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Posts Tagged ‘Hammer’

While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and tackle this whole age thing head on. (All ages approximate due to duration of shooting schedules, interims between production and release dates, et cetera.)

Connery’s age when he first played Bond: 32

Connery’s age when he quit the first time: 37

Connery’s age when he quit the second time: 41

Connery’s age when he quit the third time: 53

Lazenby’s age when he played Bond: 30

Moore’s age when he first played Bond: 46

Moore’s age when he last played Bond: 58

Dalton’s age when he first played Bond: 41

Dalton’s age when he last played Bond: 43

Brosnan’s age when he first played Bond: 42

Brosnan’s age when he last played Bond: 49

Craig’s age when he first played Bond: 38

Craig’s age when he next plays Bond: 44

What to make of all this? Age, as they say, is just a number, and what really matters is how good somebody does—or does not—look as Bond up there on the screen. In Ian Fleming’s books, 007 is eternally in his mid-to-late thirties (despite the series extending over fourteen books, published annually between 1953 and 1966). That being the case, only Connery in his initial five-film stint and Craig when he assumed the role were technically age-appropriate, although I’d say Lazenby came across as more mature than he was chronologically. Of course, Connery is hardly decrepit even now, but I think we can all agree that he’s too old for Bond. Somehow, after just four years between You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, he appeared quite the worse for wear.

Brosnan was already a year older than that when he became Bond, yet he looked great at both the beginning and end of his 007 career, making it all the sadder that he wasn’t allowed to do at least one more film before the dreaded Reboot Syndrome claimed this series, as it has so many others. Contrast that with Moore, who pulled it off in Live and Let Die due to his schoolboyish qualities, but looked positively freeze-dried by A View to a Kill, where he was two decades older than the literary Bond, which just dragged his films down even further. Although Connery was way too old for the extracurricular Never Say Never Again, its unique origins almost make the age issue irrelevant. For these and other reasons, the vintage Connery and Brosnan are my favorite Bonds.

On a serious, if strangely appropriate, note, I’ve just learned of the death at 83 of Hammer Films screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, whom we met some years ago at Fanex, where he signed a copy of his splendidly titled memoir, Do You Want It Good or Tuesday? His Hammer work included the early entries in the Frankenstein and Dracula series, their Psycho knockoffs (Paranoiac, Maniac, Hysteria), and a few less successful directorial efforts, e.g., The Horror of Frankenstein, Lust for a Vampire. Elsewhere, it ranged from British features (The Crawling Eye) to American telefilms (A Taste of Evil; Scream, Pretty Peggy) and series (Circle of Fear and The Night Stalker, both of which were initiated by Richard Matheson), making Sangster’s genre resume quite well-rounded.

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In honor of my daughter’s recent graduation with a B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University (magna cum laude, I might add), I have dipped into the archives of the Bradley Video Library to excavate a smattering of films with academic settings or themes.  I’ve omitted the Hammer films Fear in the Night, Lust for a Vampire, and The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own), each of them covered in an installment of my multi-part post “If I Had a Hammer,” so as not to be too repetitious.

The Beguiled:  One of five films in which The GREAT Don Siegel directed Clint Eastwood, the best known of which is the original Dirty Harry (made that same year), this shows that as far back as 1971, Clint was interested in doing something out of the ordinary, a trait that’s enhanced his own directorial career as well.  Here, he’s a wounded Yankee solider, given refuge by the man-hungry inhabitants of a Southern girls’ school, whom he thinks he can easily wrap around his finger—but he learns differently, in a macabre and surprising finish.

Bunny Lake Is Missing:  Otto Preminger’s willfully offbeat film was adapted from a novel by Evelyn Piperas was Hammer’s The Nannyby John and Penelope Mortimer (he of Rumpole fame).  Carol Lynley is a transplanted American who says her young daughter disappeared on her first day at an English school, although evidence increasingly suggests she may never have existed; Laurence Olivier underplays beautifully as the police inspector; Keir Dullea is her devoted brother; Noël Coward is her twisted landlord; and Anna Massey (daughter of Raymond and sister of Daniel, later to appear opposite Dullea in Richard Matheson’s ill-fated De Sade) is the headmistress.

Cosa Avete Fatto a Solange? (What Have You Done to Solange?, aka Who Killed Solange?, Solange, Who’s Next?, Das Geheimnis der Grünen Stecknadel [The Secret of the Green Pins], The School That Couldn’t Scream, Terror in the Woods):  Given that this film is filled with naked girls, and concerns a school-based serial killer who puts very large knives into a very unpleasant place (which, given the eventual solution, is less gratuitous than it might be), the last thing one would expect is that it would be dull.  But Massimo Dallamano proves yet again that, although he reportedly came up with Sergio Leone’s signature widescreen closeup as he was photographing the first two films in the Dollars Trilogy, he’s no director.  Adding to that is the fact that the protagonist is very unsympathetic; with the pivotal title character dragged in out of left field about two-thirds of the way through to provide a motive, this is a minor giallo, indeed.

Ladybug, Ladybug:  Independent director Frank Perry and his then-wife, screenwriter Eleanor Perry, crafted this Cold War tale about the effects of a threatened nuclear attack on the students and faculty of a rural school, with William Daniels (unforgettable as John Adams in 1776), Nancy Marchand, and Estelle Parsons in a bit part among the largely star-free cast.  Sobering stuff and sadly so timely today.  It should be noted that the previous year, the Perrys gave Dullea one of his earliest and most acclaimed screen roles in the breakthrough independent hit David and Lisa, adapted from the case history of a couple who fall in love at a school for disturbed youths.

Lord Love a Duck:  I found this black comedy written and directed by George Axelrod, the screenwriter of John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, to be entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying, most likely because it lacks a solid storyline.  Instead, it’s a scattershot satire of contemporary life with some neat ideas (e.g., a drive-in church) and a good cast headed by Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld.  A young Harvey Korman is quite memorable as the wacky high school principal.

Lycanthropus (aka Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory, I Married a Werewolf, Bei Vollmond Mord, Monster Among the Girls, The Ghoul in School, Ghoul in a Girls’ Dormitory):  This characteristically atmospheric but decidedly low-key Euro-horror outing is most interesting when considered in context.  It’s from screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (aka Julian Berry), who according to Wikipedia “has collaborated with Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Riccardo Freda, Tonino Valerii, Sergio Martino and Sergio Leone, [and] as such…can be regarded as a chief architect of the giallo and [spaghetti] Western film,” and Paolo Heusch, the nominal director of La Morte Viene dallo Spazio (Death Comes from Space, aka The Day the Sky Exploded), which Bava photographed and reportedly co- (or actually) directed.  The unusually convoluted plot involves not only the titular werewolf (who, if I’m not mistaken, never actually gets inside said dorm in his hairy form, although there are plenty of [sadly non-titillating] scenes set there) but also multiple whodunits, a deformed and sinister groundskeeper (Peter Lorre lookalike Luciano Pigozzi [aka Alan Collins], who appeared in the Gastaldi-scripted La Frusta e il Corpo and several other Bava films), and blackmail.  Just for good measure, the interiors were filmed in an actual castle that was also used for La Frusta e il Corpo and La Danza Macabre.  Curt Lowens, who plays the director of the school, looks and—in the dubbed version—sounds uncannily like Noel Willman from Hammer’s Kiss of the Vampire and The Reptile.  Don’t expect many fireworks.

