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 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: The Pirates of Blood River (1962)

Release Date: May 9th, 1962 (Denmark)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Gary Hughes
Cast: Christopher Lee, Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corebett, Oliver Reed, Peter Arne, Marla Landi, Desmond Llewelyn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[to the elders] I am not guilty. The cause of Maggie’s death… was fear. Fear of her brutal husband. Yes, fear is your weapon, and it’s a dangerous weapon because one day it will recoil on your heads.” – Jonathan Standing

Well, since I recently watched The Devil-Ship Pirates, one of the few Hammer Films swashbucklers, I figured that I’d also check out this film, which came out just before it and also stars Christopher Lee.

I actually liked this a wee bit more than The Devil-Ship Pirates, as it seemed to have more going on. I really enjoyed the plot of the other film but this one seemed to have more layers and more at stake. Regardless, they’re both enjoyable for those who like classic swashbuckling tales.

In this one, we see Lee play an actual pirate, where he played a Spanish naval commander in Devil-Ship. It was cool seeing him with the traditional garb and eye patch. He also got to use his sword, which is always a bonus. I don’t think people know that Lee actually has the most sword fights in motion picture history. I think that’s a cool fact that gets lost because he’s primarily known for being in horror movies and not action pictures.

I really enjoyed Kerwin Mathews in this, as well as Hammer regulars Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper. We even get to see Desmond Llewelyn, which is always a treat when he appears outside of his most famous role as Q in the old school James Bond movies.

All in all, this is a pretty decent swashbuckler from a studio that probably should’ve made more than they did. But I get it, horror was Hammer’s real bread and butter. 

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other swashbuckling/pirate movies by Hammer like Captain Clegg a.k.a. Night Creatures and The Devil-Ship Pirates.

Film Review: The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

Release Date: May, 1964
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Gary Hughes
Cast: Christopher Lee, John Cairney, Barry Warren, Andrew Keir, Philip Latham, Natasha Pyne, Duncan Lamont, Michael Ripper, Suzan Farmer

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“They’re Spaniards! I know their stink!” – Harry

I’ve known about this movie for decades but I’ve never been able to find it streaming anywhere and tracking down a copy of it has been met with difficulty. However, I did notice that it’s streaming for free on YouTube, right now. That probably won’t last long, though.

For those who enjoy the horror movies that were put out by Hammer Films, you might also enjoy their swashbuckling/pirate-centric movies of which, there are only three.

This one stars Hammer legend Christopher Lee as the captain of a Spanish warship that has docked next to a British village following the fleet’s defeat to British forces. The captain and his men, however, convince the village that the Spaniards won the war and were now there to take over the town. As the film rolls on, tensions rise and the villagers start to suspect that the Spaniards are lying.

While this is light on the swashbuckling, it does feature Christopher Lee wielding a sword, which is always a plus. It almost plays like a political thriller with pirate-y and Hammer horror vibes mixed in.

It’s pretty well acted for what it is and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Lee play this villainous character, which was a good departure from his other Hammer work.

Ultimately, I kind of wish that Hammer would’ve done more films like this. Hopefully, I can find The Pirates of Blood River in the near future, as I’ve always wanted to see that one too.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other swashbuckling/pirate movies by Hammer like Captain Clegg a.k.a. Night Creatures and The Pirates of Blood River. 

Film Review: The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

Release Date: November 8th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Jimmy Sangster
Written by: Jeremy Burnham, Jimmy Sangster
Based on: characters by Mary Shelley
Music by: Malcolm Williamson
Cast: Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara, Veronica Carlson, David Prowse

EMI Films, Hammer Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I’m going to make a person!” – Victor Frankenstein

It seems like Hammer fans are split on this movie. Many seem to dig it’s somewhat fresh and slightly more tongue and cheek take on Frankenstein while others outright hate it and think it was a failure that missed its mark.

