The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) movie poster

director Michael Carreras
viewed: 04/14/2017

I really had to challenge myself to figure out that I have indeed seen The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb before. It’s the opening moment, when an archaeologist is killed and his hand cut off that most rang a bell. Also, a more innocuous scene not long after when his body is dropped in front of his daughter seemed familiar, as did the ignoble end of the mummy in this picture when a sewer system falls on top of him (which is seems like he initiated).

Oh,…spoiler alert.

Actually, my favorite thing in the movie was Fred Clark as Alexander King, a kind of low-lever Carl Denham (of King Kong) or general American huckster who wants to tour the mummy as a show, unveiling and unveiling for audiences hungry for thrills. His loud-mouthed American both clearly obnoxious and also kind of charming.

But really, the mummy in this movie doesn’t get moving until pretty late in the show. It kind of picks up in the last act, but it’s still pretty weak stuff. You too will be forgiven for forgetting if you’d seen this one before.

X the Unknown (1956)

X the Unknown (1956) movie poster

directors Leslie Norman, Joseph Losey
viewed: 08/26/2016

Two years before The Blob fell to earth and started absorbing everything in sight, the Brits battled their own miasma in X the Unknown.  The British monster amoeba doesn’t get a lot of screen time, it’s effects not quite as stunning as in its American cousin.  It emanates from inside the Earth, the result of quakes that create vast fissures deep into the planet’s crust, allowing the “unknown” to escape and feed on radioactive materials.

Really, the film plays a lot of its cards to the vest, not unveiling the monster until the far end of the film, but unlike the amorphous mass, X the Unknown is rock solid 1950’s science fiction, full of Cold War fear melding with “the strange”.

The idea that the monster is a sentient being, perhaps of an order of existence that lost its physical form and disappeared into the hot core of the planet as the crust cooled, is just the wild side of speculative storytelling.  That might prove interesting enough but affable American scientist Dead Jagger leads the team that solves the mystery of radiation burns and disappearing isotopes.

There are some grisly effects too, of flesh melting from bones, quite gruesome for the 1950’s.  Hammer films’ science fiction output was not vast, but certainly delivered some interesting stuff.

I love this kind of stuff.

The Gorgon (1964)

The Gorgon (1964) movie poster

director Terrence Fisher
viewed: 08/07/2016

I had meant to watch The Gorgon as a Hammer double feature with The Reptile (1966), but given the vicissitudes of life Netflix, it didn’t work out that way.  I will tell you, though, that it’s a decent idea for a double feature.

“She had a face only a Mummy could love!”  Why, that’s just swell.

Having been indulging in Hammer fare of late, I recognized the re-used matte paintings that I was so impressed by from The Evil of Frankenstein (also 1964).  I love a good matte painting in traditional FX, and there are a couple of doozies here.

I have yet to watch a truly bad Hammer film since I picked up this thread a few weeks ago.  Not to say that I haven’t seen some lulus before.

The Gorgon has some mediocre qualities but it does have both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the latter in odd make-up and a slightly goofy role.  Frankly, it’s kind of hard to go wrong with Hammer.

Taste of Fear (1961)

Scream of Fear (1961) movie poster

director  Seth Holt
viewed: 08/08/2016

Taste of Fear/Scream of Fear, whatever you want “of Fear,” it’s not one of the better-known Hammer horror films.  While it might not be well-known, it might be quite the hidden treasure.  Especially if you like Hitchcock, Franju, or Clouzot.

Susan Strasberg plays a pretty young girl crippled in a riding accident, returning to her long estranged father’s home on the French Riviera only to find him missing.  Her step-mother (Ann Todd), who she has only met, seems suspect.  The family doctor creeps her out (and why not, he’s Christopher Lee).  She only finds friendship with the chauffer, Bob (Ronald Lewis), the only one who listens to her suspicions and her visions of her father now dead.

The fine black-and-white cinematography by Douglas Slocombe sets the stage nicely.  And while you might think you’ve got this one all figured out, you might still find yourself in for a twist you didn’t see coming.

Christopher Lee considered it the best Hammer film in which he appeared and who had significant praise for director Seth Holt (of whom I’ve been unfamiliar until now).  This truly feels like a lesser-known gem of the thriller type, featuring horror elements, but drenched in suspense and mystery.