Night of the Eagle (aka Burn, Witch, Burn):  Notwithstanding George Baxt’s controversial claims to have rewritten it substantially, this is one of Matheson’s best films, and marked his only big-screen collaboration with friend and fellow Twilight Zone scribe Charles Beaumont.  Based on Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife (filmed earlier with Lon Chaney, Jr., as one of Universal’s Inner Sanctum mysteries, Weird Woman), it concerns a college professor (Peter Wyngarde) whose wife and colleagues are using magic to help and hurt his career, respectively.  Directed by Sidney Hayers, as were Baxt’s Circus of Horrors and Payroll.  As a side note, Matheson also adapted his story “One for the Books,” in which a college janitor becomes the unwitting—and unwilling—recipient of alien-infused knowledge, as an episode of Amazing Stories.

La Residencia (The Boarding School, aka The Finishing School, The House That Screamed):  This is an unusual, if at times overwrought, Spanish horror film set in a French school for “difficult” girls run by Lilli Palmer.  John Moulder Brown is her teenaged son, who understandably finds the students of interest but is urged by Lilli to wait until he can have “a woman like me”—advice that, unfortunately, he takes all too literally.  Given the film’s European origins and its none too subtle thematic threads of sexual repression, lesbianism, and sadism, it is not as explicit as you might think (or hope, as the case may be).  Trivia fans will note that the “body-building” plot element was used previously in the 1966 Chamber of Horrors and subsequently in May.

What’s the Matter with Helen?:  This may be pushing the “academic” criterion, but because its cast includes the late Yvette Vickers, I’ll let it slide.  Following How Awful About Allan, it’s the second collaboration between director Curtis Harrington and author/screenwriter Henry Farrell of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? fame.  Shelley Winters and Debbie Reynolds are the mothers of convicted killers who try to make a new start opening up a dancing school for kiddies in Depression-era Hollywood, but as usual in a Harrington film, the past comes back to haunt them, which sends Shelley around the bend.

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On the occasion of Kurt Neumann’s 103rd birthday, we revisit this article written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website (revised with corrections, addenda, and additional links on July 29, 2017).

Originally published in the June 1957 issue of Playboy (then an outlet for outstanding short fiction by the likes of Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson), George Langelaan’s “The Fly” won the magazine’s Best Fiction Award, and the rights were immediately acquired by Twentieth Century-Fox.  The story was faithfully adapted by first-time screenwriter James Clavell, later the author of the bestsellers Shogun and Tai-Pan.

Producer-director Neumann (1908-1958) had considerable experience in Hollywood, but very little in the SF genre, although he is notorious for his low-budget quickie Rocketship X-M (1950), which he also wrote.  Rushed into production to cash in on the publicity surrounding Destination Moon (1950), it beat producer George Pal’s more serious film into theaters by several months.

Fox financed and released the low-budget output from Robert L. Lippert’s Regal Films, including Neumann’s previous black-and-white genre efforts, She Devil and Kronos (both 1957).  But The Fly was given the full studio treatment, with lush color cinematography by Karl Struss, who shared an Oscar for Sunrise (1927) and was nominated for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).

Leading man Al Hedison would soon be better known as David Hedison, under which name he starred for several seasons opposite Richard Basehart on Irwin Allen‘s evergreen 1960s SF series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.  Hedison also has the distinction of being the first actor to play James Bond’s CIA pal, Felix Leiter, twice, in Live and Let Die (1973) and License to Kill (1989).

Third-billed Vincent Price already had one classic horror role under his belt, in House of Wax (1953), and soon came to dominate the genre for decades to come, most notably in a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the ‘60s.  (Blessed with a self-deprecating sense of humor, he liked to relate the story of an overeager fan who mistook him for the title character in The Fly.)

The film starts as Helene Delambre (lovely Patricia Owens) summons her brother-in-law, François (Price), and admits to crushing her husband André (Hedison) in a hydraulic press—not once, but twice—yet won’t say why.  After finding André’s lab wrecked, and hearing their son Philippe (Charles Herbert) refer to a “special” fly, François returns to Helene to elicit the truth.

André had rashly used himself as a guinea pig to test his experimental matter transmitter, unaware that a fly accompanied him into the disintegrator.  When he emerged in the reintegrator, he had the head and arm of an oversized fly, and vice-versa, although Neumann wisely maintains the suspense by keeping André’s altered appearance beneath a black hood for much of the film.

Passing notes from his locked lab to Helene, André explains that he has had an accident, and seeks a fly with a white head, not knowing that Philippe had already caught such a fly and been unwittingly made to release it by Helene.  André tells her that his will is deteriorating in favor of the fly’s animal nature and, fearing for her safety, threatens to do away with himself.

Although her efforts to recapture the fly have failed, Helene persuades André to try going through the transmitter once more without it, and when he emerges, she optimistically yanks the hood from his head.  Only then is the work of Fox’s makeup artist, Ben Nye, revealed in all its glory, while in an equally memorable shot, Helene is shown from the fly’s multiple perspective.

Wrecking his lab and burning his notes, André orders Helene to kill the fly, if found, and to obliterate the evidence of his transformation in the press; his arm falls out on the first attempt, so poor Helene must repeat the process.  Not surprisingly, Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall) thinks she is insane, and arrests her…until Philippe summons Charas and François to the garden.

There, they find the fly trapped in a spider web, and Charas mercifully crushes it with a rock as the arachnid advances on its prey, which pitifully screams, “Help me!”  This scene still provides a jolt in many a viewer, although Price and Marshall literally had to act it out back to back, as they found themselves completely unable to deliver their dialogue with straight faces.

Sadly, Neumann died in between the premiere and the general release of The Fly, which became one of Fox’s biggest hits for that year, and earned a Hugo nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation.  Its success demanded an immediate sequel, although Return of the Fly (1959) was downgraded to a black-and-white cheapie written and directed by Edward L. Bernds.

The sequel devolved onto Lippert’s outfit and—along with The Alligator People (1959), with which it was double-billed—was among their first productions after Regal was renamed Associated Producers Incorporated (API…hmmm).  Rewatching this recently, I had a micro-epiphany when I recognized the music by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter as also having been used in The Last Man on Earth (1964), which coincidentally was one of the last API productions; sure wish I’d known that when I wrote Richard Matheson on Screen.

