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Posts Tagged ‘Terence Fisher’

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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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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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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During the renaissance of Gothic horror, British beauty Hazel Court worked for both Hammer Films and American International Pictures (AIP), directed by Terence Fisher in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) and by Roger Corman in The Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963), and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). Many of the actresses appearing in such films shun the association, but since she entitled her autobiography Hazel Court—Horror Star, she seems rather to have embraced the genre, to which her contributions include Ghost Ship (1952), Devil Girl from Mars (1954), and Dr. Blood’s Coffin (1961). A friend bought me the book (published by Tomahawk Press in 2008 just after her death) while I was seeking material for Richard Matheson on Screen, yet it’s only now, with my magnum opus on the verge of being proofread and indexed, that I have had a chance to read it from cover to cover.

Born in 1926 (just ten days before Matheson), Court feelingly describes her family, her happy upbringing in Birmingham, her experiences during and after World War II—which claimed her first love, identified only as J.W.—and the fulfillment of her childhood aspirations when she made her debut with two lines in Champagne Charlie (1944). Her career progressed through magazine covers and glamour shots, a contract with the Rank Organization, a starring role in Meet Me at Dawn (1947), and an appearance in the late Ken Annakin’s first feature, Holiday Camp (1947), enabling Tomahawk to cross-promote his autobiography, So You Wanna Be a Director? Court also became a staple of episodic television, and it was on her first of four episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents that she met her second husband, ex-actor Don Taylor, who directed her in “The Crocodile Case” and was married to Court until his death in 1998.

In addition to guesting on such shows as Bonanza, Danger Man, Thriller, Rawhide, The Twilight Zone, Dr. Kildare, and Mannix, Court starred with Patrick O’Neal in the single-season comedy Dick and the Duchess, which she was promoting in New York when The Curse of Frankenstein was #2 at the U.S. box office. It’s easy to forget that she was probably more familiar to cinemagoers at the time than either of her Curse co-stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee—who also had a supporting role in The Man Who Could Cheat Death—about both of whom she writes with great affection. This makes Hammer’s decision to hire her all the wiser (I had not realized that her seven-year-old daughter, Sally Walsh, played her character as a child), but it’s interesting to note that while they used her as a more traditionally imperiled heroine, Corman cast her as a sensually sinful “bad girl” in all three of their Edgar Allan Poe films together.

Tomahawk claims that Court is the only actress to have worked with Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Lee, and Cushing; equally impressive were her off-screen collaborators Fisher, Corman, Matheson, and his friend Charles Beaumont, who co-wrote both The Premature Burial and The Masque of the Red Death. She cites Matheson’s The Raven as the film she most enjoyed making, offering delightful anecdotes about encountering the young Jack Nicholson and watching Price, Karloff, and Peter Lorre try to outdo one another, and writes about the painting and sculpting she successfully pursued as her acting career wound down. After starring with Price in Masque, Court continued making television guest spots through 1972, and her last appearance was an unbilled cameo in The Final Conflict (1981) as a favor to producer Harvey Bernhard, for whom Taylor had directed Damien: Omen II (1978).

Hazel Court—Horror Star is enjoyable and, as the memoir of such an icon (especially one no longer with us), perhaps invaluable, but leaves the reader wanting more, e.g., Ghost Ship is mentioned only in passing as one of two films she made with director Vernon Sewell and her first husband, Irish actor Dermot Walsh. She details the courtship leading up to their 1949 wedding, yet then Walsh virtually disappears from the narrative, with no discussion of why their marriage “was not the strongest in the world” or how their divorce affected Sally, who was almost thirteen when Court married Taylor in 1963. However, she has not skimped on the book’s 200 photos (one of which confirms the existence of her fabled topless modeling scene from the rare European version of The Man Who Could Cheat Death), so as a celebration of Court’s career highlights and red-haired, green-eyed beauty, it is eminently satisfying.

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Continuing our idiosyncratic survey of some noteworthy Hammer films and related items.

