TV Review: 100 Years of Horror (1996-1997)

Original Run: 1996 – 1997
Created by: Ted Newsom, Dante J. Pugliese
Directed by: Ted Newsom
Written by: Ted Newson, Jeff Forrester (uncredited)
Cast: Christopher Lee (presenter), Roger Corman, Hugh Hefner, Fred Olen Ray, Richard Denning, Bela Lugosi Jr., Hazel Court, Robert Wise, Beverly Garland, Gloria Talbott, Sara Karloff, Dick Miller, Caroline Munro, John Agar, Ralph Bellamy, John Carpenter, Richard Matheson, Linnea Quigley, various

Multicom Entertainment Group, 26 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’m glad that this documentary television series was made when it was, in the mid-’90s, as it allowed for the children of multiple horror icons to be involved and to tell stories about their fathers, their careers and their personal lives outside of the public eye.

Additionally, I love that this was able to include a lot of the filmmakers, writers and actors that were involved in a lot of classic horror films. Had this been made today, a lot of these people wouldn’t have been able to tell their stories in their own words, as they’re no longer with us.

Also, I love that Christopher Lee was the presenter of this series, as there wasn’t a more perfect choice available.

This series features 26 episodes, roughly 22 minutes apiece. Each episode tackles a different subject, be it a type of monster or a legendary horror actor. Plus, each episode covers a lot of ground for its running time, jumping through history and trying to show the audience everything it possibly can on the subject.

There really isn’t a dull episode, as there are so many different things that can be covered. There could’ve been more episodes and there still would’ve more topics to explore.

I like that this just dives right in and delivers so much. In fact, every episode showed me something I wasn’t aware of and helped me expand my list of old school horror movies that I still have left to watch and review.

All in all, this was pretty great and classic horror fans will probably find themselves lost in each episode, traveling through time and seeing things they still haven’t seen before.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

Release Date: December 26th, 1960 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Alan Hackney
Music by: Alun Hoddinott
Cast: Richard Greene, Sarah Branch, Peter Cushing, Niall MacGinnis, Nigel Green, Oliver Reed (uncredited), Desmond Llewellyn (uncredited)

Yeoman Films Ltd., Hammer Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“This is not a game, Madam, I’m dealing with criminals!” – Sheriff of Nottingham

I’m kind of shocked that this site is two months shy of its five-year anniversary and this is the first Robin Hood movie that I’ve reviewed! Damn, I’ve been slacking on one of my all-time favorite legendary characters! I must rectify it with this movie and many more in the coming months!

Anyway, I guess I’m glad that I started with one that I had never seen and one that was made by one of my all-time favorite studios, Hammer Films. It also features horror icon Peter Cushing and has smaller parts for Oliver Reed, Nigel Green and James Bond‘s original Q, Desmond Llewelyn.

This film’s Robin Hood is played by Richard Greene, who actually played the character in the British television show The Adventures of Robin Hood for four seasons, totaling 143 episodes! So for fans of that show, this film must’ve felt like a theatrical finale, despite other characters being recast.

I really liked Peter Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham and the only real shitty thing about that iconic character in this version of the story, is that he never gets to meet his end at the hands of Robin Hood. Instead, he’s murdered like a dog by his superior, who was just tired of listening to him obsess over Hood.

I thought that Richard Greene made a solid Robin Hood and since I’ve never actually watched his show, I might try and track it down. If I do, obviously, I’ll review it.

This was a thoroughly entertaining Robin Hood picture and I liked the sets, costumes and overall look of the presentation. Granted, being that this is from the UK, it’s easy to make the world of Robin Hood look right. Plus, they still have so many castles and old structures that it’s not difficult finding the right places out in the wild.

I was glad that Hammer’s most celebrated director, Terence Fisher, was able to dabble in this style of film, as he predominantly did horror for the studio.

In the end, this was a better than decent Robin Hood flick with good actors, a nice pace and an authentic look.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Also known as: Terror of the Hatchet Men (alternative US title)
Release Date: March 15th, 1961
Directed by: Anthony Bushell
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone

Merlin Film Productions, Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“Have you ever had your bones scraped, Captain? It is painful in the extreme I can assure you.” – The Tong Leader

When I recently reviewed Hammer Films’ The Stranglers of Bombay, I discovered that this film was somewhat of a remake of that film. Watching this, I didn’t see it. I guess there are some similar narrative beats and both take place in exotic places in Asia but this is much more a proto-Fu Manchu picture than anything else.

With Christopher Lee in the lead, as the Chinese criminal kingpin, I feel like this lead to him starring in those five Fu Manchu pictures that stretched from 1965 to 1969. Hell, this probably inspired their creation.

