Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Reptile

A diamond in the rough, The Reptile was afforded even less of a budget than Plague of the Zombies, the film it was shot back to back with in 1966, but over the years the film has become a cult item among Hammer fans, the fine performances, engaging screenplay and a strong visual sensilbiliy mark this as one of Hammer's stronger horrors of the 60's.

A newly wed couple arrive in a small town in Cornwall in less than happy circumstances. The husband, Harry Spaulding has inherited a cottage after the mysterious death of his brother, due to what locals call the "black death". Unconvinced Spaulding along with the villiage publican Tom (played by Hammer regurlar Michael Ripper) investigate the recent fatalities which leads to an encounter with a snake woman with cobra-like fangs and a deadly venoumous bite... Any discussion on The Reptile inevitably gets round to the thorny issue of the make-up design for the creature, which tends to polarise Hammer fans. Admittedly, FX artist Roy Ashton’s work is modest, but hardly disastrous as some have decided. On paper, the creature with its bug-eyes and paper mache scales doesn’t bear much scrutiny, but when seen in the film, is far more effective, director John Gilling restricting the creature to 2 or 3 scenes. Ken Russell must have been impressed; the creature has a definite resemblance to Amanda Donohoe's vampire from Lair of the White Worm, a film which takes an affectionate nod towards a very British picture that is Hammer Horror.

As with Plague of the Zombies, John Gilling displays a keen sense of the macabre, and the film is punctuated with little moments that chill the bone, like a shot of the reptile writhing underneath a blanket, or in a scene where the reptile's discarded skin is discovered. If Zombies was steeped in atmosphere, The Reptile is even more so, with Gilling pushing the visuals even harder than its companion piece. Another graveyard scene appears in The Reptile but ups the ante somewhat by having its intrepid investigators going about their grim business in pouring rain and soggy earth. For once the funereal gloom has more substance than mere visual dressing, and plays a significant part in the climax of the film. Tony Hinds’ intelligent screenplay is a statelier affair than Plague of the Zombies, and has a certain Stoker-esque quality; Anna’s transformation into a snake-woman is due to a curse placed upon her by her father’s dogged pursuit of a Borneo snake-worshipping cult, her suffering overseen by an ever watchful and sinister valet.

Jacqueline Pearce one of Hammer’s rare jewels steps out of the cast of Plague of the Zombies, to play the ill-fated Anna. Even under makeup, she’s terrific and brings a surprising poignancy to the role in the finale of the film, when she utters her only line as the reptile, after exposure to a sudden rush of cold Cornish air, ending the film on a strangely melancholic note. Look out for the scene where Anna taunts her father by playing some discordant notes on an oversized sitar – truly one of Hammer Cinema’s oddest moments. Also, among the cast is Michael Ripper, one the studio’s most beloved supporting players, here given one of his most substantial role, and is quite wonderful too.

Optimum's DVD of The Reptile is a weak effort. The 1.85 transfer looks okay in daytime scenes but as soon as the image becomes dark, a faint green tinge is noticable - playing around with your TV settings might help. The print used is rather faded too, the black levels are very shallow. Soundwise the disc is fine, but is completely bereft of extras. If you can find it for a decent price, the OOP US Anchor Bay disc features a superior image (but still somewhat lacking it must be said), a trailer and another episode of the World of Hammer series focusing on vampires...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A Temporary Derailment

I haven’t posted in a few days as I was hit with a virus on my PC last week and it has done quite a demolition job on the old girl. The upshot is I can't get online. The blog is still very much alive but until I get a new PC (next week I hope), the ‘Shores will be operating on a low level basis. I'll try to get the next Hammer rolled out in the meantime but it’s not easy using the PC here in work. So my advice is, keep your security up to date, stick to tried and trusted websites and don't talk to strangers...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Plague of the Zombies

One of Hammer's late night movie masterpieces, Plague of the Zombies, part of the studio's 1965 program of films, was shot back to back with The Reptile, both films designated as support features - Rasputin the Mad Monk played with The Reptile, while Dracula Prince of Darkness was paired with Plague of the Zombies, which has become the bona-fida classic of the quartet.