Scars of Dracula (1970): By now, Hammer was clearly wondering what to do with its two main franchises, and provided one of the worst answers in the form of The Horror of Frankenstein (1970). Jimmy Sangster directed a remake of his own script for The Curse of Frankenstein that had its tongue far too firmly in cheek and, worse, starred flavor du jour Ralph Bates as the Baron; the presence of David (Darth Vader) Prowse as the Monster and lovely Veronica Carlson were among the few compensations. Meanwhile, the last of their period Dracula films to star Christopher Lee is a bit of a disappointment, despite being directed by Roy Ward Baker. Featuring Patrick (Dr. Who) Troughton as Dracula’s servant, Klove; Michael Gwynn as a priest killed by a vampire bat; and the old crawling-down-the-castle-wall-to-the-coffin-room shtick, resurrected from Bram Stoker’s novel.

The Vampire Lovers (1970): This version of the oft-filmed J. Sheridan LeFanu lesbian vampire classic “Carmilla” is remarkably faithful. Cushing plays General Spielsdorf, Douglas Wilmer is vampire hunter Baron Hartog, Jon Finch (who would star in Roman Polanski’s Macbeth the next year) is the ineffectual hero, and Ingrid (Where Eagles Dare) Pitt is the sensual bloodsucker. Her climactic beheading is very realistic, and the ample nudity showed Hammer plunging into the ’70s with enthusiasm. Possibly Baker’s best genre film, although Quatermass and the Pit is also a contender; Tudor Gates soon wrote a pair of sequels, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970): I haven’t seen this for years, and in fact I hate caveman movies (it’s hard for a card-carrying Word-Man to appreciate a movie whose dialogue is of the “ook ook ack ack” variety), but as I recall it has nice Jim Danforth stop-motion dinosaurs…which is more than can be said of director Don Chaffey’s conspicuously creature-free Creatures the World Forgot (1971)!

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971): The first of three adaptations of Stoker’s Jewel of the Seven Stars, followed by The Awakening and Bram Stoker’s [Legend of] the Mummy. In a sad behind-the-scenes story recalling that of the similarly ill-fated Lust for a Vampire, which apparently may have been shot first and released second, Hammer stalwart Andrew Keir (Dracula—Prince of Darkness, Quatermass and the Pit) replaced Cushing soon after shooting started when the latter’s ailing wife Helen died, and mediocrity-meister Michael Carreras stepped in, uncredited, for the final week of filming after director Seth Holt himself dropped dead. All things considered, it’s perhaps surprising it turned out as well as it did, despite a typically muddled script by Christopher Wicking (Cry of the Banshee). Keir is an archaeologist whose wife dies giving birth to their daughter at the moment he and his colleagues open the tomb of the dreaded Queen Tera; among the colleagues, systematically mown down as the story unfolds, are James Villiers and George Coulouris. While it’s sad to speculate what the film might have been like with Cushing, Keir is always a welcome presence, as is sexy Valerie Leon in the dual role of Tera and the daughter.

Countess Dracula (1971): The always-game Pitt plays Elizabeth Bathory in Peter Sasdy’s version of the oft-told tale about the real-life Hungarian countess who kept herself young-looking by bathing in virgins’ blood, with Nigel Green (an excellent Nayland Smith in The Face of Fu Manchu) as her henchman. Despite the title, she doesn’t imbibe blood, just sheds and wallows in it.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971): Gender-bending version in which Jekyll turns into a beautiful but deadly “Jackie the Ripper.” Writer-producer Brian Clemens (Captain Kronos—Vampire Hunter, The Avengers) even threw Burke and Hare into the mix as well, for good measure. The casting of Martine Beswick (Thunderball), who really looks like a female Ralph Bates, sells it.

Hands of the Ripper (1971): I have not seen this Sasdy offering about the Ripper’s daughter and her deadly urges for many years, and I’m sorry to say I have not felt a great compulsion to do so.

Lust for a Vampire (aka To Love a Vampire; 1971): The followup to The Vampire Lovers is a big disappointment, despite the felicitous setting of a finishing school in which lesbian—or in this case bisexual—vampire Carmilla Karnstein (here played by the attractive but unemotive Yutte Stensgaard; most of the cast compensates by overacting shamelessly) runs amok, and ironically, the tamer U.S. alternate title, under which it was reportedly filmed originally, is more accurate. Michael Johnson (who he?) plays writer Richard LeStrange (yeah, right), who tricks his way into the school as an English teacher in order to glom the girls and ends up finding a “Strange Love” (the hilariously awful theme song) with Carmilla. The sadly ubiquitous Bates is Giles Barton, the headmaster who wants her to enlist him as a servant of Satan and gets drained for his trouble. Alas, after recovering from the broken leg that bumped him from Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, and directing the superior Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Terence Fisher managed to break the SAME leg in the SAME place in a SECOND traffic accident, and so was replaced here by Sangster, a variable screenwriter but never more than a competent director at best. What’s worse is that Cushing, cast as Giles, pulled out to tend to his dying wife and was supplanted by Bates (who had just assumed the former’s signature role in Sangster’s directorial debut, Horror of Frankenstein), although Cushing returned for the final Karnstein entry.

