She (1965)


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This Hammer adaptation of the Rider Haggard novel works because it takes it seriously and never really slides into camp territory, which the material always threatened. The performances are dedicated, Ursula Andress is so extremely beautiful and the narrative is well handled by screenwriter David T. Chantler.  Robert Day makes sure the archaeologists Major Holly (Peter Cushing) and Leo Vincey (John Richardson) the reincarnated love interest and their valet Job (Bernard Cribbins) are credibly established to include their initial scepticism about a lost Pharaonic city. The saga of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed is ultimately a tragic tale of romance, culminating in horrible self-sacrifice and immolation. Andress was re-voiced by Nikki Van der Zyl who did a lot of voiceovers for Bond girls and wound up becoming a lawyer and a painter. It was shot in Israel (which leads to a dialogue gaffe…) The handsome Richardson would be Raquel Welch’s co-star in the following year’s One Million Years BC and he was briefly considered to replace Sean Connery as Bond.  He gave up a long career in Italian films to become a photographer.  This was a huge hit back in the day and perfect entertainment for a rainy weekend afternoon.


The Devil Rides Out (1968)

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London 1929. When the Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) arrives with his friend Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) at the home of his protege Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) for a party he realises at once the young man is involved in devil worship and tries to extricate him from the clutches of the cult led by Mocata (Charles Gray). The other initiate Tanith (Nike Arrighi) is the medium through whom Mocata works and is essential to the plan to bring out the Devil at a ceremony on Salisbury Plain.  In order to defend them, the Duc has to create a protective circle with his niece and her husband that involves Mocata conjuring the Angel of Death to draw out his influence and take the couple’s child as a channel for evil. Dennis Wheatley’s novel is brilliantly adapted by Richard Matheson, and the material as a whole is treated with the kind of seriousness which elevates it from melodrama into  dramatic allegory, a duel between good and evil. This may be the best ever Hammer and the best film by director Terence Fisher. Lee is fabulous as the one strongwilled man capable of testing the forces of destruction while all around him is weakness, scepticism and naivete.  So terrifying.

Prehistoric Women (1966)

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Aka Slave Girls. For a commentator like IQ Hunter, this offers a range of semiotic possibilities. For the rest of us, it’s straightforward trash, using the sets from Hammer’s One Million Years BC and pleasantly ridiculous though hardly as well loved. Great White Hunter Michael Latimer is looking for a leopard and stumbles across an ancient civilisation dedicated to a White Rhino. He falls for Edina Ronay, one of the blondes being held captive by the brunettes led by Martine Beswick, who chooses him as her mate but he thinks she’s too cruel. Everyone on set was aware of the story’s quality – Beswick said they had a lot of laughs while director Michael Carreras said all it needed was speech bubbles because it was perfect comic strip stuff. Camp as a caravan site.

The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

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A parody of the Shelley story from the Hammer crew, led by Jimmy Sangster. Ralph Bates is the beauteous amoral Victor while the wonderful Dennis Price loads up the bodies until he becomes a participant himself. The glorious women are the somewhat feral maid Kate O’Mara and the strikingly beautiful Veronica Carlson as the woman who shouldn’t. Played straight, but nobody told Kenneth Branagh that twenty+ years later!

The Witches (1966)

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A fascination with the occult is obviously what drives most of the Hammer output. This adaptation of the novel by Norah Lofts writing as Peter Curtis (and sitting accusingly on my bookshelf, for, oh, maybe 20 years at this point) by Nigel ‘Quatermass‘ Kneale, has a lot to recommend it. Not least is the leading actress, Joan Fontaine, in what would prove to be her last screen appearance, although there are those who swear Kay Walsh (once Mrs David Lean, the first of 4 in that role) is better. Anyhow, Fontaine is a schoolteacher who returns from a traumatising stint in Africa only to discover there’s a coven of the eponymous in a little English village where she has presumed upon a quiet life. There’s a fascinating supporting cast – Alec Cowen, Ingrid Boulting, Leonard Rossiter, Carmel McSharry, to name but some. Oh, that boy playing Ronnie is of course Martin Stephens, the little fiend from The Innocents. It was his final screen appearance – he went to Queen’s in Belfast and trained as an architect. A different time.

Captain Clegg (1962)

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One of those Hammer productions that is cleverer than you think on the level of story – Peter Cushing’s casting as the vicar in a village rumoured to be a centre for smuggling becomes more significant for the alert viewer as the narrative progresses. He turned down the lead role in Night of the Eagle for this. Captain Collier (Patrick Allen of the deep War of the Worlds voice…) is sent to investigate and is diverted by a group of locals including the son of the local squire, Oliver Reed in an early appearance, who is romancing the exotic barmaid, Yvonne Romain. Co-written by Anthony Hinds/John Elder, son of the Hammer co-founder until he was booted out to make way for Alfred Hitchcock’s old secretary/script assistant, Joan Harrison, and directed by Peter Graham Scott, who would probably be better known to some as a director of classic BBC series, The Onedin Line.

Scars of Dracula (1970)

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The Dracula franchise was running out of steam and this was the last period episode in the Hammer series. Directed by a safe pair of hands in Roy Ward Baker, whose The Vampire Lovers was released just one month earlier, it was written by Anthony Hinds as John Elder, and he had exceptional form in the series’ history.  Hinds was a producer there for years (although he told his neighbours he was a hairdresser) and this is a competent, traditional spin on the old story. A man goes missing in the castle of the local vampire and his brother and new wife arrive to rescue him … It’s effective but hardly surprising except for the sight of Patrick Troughton as the vampire’s assistant, with Dennis Waterman and Jenny Hanley as the couple. Lee’s scars are quite horrible.

The Brides of Dracula (1960)

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This is one of the best Hammer Draculas in the series. Christopher Lee wouldn’t return so the satanic one was replaced with David Peel as Baron Meister, whose own mother (Martita Hunt – ie Miss Havisham!) hasn’t laid eyes on him in years and keeps him locked up for the good of the neighbourhood… when in walks Yvonne Monlaur on her way to start teaching at a local academy, misunderstands the nature of his ‘illness’, sets him free, and all hell breaks loose. Until a certain Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) shows up to teach them all a lesson. Deftly scripted by Jimmy Sangster with some apparent on-set adjustments made by Terence Fisher, this is pure, unadulterated, sharp genre filmmaking. Great stuff.

The Lost Continent (1968)

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A crazy interpretation of Dennis Wheatley’s Uncharted Waters in which a freighter en route to South America with a motley crew and assorted guests fuss and fight and mutiny and then get lost in the Sargasso Sea with man-eating seaweed and wind up on an island run by the descendants of failed conquistadors. Eric Porter was better known for The Forsyte Saga and he is joined by some familiar faces. Gifted director Michael Carreras never did enough since he was a famously handy producer and he was allegedly assisted here by Leslie Norman. Great fun. And seriously strange even for Hammer. Definitely a film of two halves.