A village in Cornwall is stricken by a series of mysterious unexplained deaths. The local doctor seeks help from his former mentor Sir James Forbes, a distinguished scientist living in London. Answering the call, Sir James arrives at the village with his daughter Sylvia, and begins an investigation, uncovering a plot by the local squire Clive Hamilton to turn the townsfolk into zombies to work in his tin mines... The missing link between White Zombie and Zombie Flesh Eaters, John Gilling's Plague of the Zombies pleasingly returns Hammer to a strong horror footing after the slightly anaemic Rasputin the Mad Monk. As was the lot of the humble second feature, Plague of the Zombies was produced on the cheap but is something of a triumph of low budget film making, looking far more accomplished than many of Hammer's A-pictures. Much of the film's success is down to John Gilling's superb direction, the restless and often sensual camerawork giving the film a sense of grace and style. The film is often startling to look at with it's eerie ceremonial voodoo masks and decomposing zombies. The dream sequence set in the graveyard as the dead claw their way out of the earth is one of Hammer's most famous set pieces, with it's skewed camera angles and tendrils of fog, and one astonishing, surreal shot of a zombie's feet stepping into a pool of blood.

The frugal budget does cause the film to creak in places, like the sloppy day-for-night photography during a spot of nocturnal grave-watching, and the film's fiery climax is marred by some well padded zombie stuntmen shuffling about amongst the pyrotechnics (a similar fate befell the final sequence of City of the Living Dead). Thankfully these flaws melt away with the furious pace of the film and the fine performances. André Morell, taking a lead role after his previous Hammer outing, She (where he was dubbed and almost unrecognisable) is excellent as Sir James, while John Carson as the velvet smooth evil squire Hamilton makes for a worthy adversary (close your eyes and you would swear it was James Mason). Of the supporting cast, Brook Williams playing Sir James' protege Dr. Peter Thompson is embarrassingly wooden - the scene where he's told his wife is dead is a cringe-worthy moment of B-movie acting. But best of all is the ethereal Jacqueline Pearce playing the anguished doctor's wife - her performance has become a highpoint of the film and justifiably so. The scene where she transforms into a seductive living dead woman is one of the most beautifully grotesque moments in Hammer Cinema, her zombification by Hamilton lends the film a surprising undercurrent of necrophilia.

Optimum's DVD of Plague of the Zombies is generally very good. The 1.85 anamorphic transfer looks fine although the print used does seem a little tired and faded in places. It's a shame that Optimum didn't add a dark tint to the night scenes but if memory serves me right, the US Anchor Bay disc which has more punchy colors, is missing the night time tints as well. All in all, a good effort. The mono soundtrack sounds fine. The only extras are a stand-alone trailer and the double-feature trailer with Dracula Prince of Darkness. Needless to say the film comes highly recommended.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Rasputin the Mad Monk

1965 was a particularly hectic year for Hammer with no less than 6 films before the cameras. For the players and the production crews the pace was relentless - as soon as photography wrapped on Dracula Prince of Darkness, it was straight into Rasputin The Mad Monk, a bogeyman Hammer plucked straight out of the pages of history.

The film opens with Grigori Rasputin (played with great panache by Christopher Lee), a monk with miraculous healing powers, arriving at a tavern in a Russian village, where he cures a sick and dying woman, restoring her to full health. Afterwards, Rasputin is involved in a tussle with the villagers, leaving one of them with a severed hand. After his bishop casts him out of the order for his hedonistic behavior, Rusputin travels to St. Petersburgh to seek fame and fortune and indulge his enormous appetite for drink and sex. Word of Rasputin's mysterious power gets around, and the monk soon wins the confidence of the Tsarina, setting his sights on the throne of Russia itself... Raputin The Mad Monk is a curious film to say the least, a combination of historical biopic and Horror film that never really works on either level. The most common criticism levelled at the film is its fictionalized history of Rasputin and the final days of the Romanov dynasty. In fairness to Hammer, the film was intended to be an accurate portrayal but as soon as the film was announced, the studio was straight jacketed by representatives of Prince Felix Yusupov, one of the chief participants in Rasputin's murder, who promised legal action if Hammer's original screenplay was found to be contentious. The studio did not take the threat lightly - in 1933 Yusupov had successfully sued MGM for a scene in the film Rasputin and the Empress which implied Rasputin had raped Yusupov's wife.1 With this in mind, Hammer thread lightly and revised their screenplay in accordance with Yusupov wishes.