Twins of Evil (1971): Featuring Cushing as the ill-fated witchfinder Gustav Weil, along with a superior script and cinematography, the conclusion of the Karnstein trilogy is a marked improvement over Lust for a Vampire, although in this case Carmilla is mostly sidelined in favor of Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas) and the titular sisters played by Playboy’s first twin Playmates, Mary and Madeleine Collinson. I won’t make any sophomoric “twin” jokes about their ample anatomical assets, but it’s tempting, as are they; the ever-annoying Dennis Price is the primary liability.

Demons of the Mind (aka Blood Evil, Blood Will Have Blood, Nightmare of Terror; 1972): I haven’t seen this since I was a kid, didn’t like it at the time, and am not a fan of latter-day Hammer director Peter Sykes or screenwriter Wicking. But it has its proponents, so I’ll take another look someday. Shane Briant and Gillian Hills are kept imprisoned by their father, Robert Hardy, who believes that the family bloodline is tainted; the rampant depravity suggests he’s correct. Patrick Magee and Michael Hordern co-star with Mrs. Ralph Bates, Virginia Wetherell.

To be concluded.

Those interested in Hammer Films would do well to check out the blog Watching Hammer (http://watchinghammer.blogspot.com/), which among other things features a very nice rundown on Fanatic, about which you can read in greater detail in Richard Matheson on Film.

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Continuing our idiosyncratic survey of some noteworthy Hammer films and related items.

Kiss of the Vampire (aka Kiss of Evil; 1964): A minor effort directed by Don Sharp, in which the absence of any of the studio’s major stars is sorely felt, but You Know Who requested it because of its subject matter. Edward De Souza of Phantom of the Opera fame (or, more accurately, obscurity) is once again the stalwart hero, who is aided by a poor man’s Van Helsing (Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed’s father in Curse of the Werewolf) when his new bride (Jennifer Daniel) is menaced by a vampire cult, led by Noel Willman. The climactic destruction of the vampires by a swarm of bats (originally planned for Brides of Dracula) was butchered in the U.S. release prints.

The Old Dark House (1964): Talk about strange bedfellows: this remake of the 1932 James Whale classic teamed Hammer with producer-director William Castle. It’s a lame horror comedy starring Tom Poston, of all people, and scripted by Robert Dillon, whose credits include one each of John Frankenheimer’s best (French Connection II) and worst (99 and 44/100% Dead) movies. Hammer alumna Janette Scott (Paranoiac) joins comedic vets Robert Morley, Joyce Grenfell, and Peter Bull.

Fanatic (aka Die! Die! My Darling!; 1965): Richard Matheson wrote three scripts for Hammer, but only two were filmed. The censor put the kibosh on Night Creatures, which he adapted from his classic novel I Am Legend, so the studio sold the project to sometime distributor Robert Lippert (recycling the title as an alternate for Captain Clegg), who had it rewritten by another scenarist and filmed in Italy as The Last Man on Earth. Luckily, they gave Matheson another gig with this film, directed by Silvio Narizzano (best known for Georgy Girl). Based on Anne Blaisdell’s novel Nightmare, it’s highlighted by two standout performances, one by Stefanie Powers as a young American visiting her dead fiancée’s mother in England. In her last screen appearance, Tallulah Bankhead plays the mother, who ends up imprisoning Powers in her home and terrorizing her to show her the error of her ways; a very young Donald Sutherland appears as the retarded handyman.

Dracula—Prince of Darkness (1966): Hammer’s output for 1965 also included two more Jimmy Sangster-scripted psycho-thrillers, Freddie Francis’s Hysteria and Seth Holt’s The Nanny (based on a novel by Evelyn Piper of Bunny Lake Is Missing fame), as well as a new version of H. Rider Haggard’s classic adventure novel She, starring Ursula Andress (Dr. No, Casino Royale [1967]). But the big news came the following year when Christopher Lee finally returned to the part of Dracula. He has no lines (supposedly they were so bad he refused to utter them), and takes a while to appear, but it’s okay—Terence Fisher’s direction and the other characters are good enough to keep you busy. Stars stalwart Andrew Keir, Cary Grant sound-alike Francis Matthews, Hammer über-heroine Barbara Shelley in one of her best roles (as a vampiress), and Thorley Walters as Fritz.

