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 Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Also known as: Kiss of Evil (US TV title)
Release Date: September 11th, 1963
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: John Elder
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Clifford Evans, Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Willman, Barry Warren, Brian Oulton, Noel Howlett

Hammer Films, 88 Minutes, 93 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“When the devil attacks a man or woman with this foul disease of the vampire the unfortunate human being can do one of two things. Either he can seek God through the church and pray for absolution or he can persuade himself that his filthy perversion is some kind of new and wonderful experience to be shared by the favoured few. Then he tries to persuade others to join his new cult.” – Professor Zimmer

Man, this was a really solid Hammer vampire flick and even though I saw it years ago, I didn’t remember it being this good.

The story follows two newlyweds traveling for their honeymoon. They end up in a small Bavarian village in 1910. While there, they come to discover that the people are a bit off. As the story rolls on, we come to learn that the small community is being controlled by a vampire cult that lives in a nearby castle. The cult tricks the newlyweds at a party and abducts the wife, trying to make the husband believe that he arrived there alone. The husband then teams up with a Professor, who lost his daughter to the cult. The two men then seek vengeance against the vampires in an effort to save the young man’s wife.

For a Hammer film that doesn’t feature any of Hammer’s go-to big name actors, this is still on the level of those other movies. Clifford Evans and Edward de Souza had worked for Hammer before and they did hold their own without the help of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed or Andre Morell.

This was directed by Don Sharp, though, and even if he wasn’t one of the top two Hammer directors, he did a good amount of films for the studio over his career and always hit the right mark, tonally and narratively.

This picture looks great but then again, all Hammer films of the 1960s did. It recycles some furniture and other set pieces but that kind of just adds to the overall appeal of the Hammer aesthetic.

Additionally, the climax to this film is superb and I dug the hell out of it. For the time, the special effects worked well and it was cool seeing these vampires meet a sort of ironic demise.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer vampire movies.

Film Review: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Release Date: October 17th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Brian Clemens
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I walked the streets, brooding on the bitter irony that all I wanted to do for humanity, for life, would be cheated by death… unless I could cheat death.” – Dr. Jekyll

This is strangely a Hammer horror film that I hadn’t seen. It’s always cool seeing one of these for the first time because it’s like looking at it with fresh eyes without nostalgia grabbing hold and taking you back to a magical time from your youth.

That being said, I quite enjoyed this and the gender bending twist to this classic story was a fun, interesting take.

The plot sees the legendary character of Dr. Jekyll develop and test out his own serum. However, in this version, he doesn’t turn into Mr. Hyde, he turns into a hot chick.

With that, his female persona uses her beauty and her gender to trap women in her web before horrifically murdering them Jack The Ripper style. In fact, this was most definitely inspired by the Jack The Ripper killings, as much as it was inspired by the famous Robert Louis Stevenson horror story about the duality of man and science run amok.

I love Ralph Bates, especially in his Hammer movie roles. I really liked Martine Beswick, as well though, as she plays the murderous female version of the character.

Additionally, whoever cast this film did a stupendous job in finding two leads with a very similar look despite their different genders.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde may not be the best version of the Stevenson tale but it’s certainly a really cool take on it, made by a solid classic horror director and two leads that committed to their parts and ultimately gave us cinematic magic.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the early ’70s that explore sexual themes.

Film Review: Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Release Date: October 14th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Seth Holt, Michael Carreras (uncredited)
Written by: Christopher Wicking
Based on: The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker
Music by: Tristram Cary
Cast: Valerie Leon, Andrew Keir, Mark Edwards, James Villiers, Hugh Burden, Aubrey Morris

EMI Films, Hammer Films, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“The meek shall not inherit the earth. They can’t be trusted with it.” – Corbeck

Out of the four Mummy movies made by Hammer Films, this one is the most original and least derivative of the two Mummy sequels before it.

While this was an adaptation of The Jewel of Seven Stars, a classic Bram Stoker novel, it was set in contemporary times, giving it a fresh, modern feel. Well, at least in 1971.

This was also probably done to make the film’s production cheaper and I’m sure that it succeeded, as Hammer would follow this up by making two modern Dracula films, as well as a few other flicks set in the 1970s.

Additionally, it differs from the other three films in that the mummy in this picture is a woman. A very, very beautiful and alluring woman, mind you. Valerie Leon, in fact, and if you’ve never seen her in Zeta One, you haven’t truly lived.