Yusupov's interference might have reduced The Mad Monk to an entry from Ripley's Believe It or Not! but it freed screenwriter Tony Hinds to accentuate the macabre elements of the story like Rasputin's strange hypnotic control over women, and the scenes where Rasputin retaliates against his enemies by chopping off a hand (when interrupted rolling in the hay with a tavern wench) and in another moment, flinging a vessel of corrosive acid in someone's face. Christopher Lee who was something of an authority on Rasputin is on fine form here, clearly delighted to discard the fangs and the cape, and cutting a tall and imposing figure - dark, devilish, at times playful, the character given an incredible presence by Lee's powerful baritone voice. If a certain visual blandness was evident in Dracula Prince of Darkness, it's even more obvious here - Hammer didn't have a Zhivago style budget at their disposal and it shows, with St. Petersburgh represented by a few market stalls and the odd instance of Cyrillic sign posting. There's an inevitable sense of deja vu, watching the film in close succession of Prince of Darkness - the redressed, recycled sets are a giveaway despite the best efforts of Hammer's art department, and both films feature the same core of actors. On balance though The Mad Monk is an enjoyable bit of nonsense and remains a strangely compelling, if minor Hammer film.

Rasputin the Mad Monk was shot in Cinemascope, but the Optimum DVD (as well as the US Anchor Bay disc) has scaled the aspect ratio back from 2.35 to around 2.10 - as with the widescreen process used for She, there was some curvature of the image at the edges of the frame, which now looks less severe on the DVD. The picture itself looks fine, with good detail and good brightness levels - apparently the previous UK DVD from Warners was rather dark. Audio is fine too, no problems here. Sadly the commentary track from the Anchor Bay disc was not included which is a shame as Christopher Lee points out where the film departed from the facts. Extras include a trailer which contains plenty of ballyhoo ("Now at the last the real shocking story can be told!!")

1. The law suit against MGM was a significant moment in Cinema, and saw the creation of the now familiar disclaimer: This motion picture is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Dracula Prince of Darkness

Despite the success of Dracula in 1958, Hammer's first direct sequel arrived belatedly in 1966. The studio had plans to make the sequel much sooner - Jimmy Sangster's screenplay, The Revenge of Dracula was drafted in 1958 but it proved unsatisfactory and the proposed film was put on hold. Following The Brides of Dracula, Sangster defected to Hammer's thriller division penning screenplays for A Taste of Fear, Paranoiac and The Nanny before returning to the Gothic fold under the pen name John Sansom with Dracula Prince of Darkness

Some 10 years have passed since Dracula's demise at the hands of Van Helsing. Two English couples holidaying in Germany are lured to Castle Dracula, now empty except for Ludwig, the sinister servant of the Count, who offers the unwitting couples the use of the castle. Later that night, Ludwig slits the throat of one of the men, mixing his blood with the ashes of Dracula, bringing his master back to life once again... So good was the original Dracula that any sequel would have its work cut out, and for the most part Prince of Darkness is a worthy follow up, despite some nagging flaws. A tall and regal Christopher Lee dons the cape once again and receives top billing but this time is afforded no lines whatsoever, supposedly because Lee found the dialogue so unutterable that he refused to speak it. Not so, as Sangster was firm in his belief that the Count was not one for chit-chat and the character remained silent. Terence Fisher was once again calling the shots (this his last Dracula picture), and for the first 40min or so the pace is leisurely, as preparations are made for Dracula's second coming. However once Dracula makes his entrance, Fisher returns to the furious pace of the original film for the exciting third act where the Count preys upon a monastery, headed up by Andrew Keir's wonderful cantankerous vampire-slaying abbot.

By 1965 Hammer had significantly stepped up production and there was a definite stretching of time and resources. Hammer was shooting films back to back, reusing sets and actors, and occasionally the studio's thrifty budgeting is evident in Prince of Darkness. Visually, the film has a certain drabness, the garish look of the original film is very much dampened down here, but in it's favor Fisher shot the film in 'scope1, the widescreen compositions giving the film a sense of space and breadth beyond it's budget. Undoubtedly the highlight of the film is Dracula's resurrection scene and the shot of actor Charles Tingwell hanging upside and bled like livestock, is still a powerful moment of Hammer sadism. One can imagine a young Clive Barker filing this regeneration sequence away for Hellraiser 20 years years later. The screenplay includes two ideas taken from the novel - a scene where Dracula makes an incision on his chest to allow Barbara Shelley to drink from, as well as a fly-eating Renfield stand-in who comes under the spell of the Count. Sangster's writing is good but it's a shame that Dracula, a creature whose reach can extend beyond the grave is so easily cornered and finished off in the climax.