In light of his decades-long association with the Three Stooges, Bernds may seem an odd choice to helm a sequel to The Fly.  But his lengthy filmography does include the occasional, if undistinguished, SF film, such as World Without End (1956), Space Master X-7, the cult classic Queen of Outer Space (both 1958), and the Jules Verne adaptation Valley of the Dragons (1961).

After a reporter accosts Philippe at Helene’s funeral, this unearthing of family skeletons forces François to reveal the truth and show him André’s lab at the Delambre Frères foundry.  His intended cautionary tale has the opposite effect of increasing his nephew’s determination to follow in Dad’s footsteps, and Philippe essentially blackmails the dubious François into backing him financially by threatening to unload his half of the family business at any cost.

Bernds is a little sloppy with the details:  in the original, André’s lab (reportedly standing sets utilized in the sequel) is in his home rather than the foundry, and since Philippe soon relocates it to the family manse anyway, the change seems pointless.  Similarly, 15 years are said to have intervened, which would make the sequel set in 1973, and although Philippe is now played by the age-appropriate Brett Halsey, the only returning cast member, Price, looks about the same.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, illness prevented Marshall from reprising his role, rewritten as Charas’s colleague Inspector Beecham (John Sutton); script cuts supposedly also removed unspecified elements that had originally attracted Price to the project.

Hired as Philippe’s assistant, Dr. Alan Hinds (David Frankham, who appeared in Matheson‘s Master of the World and Tales of Terror) is revealed as fugitive killer Ronald Holmes, who plans to sell the technology using mortuary-based crony Max Berthold (big Dan Seymour, a literal heavy in several Bogart classics) as intermediary.  When Inspector Evans (Pat O’Hara), who has been trailing Holmes, catches him microfilming the plans, “Alan” bludgeons the ill-fated lawman and puts him through the machine, where Evans gets recombined with a guinea pig disintegrated earlier.

Holmes crushes the guinea pig (which has human hands), first with his shoe and then with a heavy piece of machinery; sends the rodent-clawed Evans into the river in a car trunk; and, when confronted by Philippe, repeats the process, sadistically including a fly, of which he knows his employer has a terrible dread, if not why.  This time, the story has a happier ending as the fly-headed Philippe eludes the trigger-happy police, finds his way to the mortuary, and kills both Berthold and Holmes (who wounded François while making his getaway) before being put back through the machine with the captured fly and “getting his head together.”

Unlike Hedison, who actually acted under the heavy makeup—little wonder that Michael Rennie, the distinguished star of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), declined the role—Halsey was relieved of that burden.  Hal Lierley’s makeup in the sequel, which dramatically increased the size of Philippe’s fly head to gigantic proportions (and added a fly leg), was sported by a stuntman, circus giant Ed Wolff, best known to genre fans for playing the title role in The Colossus of New York (1958).

Although their relationship to André et al. is unclear, the matter-transmitting Delambres made one final appearance in Curse of the Fly (1965), directed in England by Don Sharp, whose work for Hammer Films included Kiss of the Vampire (1963).  Here, the family is represented by Henri (Brian Donlevy) and his two sons, Martin (George Baker) and Albert (Michael Graham).

Harry Spalding’s complex script finds Martin, whose periodic bouts of aging are caused by inherited fly genes and controlled with a serum, marrying an escaped mental patient, Patricia Stanley (Carole Gray).  But, like Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, he secretly has a wife already:  the deformed Judith (Mary Manson), who is locked up with two other failed Delambre experiments.

With the interest of the police piqued by the passport problems inherent in transporting between England and Canada, Martin and Henri send those other “mistakes” through together, forcing Albert to dispose of the resulting blob.  As the law closes in, Martin disintegrates Henri, not knowing that the disillusioned Albert has now smashed the reintegrator, and ages to death.

Langelaan’s idea was well served in a remake, The Fly (1986), with Jeff Goldblum as the ill-fated genius, Seth Brundle.  Director David Cronenberg and co-writer Charles Edward Pogue offer a more plausible scenario, with the transmitter splicing Seth’s genes to those of the fly, and mine the inherent tragedy as his lover, Ronnie Quaife (Geena Davis, who utters the immortal line, “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”), witnesses his degeneration.

Chris Walas, who created and designed Cronenberg’s Fly, directed a superfluous sequel (sans Cronenberg, Goldblum, or Davis), predictably titled The Fly II (1989).  Ronnie dies giving birth to Seth’s son, and the mutated Martin (Eric Stoltz) is raised by an evil industrialist, but this second-generation fly also escapes his father’s fate in a happy ending, eventually curing himself.

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Sorry I’m a little slow off the mark with this one, but my online time has been extremely limited lately for a variety of reasons (not least of them a massive motivational meltdown), and I’ve only just become aware of it.  It seems that the good folks at Tor.com, fresh from a massive revamp of their already impressive website, were able on Wednesday to squeeze in my review of the latest Gauntlet special edition of Matheson’s work, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.  The book is a must for any serious Matheson collector, examining this seminal creation in its multimedia incarnations, and I hope the review will whet your appetite for my forthcoming Tor.com Matheson interview.

Meanwhile, we bid a sad but affectionate goodbye to longtime genre fixture Michael Gough, a native of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, who—at the ripe old age of 93, and with 178 IMDb credits over the course of his 64-year film and television career—can, in all fairness, be said to have had a good run.  Sixty years ago, he appeared in The Man in the White Suit opposite Alec Guinness, with whom Gough was reunited in The Horse’s Mouth (1958) and the BOF fave Smiley’s People (1982).  He also had a small role in Laurence Olivier’s version of Richard III (1955); their other collaborations ran the gamut from The Boys from Brazil (1978) to Brideshead Revisited (1981).

Gough was in at the beginning of the Hammer renaissance with a substantial and, in retrospect, surprisingly heroic part as Arthur in Terence Fisher’s Horror of Dracula (1958), which marked Christopher Lee’s debut as the Count.  The following year, he had what might be considered his defining role as a crime writer who commits murder to generate his own material in Horrors of the Black Museum.  This was to be his first of five collaborations with erstwhile AIP producer Herman Cohen, followed by several similar characters in Cohen’s Konga (1961), Black Zoo (1963), Berserk (1967), and Trog (1970), the latter two starring Joan Crawford, of all people.

With his talent for portraying slimy villains, Gough was a considerable asset to Hammer’s The Phantom of the Opera (1962), although its disappointing box-office results gave Fisher’s career a serious hit.  His path crossed that of Lee’s almost a dozen times over the decades, and the next was in “Disembodied Hand,” a segment from Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), the first of rival Amicus Productions’ many anthology films.  Further, if minor, roles for Amicus followed in The Skull (1965, again with Lee) and They Came from Beyond Space (1967), all three of them directed (as was Trog) by Hammer veteran and Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis.