However, this is better than those Fu Manchu movies. I think that Christopher Lee’s performance is solid in each of those, as well as this picture, but this really is the genesis of his longest run as a character other than Dracula.

I like that this takes place in Hong Kong but it still has that patented late ’50s/early ’60s Hammer style to it. I’m actually surprised that the studio didn’t recycle some of these sets into sequels for this, as Lee gives a really chilling performance and because this was different enough from Hammer’s regular output that they could’ve crafted another franchise from this, as they did with Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

I understand why this was just a one-off, though, as it’s not as good as the first installment in Hammer’s core franchises. Also, Christopher Lee was not a fan of the makeup and considered it the most uncomfortable that he had ever worn up to this point in his career. But this was his first starring credit, as his other well-known films before this had him playing the monster to Peter Cushing’s hero or mad scientist.

Once again, I thought that Jimmy Sangster wrote a pretty good script for Hammer. The sets are good, as are the costumes. The makeup passes the test for the era, even if modern HD restoration brings out its flaws more.

Overall, The Terror of the Tongs is better than I anticipated it being.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)

Also known as: Stranglers of Bengal (alternative title)
Release Date: December 4th, 1959 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: David Zelag Goodman
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, Andrew Cruickshank

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Whoever rules decides the truth.” – Patel Shari

I have never seen this long lost Hammer Films gem. Granted, I don’t think many people in modern times have seen this.

However, I’d gather that the people working at Lucasfilm in the early ’80s knew the picture, as some pretty major elements from it are pretty damn similar to some of the plot details in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Now Temple of Doom isn’t a blatant ripoff of this but it seems pretty likely that George Lucas himself was inspired by The Stranglers of Bombay, as he wrote the story to the film before handing it off the script writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz. Beyond just that, it’s aesthetically similar, as well.

While this isn’t as great as Temple of Doom it is a pretty good occult horror flick that features action and adventure. It’s primarily about a cult in India that is very much like the one headed by Mola Ram in that 1984 Indiana Jones movie.

However, this is pretty slow moving and uneventful for good stretches of the film. It does make an impact in the scenes where it really leans into the cult in their activities, though. It’s dark, creepy and I really like the costumes, sets and general look of the picture.

With that, I don’t think that this has aged well and other films have come along and done this better.

In fact, besides Temple of Doom, Hammer even did a loose remake of this just two years later with Christopher Lee as a Fu Manchu type of character. That picture was called The Terror of the Tongs and while it’s not an exact remake, it reimagines these concepts and sets the story in China. I plan to review that one in a few weeks.

As for The Stranglers of Bombay, it’s certainly worth seeing if you’re a Temple of Doom fan but if you just like occult horror in general, it’s still a decent movie to dive into.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Scream of Fear (1961)

Also known as: Taste of Fear (UK)
Release Date: March 30th, 1961 (London premiere)
Directed by: Seth Holt
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Clifton Parker
Cast: Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee, John Serret

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“You say my mind is affecting my legs. You’re wrong. It’s my legs that are affecting my mind.” – Penny Appleby

Man, when it comes to old school Hammer movies, I’ve come to realize that most of the really good scripts come from Jimmy Sangster. While this isn’t the best of the films he’s written, the story is solid and it sticks with you.

The plot follows a wheelchair-bound heiress named Penny, who returns to her father’s home after the suicide of her best friend. Upon arrival, her father is absent and she has to contend with her stepmother, who she doesn’t trust and has just met.

Penny believes that she sees her father’s corpse in the guest cottage at night and she screams hysterically, alerting her stepmother. Upon discovering Penny, the corpse is nowhere to be found. So the family doctor, played by the legendary Christopher Lee, is summoned to treat Penny for trauma and her potential hallucinations.

The family’s chauffer pulls Penny aside and admits that something unusual is going on and that he’ll help her discover the truth. However, Penny doesn’t fully trust him. All the while, a police detective shows up and believes that Penny has her own strange secrets.

I don’t want to spoil too much but the setup has a lot of layers to it and it almost feels very noir-esque, as it opens the door to a lot of potential twists and surprises.

I’ve got to say that the acting in this is quite exceptional and exceeds what was the normal level of performances in Hammer pictures. Susan Strasberg is pretty damn convincing in her role and she was so dedicated to it, that her style of method acting drew the ire of her co-star Ann Todd.

However, Christopher Lee, a man with over 200 credits to his name, considered this the best film that Hammer ever made with him in it. While I don’t think it’s that good, Lee’s opinion should matter quite a bit, considering his long, iconic career and for how many movies he was featured in under the Hammer banner.