Optimum's DVD of Dracula Prince of Darkness is one of the best discs in the boxset, featuring a solid 2.35 anamorphic transfer which sports good colors and a sharp detailed image which is a little grainy in places. The print is mostly in fine shape except for a very small bit of debris seen in the upper part of the image, which lasts about a minute. The mono soundtrack is good if unremarkable. Sadly, the superb extras from the US Anchor Bay disc - a commentary track, some 8mm footage shot on set and the 30 min World of Hammer episode, Dracula and the Undead have not been ported over but in its place is the most substantial extra included in the Optimum boxset, the 57-min 1996 documentary The Many Faces of Christopher Lee, in which the actor takes an affectionate stroll some of his most famous roles.

1. That the film was shot in widescreen posed a problem for the studio when the climax of Dracula was reprised at the beginning of Prince of Darkness. Because the original film was shot in a much tighter ratio, Hammer framed the sequence with a dreamy aura, filling in the edges of the screen with what looks like swirling Guinness. Pure genius.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Dracula (Terence Fisher, 1958)

The first Dracula film is just about the best thing I have ever done for Hammer and it still looks like a very successful film. Everything seemed to hang together for once during the shooting...
Terence Fisher

How times had changed. When Hammer's Dracula arrived in 1958, Todd Browning's 1931 film of Bram Stoker's novel, a seminal moment in Horror Cinema to be sure, creaked and groaned in comparison with Terence Fisher's fresh and exciting adaptation. A flagging Universal distributed the film in the US and regained significant ground with the substantial profits from the film, in return giving their British partners the rights to their roster of Horror properties. More Frankenstein and Dracula films would follow as well as The Curse of the Werewolf and The Phantom of the Opera. And the rest as they say, is Hammer history.

Christopher Lee has been famously critical of Hammer's approach to Stoker's novel, and while Jimmy Sanger's screenplay is less than faithful to the source material, a huge part of the film's success is the boldness of the adaptation, Hammer's condensing of the book (a practical decision to accommodate the limited funds available to the studio) simply makes for great cinema. Sangster juggles various ideas and episodes from Stoker's novel with some getting shelved away while other elements appear in altered form, like the marvellous moment where Jonathan Harker reveals his true intentions at Castle Dracula ("With God's help I will forever end this man's reign of terror"). Sangster also removed some of the more fantastic elements of Stoker novel, as in a scene where Peter Cushing's Van Helsing mentions that the vampire's ability to shape shift into a bat or wolf is pure fiction.

Terence Fisher's direction is as urgent as the opening lines delivered by Christopher Lee. Right from the credits overlaid against an eerie tracking shot around the entrance of Dracula's resting place, the film grabs the attention. An early draft of the screenplay had been submitted to the BBFC who nixed some of the more overtly sexual elements of Sangster's adaptation but Fisher remained determined to explore the Count's sexuality and the director still managed to import this aspect of the character into the film, albeit with sly subtlety - for instance, the scene set the morning following Mina's nocturnal visit from Dracula, actress Melissa Stribling gives a smile suggesting that her character has just enjoyed a night of great sex. This element of the film, the Count's lust for flesh as well as blood is Hammer's most significant contribution to Vampire Cinema and has reverberated through the mythology ever since.

Performances in the film are excellent across the board, but it's the two leads that steer the film towards greatness. Peter Cushing is tremendous as Professor Van Helsing with his impeccable manners and gracious style, while still able to roll up his shirt sleeves when the moment calls for it, like the climax of the film where Van Hellsing destroys the Count, diving off a table, clutching two candlesticks together in the shape of a crucifix. Christopher Lee, emerging out of the monster makeup of Curse of Frankenstein, is superb and once seen gliding down the staircase in the opening sequence becomes the quintessential Count Dracula (so much so that his absence from Brides of Dracula is sorely felt). Aside from a few lines in his entrance scene, Lee never speaks which actually works in the character's favour, making him even more sinister and otherworldly. It's only a shame that he has relatively little screen time.