Gough also found decent roles outside the genre in the likes of a television production of Pride and Prejudice (1967), and even his pairings with Lee straddled both worlds.  After they picked up a paycheck in the AIP/Tigon co-production Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), they joined an all-star cast headed by Charlton Heston for Julius Caesar (1970).  Other high-profile mainstream films from this period include Ken Russell’s D.H. Lawrence adaptation Women in Love (1969) and Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between (1970), scripted by Harold Pinter, and Gough appeared in such TV series as The Saint, The Avengers, and Hammer’s short-lived Journey to the Unknown.

Lest we forget the inevitable Matheson connection, Gough had an unbilled but significant role in The Legend of Hell House (1973), and then worked largely in television (including Dr. Who) for the next few decades.  Among his intermittent and noteworthy feature films were Peter Yates’s The Dresser (1983), Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa (1985), John Mackenzie’s cracking thriller The Fourth Protocol (1987), and Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).  Gough’s fame with the Hot Topic generation of viewers was assured when he took the role of the Wayne family butler, Alfred Pennyworth, in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).

While still finding time for highbrow fare like Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (1993), Gough soldiered on through the decreasing quality of the Burton-less Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997).  More important, he kept working with Burton—and renewed his association with Lee—in Sleepy Hollow (1999), Corpse Bride (2005), and last year’s Alice in Wonderland, which while a bit of a disappointment to this Burton fan was a perfect capstone to his long and impressive career.  So let us salute and celebrate this consummate performer, whose many decades in front of the camera displayed such enviable breadth and depth:  R.I.P., Michael.

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On the occasion of 107th birthday, we revisit this SF-oriented profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

While his work epitomized the Gothic horror tales that secured the fortunes of England’s Hammer Films, director Terence Fisher (1904-80) also made his mark in the SF genre, there and elsewhere.  After unsuccessful careers in the merchant marine and a department store, he joined the industry in 1933 as “the oldest clapper boy in the business,” and worked his way up to editor.

Aptly, Fisher’s directorial debut was a supernatural comedy, Colonel Bogey (1948), while another early indication of what lay ahead was the suspense thriller So Long at the Fair (1950).  He began his association with Hammer in 1952, receiving one of his two screenwriting credits on Mantrap (1953), adapted from the novel Queen in Danger by Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor).

Fisher and Paul Tabori also co-scripted Four Sided Triangle (1953), based on William F. Temple’s novel about scientists in love with the same woman.  Bill (Stephen Murray) believes he can solve the problem by duplicating Lena (Barbara Payton), using their experimental process of turning energy into matter; unfortunately, “Helen” also prefers Robin (John Van Eyssen) to Bill.

Tabori and Richard Landau adapted Spaceways (1953) from a BBC radio play by Charles Eric Maine, whose novels became such films as Escapement (aka The Electronic Monster, 1958) and The Mind of Mr. Soames (1970).  Howard Duff starred as a scientist planning a space trip, to prove that he did not murder his wife and her lover and conceal their bodies in a previous rocket.

As with Universal in the 1930s, Hammer kicked off its successful cycle of Gothic horror films with back-to-back adaptations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, although in reverse order.  Fisher’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula, 1958) made stars of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, with their signature roles.

Hammer elected to follow the fortunes of Frankenstein (Cushing) rather than his creation (Lee) in its sequels.  Except for Freddie Francis’s The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), they were all directed by Fisher:  The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974).

Fisher largely left the Dracula series to other hands, with Francis following him again on Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), although he directed the first two sequels.  The Brides of Dracula (1960) brought back Cushing’s Van Helsing, but not the Count himself, who returned sans dialogue in Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), due to Lee’s dissatisfaction with the script.

Also using those two stars to excellent effect was Fisher’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), with Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes among the screen’s greatest and Lee as the endangered Baskerville heir.  Soon, Fisher was revisiting horror classics left and right in The Mummy (1959), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (aka House of Fright, 1960), and The Curse of the Werewolf (1961).

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) was a remake of a more obscure film, The Man in Half Moon Street (1945).  But the box-office failure of The Phantom of the Opera (1962) led to a brief exile from Hammer, during which Fisher directed Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes (Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, 1962), with Lee taking a turn as Holmes.

He also made a pair of films for American producer Robert L. Lippert, who distributed much of Hammer’s early output in the U.S.  The Horror of It All (1963) was a spoof, written by Ray Russell, while The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) marked Fisher’s return to SF with a low-budget, star-free tale about the survivors of an alien invasion that utilized robots and zombies.

Reunited with Hammer, Cushing, and Lee on The Gorgon (1964), Fisher still continued alternating horror and SF with two projects for the short-lived Planet Films.  In Island of Terror (1966), a solid script and a good cast, headed by Cushing and Edward Judd, helped to make up for the somewhat silly appearance of its tentacled silicates, which consume the calcium in bones.

Based on the novel by John Lymington, Night of the Big Heat (aka Island of the Burning Damned, 1967) displayed similar strengths and weaknesses.  Tensions simmer among Cushing, Lee, and the romantic triangle involving Jane Merrow, Patrick Allen, and his on- and off-screen wife, Sarah Lawson, but the rock-like alien blobs besieging them leave something to be desired.

Fisher next made the outstanding Dennis Wheatley adaptation The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil’s Bride, 1968), scripted by the acclaimed Richard Matheson.  Sadly, health problems prevented him from following through on several Hammer projects for which he was scheduled, and helped precipitate his retirement, but not before he brought the Frankenstein series to a close.

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Presumptuous though it may be, when someone I’ve interviewed dies, I always feel like I’ve lost one of my own, and this is truer than usual in the case of Ingrid Pitt, who left us Tuesday at 73, although she seemed far younger—fitting for a star who embodied a vampire more than once in her memorable career.  First and foremost, of course, she played Heidi in my favorite film of all time, Where Eagles Dare (1968), as well as appearing in two other works that loom large in my legend, The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Smiley’s People (1982).  When I spoke with Ingrid for what became the cover story in Filmfax #62, I felt both an incredible vivacity and a far stronger connection than I have had with many of my other “victims,” despite her being an ocean away.

Ingrid’s relationship with the horror/SF genre dates back at least as far as her early Spanish credit El Sonido Prehistorico (The Prehistoric Sound, aka The Sound of Horror, 1964), which concerns an invisible dinosaur…one way to economize on special effects, I suppose.  Her other pre-Eagles roles reportedly included uncredited appearances in films ranging from Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight and David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (both 1965) to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).  Just before being featured in Alistair MacLean’s blockbuster, Ingrid starred in W. Lee Wilder’s justly obscure genre effort The Omegans (1968); I’ve already shared some of her recollections about that film and the Brothers Wilder in “The Wilder Bunch, Part I.”