Ultimately, Scream of Fear is a nice gem buried underneath the massive catalog of Hammer films. In modern times, people only seem to remember the movies based off of famous literary monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. However, Hammer has so many other movies, like this one, that deserve to be revisited and showcased for modern classic horror fans that might not have dived deep enough.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Never Take Candy from A Stranger (1960)

Also known as: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (UK)
Release Date: March 4th, 1960 (London premiere)
Directed by: Cyril Frankel
Written by: John Hunter
Based on: The Pony Trap (play) by Roger Garis
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford, Felix Aylmer, Janina Faye, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This isn’t an ordinary crime like burglary or a holdup.” – Martha

Similar to a lot of the other Hammer films I’ve been watching and reviewing lately, courtesy of a sweet, beefy box set I bought, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie.

I was pretty shocked and impressed with this, however. So much so, I’m surprised that I never knew about this picture and that it’s seemingly been lost to time.

The film is about a small town with a pedophile that is the old, senile patriarch of the town’s richest family. With that, no one really wants to do anything about this predator, as they don’t want to draw the ire of the family, who have lots of money and connections and essentially own everyone and everything in the region.

This is pretty heavy, serious subject matter for a movie that was made in 1959 but I thought that the material was well handled and even if the film feels like it’s leaning into exploitation, it classily reels itself in just enough to be respectable.

Additionally, this is well crafted, well shot, well acted and the picture’s climax of the elderly pedo chasing two young girls through the woods had similar, creepy vibes to some of the best moments from the exceptional film, The Night of the Hunter. In fact, this movie kept making me think of that classic, Robert Mitchum starring film.

I have to say that the main girl in the movie acted great and handled so many tough scenes like a seasoned pro. Gwen Watford, who played the girl’s mother was also really exceptional in this.

Also, Hammer regular Michael Gwynn had a role in this as the young victim’s lawyer. He was also solid and convincing and really shined in the courtroom scenes.

This is a dark, tragic film that most people will find upsetting. However, it’s also a great piece of work and one of the best things that Hammer Films has ever made outside of their more famous monster movies.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films that are more grounded in reality.

Film Review: Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)

Also known as: The Full Treatment (original title)
Release Date: October, 1960 (UK)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Val Guest, Ronald Scott Thorn
Based on: The Full Treatment by Ronald Scott Thorn
Music by: Stanley Black
Cast: Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis

Falcon, Hilary, Hammer Films, 108 Minutes, 93 Minutes (cut), 107 Minutes (Screen Gems print)

Review:

“Tesoro, I’ve lied for you but never to you.” – Denise Colby

This is a very noir-esque horror flick from Hammer, who were mostly known for their colorful, opulent adaptations of classic literary monsters.

Films like this weren’t outside of Hammer’s area of expertise, however, as I’ve discovered multiple films like this over the years and most recently, in a beefy Blu-ray box set I purchased a few months back.

So the story follows a married couple that had just survived a car accident. The husband, at one point, loses control and tries to strangle the wife. He then decides to get help from a psychiatrist to figure out why he has this impulse to murder her.

After some time, it’s revealed that there was a moment during the car crash where the husband believed he had killed his wife and since then, he’s subconsciously had this urge to fulfill what he thought was reality for a brief moment in time.

The doctor then visits the home of the couple the next day. The wife is missing and it appears that the husband murdered her even though the doctor considered him cured. However, the doctor is a total bastard that is in love with the wife and is now using the husband’s greatest fear about himself to make him actually go insane, so the doctor can swoop in and take the man’s wife.

It’s a complicated plot with many layers and some solid twists but I wouldn’t call it unpredictable or anything. Still, it’s entertaining and engaging.

Additionally, the performances are pretty good and the film has a good atmosphere. I also found the climax to be pretty satisfying.

Now this isn’t Hammer’s best film in this style but it’s still a cool movie that is worth a watch if you’re into these sort of stories.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films that are more grounded in reality.

Film Review: Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

Also known as: Fanatic (original title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1965 (UK)
Directed by: Silvio Narizzano
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Nightmare by Anne Blaisdell
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Maurice Kaufmann, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Stephen? Stephen? She’s here in this house, my darling… but of course you know… you know…!” – Mrs. Trefoile

So this was another Hammer film that flew under my radar for years. I didn’t discover it until I recently got this twenty film Blu-ray box set.

For a straight up Hammer style horror flick, this was really damn good and enjoyable as hell. It doesn’t feature any of the classic literary monsters, so it had to rely on good storytelling, good direction and solid acting.

The story is interesting and engaging while the performances by Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers were damn exceptional. So much so, I was enthralled and pulled in by their acting and I easily ignored all the missed opportunities the victim had at escaping or defeating the villain.