Warner's 2002 DVD of Dracula (issued under the original US release title Horror of Dracula) is decent enough, the 1.78 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks sharp and colorful (which the screenshots I selected above don't do justice to), but is let down by some tight framing, lopping off some breathing space at the top of the picture - the film would probably look better at 1.66. At least the film is now fully uncut, with the shot of some bubbling gore when Lucy is staked, reinstated, and Dracula's disintegration scene is now completely intact. For the mono soundtrack, James Bernard's score can sound a little thinny and shrill but otherwise is absolutely fine and dialogue is clear. A theatrical trailer is offered as an extra. Considering the marvellous treatment Warners have bestowed upon the studio classics, like the stellar Blu-Ray editions of Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Searchers, it's scandalous that Hammer's masterpiece has been largely ignored.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Nanny

One of a handful of macabre films Bette Davis made in the 60's, The Nanny from 1965 is best approached as a suspense thriller in the vein of Shadow of a Doubt, rather than a full-blooded Hammer Horror. In the film, a 10 year old boy returns home from an institution for disturbed children where he was being treated for a breakdown following the death of his younger sister. In the two years that have passed, Joey has developed a hatred for middle-aged women which is now directed at the family nanny (played by Davis) who he claims murdered his sister and is now trying to kill him. Joey's accusations are dismissed as paranoid fantasy but behind the prim and proper persona of the nanny lies some dark secrets...

Shot simultaneously with Dracula Prince of Darkness (whose production was soaking up the bulk of Hammer's resources and talent), The Nanny was part of a line of cheaply made mystery thrillers which the studio produced alongside the more lavish Gothic films. Hammer had become something of a nuisance for the BBFC with their increasingly explicit Technicolor horrors, but the studio could prove equally adept at handling serious issues with discretion and subtlety, like child molestation (in the 1960 film Never Takes Sweets from a Stranger) or the dangers of psychological dependence and the dysfunctional family unit, explored in Jimmy Sangster's sensitive screenplay for The Nanny.

Unlike the barn-storming antics of later films like The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, The Nanny is a far more sedate affair, the film remaining on an ambiguous footing until the third act when the circumstances of the death of Joey's sister are finally teased out. Bette Davis, in the first of two pictures she made for Hammer turns in a perfectly judged performance, her English accent flawless and when the cause of her break from reality is fully revealed, she becomes a tragic figure, a world apart from the toxic bitch she played in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Davis is almost outgunned by her co-star, William Dix, extremely impressive as Joey, playing the kind of mature, intelligent and resourceful adolescent Stephen King would routinely write into his fiction.

Ultimately what impresses the most about the film is Seth Holt's precise direction which perfectly compliments Jimmy Sangster's thoughtful screenplay. The film is almost entirely set indoors but Holt still manages to make the film visually arresting with a combination of moody monochrome photography courtesy of Harry Waxman, and some striking camera angles - at times the apartment seems utterly enormous, as it would do seen from the perspective of a little boy. In some ways the film has a certain affinity with Repulsion1 - like Polanski's film, Holt's use of spacial disorientation gives The Nanny an almost hallucinatory quality and both films feature female protagonists whose sanity is being gradually eroded.

Optimum's DVD of The Nanny features a gorgeous 1.85 transfer that really showcases the film's luminous photography. The picture is crisp and sharp, struck from a fresh looking print. The mono audio is fine too. An audio commentary by Jimmy Sangster is the sole extra. Overall, a fine addition to the Hammer box.

1. Roman Polanski doesn't figure in the Hammer story except for a very brief moment when Polanski first arrived in London following the international success of his debut feature Knife In the Water. Polanski announced he was available for work, and calls were made to Hammer president James Carreras who passed on an opportunity to work with the Polish director. At the time Polanski was planning a film based on a 16-page screenplay entitled Lovelihead, which eventually mutated into Repulsion. Ironically, the director's 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers is often mistaken for a Hammer production.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


Hammer's 1965 release, She may not be ranked among the studio's finest efforts, but this romp through the pages of Henry Rider Haggard's famous 19th century novel remains a thoroughly enjoyable piece of Saturday afternoon fare. The story begins in Palestine in 1918, where two British officers Professor Holly (Peter Cushing) and Leo Vincey (John Richardson) along with Holly's valet Job (Bernard Cribbins) journey across the Desert of Lost Souls, through the Mountains of the Moon to the lost city of Kuma, ruled by immortal queen Ayesha (Ursula Andress). Ayesha belives that Vincy is the reincarnation of her former lover Kallikrates and intends to make him too an immortal and raise up a new Kingdom to rule once more...