Ingrid related an amusing story about being cast as Heidi:  “I was doing [an episode of] Dundee and the Culhane with John Mills.  Ralph Meeker was also on it.  He rang me up and asked me if I would like to go and play poker at [famed stuntman] Yakima Canutt’s house.  I had laryngitis but I thought, well, I couldn’t miss a big opportunity like that.  We went and it was absolutely amazing….When I’d lost all my money and had to cry ‘Uncle,’ Yak walked me to the door.  As I got in the taxi, he leaned in and said, ‘There’s a part in the film I’m just starting, why don’t you go for that?…Mention my name,’ he said as he slammed the cab door.  Of course, mentioning certain people’s names is magic.  I got to see Brian Hutton for three seconds the next day…”

Ingrid had several memorable scenes, and inspired a hilarious line from Richard Burton:  “She’s been one of our top agents in Bavaria since 1941, and…[leering at her ample décolletage] what a disguise.”  She enjoyed making the film, but lamented that “they gave me really lousy billing.  [Producer] Elliott [Kastner] had promised me, ‘Introducing Ingrid Pitt’…[but] it didn’t happen.  He forgot—he said.…I was just at the very end, since my name starts with ‘P,’ and the cinemas are empty by the time my name comes around.”  She experienced another disappointment with Hutton’s follow-up film, which reunited him with Clint Eastwood:  “I was going to be in Kelly’s Heroes [1970], and then he decided he didn’t want women in it after all.  I nearly killed him.”

Eagles is best known for action sequences such as its legendary fight atop a cable car.  “Yak was doing the great shot of the stuntman, Alf Joint, jumping from one cable car to the other….Alf was hovering in front of the camera as the cable car started to go.  (And didn’t he look just like Richard hovering there?)  The next cable car came towards him, and you must imagine hundreds of people, everybody watching.  They got into frame and Yak said, ‘Get those people out of the way!’…Anyway, when Yakima…said, ‘GO!,’ Alf went.  Unfortunately, the force of the thrust as he leapt for the other car caused the cable car to swing and the camera fell off.  Luckily none of the crew followed it.  Elliott went berserk.  They had to shoot the whole dodgy sequence again.”

Next, Ingrid appeared in a trio of films that ensured her iconic status among horror fans:  Roy Ward Baker’s The Vampire Lovers and Peter Sasdy’s Countess Dracula (1971) for Hammer, and the Robert Bloch-scripted anthology film The House That Dripped Blood (1971) for Amicus.  As fond as I was of Ingrid, I’ve never been a big fan of Countess Dracula, which in spite of its title concerns not a vampire but Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614), the Hungarian countess who was said to retain her youth by bathing in the blood of virgins.  At least I’m consistent, because I feel the same way about other films directed by Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970; Hands of the Ripper, 1971) or inspired by Báthory (Daughters of Darkness, 1971; Blood Castle, 1973).

Of her nude bathing scene in The Vampire Lovers, Ingrid said, “I had asked Jimmy [Carreras] to call his two producers [Harry Fine and Michael Style] up to London to show rushes.  I thought I might be a little inhibited.  They had this way of looking at me.  I thought, if they’re in London with Jimmy, then maybe it would be a sort of closed set…I came out of my dressing room and saw [the two producers] coming down the corridor en route to the car park with heads hanging down, very sad.  I thought, ‘God damn it, look what I’ve done!’  I had this terrycloth robe on and felt an uncontrollable urge to brighten their lives, so I whipped it open, did a bit of a jiggle and said, ‘Woo-whee!’  I tell you, Matthew, it made them so happy!  They were so bloody happy!”

Ingrid shared billing with Peter Cushing in The Vampire Lovers and The House That Dripped Blood, and with Christopher Lee in the latter, although the three starred in separate segments; she also appeared with Lee in Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), written by Anthony Shaffer of Frenzy and Sleuth (both 1972) fame.  Other credits included two multi-part episodes of Doctor Who (“The Time Monster” and “Warriors of the Deep”) and the Reginald Rose-scripted action films The Final Option (aka Who Dares Wins, 1982) and Wild Geese II (1985).  But it is for the sanguinary roles she approached with such good humor and joie de vivre that we will remember Ingrid, and for the enthusiasm that made the word “fantastic” a veritable mantra in our interview.

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Happy Halloween!  In honor of the (apparently) late, lamented Watching Hammer, I offer this nostalgic list, written at their request just before the site ceased posting new material:

Sincerest thanks to Watching Hammer for inviting me to contribute a Top Ten.  Since Hammer’s heyday ended when I wasn’t quite old enough to drive, I haven’t had the experience other contributors did of seeing these films on the big screen, and was forced to content myself with TV, home-video and convention screenings over the years.  In my infancy as a genre-film aficionado, I thought Hammer was a bunch of pretenders who had the audacity to remake our beloved Universal classics, but our friends across the Pond had the last laugh because now, at any given moment, I’d probably rather watch a Hammer than a Universal, much as I love them both.  And the fact that my future wife and I bonded in high school by chatting about these films during chorus class didn’t hurt.

As the guy who had a hard time getting his list of favorite films on his own blog down to 100, I found it difficult to limit myself to ten, and must give an honorable mention to The Phantom of the Opera before beginning.  So, rather than subject myself to further agony, I am listing them in chronological order.  I make no apologies for including both of the films written by the object of my obsession, Richard Matheson, because I genuinely believe they were two of Hammer’s best, although this is really a list of favorites rather than those I would rank as “best” by some mythical objective standard.  Here goes…

The Quatermass Experiment:  Given my focus on writers, it’s no surprise that I think Nigel Kneale was one of the best things ever to happen to Hammer.  He might not have agreed at the time, since he was unhappy with both the casting of Brian Donlevy in the lead and the adaptation (by Richard Landau and director Val Guest) of his seminal BBC serial, but since some chapters of the TV version are lost, we’ll never be able to compare them in their entirety.  Be that as it may, Quatermass’s struggle to learn what happened to the three-man crew of his first space rocket is eerie and suspenseful from the start, as he learns that contact with an alien life-form has made one astronaut (Richard Wordsworth) absorb the others and begin mutating.  It was Hammer’s first big success, and rightly so.

Quatermass 2:  Many years ago, when New York’s outstanding Film Forum repertory cinema was still in its old Watts Street location, I arranged with my friend Greg Cox (now Matheson’s editor at Tor and a successful author of franchise fiction) to attend a screening of the Quatermass trilogy.  When I told him we might want to arrive early, he laughed and said, “Matthew, these are old British SF films from the ’50s and ’60s; we won’t have any trouble getting in.”  Well, the line was literally around the block, but we did get in.  Due to the vagaries of television programming, I think this was the first time I’d seen the original since childhood—perhaps the first in its entirety—and the first time ever for the sequel, which really wowed me.  Donlevy and Guest were back (the latter sharing script credit with Kneale this time), as Quatermass copes with a government conspiracy that turns out to represent an alien invasion.  The scene of the politician who has fallen into a vat of toxic liquid is a particular standout in this gripping and inventive thriller.