The Plague of the Zombies (1966): Hammer continued to move in multiple directions in 1966, teaming up with Ray Harryhausen for the stop-motion remake One Million Years B.C. and reuniting the three leads of Dracula—Prince of Darkness (Lee, Matthews, and Shelley) for Sharp’s historical thriller Rasputin the Mad Monk. Meanwhile, John Gilling directed this lesser effort, a companion piece to his film The Reptile, also set in Cornwall. The highlight is the spooky dream sequence showing the zombies leaving their graves. Starring are Andre Morell; John Carson, later of Taste the Blood of Dracula and Captain Kronos—Vampire Hunter; Jacqueline Pearce, who had the title role in The Reptile; Brook Williams, the doomed radio operator in Where Eagles Dare and the son of playwright Emlyn Williams (Night Must Fall); and Hammer mainstay Michael Ripper.

The Witches (aka The Devil’s Own; 1966): Another of Hammer’s lesser efforts, although written by Nigel (Quatermass) Kneale. Joan Fontaine joins the mid-’60s menopausal horror set in this tale of witches (aw, you guessed) at an English school. My wife likes this, so I have a soft spot for it.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967): Hey, he must have been doing something right! But seriously, folks… Fisher directed, as he did all but the third film in the series, and Peter Cushing returns as Baron Frankenstein, who puts the soul of a wrongfully executed youth into the voluptuous body of a formerly scarred beauty played by August 1966 Playmate of the Month Susan Denberg (née Dietlinde Zechner), who also starred in “Mudd’s Women” on the original Star Trek.

Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth; 1967): Hammer was still mucking about in those musty tombs to little effect with Gilling’s The Mummy’s Shroud (1967), but luckily that same year saw the third and most elaborate of their trilogy featuring Professor Bernard Quatermass (ably played here by Keir, reunited with Dracula—Prince of Darkness co-star Shelley). Kneale himself wrote the script, with excellent direction by Roy Ward Baker and James (The Bridge on the River Kwai) Donald inexplicably top-billed. The story, which predates and prefigures 2001: A Space Odyssey, postulates an “invasion by proxy” similar to that in Village of the Damned (also starring Shelley—what’s going on here?), in which Martians not only altered an evolving mankind five million years ago (hence the American title), but also are responsible for mankind’s collective image of the devil (hence the British title). It’s marred only by sporadically cheesy special effects.

Journey to the Unknown (1968-69): I have only seen scattered episodes (eight of which were cobbled together into four faux telefilms) of this short-lived anthology series co-produced by Hammer and Twentieth Century-Fox, utilizing Hammer directors old and new, e.g., Don Chaffey, Alan Gibson, Peter Sasdy. Needless to say, the one I’m most familiar with is “Girl of My Dreams,” faithfully based by Robert Bloch—who also adapted his own “The Indian Spirit Guide”—and Michael J. Bird on Matheson’s story. Unscrupulous Michael Callan (Mysterious Island) uses his wife’s precognitive dreams to extort money from folks who will pony up to avert a disaster. “Miss Belle” and “The New People” were based on stories by Matheson’s late friend, Charles Beaumont.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968): Directed by Francis, who hastily replaced Fisher when the latter broke his leg in a traffic accident, this is one of the better installments in Hammer’s series, and reportedly one of their most successful films ever. But the scene where Dracula pulls the stake out of his chest because the hero didn’t say the requisite prayers while staking him offended purists like myself. With the vivacious Veronica Carlson, who also joined Cushing for a rousing round of musical brains in Fisher’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).

The Devil Rides Out (1968): See “Bradley’s Hundred #21-30” (or, better yet, Richard Matheson on Screen).