A surprisingly good discovery.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) movie poster

director Terrence Fisher
viewed: 08/05/2016

Paul Massie plays both of The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll in Hammer’s 1960 take on the Robert Louis Stevenson story.  This version shifts the traditional duality a bit, muting the inherent heroism of Dr. Jekyll and lessening Mr. Hyde’s vulgarity.  Add into it an affair of Jekyll’s wife with his best friend (played by Christopher Lee in a more atypical role).

As Jekyll, he’s oddly bearded and deep-voiced and dour.  As Hyde he’s giddily leering sporting an askew smile.  Massie emotes with a grandeur that is virtually Shatnerian.

And yet, it’s still a reasonably fun film.  My summer of Hammer swims along.

The Reptile (1966)

The Reptile (1966) movie poster

director John Gilling
viewed: 08/03/2016

I think it’s fair to say by any standard, John Gilling’s Hammer horror, The Reptile, is weird.  Weird and doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.

That doesn’t stop it from being kind of entertaining and worth seeing.

It’s not another Dracula or Frankenstein, it’s something new and unusual.  It’s a reptile lady, who sheds her skin (nice touch), is very influenced by cold versus warmth (sleeps near an open sulfur pit), and has a crazy venomous bite.  More than anything, her best feature, is her features themselves.  She’s a mix of good and bad in the make-up department, some really cool looking fangs (I also liked that she could talk with those things in there) and super-goofy googly eyes.

This is B-list Hammer, with no superstars, but still a solid cast.  The story slithers along nicely, though it doesn’t make a lot of sense why the villagers shun the newbies.  The effects of The Reptile venom seem to vary as convenient, as do loyalties.

I don’t know.  I’m glad to have seen it.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) movie poster

director Terrence Fisher
viewed: 08/01/2016

Hammer’s funny but not exactly timely response to Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman (1956) is the latest entry in my summer of Hammer.  It’s the fourth film in the series, the last one that I hadn’t seen that Netflix still carries on DVD.

People seem to complain about the series, which spanned 17 years and 8 films, the lack of continuity between installments.  But oddly enough, I think that may be one of the series’ unusual strengths.  Rather than picking up where we left off, the films range all around.  Frankenstein is no one-trick pony.  Sometimes he creates a monster or revives his monster, other times he’s trying freeze brains for transposition from head to head, or even reviving a troglodyte!

Interestingly, he does not “create” woman in this film, though you could see where they were going, the Bride of Frankenstein is an element of Mary Shelley’s original novel.  He literally creates a woman (out of parts of other women).  But no, here he’s capturing the “soul” and taking it from one dead guy into his old dead girlfriend’s head, bringing her back to life, and even fixing some nasty facial scars that had diminished her life.

But the soul of the vengeful beau convinces the lovely Christina (Susan Denberg) to hunt down her father’s killers, the men for whom the young Hans (Robert Morris) took the fall for.

Peter Cushing is back as the doctor, supported by the affable Doctor Hertz (Thorley Walters).  And though the film isn’t overly amazing, it’s surprisingly affecting.

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) movie poster

director Freddie Francis
viewed: 07/30/2016

In retrospect, I should have carried on with my exploration of Hammer horror films back when I first watched The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).  Nine years ago, Netflix still had an extensive DVD offering.  They had started culling perhaps, but I probably could have gotten all the films and watched them in order.

Instead, nearly a decade later, I find myself catching as catch can with the Hammer Frankenstein series.  Just last week, I watched Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), the fifth of seven films.  And now?  Hammer Frankenstein #3, The Evil of Frankenstein.

It seems that this is a less popular installment.  It’s the only one featuring director Freddie Francis, cinematographer turned director, who did a sizable amount of work for both Hammer and Amicus in the horror arena.  Mostly, people seem annoyed at the break in narrative between Evil and its predecessor 1958’s The Revenge of Frankenstein.  I don’t have that one available, so I can’t speak to that issue.

Frankly (har har), I liked this one quite a bit.  I’ve seen a bunch of these as a kid and they’re totally jumbled in my brain.  It’s only after re-watching that various elements and images spring to mind.  In this case, Rena the beggar girl (Katy Wild) joggled my memory among other things.  But also, maybe it’s Francis’s visual aesthetic, I thought the film looked really nice as well.

