Film Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Release Date: June 25th, 1962 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Music by: Edwin Astley
Cast: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I am going to teach you to sing, Christine. I am going to give you a new voice! A voice so wonderful that theatres all over the world will be filled with your admirers. You will be the greatest star the opera has ever known. Greater than the greatest! And when you sing, Christine, you will be singing only… for me.” – The Phantom

My memories of this film were much fonder than they probably should have been. Granted, I love Hammer horror, especially the films directed by Terence Fisher. Plus, this had Michael Gough in it and that guy’s typically fantastic.

I still like this film and I thought that the look of it was great and akin to what one would expect from a Hammer horror movie of this era. I also love the look of The Phantom and thought that his mask is one of the best the character has ever had in this story’s long history and countless adaptations.

My biggest issue with this film, though, is that it is really slow and kind of boring, as some segments just drag along at a snail’s pace.

Also, the alterations to the plot didn’t really seem to benefit the story and I have to question why this deviated so much. I mean, that’s something that Hammer did often, as they wanted to tell their own story while using these famous literary characters but The Phantom of the Opera is already a pretty one-note story with a pretty one-note monster. This is probably why there weren’t a slew of Phantom sequels in the classic horror runs of Universal Studios and Hammer Films, which saw several Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies.

Still, this is a good, competent film. It’s just not Hammer or Fisher’s best and it sort of feels like it was half-assed at the production stage. Maybe Hammer kept striking oil with all of Fisher’s other films based on classic monsters and all parties involved just phoned this one in.

I used to think of this as one of my favorite film adaptations of the story but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Lon Chaney or Claude Rains versions.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer films of the late ’50s through early ’70s, especially those directed by Terence Fisher.

Film Review: Night Creatures (1962)

Also known as: Captain Clegg (UK)
Release Date: June 13th, 1962
Directed by: Peter Graham Scott
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Romain, Patrick Allen, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper

Major Pictures, Hammer Films, Universal-International, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Well if you’ve all done staring.” – Imogen, “If it’s all the same to you miss I’d like a few minutes more.” – Jack Pott

A movie featuring pirates should always feature a good amount of swashbuckling. This one doesn’t but it actually doesn’t hurt it, as it is a Hammer horror picture and there’s more emphasis on the creepy and weird than any sort of pirate action. For this film, non-swashbuckling pirates just work. But adding in some swashbuckling would’ve made it even cooler.

Also, this features three heavy hitters for Hammer with Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper. All three of these guys did multiple Hammer movies and their performances were always up to snuff and typically exceeded it.

That being said, I love this movie and I especially loved the concept of it, as well as how the monsters looked, what they actually were and how it all played out visually onscreen.

While Hammer was most known for their re-telling and re-imagining of classic monster stories, they’d always fill in the blanks with cool motion pictures like this that have an original, haunting story and also fit perfectly fine within the larger Hammer horror oeuvre.

The plot here is about a small town that sits near a marsh where the ghosts of men on ghostly horses haunt the area. There is also a creepy scarecrow that seems to appear in different places, watching those who pass through the marshes.

The town’s leader is a minister played by Peter Cushing but we soon learn that he is a famous pirate that has faked his own death and hid within this small community. The other men in the town were also his crew and they have to protect themselves when a hard-nosed naval commander comes to the village in search of the pirate Captain and the truth about what happened to him.

Night Creatures isn’t a complicated film and even the twists aren’t that surprising but honestly, they don’t need to be, as this is just a cool picture with a neat premise and great monsters.

The movie has a very eerie vibe and yet, it’s still a lot of fun and pretty lighthearted. While this might not be very high up on classic horror fans’ lists, it’s always been one of my favorite Hammer movies ever made.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the era, especially those starring Peter Cushing.

Film Review: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Release Date: May 1st, 1961 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Benjamin Frankel
Cast: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Michael Ripper, Desmond Llewelyn (uncredited)

Hammer Films, Universal-International, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Cristina, do you love me? Will you marry me Cristina? You say you love me, will you marry me?” – Leon

The Curse of the Werewolf doesn’t star Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee or even Andre Morell but it is hands down, one of the absolute best Hammer Films movies involving a classic monster.

