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 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: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

Also known as: House of Fright, Jekyll’s Inferno (US alternative titles)
Release Date: August 18th, 1960 (Germany)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Wolf Mankowitz
Based on: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by: David Heneker, John Hollingsworth, Monty Norman
Cast: Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher Lee, David Kossoff, Francis de Wolff, Oliver Reed (uncredited)

Hammer Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“London and I are virgins to one another.” – Dr. Henry Jekyll

This is another rare Hammer gem that I hadn’t seen until now, as it was never streaming anywhere or on an affordable DVD. It came in a Blu-ray box set I recently picked up, so I was glad to finally see it. With that, I also got to see Christopher Lee’s most eloquent use of facial hair.

What’s interesting about this movie is that it takes the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story and does its own thing with it. That’s kind of Hammer’s modus operandi, anyway, and it usually leads to good, fresh results because frankly, there really isn’t a Hammer movie I haven’t liked.

I really enjoy this film’s lead, Paul Massie, as he was able to play both versions of himself very well and differently. He’s able to do this incredible thing with his eyes when the crazy starts taking over. He almost plays the role like a solid actor from the silent era, where focusing on the physicality of performance has to take center stage over anything else.

However, this isn’t a silent film and Massie is good with his line delivery and overall acting. But his ability to sort of call back to silent era techniques, even though it’s not specifically necessary here, was kind of cool. I feel like he was probably a fan of the work of Lon Chaney Sr. or Conrad Veidt.

Strangely, Massie had a short career. He did eight films in his first five years and then only did three more between 1962 and 1995. I’m not sure why he didn’t work after being pretty prolific in British cinema but based off of his performance in this picture, he could’ve easily made a dozen or more movies for Hammer and Amicus. That is, unless he didn’t want to be trapped in horror pictures.

I also love that Christopher Lee looks like an absolute boss in this. He’s a total high society bastard in this movie and it’s just fun to watch him let loose in this.

Additionally, we get a scene with a very young Oliver Reed where he gets to interact with Lee. Both men are Hammer legends and it’s just cool seeing them come to fisticuffs.

This was directed by Hammer’s top guy, Terence Fisher. It feels very much like a Fisher movie, as it encompasses his style, uses some of his tropes and hits some of the same beats one would expect from his work. I wouldn’t say that it’s derivative or anything but if you can imagine a Fisher Jekyll & Hyde picture, you wouldn’t be too far off from what the final product is.

I liked this motion picture. It’s nowhere near Hammer’s or Fisher’s best but it would certainly play well in a marathon featuring Fisher’s takes on classic literary horror.

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

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 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: 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.

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.

Film Review: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1969 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Bert Batt
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 98 Minutes, 101 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I have become the victim of everything that Frankenstein and I ever advocated. My brain is in someone else’s body.” – Professor Richter

It’s been a really long time since I have seen this chapter in the Hammer Films’ Frankenstein series. This is the fifth one out of the six movies starring Peter Cushing and it’s my favorite one after the original.

Even though I really like this installment, it has its ups and downs but the film really plays out like a good drama with horror and sci-fi elements thrown in.

This has some of the best acting in the series and the inclusion of Veronica Carlson was a strong positive for me. She is one of the more talented Hammer scream queens and really takes over the screen in the scenes where she is featured. It also doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely stunning in that old school, classic beauty sort of way.

I also thought that the rest of the cast was pretty damn good for a Hammer picture that came out towards the end of their two decade run as kings of horror.

Peter Cushing is absolutely dastardly in this one and while that does a fine job of building suspense, tension and the desire to see him get his comeuppance, it did feel uncharacteristic for his version of Baron Frankenstein. We’ve come to know him over the four films before this one and he’s always operated fairly consistently. Sure, he’s done evil shit before but he just has an extra edge to him here. He isn’t driven by his science and obsession over his work. Instead, he seems to be driven by the fact that he enjoys being a complete bastard. His dive into deeper evil is punctuated by him raping Veronica Carlson’s character and frankly, that’s the most uncharacteristic thing that he does in the film. He never cared about the ladies before but that changed with this movie. For the first time, it made him truly unlikable. I guess it makes him more of a pure villain but I always liked to think that there was still some way to save his soul and that he was just a victim of his own mania.

I love that the “monster” in this maintains his intelligence and isn’t just a dumb, hulking brute. It’s about time that Baron Frankenstein’s experiments reach a higher level. And I’m glad that this ignored the absolute weirdness of the previous film that saw the mad doctor trapping souls.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed benefited most by having the series’ best director, Terence Fisher, return. This felt like a true sequel to the original more than any of the other films and in some ways, it was probably another soft reboot, as the continuity in this film series doesn’t seem to matter from film to film.

This is solid, classic Hammer. This is a prime example of why they were masters of the horror genre from the mid-’50s through the mid-’70s.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

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.