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970): Still going every which way at once, Hammer churned out two more Sangster psycho-thrillers, Baker’s The Anniversary (1968) and Gibson’s Crescendo (1970); the Andress-less sequel The Vengeance of She (1968); and a reputedly crappy SF film, Moon Zero Two (1969), none of which I’ve seen. I did see The Lost Continent, their other 1968 Dennis Wheatley adaptation (following the far superior The Devil Rides Out), about which the less said the better. But they also continued to keep their hand in with Dracula entries like this one. Ralph Bates conspires with three debauched, hypocritical Victorian swine to resurrect the Count through bizarre means. The double whammy of Bates and Sasdy, one of Hammer’s more overrated latter-day directors, is painful, but James Bernard’s score is memorable.

To be continued.

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Continuing our idiosyncratic survey of some noteworthy Hammer films and related items.

The Snorkel (1958): Right around the time they began continuing the adventures of everybody’s favorite bloodthirsty Baron in Terence Fisher’s The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Hammer made this neat suspense film. Except for director Guy Green, the crew is pretty much the usual suspects right down the line. Ice-cold killer Peter Van Eyck (The Wages of Fear, The Longest Day, The Brain) knocks off his spouse in the opening scene, and then must cope with the suspicions of his step-daughter. The attractive and charming Betta St. John (Horror Hotel) co-stars. The title is the key to not one but two aspects of the murderer’s unusually clever m.o., and the ending is superb.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959): Fisher et al. tackle Sherlock Holmes, and the results are quite impressive. Peter Cushing is second only to Basil Rathbone as an outstanding screen Holmes (a role he later played in a BBC-TV series I’ve never seen), Andre Morell is a reasonably intelligent Watson for a change, and Christopher Lee is definitely an also-ran but welcome as always as the imperiled Baskerville heir. “Elementary, my dear Watson; there are no tarantulas in South Africa.”

The Mummy (1959): Fisher’s remake conflates several films in the Universal quasi-series (i.e., it actually involved two different mummies). Lee has little to do except get his tongue cut out before he’s bandaged up, and then stomp around strangling people, but Cushing is great as the archaeologist, particularly in the brilliantly-written scene where he deliberately baits Ananka-worshipper Mehmet Bey (George Pastel) to elicit some information. He’s so acerbic it’s hilarious.

Brides of Dracula (1960): Fisher’s non-Dracula Dracula movie. Cushing returns as Van Helsing, and the annoying David Peel plays Baron Meinster, an alleged “disciple” whose connection to ol’ Vlad is never elaborated, despite the title, although there are a lot of fetching young women flitting about, with and without fangs as the story progresses. It’s not bad, considering Lee didn’t come back to the role of the thirsty Count for six more years, but his absence is keenly felt. Nice climax.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (aka Never Take Candy from a Stranger; 1960): Offbeat effort about child molestation, photographed by future Hammer director Freddie Francis. I’ve only seen this once, and don’t remember it well, except that its treatment of the subject is mature and tasteful.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (aka House of Fright; 1960): Fisher’s version of the R.L. Stevenson classic has Lee…in a supporting role. He had to wait until the lamentable Amicus film I, Monster to get a shot at the dual role himself, and it’s a shame, because this cries out for a real star like Lee instead of Paul Massie (who he?), while that film gave it to him but just wasn’t very good. Lee also had a supporting role in Taste of Fear (aka Scream of Fear; 1961), Hammer’s first psycho-thriller.

Curse of the Werewolf (1961): Hammer had less luck with werewolves than with Dracula and Baron Frankenstein, or even mummies; in fact, Fisher’s film, adapted from Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris by screenwriter John Elder (aka producer Anthony Hinds), is their only stab at lycanthropic legends. It’s a bit slow, but features the handsome young Oliver Reed in the title role.

The Shadow of the Cat (1961): Both star Barbara Shelley and writer George Baxt told me director John Gilling was a real pill to work with on this fun film about a group of people who kill an old lady for her inheritance, and then go nuts trying to kill off the black cat who knows they are guilty.

Captain Clegg (aka Night Creatures, Dr. Syn; 1962): Cushing stars as a clergyman who doubles as the masked leader of a band of British smugglers in this version of the same spooky story filmed by Disney with the late, great Patrick McGoohan in the title role of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962): As with Dracula, some say this version is the most faithful to Gaston Leroux’s lousy novel, but don’t you believe it. In fact, “Elder’s” script not only transposes the story to London, but also conflates and subverts its traditional set pieces of the unmasking and the falling chandelier in an offbeat ending. With Herbert Lom as the composer betrayed á là Claude Rains in the 1943 version, Heather Sears as the object of the exercise, the strangely underutilized Edward De Souza as the stalwart hero, Patrick (Dr. Who) Troughton as an ill-fated ratcatcher, and Michael Gough as the true villain, who oddly enough goes completely unpunished, except for having to look at the Phantom sans mask. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Fisher, who found himself wandering in the wilderness for two years after the film (a comparatively lavish one by Hammer’s frugal standards, and intended as a vehicle for Cary Grant, believe it or not) flopped.