I’m on the side of liking it but I also just find it entertaining and amusing and I’m not wholly in love with it.

What works for me is Ralph Bates. He’s good in this and it’s cool seeing him get his chance to actually star in a Hammer horror film, as opposed to just being a supporting player or low tier villain. I think that his humor comes through and even with how subtle he is about it, his timing and facial expressions are impeccable.

Bates’ performance is a bit understated and it works for me but I can see how it doesn’t resonate with many Hammer fans, who might not enjoy his sort of dry wit.

I also like that David Prowse got to play this film’s version of the Monster, as he’s a good physical actor that can convey a lot without seeming like he’s doing much at all. I wouldn’t call his performance as good as it was in Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell or the original Star Wars trilogy, where he was Darth Vader, but he actually creates a version of the monster that feels unpredictable and legitimately dangerous.

Additionally, we get the enchanting Veronica Carlson, who is sweet and looks like a million bucks. Add in Kate O’Mara and you’ve got a solid, well-rounded cast. Some people may know O’Mara as The Rani from the Tom Baker years on Doctor Who.

The plot sort of reboots 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein. It’s nowhere near as good as that movie but it’s still interesting seeing another team get to tackle the material while still having this visually fit within the Hammer style. But ultimately, this wasn’t as successful as Hammer had hoped, as it didn’t get a sequel and the studio went back to making more movies with Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

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 Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Also known as: Blood of Frankenstein (working title), I, Frankenstein (alternate title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1958 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Leonard Salzedo
Cast: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It should have been perfect. I made it to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. Frankenstein would have been accepted as a genius of science. Instead, he was sent to the guillotine. I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me!” – Dr. Victor Stein

The Revenge of Frankenstein was the first sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein. It came out pretty quickly, as its predecessor was released just a year earlier. Also, 1958 saw the release of another major Hammer Films movie that also starred Peter Cushing: The Horror of Dracula. Just after that, in 1959, we got The Mummy. Both of of those films kicked off their respected franchises for Hammer. Basically, Cushing was the king of the Universal Monsters remakes in the UK.

Now this isn’t nearly as good as Curse but it isn’t the worst of the Frankenstein sequels either. I feel that the creative process was probably hindered by Hammer Films being spread too thin due to a bunch of films being developed at the same time.

The script is still pretty decent and the story works well in keeping Baron Frankenstein alive and his experiments going.

However, this actually plays more like a drama than a horror film. Sure, there’s a monster but he’s hardly scary and then there’s a man who has been experimented on by Frankenstein and goes mad, dying in the doctor’s arms, yelling his name in front of a bunch of people at a party.

While Baron Frankenstein now exists as Dr. Stein and practices in another town, the yelling of his true name, combined with his likeness, makes the townsfolk very suspicious.

Frankenstein’s assistant in this film is much more on his side than the previous movie and he assists the doctor in faking his own death, once again, so that he can escape, move somewhere else and continue his work. I actually love the final scene in this movie and it firmly establishes that this film isn’t just a sequel but that it’s now an ongoing franchise.

This is an interesting and well crafted chapter in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, even if it is short on terror. It’s carried by the great performance of Peter Cushing, who seems more comfortable in the role and looks like he’s really enjoying the character, which is probably the best role he’s played over his long career.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is a solid outing by Hammer and another good performance by Peter Cushing. I also really enjoyed the performance by Michael Gwynn as a victim of Frankenstein’s work. Gwynn worked in other Hammer films, as well and is probably most recognized as the priest from Scars of Dracula.

Additionally, Francis Matthews was great as Frankenstein’s sinister assistant Dr. Hans Kleve.

In the end, Terence Fisher directed a pretty good sequel to his predecessor that built off of it and set the stage for the chapters after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Also known as: Frankenstein (Netherlands)
Release Date: May 2nd, 1957 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart

Hammer Film Productions, 83 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve harmed nobody, just robbed a few graves!” – Baron Frankenstein

It’s Halloween season and since it’s been a couple years since I watched through the Hammer Horror Frankenstein series, I felt that revisiting it was needed.