This was their original take on a werewolf movie, similar to Universal’s The Wolf Man, but this one didn’t try to replicate that film and instead gave us something original with a neat Spanish twist to it.

I love werewolf stories and I love Hammer, so seeing the studio take on a werewolf character is just cool. Plus, the werewolf, a young man named Leon, is played by the great Oliver Reed.

The story is kind of split into two parts: the first half deals with the origin of Leon and his upbringing, the second half deals with Leon as a young adult, trying to make his way in the world only to have everything upended by the curse he was tragically born with.

Leon has a loving family, gets a good job, meets a beautiful girl, makes a solid friend but the werewolf inside of him cannot be contained and we’re treated to a great Hammer movie that is truly a tragedy for a cast of mostly likable characters that are really innocent and undeserving of fate’s cruel hand.

Like most Hammer films of this era, this is a beautiful and stunning looking picture. Also, like Hammer films of the era, it also recycles some set pieces from other films. I kind of like that though, as it maintains a certain aesthetic and style. Even if this takes place in Spain, as opposed to England (or around Germany), you immediately recognize it as Hammer. A lot of that can also be due to this being directed by Hammer’s ace behind the camera, Terence Fisher.

I really like the story, though. This is a great classic horror tale with a new, enjoyable twist.

The opening sequence tells the story of a beggar who comes to the castle of a real asshole. The beggar is Leon’s biological father and his story, early in the film, really sets the tone for the picture. Frankly, this is a tale about innocence being victimized by the unfair, uncaring universe.

That being said, this is emotionally heavier than most horror pictures of its time. It has a lot of layers sewn into its wonderful tapestry and because of that, it’s one of the best stories Hammer has have told.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Horror films featuring classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Film Review: Countess Dracula (1971)

Release Date: January 31st, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Sasdy
Written by: Jeremy Paul
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, Nigel Green, Lesley-Anne Down

The Rank Organisation, Hammer Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“And what will your daughter say? She arrives tomorrow and she’ll find you as young as she is.” – Captain Dobi

The title Countess Dracula was really just used for marketing purposes, as this film has nothing to do with Dracula, whether it be the original Bram Stoker novel or the series of films put out by Hammer.

The story here is very loosely based on the real Hungarian countess, Erzsebest Bathory or Elizabeth Bathory, as she’s more commonly referred to. For those who might not know of her story, she was accused of murdering young girls and bathing in their blood because she believed that it would keep her youthful. Granted, this was never proven and has since become a legend and the basis for a lot of vampire fiction.

Still, it’s a cool story to explore in a film and Hammer would grasp onto just about anything in an effort to turn it into a horror movie. Plus, their Karnstein movies were doing pretty well, the first of which also starred Ingrid Pitt, so lady vampire flicks were all the rage.

While Pitt didn’t return for any more Karnstein movies, she did return for this one to play the erroneously named title character. It was a good choice by her, as this is one of her most memorable roles and it really helped to solidify her as one of Hammer’s top scream queens.

This film actually did fairly well from a critical standpoint as it seemed to be favored over a lot of the other Hammer outings at the time. However, I do think it’s a bit dull when compared to the Karnstein films, as well as Vampire CircusCaptain Kronos and the uber cool and hip Dracula A.D. 1972.

That’s not to say that Pitt wasn’t good in this, she definitely was, as was her co-star, Nigel Green. The film was also impressive from an atmospheric standpoint. It just doesn’t generate the same level of excitement as the other Hammer vampire pictures of the early ’70s, though.

It’s still a neat story with better than average acting but if a film from the ’70s Hammer vampire lot has to be ranked last, this would be the one.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Hammer’s other vampire films: the Dracula series, The Karnstein TrilogyVampire Circus, etc.

Film Review: Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)

Also known as: Kronos (US short title), Vampire Castle (alternative title) 
Release Date: April 7th, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Brian Clemens
Written by: Brian Clemens
Music by: Laurie Johnson
Cast: Horst Janson, John Carson, Caroline Munro, John Cater

Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“What he doesn’t know about vampirism wouldn’t fill a flea’s codpiece.” – Kronos

After revisiting and reviewing Hammer’s The Karnstein Trilogy of films, I wanted to go back and watch Captain Kronos, as it features another Karnstein vampire but it isn’t considered part of the other three films. I went into this in my Twins of Evil review, so I won’t rehash it here.