Hammer's adaptation of Rider Haggard's novel was in fact the second pass at the story. Back in 1935 Merian C. Cooper had produced the film for RKO and crucially shifted the books African setting to the Arctic. Hammer bought the rights to the novel in 1962 but it would be some two years before it went into production. By the time the cast and crew had assembled in the desert in Southern Israel in August 1964, Hammer had ended it's relationship with Universal International (the film would be distributed by MGM in the US) and the screenplay had gone through a number of permutations, essentially diluting some of the grislier scenes in the novel. Still, the film is not without it's macabre moments, like a scene where some tribesmen are thrown into a pit of boiling lava, or a scene where High Priest Christopher Lee is praying to some mummified corpses.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the film is the mileage Hammer got out of the low-budget. Compared to other studios, this is an epic done on the cheap, and at times the film does look a little rough around the edges - literally so, the cheap anarmorphic lenses the film was shot with causing a fair degree of visual distortion at the edges of the frame, while the post-synced dialogue does tend to wander off at certain moments. But for the most part She looks very good. The desert locations lend the film a greater scope than a studio-bound film and the special effects are often surprisingly good - including some impressive matte shots (a Collossus of Rhoads type statue stands at the entrance of Kuma) and the final scene in the film where Ayesha bathes in the ice cold blue Flame of Eternal Youth is well executed with some elaborate camera trickery. Hammer composer James Bernard turns in one his most best scores, rousing, lush and romantic.

A large part of the film's success is down to the cast. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are marvelous of course. Cushing gets stuck into his role with admirable enthusiasm, whether he be dancing with belly-dancers or fending off some fearsome natives, while Christopher Lee brings a touch of melancholy to an otherwise sinister role as Billali, Ayesha's unsung adviser. There's excellent support too from Bernard Cribbins as the brave and world-weary Job, a role that doesn't lumber him him with the his usual comic-relief part. John Richardson is a little stiff playing the dashing man who would be king Leo Vincy, but Ursula Andress commands the film when she appears, truely an astonishing beauty. Incidentally, Andress is dubbed by the same voice over artist that dubbed her in her breakthrough film Dr. No.

Optimum's Ultimate Hammer Collection gets off to a bumpy start with She which suffers from a problematic transfer. The film was shot in 2.35 widescreen (or "Hammerscope" if you prefer) but as soon as the opening credits are done, the picture is cropped to 1.85. It might seem like a deal breaker but the compositions and the framing survive intact. The US Warners Archive DVD from 2009 preserves the OAR but the amount of distortion when the camera pans can be distracting. With the Optimim disc, the distortion is less obvious but can still be seen. Other than that, the picture exhibits a fair amount of noise, and the print is comparable to the one used for the Warners disc, with plenty of dirt, debris and scratches. It's entirely watchable, but this is a very average transfer at best. Thankfully, the audio fares better, the score sounding powerful and the dialogue clear. No extras are offered, not even a trailer.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Ultimate Hammer Collection (1965 - 1976)

Optimum's 21-disc Hammer boxset released in 2006 was a decidedly pricey package for what was on offer - 21 Hammer films which represented the very best and worst of the studio's Elstree years. For the causal fan the box was simply too expensive to pick up, while the hardcore Hammer disciple would have already owned the excellent Anchor Bay US editions. Not surprisingly the box fell in price and nowadays can be picked up relatively cheap for £30, a much more attractive proposition for anyone looking to begin a Hammer collection. While the Anchor Bay editions contained some very nice extras, the Optimum discs are more sparse, with only a handful of audio commentaries ported over from the US discs, as well as two documentaries - The Many Faces Of Christopher Lee (57min) (on the Dracula Prince of Darkness disc) and To The Devil... The Death Of Hammer (23min) (on the disc of To the Devil A Daughter). In the box's favour the transfers are generally strong and the roster of titles gives a good overview of the different styles and flavours Hammer experimented with during this era.