This is really the point where Hammer hit the right note, at the right time. The success of this film not only led to a slew of Frankenstein sequels, it also opened the door for their Dracula and Mummy film series and a bunch of other classic monster movies reinvented for the time.

This also sort of solidified the working relationship of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who ended up doing nearly two dozen pictures together. Plus, they became best friends and were forever linked. This is the film that also gave them long lasting careers and established them as horror movie legends. Without this film Gran Moff Tarkin and Count Dooku may have never existed in the forms that we know. Not to mention, without the longevity that this gave to Lee’s career, we might not have ever gotten to see him as Saruman, a role he was absolutely perfect for.

The Curse of Frankenstein is a very important motion picture for the reasons I just mentioned and because it changed the horror genre going forward. Hammer would inspire other studios like Amicus in the UK and American International in the US, who probably took cues from Hammer’s movies when they produced their Edgar Allan Poe films of the 1960s.

However, looking at this film, apart from all that context and it’s importance in film history, it still stands pretty damn tall on its own.

This isn’t quite on the level of Universal’s Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein from the 1930s but after those two films, this is the best version of the story out there. It’s very different from the literary source material but I like the changes and that was Hammer’s thing. They often times rewrote the classics in an effort at keeping them fresh and not just rehashes of the same thing you’ve seen before. Besides, as a series, Hammer’s Frankesntein films are a better complete body of work than the Universal ones. This series did get really weird but it was cool because, at its core, Frankenstein is already a weird story.

The Curse of Frankenstein was a good foundation to what Hammer would build for a solid fifteen years after this with all of their iconic horror pictures. Sure, they took creative liberties but they always seemed to respect the material and to look at these classics from new and interesting angles.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Crawling Eye (1958)

Also known as: The Trollenberg Terror (UK)
Release Date: October 7th, 1958 (UK)
Directed by: Quentin Lawrence
Written by: Jimmy Sangster, Peter Key
Based on: a 1956 television serial
Music by: Stanley Black
Cast: Forrest Tucker, Laurence Payne, Jennifer Jayne

Tempean Films, Eros Films Ltd., Distributors Corporation of America, 84 Minutes 

the_crawling_eyeReview:

This movie is probably best known for being the film featured in the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it debuted for a national audience in its first season on the Comedy Channel (later Comedy Central). It also inspired a Misfits song of the same name and was mentioned in the Stephen King novel It. In fact, the title monster of that novel actually takes on the form of the monster from The Crawling Eye.

The film’s story follows a UN investigator who is looking into the strange account of a student mountain climber who was mysteriously decapitated in the Swiss Alps. He believes there is a correlation to similar incidents that happened a few years earlier in the Andes. Eventually, it is discovered that there is a large alien creature, alive in the mountain clouds. It has one massive eye and a bunch of tentacles.

The film is actually really interesting for the most part. The plot is better than most of the movies that are famous for being riffed. However, the longer the picture rolls on, the more it goes downhill.

The acting is pretty bad. Forrest Tucker from F Troop takes on the serious lead but it is hard to actually take him seriously because of his iconic comedic role. Granted, he was in a lot of other films but this just isn’t a great role for him. While some comedic actors can effectively evolve into being dramatic, it doesn’t work for me with Tucker.

Another thing that this film was mired by was the special effects. They are very poorly executed and completely distract from what started out as a somewhat engaging experience. Once the monster shows up, the film immediately slips into being a throwaway low budget 1950s sci-fi creature feature.

But despite its flaws, I admittedly love the tentacled one-eyed alien beast.

The Crawling Eye could have been a much better picture. It had elements that showed signs of promise but ultimately, the filmmakers didn’t take it seriously enough and were hindered by obvious budget constraints and an overall lack of talent.

Rating: 3/10