Another reason why I wanted to watch this again was Caroline Munro, who was one of my earliest crushes and frankly, that crush has never worn off. I love her and she’s a lot of fun in this vampire swashbuckler.

This film is pretty great, especially for those who like not just classic Hammer-style horror but also for those who love adventure and a little bit of swashbuckling. Granted, there are no pirate ships and tropical locales here. But our hero, Captain Kronos isn’t afraid of crossing swords with evil.

Kronos, who is a cool character, isn’t alone in his quest to vanquish undead evil. He actually has a small group that works with him, my favorite of which is played by John Carson, a guy who should have been in more Hammer movies because he always has a great presence. While I most associate him with his role as the villain in The Plague of Zombies, a damn enjoyable film, his role here is more fleshed out, more heroic and he just nails the part so well that his death onscreen stings a bit.

We also get a lot of Caroline Munro in this movie and she’s striking gorgeous and always exciting to watch, as she has real charm and she can ham it up in the right way. And that’s a necessary skill in this picture, as it is lighthearted and fun, even if it exists within the sphere of Hammer horror.

This was a cool concept and I assume that it was supposed to be the start of a new vampire-centric franchise for Hammer, as they had just wrapped up the Dracula and Karnstein series of films.

Unfortunately, there weren’t anymore Kronos movies after this one and the world didn’t get to see any further adventures of this awesome hero. I kind of feel cheated.

Although, there would be a comic book miniseries, several years later. One of these days, I’ll round up all the issues and review them.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.

Film Review: Twins of Evil (1971)

Also known as: Twins of Dracula, The Evil Twins, The Virgin Vampires, The Gemini Twins (alternative titles) 
Release Date: October 3rd, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: John Hough
Written by: Tudor Gates
Based on: characters by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Peter Cushing, The Collinson Twins, Dennis Price, Damien Thomas, Katya Wyeth

The Rank Organization, Hammer Films, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[pointing to ancestral portraits] They knew! They didn’t play at being wicked. They worshipped the devil and he taught them delights that you will never know! Of punishment: inflicting and receiving it. Of torture. And death. Yes, of death and of pleasures beyond the grave. Something you could not even comprehend! But I know.” – Count Karnstein

Well, we have reached the third and final chapter in Hammer Film’s The Karnstein Trilogy. It is also my favorite of the three films.

I think that my love of this movie comes from seeing it at a really young age and being captivated by the nude beauty of the Collinson Twins, who were the first twins to be Playboy Playmates. As a pervy little kid in the ’80s, just like every other boy from that decade, my impressionable young mind always liked watching this. But who doesn’t enjoy gorgeous, nude women?

Anyway, personal perviness aside, I like the story in this, as well as how one twin becomes a vampire and actually tries to sacrifice her sister to the witch/vampire hunters that are looking to kill her.

Additionally, Peter Cushing, a fucking legend, just nails his role in this. He plays the head of the witch/vampire hunters and he finds himself torn by the fact that his niece is a vampire that has been seduced by the evil Count Karnstein, his (im)mortal enemy.

I also really liked Damien Thomas as this film’s version of the Count, a different Karnstein than the ones we’ve met in other films but he’s still a part of the same lineage.

The only thing really missing from this movie that was a large part of the previous two was the Carmilla character. I guess she’s run her course and technically she’s dead but how many times did Dracula die in a Hammer movie? Part of me just wishes that Yutte Stensgaard could’ve been back after being the real centerpiece of the previous film. Hell, seeing Ingrid Pitt return to work with Cushing again would’ve been great.

I also like that this film came out in a time of flux for Hammer. It still feels like it could fit in with the visual tone of their ’60s pictures but also has that extra edginess that they’d unleash in the early ’70s. It just feels like it is a perfect bridge between the two eras.

There weren’t any official Karnstein chapters after this but many people consider 1974’s Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter to be the unofficial fourth film, as it features another vampire from the Karnstein lineage. Although, it takes place in England, as opposed to Central Europe. But hey, Dracula traveled.