You have to suspend some disbelief in how easily this woman is held captive by a cranky, crazy old lady and her hired help around the house. But regardless of that, this is still superb in its execution and man, you just want to see that old lady get her just desserts.

Tallulah Bankhead was intense and sinister. She gave a top notch performance and what makes it even more impressive is that she got really sick during production. So much so that she had to forego her salary and promise to finish the film, regardless, just so her role wasn’t recast. In the end, she pulled off something remarkable.

It’s also worth mentioning that a young Donald Sutherland plays one of the villain’s minions. However, he’s kind of an innocent character, as he’s mentally handicapped and doesn’t really understand the reality of what’s happening around him.

Die! Die! My Darling! is much better than I assumed it would be. It’s a mesmerizing thriller that sucks you in rather quickly and holds your attention until the final frame.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer pictures of the ’50s through ’70s, especially ones like this that don’t feature the more famous literary monsters.

Film Review: Maniac (1963)

Release Date: May 20th, 1963 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Carreras
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Stanley Black
Cast: Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Liliane Brousse, Donald Houston

Hammer Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You take a man’s wife, Mr. Farrell, but not his money?” – Georges

Maniac is a pretty neat, lesser known Hammer picture. It’s written by Jimmy Sangster, who has written pretty much nothing but good shit for the studio. He’s probably Hammer’s most prolific writer and the films where his talent really shines are in smaller, lesser known ones like this.

This almost has a noir vibe to the story and like noir, it’s got some really wretched people and some surprising plot twists in it.

The killer is just really damn cool looking, especially for the early ’60s and in a lot of ways, the character feels like a prototype for a slasher flick bad guy, even though those weren’t a thing yet.

The killer wears a welding mask and carries a blowtorch. Granted, we see his face and he is very much just a human dude. Still, it gives off slasher vibes and the bad guy is pretty damn good and menacing. Most importantly, all the stuff with the killer in this is really damn effective.

The highlight of the film, to me, was the finale, which was shot in a cavernous tomb looking location. It was actually filmed in the huge stone galleries that were dug into the rock of the Val d’Enfer of Les Baux-de-Provence in southeastern France. The location really ups the ante in the picture and gives it something else memorable other than the killer.

My only real issue with the film is that the acting was a bit meh. I wouldn’t call it bad but the cast really could’ve used more coffee throughout the shooting day. I wouldn’t call the performances understated as much as I’d call them disinterested. Honestly, though, this really falls on the shoulders of the director or the casting agent.

Maniac is another Hammer film that has been kind of lost to time but after seeing it, the movie exceeded my expectations. It also makes me glad that I really started digging deeper into the Hammer vaults beyond the Victorian horror stuff and the films starring Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known Hammer horror thrillers.

Film Review: The Snorkel (1958)

Release Date: June 18th, 1958 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Guy Green
Written by: Anthony Dawson, Peter Myers, Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Francis Chagrin
Cast: Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller

Clarion Films, Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“You think I’m mad, don’t you? They all thought I was mad when I said he killed my daddy.” – Candy Brown

This is another Hammer film I have never seen but was introduced to through a beefy Blu-ray box set I recently purchased, which features some lesser known gems by the greatest horror studio that ever existed.

The Snorkel also has one of the coolest posters I’ve ever seen but sadly, the movie doesn’t live up to its awesomeness. But that’s not to say it’s bad, it’s actually pretty good with a unique story, good performances and beautiful scenery.

The plot of the film is about a murderer that wears a diving mask equipped with air and then hides while he kills his victims with gas. He likes to knock his victims out, then turn on the gas lamps without flame, letting the gas fill the room to asphyxiate his victim. All the while, he hides under a trapdoor in the floor, breathing in clean air through his mask, where he can also listen to the conversations of the police investigating the scene.

Initially, he kills his wife but her daughter alludes to the fact that he also killed her father, previously. The girl isn’t sure how and no one believes her, so she starts snooping around. As the film rolls on, the killer attempts to kill the girl a few times, which culminates in him trying to murder her the same way he did her mother.

The film primarily takes place in a coastal Italian villa. The sets are pretty impressive and just look cool and exotic, especially for what Hammer usually did, which was Victorian horror stories set in England or Germany, in the case of the Frankenstein movies, and various Eastern European places, in the case of the Dracula films.

This is presented in black and white but it’s pretty stylized, which is also bolstered by the exotic locale.

In the end, this movie was a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it. I thought it was a cool concept, even if it was a bit hokey and odd. The film is held together by the performances by its leads and it did a good job of separating itself from the standard Hammer formula and excelled at doing its own, unique thing.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’50s through ’70s.