The Damned (aka These Are the Damned; 1963): While churning out one-word-title post-Psycho thrillers like Michael Carreras’s Maniac (1963) and Francis’s Nightmare (1964), both written by Hammer mainstay Jimmy Sangster, the studio released this little-seen SF effort, which I believe had been filmed a couple of years earlier. Directed by blacklisted American expatriate Joseph Losey—previously bumped from X the Unknown—it stars Alexander Knox (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as a scientist who creates a group of irradiated children intended to survive a possible nuclear war. Macdonald Carey (Shadow of a Doubt), Shirley Anne Field, Reed, and Viveca Lindfors also star.

Paranoiac (1964): Reuniting the Francis/Sangster team, this stars the then-ubiquitous Reed as an unstable young man who is more than mildly discomfited when his dead brother reappears. All is, of course, not what it seems here… Janette Scott (The Day of the Triffids) is the lovely leading lady.

The Gorgon (1964): In 1964, Hammer was temporarily floundering with the more traditional movie monsters in the likes of Carreras’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, which sounds like another Universal rehash but has no connection with their earlier The Mummy, and The Evil of Frankenstein, with Francis directing Cushing but, by his own admission, not really engaged. Luckily, Fisher returned to the fold with this minor but worthwhile effort co-written by Gilling and featuring the powerhouse team of Lee and Cushing. Shelley plays the titular mythological villainess who turns folks to stone, which is supposed to be a surprise (sorry, spoiler) but, trust me, is decidedly obvious.

To be continued.

Addendum:  Coincidentally, four of the films in this installment have just been released on DVD as part of Sony’s “Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films” collection. I can’t vouch for the set itself, which I have yet to see, but The Snorkel, Never Take Sweets [aka Candy] from a Stranger, and [These Are] The Damned are all eminently worthy of your attention. The other titles are The Full Treatment (aka Stop Me Before I Kill!), Cash on Demand—a crime thriller with Cushing that I’d love to see—and Maniac.

To be continued.

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Don’t be fooled by the fact that only one of their movies made it into the B100 (see “My Filmic Valentine”)—I love Hammer. It’s just that with so many to choose from, it was hard to single out any favorites; I own at least fifty of them in various home-video formats, so that should speak for itself. Interestingly, when I was a wee bairn and a die-hard fan of Universal Horror, I had a vituperative bias against Hammer, and couldn’t figure out where these pretenders from across the Pond got off remaking our beloved Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney classics.

Well, live and learn: by the time I befriended my future spouse in high school, where we drove our poor music teacher nuts by chatting away during choir, Hammer was a big part of our common ground. Since Loreen loves vampire movies in general and Christopher Lee’s interpretation of Dracula in particular (this is, after all, a woman whose favorite film is Dracula—Prince of Darkness), we had lots to talk about there. We even ended up appearing in supporting roles in a junior-year production of Dracula, which marked my stage debut, and was no doubt inspired by the success of the then-recent Broadway revival with Frank Langella.

For anyone unfamiliar with the canon, England’s Hammer Films, Ltd., revived Gothic horror in the late 1950s with adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula (just as Universal had initiated the Golden Age in 1931). For twenty years, they dominated the genre with a familial team including actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, directors Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis, screenwriters Jimmy Sangster and John Elder (aka producer Anthony Hinds), cinematographers Jack Asher and Arthur Grant, makeup artists Phil Leakey and Roy Ashton, composer James Bernard, and production designer Bernard Robinson, whose work belied his tight budgets.

Although the studio dabbled in genres such as science fiction, costume dramas, and comedies, Hammer Horror was its best-known output, most notably with long-running series featuring Lee’s Count Dracula and Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein. They also reinterpreted other venerable literary and cinematic properties, including The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and The Phantom of the Opera, all in color with then-shocking doses of gore and, later, nudity. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, many of Hammer’s personnel (e.g., Lee, Cushing, Francis, and director Roy Ward Baker) were routinely borrowed by a British competitor, Amicus Productions, albeit with less success.