The Curse of Frankenstein:  With its unprecedented full-color gore and sumptuous period production values, this set the template for Hammer’s most famous films and established the “dream team” of their early days, including director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, composer James Bernard, and up-and-coming genre superstars Peter Cushing (as Baron Frankenstein) and Christopher Lee (as the Creature).  Cushing’s Baron is a fascinating character, and Hammer wisely built the ensuing series around him rather than the Creature, who gets dissolved in a vat of acid at the end.  Hazel Court is the delectable cherry on top as Elizabeth, and I love Cushing’s chutzpah as he yells, “Look out, Professor!”…while pushing the poor old guy—whose brain he needs—off a balcony, in order to throw anyone within earshot off the scent.

The Hound of the Baskervilles:  In all fairness, I haven’t seen a number of the screen incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, but of those I have, I would rank Peter Cushing as second only to Basil Rathbone in the role.  In most cases, Rathbone easily surpassed his material, much of which was not derived from Conan Doyle, but here, the above dream team (minus Sangster) provided a top-notch vehicle, complete with the always-welcome Andre Morell as an unusually intelligent Watson.  Although relegated to the role of the imperiled Baskerville heir, Lee adds considerable heft, and Cushing is a delight as he rips into lines like, “There are many strange things to be found upon the moor—like this, for instance!”  (Cue the loud “Thwock!” as he slams the ceremonial dagger into the table.)

Fanatic:  One might be forgiven for mistaking this as another of Hammer’s post-Psycho psycho-thrillers, written by Sangster and bearing similar one-word titles:  Paranoiac, Maniac, Nightmare, Hysteria.  But as much as I love Sangster’s seminal scripts for Hammer in the ’50s, I think Matheson far surpasses him in this adaptation of Anne Blaisdell’s Nightmare (whose title presumably had to be changed to differentiate it from the Sangster film).  Stefanie Powers is lovely and believable as the American girl imprisoned by her late former fiancé’s mother, equally well played by Tallulah Bankhead, and her growing realization that her captor is a dangerous religious fanatic rather than a harmless eccentric gives the film a satisfying dramatic arc.  Throw in the young Donald Sutherland as a mentally challenged servant, and you’re good to go.

Dracula—Prince of Darkness:  This is my wife’s favorite movie, but that’s not the only reason I’m including it.  I’m sure many would consider it sacrilege to give this the nod over what we Yanks think of as Horror of Dracula, especially since Lee’s distaste for the script (Distaste the Script of Dracula?) led him to omit his dialogue.  Still, I’ve always preferred Prince; maybe I never got over the fact that Sangster had Harker get turned into a vampire, just as Dan Curtis did in the Jack Palance television version—a plot point, I might add, that is not found in Matheson’s published teleplay.  But I digress.  Andrew Keir pinch-hits beautifully for Van Helsing as rifle-toting Father Sandor, and rich entertainment is provided by the interplay among the ill-fated Kent family, with Francis Matthews and Suzan Farmer amusingly cast as Charles and Diana and the ever-popular Barbara Shelley as the prim Helen, whose transformation into a sensuous vampire is most extraordinary.

Quatermass and the Pit:  Feel free to criticize me for devoting almost a third of my list to ol’ Bernie, but remember, I could have included Kneale’s The Abominable Snowman, as well.  Reuniting Keir (as Quatermass) and Shelley, this is truly a thinking man’s SF film, as Quatermass discovers a five-million-year-old Martian spacecraft that is buried beneath London and holds surprising secrets about mankind’s evolution.  With Roy Ward Baker [see “A Career to Remember”] succeeding Guest, and Kneale bearing sole script credit, it once again showed the triumph of good writing over pathetic special effects—in this case, those finger-puppet Martians.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave:  Yeah, we Bradleys love us our vampires (Captain Kronos—Vampire Hunter almost made the list as well), and I’ve always had a big soft spot for this follow-up to Prince, an affection that not merely the presence of Veronica Carlson can explain.  The redoubtable Rupert Davies as the monsignor has a lot to do with it, as does the spectacular climax, with Dracula knocked over his own battlements and impaled on a giant cross.  One of Fisher’s periodic hospitalizations forced Freddie Francis to direct this, but although he told me when I interviewed him that he was more interested in the young lovers than in Dracula, I think that once again, the story of the non-nosferatu characters is strong enough to keep us going in between visits from Lee.

The Devil Rides Out:  A pinnacle for all concerned.  Dennis Wheatley justifiably praised Matheson for his exciting adaptation of Wheatley’s somewhat verbose novel, and Lee has a rare heroic (not to mention sizeable) role as the Duc de Richleau.  Charles Gray is also outstanding as the Satanist villain, Mocata, and although the usual complaints are leveled at the skimpy special effects, see Quatermass and the Pit for my response to that.  With the usual superior contributions from Fisher and James Bernard, this is horror at its fast-paced, non-jokey and intelligent finest.  Lee and others have argued that it is ripe for a remake, but since you know it would just turn into another CGI-fest, I’m not sure I agree.

The Vampire Lovers:  I’d be lying if I said that naked women in general, a naked Ingrid Pitt in particular, and lesbian vampires didn’t influence this choice.  But, in my defense, look at the record:  you’ve got Cushing as the devoted and devastated father, General von Spielsdorf.  You’ve Jon Finch, soon to be brilliant in Roman Polanski’s Macbeth and Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy, in a supporting role.  And, perhaps most of all, you’ve got what may be the most faithful adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s oft-filmed “Carmilla,” with Baker at the helm.  Threadbare production values be damned, this is a good movie.

BOF Addendum:  Now I’ll sit back and wait for Drax to complain (albeit with love) about the absence of visuals.  I keep telling him I am the Word-Man.  Word-Man.  WORD-MAN!  BWUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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It Begins…

News about the advent—and I use that term advisedly; for me, after thirteen years, this is like the B.C./A.D. split—of Richard Matheson on Screen is percolating through the Internet, and I would like to thank those who’ve so graciously commented on Richard’s reaction to the book (see “The Only Review That Really Matters”).  Although I haven’t seen any formal reviews yet, prolific pop-culture author John Kenneth Muir has promised one at his Reflections on Film/TV blog, noting that, “So far, the book is very, very good; very thorough and interesting!”  Because Richard wrote the classic Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within,” the irrepressible “Rear Admiral” Greg Cox has also been talking up the book on a message board (if that is the term) called The Trek BBS.