Anyway, I like this film simply because it isn’t just a copy of a copy of a copy. It tried something new and I feel like it succeeded in spite of its limitations and faults.

It’s definitely entertaining if you’re a fan of classic Hammer horror and beautiful babes. 

I also dig that they adapted a Bram Stoker story that wasn’t Dracula, which is really the only book that Stoker is known for by modern audiences. While The Jewel of Seven Stars isn’t as iconic as Dracula, it’s still a cool story and it helped pave the way for mummy horror before feature length movies were even made.

The acting is pretty average and I’d say it’s what you would expect from a Hammer picture. This one doesn’t have any of the iconic Hammer actors in it but the cast still holds their own.

I thought that this did pretty well with the flashback sequences, tying our female lead back to her previous life as an Egyptian queen. Also, the look of Egypt in this film was otherworldly and kind of cool. I know that the look of outdoor Egypt in this was a byproduct of a low budget but the director made the most out of it and I thought the look worked quite well.

In the end, the Hammer Mummy movies aren’t as beloved as the Dracula and Frankenstein ones but they’re still a lot of fun and still feel like genuine, stylish Hammer pictures.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.

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 Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)

Release Date: October 18th, 1964 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Carreras
Written by: Michael Carreras, Alvin Rakoff
Music by: Carlo Martelli
Cast: Terence Morgan, Fred Clark, Ronald Howard, Jeanne Roland, George Pastell, Michael Ripper

Swallow Productions Ltd., Hammer Films, 78 Minutes

Review:

“We’re all doomed to die for this act of desecration.” – Hashmi Bey

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie despite it being a Hammer film based on a classic monster.

For one, it doesn’t star any premier Hammer regulars. Well, except for Michael Ripper but what wasn’t he in from Hammer?

Additionally, other than the first Mummy film from Hammer, I don’t really remember these that well. I think it’s because they didn’t leave an impression and that they may have just been paint-by-numbers rehashes of the first movie and the many mummy monster movies that pre-date them.

Well, I’m not wrong on that, at least with this one. However, seeing it now, I was still pretty entertained by it and even though I’ve seen this, it was like watching it for the first time.

What I really liked about this one was the story and I also thought that the monster was pretty good, even if the man inside wasn’t Christopher Lee. This mummy was still imposing, intimidating and kind of cool, where mummies are typically a bit boring.

I also loved the final sequence in the film, which saw the mummy go into the sewers with the pretty lady. It’s not the most memorable moment of a Hammer picture or even close to that but it was a nice climax to a pretty fun and enjoyable mummy movie.

Although, this film’s original poster is kind of bizarre as it makes the mummy look like a giant and the woman look like she’s toddler size.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.

 

Film Review: The Mummy (1959)

Release Date: August 1st, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Franz Reizenstein
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes (original), 86 Minutes

Review:

“He who robs the graves of Egypt dies!” – Mehemet Bey

Since I’ve reviewed the entirety of Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein films, I figured that this classic monster reboot series also needed to be revisited.

Coming off of the heels of The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula, Hammer got the same creative team back together and took a shot at resurrecting The Mummy in their own, original way.

It also helped that they brought back both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for this one, making it feel like the third part in a trilogy of films where Hammer was showing tribute to the Universal Monsters franchise that kicked off in the 1930s.

I actually love that this is its own thing and it’s not trying to remake 1932’s The Mummy with Boris Karloff. It just takes the concept and gives the audience a fresh, new story. Sure, there are obvious similarities but this picture has a unique visual aesthetic and frankly, it’s one of the best looking Hammer movies of all-time. I also say that as someone that already loves the visual style of the studio’s classic films.

While I would rank this below the first Dracula and Frankenstein films, it’s still pretty damn good and it’s certainly the best of the Hammer Mummy series.

I enjoyed the characters and I especially liked the look of Christopher Lee’s mummy. The makeup was impressive for 1959 and Lee is such a good physical actor that his mummy is one of my favorites of all-time. While I don’t feel that he gets the same level of admiration as Karloff’s version of the monster, I’d say that his is on the same level and possibly a bit better due to his size and how imposing he is. Lee’s mummy just looks and feels stronger than Karloff’s and there is just something more sinister about him.

Ultimately, this is a solid Hammer horror flick. For fans of the studio and classic monsters, it is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in Hammer’s Mummy series, as well as other Hammer films of the time.