What follows is a typically idiosyncratic survey of some noteworthy efforts and related items.

The Quatermass Xperiment (aka The Quatermass Experiment, The Creeping Unknown; 1955): After years of making mostly mysteries and other thrillers, Hammer dipped its toe into SF waters with two 1953 films directed by Fisher: Four Sided Triangle, which in some ways formed a template for The Curse of Frankenstein, and Spaceways, based on the radio play by Charles Eric Maine. The studio had its first big hit in the same genre with this seminal film, adapted by Richard Landau and director Val Guest from Nigel Kneale’s eponymous BBC-TV serial, with the spelling of its title slightly altered to emphasize its X rating (then used for horrific films in England). Allegedly red meat for U.S. viewers, Brian Donlevy is single-minded and driven as Professor Bernard Quatermass, whose remote-control rocket comes back to Earth minus two of its three astronauts but plus an alien organism that gradually turns the third (Richard Wordsworth) into, well, a creeping unknown. Indeed, Quatermass can be seen as a modern-day dry run for Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, just as the popularity of Wordsworth’s “human monster” helped lead to Curse. Admittedly, the special effects in the climactic scene in Westminster Abbey are cheesy beyond description, but the beauty of it is that the ideas transcend the limits of the budget. Kneale (recently profiled here) wrote three sequels, two of which were also filmed by Hammer.

Quatermass 2 (aka Enemy from Space; 1957): Intended as a sequel to the above, X the Unknown (1956) suffered from two big problems: first, Kneale denied permission for the use of the Quatermass character, forcing screenwriter Jimmy Sangster to transform him into Dr. Adam Royston (Dean Jagger), and second, Jagger reportedly refused to work with blacklisted director Joseph Losey, resulting in the latter’s replacement with Leslie Norman. Not surprisingly, Sangster’s tale of a radioactive blob was less successful, but Hammer got right back on track with this big-screen version of Kneale’s second Quatermass serial. It reunited Donlevy and writer-director Guest, but this time Kneale got to co-write the script, a riveting tale of an alien takeover.

The Abominable Snowman [of the Himalayas] (1957): Like the first two Quatermass films, this was directed by Guest and based on a BBC-TV script (entitled The Creature) by Kneale, who this time had sole screenwriting credit. Once again, it transcends its limited budget—despite some effective exteriors—with the power of its ideas. Peter Cushing (repeating his TV role) and Forrest Tucker of F Troop infamy star as, respectively, an idealistic scientist and an unscrupulous entrepreneur who seek the titular Yeti.

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957): More than any other single movie, this began a twenty-year renaissance in the fantasy film genre. Jimmy Sangster’s script bears very little resemblance to the book by Mary Shelley, but with Fisher’s excellent direction and the star power of Cushing, Christopher Lee as the Creature (whose makeup was drastically different from Universal’s copyrighted version), and heavenly Hazel Court as Elizabeth, you won’t hear me complaining a bit.

Dracula (aka Horror of Dracula; 1958): The success of this and The Curse of Frankenstein really kicked off the Hammer revolution. Lee instantly became one of the screen’s greatest Draculas, although I’ll always consider Lugosi definitive, and the athletic Cushing is a far cry from wizened old Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. Featuring a radically revisionist script (don’t let Phil Hardy or anyone else tell you differently) in which Harker is vampirized, a slam-bang climax expertly orchestrated by Fisher, and a splendid score by James Bernard, whose main theme was reused in the many sequels.

Tales of Frankenstein (1958): “The Face in the Tombstone Mirror” was the shelved pilot for an abortive series to be co-produced by Hammer and Columbia’s Screen Gems television arm, with Anton Diffring (Where Eagles Dare) as Baron Frankenstein (a series with the Baron as a continuing character? Nah, no chance!), directed and co-written by Curt Siodmak. It’s a bit of a shock seeing in black and white what looks like a typical Hammer production in every other way, even if Diffring lacks Cushing’s charisma as the Baron. Interestingly, he also pinch-hit for Pete the following year when Cushing turned down the lead in Hammer’s The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), a remake of Paramount’s The Man in Half Moon Street (1945). This is otherwise a respectable, if familiar, effort, with Big Don Megowan stumping around in Karloffian makeup as an uninteresting Monster.

To be continued.

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