I’ve invented for myself a bit of a “summer of Hammer” here, kind of by accident, but I do plan to follow it on out.  Randomizing order makes things maybe further jumbled, but with six intervening years between Revenge and Evil, it doesn’t seem that odd to have restarted a bit.  These days they probably would have replaced Peter Cushing with the latest young Brit and re-booted the whole damn thing in total.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) movie poster

director Terence Fisher
viewed: 07/26/2016

I always liked declarative titles like Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed or Destroy All Monsters.  Maybe it’s that verb: destroy.  I dunno.  I gets me.  Here.

It’s kind of sad but it’s been almost a decade ago that I set myself the plan to watch the Hammer horror cycles of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy.  Starting with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), there are only 7 movies in that cycle.  But in the interceding years, for the hundreds of movies I’ve watched, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is only the second of the films (5th in the series) that I’ve watched.

As a kid, I’m pretty sure I’d seen them all at one point or another.

My intent had been to watch them in order, but that didn’t happen.  So I can’t contextualize this one in comparison to the others.  What is interesting about it, though, is that it seems to carry forward on a through storyline from the prior films, all of which starred the inimitable Peter Cushing as the villain Dr. Frankenstein.

Here, in London, he doesn’t even have a monster.  He’s hiding in plain sight, trying to recover the mind of a fellow mad scientist who has actually gone mad.  He’s trying to recover the means to freeze a brain so that it can be transplanted into a new head.  In his pursuit, he forces young man and his fiancee into aiding and abetting his misdeeds.

Like a number of these films, Terence Fisher steers the ship, and the film carries along at a decent clip, never stalling out, keeping things moving.  It’s not overly stylized but largely entertaining.  Many have noted a very untoward rape scene that feels entirely out of place and unnecessary, apparently added at the producers behest and against cast and crew’s desires.  It does indeed make Dr. Frankenstein more deplorable, but it’s just…yeah.

Not sure where Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed falls in quality ranking of the Hammer Frankensteins.  I thought it was pretty good.

Wake Wood (2011)

Wake Wood (2011) movie poster

director David Keating
viewed: 12/17/2014

British film studio Hammer has long been legend in the industry for its contributions, largely via stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, in the realms of Dracula, Frankenstein, and a lot of Victorian era costume horror films from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.  But then it sort of dried up.

In the last five years, though, the studio has gone through a rebirth of sorts and has gone back to the core of their past successes in re-embracing the horror genre, with some nods to their own traditions but definitely as well for the modern audiences.  David Keating’s Wake Wood is one of the first slew of Hammer productions in this new era and it seems semi-emblematic.

Set in the small Irish village of Wakewood, a young couple whose daughter was killed in a vicious dog mauling, finds that the locals with their secretive traditional Pagan ways can bring back a dead person for three days of time for a chance to say goodbye.  That is, only if the person has been dead for less than a year.  And the whole process involves a lot of bloodletting and sacrificial hoodoo, as well as a committment to never leave the vicinity.  It’s been noted aptly that the film channels aspects of both Nicholas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973) and Robin Hardy’s classic The Wicker Man (1973) (interestingly neither actually Hammer horror films themselves).

For my money, Wake Wood is a mixed bag of qualities.  I don’t think that the film is all that effectively made, though I’d be pressed to put my finger on exactly what was missing.  It’s a sort of timing or pacing thing, I think.  I don’t know.  Parts of the film are vividly effective while as a whole it feels a bit of a munge.

Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle are good as the bereaved mother and father led down the dark alley by Timothy Spall, the town’s black magic patriarch.  But their otherworldly daughter, Alice, played by Ella Connolly is the real stand out.  Because when you bring young mauled child back to life, especially when it’s been a few days longer than the year suggested by those who practice the dark arts, you know she’s going to come back a bit more evil and messed up than you would like.

The film has some bloody gore, with some animal mutilation/vetrinary treatment that winds up being very effective.  It may have even been the efficacy of this gore that brought home the visceral nature of these Pagan rituals, this super-natural rite, that made this film as good as it is.

Which is good.  Not fantastic.  But good.