was the opening to his first feature film.

Vampire Circus is really imaginative and it certainly isn’t a cookie cutter vampire flick. The circus twist is really cool and freshened things up for the genre. Everything from the live performances to the animal stunts just added a really cool vibe to the picture. It certainly had a bit more flair than other Hammer vampire movies.

Additionally, the cast was really good. I really enjoyed the performances of Adrienne Corri and Anthony Higgins. Higgins was particularly mesmerizing as the sexy male vampire that transforms into a black panther. Skip Martin, as the sinister dwarf, was a big highlight too. He was legitimately scary and intimidating for a little fellow. He played up the creepy clown shtick quite well, before creepy clowns were even a thing.

The style of the film mimics what was the norm for Hammer’s gothic horror pictures. Even if it may have felt dated for the time, its creativity certainly makes up for it being stylistically derivative. Plus there is a naked body painted tiger lady that rolls around all frisky and seductive.

Vampire Circus is probably only a good film for those who love the work of Hammer Studios in their heyday. But if you are one of those people, this is a unique experience that deviates quite well from their typical formula while not venturing so far away that it isn’t a Hammer picture.

Plus, Count Mitterhaus, Emil and the Gypsy Woman were pretty cool villains, as was their troupe of circus themed henchmen.

Top 25 Films Starring Peter Cushing

peter_cushingPeter Cushing was one of the greatest horror icons of all-time. He starred alongside the legendary Christopher Lee in more than twenty films and also worked a lot with Vincent Price. He was the king of Hammer Horror, even more so than Christopher Lee.

Cushing could play heroic, sinister or just bad ass roles. He was Van Helsing, Dr. Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes and a plethora of other great characters. He owned every role he ever played.

He is known to most people as Grand Moff Tarkin, the commander of the first Death Star in the first ever Star Wars. That character also reappeared via CGI in the recent Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Since I did a list like this for Lee and for Price, I figured that doing one for Cushing was a must.

1. Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope
2. The Curse of Frankenstein (and whole Frankenstein series)
3. The Horror of Dracula (and Dracula installments he’s in)
4. Twins of Evil
5. The Vampire Lovers
6. Captain Clegg (also known as Night Creatures)
7. Sword of Sherwood Forest
8. The Hound of the Baskervilles
9. The Gorgon
10. Madhouse
11. Dr. Who and the Daleks (and the sequel)
12. The Mummy
13. Island of Terror
14. The Abominable Snowman
15. The Beast Must Die
16. I, Monster
17. The Skull
18. The Creeping Flesh
19. Asylum
20. The Blood Beast Terror
21. Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors
22. The House That Dripped Blood
23. Scream and Scream Again
24. She
25. Horror Express

Top 25 Films Starring Christopher Lee

christopher_lee_draculaI recently did a post about the Top 25 Films Starring Vincent Price.

Another horror legend, who just happens to be my favorite British actor is Christopher Lee. Actually, it is Sir Christopher Lee as the man who has played Count Dracula, Rasputin, Count Dooku, Saruman, The Man with the Golden Gun, Frankenstein’s monster, Lord Summerisle and many other characters was officially knighted. Fitting since he has the world record for most swordfights on screen.

Lee is an amazing actor with amazing presence and has the best voice in the history of cinema.

Here are his twenty-five best roles out of the several hundred he’s done:

1. The Wicker Man (the original, obviously not the Nic Cage remake)
2. Rasputin: The Mad Monk
3. The Horror of Dracula (and whole Dracula series)
4. The Devil Rides Out
5. Jinnah
6. Lord of the Rings/Hobbit series
7. Star Wars (prequel trilogy)
8. The Curse of Frankenstein
9. The Man With the Golden Gun
10. The Hound of the Baskervilles
11. Corridors of Blood
12. The Gorgon
13. The Mummy
14. The Devil Ship Pirates
15. I, Monster
16. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
17. The Skull
18. Crypt of the Vampire
19. The Oblong Box
20. The Fu Manchu series
21. The Musketeers series
22. The Creeping Flesh
23. The City of the Dead (Horror Hotel)
24. The Pirates of Blood River
25. Gremlins 2: The New Batch