Film Review: To the Devil A Daughter (1976)

Also known as: Dennis Wheatley’s To the Devil a Daughter (Netherlands), Child of Satan (US VHS title)
Release Date: March 4th, 1976 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Sykes
Written by: Chris Wicking, John Peacock, Gerald Vaughan-Hughes
Based on: To the Devil A Daughter by Dennis Wheatley
Music by: Paul Glass
Cast: Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackman, Nastassja Kinski, Denholm Elliott, Michael Goodliffe, Anthony Valentine, Eva Maria Meineke

Terra-Filmkunst, Hammer Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It is not heresy, and I will not recant!” – Father Michael Rayner

This has been a film I’ve wanted to see for years but I was never actually able to find it on VHS or DVD when I was still buying those things. Granted, I’m leaning back towards owning physical media again after some recent shenanigans by studios and streaming services but that’s a totally different article.

Anyway, this actually exceeded my expectations for it and it kind of sucks that Hammer was already fading away by the time this was released.

The movie features Christopher Lee, one of Hammer’s two greatest actors, but it also features the legendary Richard Widmark, Indiana Jones’ Denholm Elliott, Goldfinger‘s Honor Blackman and a very young Nastassja Kinski before she would go on to give stellar performances in Cat People and one of my favorite films of all-time, Paris, Texas.

While this is sort of your typical Antichrist movie, it stars Lee as an evil priest and Kinski as the daughter of the Devil. Kinski plays a nun and she’s been raised and protected by her father, who was forced into a pact with the evil priest and the Devil. However, he wants to keep his daughter away from her evil destiny and sends her to Widmark, a renowned demonology writer, who uncovers what’s happening and sets out to conquer the Devil and his top minion.

For a mid-’70s low budget horror flick, this is really well acted but, as I’ve already pointed out, it had a stacked cast.

What works most for this film is its atmosphere and the general creepiness of it. It also features some neat practical effects that make some moments in the film a real mindfuck. Needless to say, I was impressed by what the filmmakers were able to do with so little in regards to the production’s resources.

To the Devil A Daughter is sort of bittersweet in the fact that it’s so surprisingly good and it showed that Hammer was evolving with the times but it wasn’t enough to save the studio from having to focus more on television and not future feature films.

However, the damage was already done, as this was a co-production with a German studio. Because of that, despite this being a financial success, the profits had to be split with the other company.

While Hammer has never actually died off, this does feel like a worthy sendoff to the once great studio.

After decades of hibernation, Hammer started making films again in recent years.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other occult horror films with Christopher Lee or put out by Hammer or Amicus.

Film Review: Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Also known as: Rasputin (Spain)
Release Date: March 6th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Richard Pasco, Suzan Farmer, Joss Ackland 

Seven Arts Productions, Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“When I go to confession I don’t offer God small sins, petty squabbles, jealousies… I offer him sins worth forgiving!” – Grigori Rasputin

This might not be Christopher Lee’s best film but it is certainly one of his greatest performances of all-time and the greatest out of all the Hammer Films pictures he starred in.

The movie is a very loose biopic about Grigori Rasputin, a man whose legend has grown well beyond reality. Still, the guy was damn interesting and gained control over some powerful, influential people.

Also, his death is pretty legendary but I’m not going to rehash all the details about the man and his death. Go to Wikipedia for that, if you’re unfamiliar with it.

This film doesn’t cover Rasputin’s whole life, it just covers the end of it. It essentially starts with some character building and context to setup who he is and then immediately gets into how he “mesmerized” an influential Russian family, causing some serious harm to the people trapped in the gravitational pull of his orbit.

The film also eventually gets to his death. However, being that this was a superb picture for Hammer, I’m actually kind of shocked that they didn’t find a way to resurrect the madman for a series of sequels that would be a lot more horror heavy. It definitely feels like it was a missed opportunity. Plus, I would’ve liked to have seen what a director like Terence Fisher could’ve done had he gotten a crack at the Hammer version of the Rasputin character.

This is well acted and honestly, it really stands out in that regard, compared to other Hammer movies of the time.

Rasputin: The Mad Monk is one of the best motion pictures that Hammer ever made and I feel like it’s sort of been forgotten, as people tend to gravitate more towards the films that feature Dracula, Frankenstein and vampires in general.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films with Christopher Lee.