I’ll review Captain Kronos in the near future.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.

Film Review: Lust For a Vampire (1971)

Also known as: To Love a Vampire (US TV title)
Release Date: January 17th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Jimmy Sangster
Written by: Tudor Gates
Based on: characters by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Harry Robinson
Cast: Yutte Stensgaard, Ralph Bates, Barbara Jefford, Suzanna Leigh, Michael Johnson, Helen Christie, Mike Raven, Pippa Steel, Christopher Neame

Hammer Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I spend the whole of last night going through Giles’s researches, and believe me they are powerful evidence.” – Mircalla, “Evidence! Of what?” – Richard Lestrange, “That you are a vampire.” – Mircalla

The second motion picture in The Karnstein Trilogy from Hammer Films, really takes the formula from the first movie and ups the ante quite a bit. In fact, the only thing missing was the great Hammer legends Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing. However, the film, as a whole, makes up for the loss of two big stars and is actually kind of bonkers in a near perfect way.

To start, Yutte Stensgaard is incredibly beautiful and she really brought something to this film despite her lack of acting ability. I’ve only ever seen her in one other film: Scream and Scream Again. Needless to say, she didn’t have to say much, she just needed to look sexy, mesmerizing and sinister all at the same time. She achieved this quite well and her presence transcends the screen, which probably goes beyond what was simply written on paper. She has an intensity here and conveys it well.

Additionally, Mike Raven, who barely does much in this, still commanded attention when he appeared. He didn’t act nearly as much as other Hammer actors of note but he is sort of a poor man’s Christopher Lee and therefore very closely resembles Lee’s Dracula while playing the evil Count Karnstein. Just think of Hammer’s Dracula with a goatee and that’s basically Karnstein in this film. He kind of just has to stand there, starring intensely, which he’s damn good at.

The film also features Ralph Bates in a prominent role for the first half of the film. I’ve enjoyed his work in other horror pictures of the era but this is probably my favorite thing that he’s done, as he plays a very different character in contrast to his smarmy, young, good looking visage. Bates shows his range here and does rather well.

Lust For a Vampire also features a young Christopher Neame, just before he became more recognized for his role as Johnny Alucard in 1972’s Dracula A.D. 1972.

Due to the success of The Vampire Lovers and how that spawned a lesbian vampire craze in B-movies, this thing was rushed through production and put out quickly, just as its followup, Twins of Evil, would be.

Regardless of that, this is a better movie than it probably should’ve been. It’s pretty standard Hammer horror but with the sexuality turned way up and probably as far as they could go in 1971 without getting an X rating.

I like the overall Karnstein story and this explores its themes further. It’s an interesting and sexy film that just hits the right notes for those that love Hammer and classic vampire cinema.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.

Film Review: The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Release Date: October 4th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Harry Fine, Tudor Gates, Michael Style
Based on: Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O’Mara, Peter Cushing, Dawn Addams, Madeline Smith, Pippa Steel

Fantale Films, Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“They were all evil and remain evil after death.” – Baron Joachim von Hartog

While the most famous vampire films to come out of Hammer are the ones featuring Christopher Lee as Dracula, there was also The Karnstein Trilogy, which focused on lesbian vampires that didn’t have the weaknesses of sunlight and fire.

This was the first of those three movies, which sort of helped kick off a trend, as other studios in other parts of the world tried to also bank on the vampire lesbian craze, which was pretty racy stuff for 1970.

The story is loosely based off of the second most famous literary vampire story, Carmilla by Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which was originally published in 1872.

While that novel would serve to give a narrative tone and inspiration to The Karnstein Trilogy, the films really kind of just do their own thing beyond the initial setup.

I’d say that this is the weakest of the three movies within the trilogy but it is still entertaining and it goes to show just how good Ingrid Pitt was in her prime. The woman is stunning, seductive and she has the acting chops to convincingly stand beside some of the other Hammer legends. In this film, she has to share space with the legendary Peter Cushing but the two were able to play off of each other quite well.

The film also stars Madeline Smith, another Hammer regular, in a smaller role. But she always had a certain charisma that made the movies she was in better.