I Am Legend Archivist John Scoleri, who teams with Peter Enfantino on the sublime A Thriller a Day… blog (where, natch, I commented at great length on Matheson’s “The Return of Andrew Bentley”), has gone above and beyond the call of duty in championing the book.  Inspiring a frustrated academic’s wet dreams, he has not only plugged it, but also twice used it as an honest-to-God resource at their sister bare•bones e-zine site for his series of posts devoted to the first appearances of Matheson’s short stories.  And, as if that weren’t enough, John has also mentioned the book on other people’s websites, e.g., in his comments on Slade Grayson’s Bookgasm review of Matheson Uncollected: Volume Two (http://www.bookgasm.com/reviews/sci-fi/matheson-uncollected-volume-two/).

Pride of place must go so far to the Fangoria site, where Tony Timpone recently interviewed me about the book, but since they offer such an embarrassment of riches, you may need to use a link (http://www.fangoria.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2440:chronicling-richard-matheson&catid=36:demo-articles&Itemid=56) to find it.  Mind you, this is before they have even received their copy of the book, which Tony said they will most likely review at some future date.  Refusing to be outdone, über-BOF-booster Simon Drax has both rhapsodized about the interview over at Ichiban Weapon Ready, and tumblred (this is a word?) about my Tor.com series “Richard Matheson—Storyteller” in another identity as The Creep in the Art Department.

Alas, while we’re on the subject of the blogosphere, I must sadly report the apparent demise of the Watching Hammer: The Hammer Films Review site, which has not run a new post since July 13 (during which time my e-mails have gone unanswered), although for now I’m continuing to list it in my blogroll in memoriam.  Never one to waste good material, I’ll be taking the Top Ten Hammers list they had asked me to compile just before the site went dark, and posting it here on BOF later today for Halloween.  Aptly, their last post is another Top Ten by Holger Haase, who holds forth at his Hammer and Beyond site about the films, as well as the participants and their careers outside of Hammer, and has expressed abundant interest in Richard Matheson on Screen.

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Last night, I was surprised to learn that director Roy Ward Baker passed away on October 5 at the age of 93; surprised because, as is so often the case with someone so long off my personal radar, I had assumed he was long gone already.  I see now from the IMDb that he was working in British television as late as 1992, although the most recent credit I’ve seen is Sherlock Holmes and the Masks of Death (1984), with frequent Baker collaborator John Mills as Watson to Peter Cushing’s Holmes.  Of course, most people in the mainstream wouldn’t recognize his name in the first place, although they should thank him for giving Marilyn Monroe a solid early dramatic role opposite Richard Widmark in Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) during a sojourn in Hollywood.

Said sojourn also included, of all things, the 3-D thriller Inferno (1953), with Robert Ryan as a wealthy man stranded in the desert by his adulterous wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her lover, but soon afterward he was on his way back home to England.  There, Baker made the best film I’ve seen about the sinking of the Titanic, the 1958 adaptation of Walter Lord’s nonfiction bestseller A Night to Remember.  Unlike other Titanic films, e.g., the eponymous entries directed by Jean Negulesco in 1953 and that What’s-His-Name guy in 1997, Night found sufficient drama—to say the least—in the historical events themselves, without focusing on fictional characters and their soap operas, with Kenneth More heading a “usual suspects” cast (including Honor Blackman).

Baker was a prolific television director, notching episodes of such series as The Avengers, The Saint, Department S, The Champions (Alexandra Bastedo—woo-hoo!), Journey to the Unknown, The Persuaders!, The Protectors, and Return of the Saint (starring Ian Ogilvy, a fave of Madame BOF).  But to genre fans, Baker will always be recognized as one of the best of the second-tier Hammer directors, by which I mean most of those below big dogs Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis.  According to Dennis Fischer’s worthy McFarland tome Horror Film Directors, 1931-1990, his association with Hammer was an indirect result of A Night to Remember, since they wanted a technically savvy director, familiar with special effects, to helm Quatermass and the Pit (1967).

Known Stateside as Five Million Years to Earth, this SF epic was adapted by Nigel Kneale from the third of his BBC-TV Quatermass serials, with Hammer stalwart Andrew Keir in fine form as the titular scientist, who investigates the contents of a Martian spaceship found buried beneath London.  Oddly, top billing was given to James Donald, fondly remembered from The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and The Great Escape (1963), as Quatermass’s self-sacrificing colleague, Dr. Matthew Roney.  The effects are wildly uneven, with the finger-puppet Martians seen in the flashback sequences a hilarious low, but Baker’s command of the complex material was firm, and he wisely reunited Keir with his Dracula—Prince of Darkness (1966) co-star Barbara Shelley.

Having known Bette Davis in Hollywood, Baker next replaced Alvin Rakoff when the latter did not hit it off with the star in The Anniversary (1968), a black comedy scripted by the studio’s resident expert on psycho-thrillers, Jimmy Sangster.  I have seen neither that film nor Baker’s next Hammer outing, but given the conspicuously low reputation of Moon Zero Two (1969), I should perhaps be grateful that it is somewhat elusive today.  Perhaps notable only as the first space Western—a dubious precedent, perhaps, for Peter Hyams’s Outland (1981)—it was co-written by second-generation Hammer honcho and mediocrity-meister Michael Carreras, and as much as I love The Andromeda Strain (1971), I doubt that leading man James Olson set the screen on fire.

My other favorite among Baker’s Hammer credits is The Vampire Lovers (1970), with Ingrid Pitt as J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” backed by Peter Cushing and Jon Finch, and although its lesbian bloodsuckers pushed the envelope for its time, Baker kept it tasteful and, above all, serious.  His vampire credentials thus established, he bracketed Hammer’s ill-conceived modern-day Dracula films with two period outings that merit a closer look.  Scars of Dracula (1970) gave Christopher Lee a little more to do than usual, even throwing in a few dollops of material from the novel for a change, while for me to note that The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974) was the first kung-fu vampire film is misleading, bolstered as it is by Peter Cushing’s presence as Van Helsing and Baker’s atmospheric direction.

In between, Baker directed Hammer’s offbeat Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), my enjoyment of which will be forever hampered by my loathing for Ralph Bates, and—like Francis—worked the other side of the fence by making several films for local rival Amicus.  These included two of their trademark anthology films:  Asylum (1972), adapted by Robert Bloch from his own stories, and The Vault of Horror (1973), based on the E.C. horror comics of the 1950s.  He also directed one of the better stand-alone Amicus films, —And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973), and after that company’s dissolution, Baker was reunited with producer and co-founder Milton Subotsky for another omnibus film, The Monster Club (1980), based on the stories of R. Chetwynd-Hayes.

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Marking the 89th birthday of co-founder Milton Subotsky, we revisit this SF-oriented profile written for the late, lamented original Scifipedia website.

As a purveyor of cinematic horror in the 1960s and ’70s, Amicus Productions was Britain’s only serious rival to Hammer Films, whose personnel (e.g., Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, directors Freddie Francis and Roy Ward Baker) it borrowed on a regular basis. Ironically, the studio was founded by the American producers Max J. Rosenberg (1914-2004) and Milton Subotsky (1921-91).

Also a screenwriter, Subotsky received the story credit on an early effort that was technically a Vulcan Production, John Moxey’s City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel, 1960), a splendid tale of witchcraft featuring Lee in a solid supporting role. He later scripted the first official Amicus production, Francis’s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964), which started a signature series of anthology films.

Subotsky based one of the earliest Amicus films, Francis’s The Skull (1965), on horror author and screenwriter Robert Bloch’s classic “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade.” Bloch was then hired to adapt his own published stories into Francis’s Torture Garden (1967), Peter Duffell’s The House That Dripped Blood (1970) and Baker’s Asylum (1972), each of which utilized the anthology format.

Amicus eventually became the first studio permitted by publisher William M. Gaines to film stories from the eponymous E.C. horror comics of the 1950s in Francis’s Tales from the Crypt (1972) and Baker’s The Vault of Horror (1973). But it also made several significant contributions to the SF genre, including the only feature films to date based upon the long-running BBC-TV series Dr. Who.

Unveiled in the Doctor’s second adventure, “The Daleks” (aka “The Dead Planet”), the titular mutants inside their metallic casings, whose primary goal is to “Exterminate!” humans, soon became the most enduring of his interstellar adversaries. Thus, an adaptation of Terry Nation’s serial seemed a safe bet for Amicus to introduce the Doctor to the big screen—and in color—for the very first time.

Written by Subotsky, with additional material by the show’s script editor, David Whitaker, Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) changed the Doctor from the Time Lord of the series to an eccentric human inventor, played by Peter Cushing. The film was directed by Gordon Flemyng, who worked almost exclusively in British television for the thirty-odd years of his decidedly unremarkable career.

The Doctor’s invention, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), is disguised as a police call box, and can travel through time and/or space. It does both, whisking the Doctor and his granddaughters Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Susan (Roberta Tovey) to the planet Skaro in the distant future, when Barbara’s clumsy boyfriend, Ian Chesterton (Roy Castle), stumbles against the controls.

Poisoned by nuclear war, Skaro is inhabited by two races: the peaceful, humanoid Thals, and the deadly Daleks, which are protected by their mechanized armor. Joining forces with the Thals, the Doctor and his companions undergo the usual quotient of captures, imprisonments, and escapes, but ultimately defeat the Daleks by interfering with the magnetic forces that control their futuristic city.

Cushing and Tovey were back, with a bigger budget, the same screenwriters, and essentially the same crew, for Flemyng’s Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966), based on Nation’s second Dalek serial, “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” Ian and Barbara were supplanted by police constable Tom Campbell (Bernard Cribbins), another comic foil, and the Doctor’s niece, Louise (Jill Curzon).

In 2150, the Daleks are excavating in England with evil intent, hoping to blow out the Earth’s magnetic core by planting a bomb in a fissure, effectively turning the planet into a giant spaceship. This ambitious plan is put to rest when the Doctor reprograms their human slaves, the Robomen, and diverts the bomb down an unused shaft, so that the magnetic pull draws the Daleks down to the core.

Allan Bryce’s Amicus: The Studio That Dripped Blood tartly (but not necessarily inaccurately) dismisses their next SF efforts, Montgomery Tully’s The Terrornauts and Francis’s They Came From Beyond Space (both 1967), as “the two worst films the company ever produced.” Each was based on a decidedly pulpy paperback (Murray Leinster’s The Wailing Asteroid and Joseph Millard’s The Gods Kate Kansas, respectively).

Francis told me in an interview for Filmfax that after budgeting for both movies, Amicus spent most of the money on The Terrornauts, leaving very little left over for him. “So we were trying to do this film with not much money, and I thought it was a rotten film anyway,” he said. “That was another Subotsky script [indeed, his writing was widely considered the studio’s weakest link], which I didn’t interfere with.”

In The Terrornauts, a group of humans is spirited off into space and subjected to a series of intelligence tests, before being plunged into the middle of a war between alien races. Francis’s film concerns another alien race, this time taking over humans to effect their mysterious plan, which turns out to be nothing more menacing than trying to get from our moon to their own world to die at home.

More ambitious and intelligent, but faring badly at the box-office, was Alan Cooke’s The Mind of Mr. Soames (1969), based on the novel by Charles Eric Maine. Reminiscent of Charly (1968), it stars Terence Stamp as a thirty-year-old man awakened from the coma he has been in since birth, with Robert Vaughn and Nigel Davenport as doctors in disagreement over how to educate him.

Scream and Scream Again (1970) was an odd hybrid of horror and SF, and of personnel from both Amicus and American International Pictures, then expanding into England. Star Vincent Price, director Gordon Hessler, and screenwriter Christopher Wicking had already worked together at AIP, while Rosenberg and Subotsky produced the film, and Lee and Cushing co-starred.

Based on Peter Saxon’s The Disorientated Man, this historic teaming of horror’s “big three” is a disorientating experience indeed, with multiple settings and plotlines that seem unconnected at first. Finally, it becomes clear (relatively speaking) that Price’s character has been creating a race of deadly, super-strong “composites,” which are infiltrating various governments to control the world.

Amicus also produced some of the few films based on SF novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, best known as the creator of Tarzan. Financed—and distributed in the U.S.—by AIP, The Land That Time Forgot (1975), its sequel, The People That Time Forgot (1977), and At the Earth’s Core (1976) were all directed by Kevin Connor, as was their last anthology film, From Beyond the Grave (1973).

Land and People concern Caprona, a lost continent on which, as in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, dinosaurs still exist at the time of World War I. The survivors of a British ship, including American Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure), are taken aboard the U-boat that torpedoed them, and clash with the crew before encountering prehistoric creatures and mysterious tribes of cavemen.

At the Earth’s Core is set in another fictional world, Pellucidar, to which Tarzan himself paid a visit in one of Burroughs’s sequels. McClure starred as David Innes, who journeys to the center of the Earth in a giant drilling machine, with Cushing as Abner Perry, the absent-minded professor who accompanies him, and Caroline Munro as Dia, the primitive princess he rescues from assorted perils.

Amicus was in fact disintegrating as the Burroughs films were being made; Subotsky left the company in 1975, after Land was completed, and the company was officially dissolved even before People was released by AIP. But while its track record was mixed and its production values never as high as Hammer’s, Amicus is fondly remembered for the genre entertainment it offered for a decade.

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