Ultimately, this is an interesting and overtly sexual motion picture. It’s all done as classy as a Hammer movie is capable of but it’s honestly pretty tame when compared to films that borrowed these themes later on. And without this picture, we wouldn’t have gotten the sequels, which I enjoy more, and the knockoffs which kind of became their own subgenre within the vampire subgenre of horror.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.

Book Review: Famous Monsters – Ack-ives, Vol. 2: The House of Hammer

I’ve been a Hammer Films aficionado since I was a wee little lad. Growing up, my granmum always had AMC and other old movie stations on. As the sun went down, often times there’d be some solid old school horror, whether it was the Universal Monsters stuff, Vincent Price movies or the Hammer films, which almost always starred Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing and usually the two of them together.

I used to videotape every Hammer film that came on television and I had a solid collection. As I got older, I ended up getting just about everything I could on DVD, completing the Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy film series. Not to mention everything in-between.

So I had to pick this up when I saw it in my local comic book shop.

This reads like a book but is in a magazine format. But it’s pretty thick and has a slew of good articles about the history of Hammer studios and all the great movies they put out.

It delves into their big franchises, which were the UK’s darker and more serious takes on the franchises originally created by Universal, most of which came from famous works of literature like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Hammer didn’t just stop there, though. They did other vampire movies, mummy movies, zombie movies, werewolf movies and just about everything else under the sun that could be tailored into a good horror story.

Famous Monsters did a fine job of painting the picture of who the creators behind Hammer were and why their work was so essential to the evolution of horror.

This is definitely worth checking out and it is plastered with lots of great photos from the film themselves, as well as behind the scenes stuff.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic horror magazines.

Film Review: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Release Date: April, 1974 (Paris Festival of Fantasy Film)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, David Prowse, Madeline Smith, John Stratton, Patrick Troughton, Bernard Lee

Hammer Film Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“[after operating eyeballs onto the creature] Now, in approximately one hour, when the narcosis wears off… we shall see.” – Baron Victor Frankenstein

This is the final picture in Hammer Film’s Frankenstein series. I have now revisited and reviewed all of the films that star Peter Cushing. I need to go back and revisit the other one that stars Ralph Bates but that one is a semi-parody and not as serious as the Cushing installments.

As a kid, I always loved this one and I still like it a lot but having now seen it so soon after watching the others, I’d have to say that this one is the slowest. In fact, it drags out in parts and is a little bit boring.

It still has its fair share of excitement and I love that Frankenstein’s monster in this chapter is a “neolithic man”, which just equates to the monster being a massive, hulking brute, covered in lots of fur with an ape-like face. It’s also worth noting that the monster was portrayed by David Prowse, who would go on to be Darth Vader and thus, this was a film with both Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, three years before their more famous pairing in Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope.

Prowse was also in a lot of Hammer pictures. Certainly not as many as Cushing but this wasn’t a new type of role for him.

The film also stars Shane Briant and Madeline Smith, who many probably remember as Miss Caruso from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor of Doctor Who fame also has a small role, as does Bernard Lee, the actor who played M in the James Bond movies of the ’60s and ’70s.

I like the setting of this film, which is an asylum. Frankenstein has taken on another identity and works in secret within the asylum, where there isn’t a shortage of bodies to experiment on and brains to steal.

Frankenstein is obviously still evil but he is nowhere near as dastardly as he was in the previous film, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. But that’s the thing with the Hammer Frankenstein pictures, there just isn’t any real consistency and every film is sort of self-contained. It’s a stark contrast to how they managed their Dracula franchise where most of the films led right into the next chapter.

Being that this is a later Hammer movie, it does have a bit more of a gore factor than their earlier pictures. It isn’t overly gory but there are some scenes that still come off as pretty intense. For instance, there is a scene where the patients within the asylum literally tear someone apart with their bare hands. It happens off screen but we see meat and fluids flying, as well as what’s left of the poor soul after the savage attack.

This is one of the weakest installments of the film series but I still enjoy it quite a bit. The thing is, Hammer was running out of gas by 1974 and there was more competition in the UK from studios like Amicus, who also produced movies in a very similar style to Hammer.

I wouldn’t call this a worthy finale to the film series but The Satanic Rites of Dracula wasn’t a good finale either.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.