The boxset itself looks rather nice. Shaped like the Hellraiser cube, opening the lid and the front panel, the discs are housed in five digipak style "Books" - a nice economical storage solution and practical too - if you're storing the box on a shelf, the books can be pulled out quite easily without removing the box from the shelf and disturbing other DVDs standing along side it. The box also comes with a booklet, and some postcard sized reproductions of the British quad posters.

As with the Video Nasties series, the plan will be to review all 21 films in the set, in chronological order. Also, along the way I'll be looking at some other Hammer classics just to break up the list and make it a little more interesting.

01 - She (Dir. Robert Day, 1965)
02 - The Nanny (Dir. Seth Holt, 1965)
03 - Dracula, Prince Of Darkness (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1966)
04 - Rasputin, The Mad Monk (Dir. Don Sharp, 1966)
05 - Plague Of The Zombies (Dir. John Gilling, 1966)
06 - The Reptile (Dir. John Gilling, 1966)
07 - The Witches (Dir. Cyril Frankel, 1966)
08 - One Million Years BC (Dir. Don Chaffey, 1966)
09 - Viking Queen (Dir. Don Chaffey, 1967)
10 - Frankenstein Created Woman (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1967)
11 - Quatermass And The Pit (Dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1967)
12 - The Vengeance Of She (Dir. Cliff Owen, 1968)
13 - The Devil Rides Out (Dir. Terence Fisher, 1968)
14 - Prehistoric Women (Dir. Michael Carreras, 1966)
15 - The Scars of Dracula (Dir. Roy Ward Baker, 1970)
16 - The Horror Of Frankenstein (Dir. Jimmy Sangster, 1970)
17 - Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (Dir. Seth Holt, 1971)
18 - Straight On Til Morning (Dir. Peter Collinson, 1972)
19 - Fear In The Night (Dir. Jimmy Sangster, 1972)
20 - Demons Of The Mind (Dir. Peter Sykes, 1972)
21 - To The Devil A Daughter (Dir. Peter Sykes, 1976)

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

A Collection of Books about Cinema

The following list is the bulk of my collection of film books which I've reprinted here for anyone looking to pick up something to read over the winter. The list is a little scatter shot so I've divided it up into different sections to make it easier to navigate through. Film books tend to go out of print quite rapidly so if you've got your eye on a book, my advice would be pick it up sooner rather than later. Second hand book stores, Amazon Marketplace and eBay usually contain all sorts of film book treasure and they're well worth a visit. Each entry is kitted out with a link to Amazon, just out of convenience because everyone is familiar with the format and Amazon pages tend to have the most comprehensive information, as well as the very handy Look Inside feature and so on...

Hollywood, Studios and American Cinema
Japanese Cinema
Biographies Pt 1 - Directors (Hollywood, Classic Cinema)
Biographies Pt 2 - Directors (World Cinema)
Biographies Pt 3 - Directors (Cult Cinema)
Biographies Pt 4 - Actors, Producers
Cult Film Writing (Horror, Exploitation, Sci-fi)
Books about Individual films

Hollywood, Studios and American Cinema

CITY OF NETS : A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940's - Otto Friedrich Link!

DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES : Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film - Peter Biskind Link!

EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood – Peter Biskind Link!

HOLLYWOOD BABYLON : The Legendary Underground Classic of Hollywood's Darkest and Best Kept Secrets – Kenneth Anger Link!

HOLLYWOOD BABYLON 2 – Kenneth Anger Link!

INSIDE WARNER BROS. (1935 – 1951) - Rudy Behlmer Link!

TENDER COMRADES: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist - Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle Link!

UNIVERSAL HORRORS: The Studio's Classic Films, 1931-1946 - Tom Weaver Link!

THE GENIUS OF THE SYSTEM: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era - Thomas Shatz Link!

THE PARADE’S GONE BY - Kevin Browlow Link!

THE WHOLE EQUATION: A History of Hollywood - David Thomson Link!

"YOU AIN'T HEARD NOTHIN' YET": The American Talking Film History and Memory 1927-1949 – Andrew Sarris Link!

THE EGOS HAVE LANDED: The Rise and Fall of Palace Pictures - Angus Finney Link!

Japanese Cinema

A HUNDRED YEARS OF JAPANESE FILM: A Concise History, with a Selective Guide to DVDs and Videos - Donald Richie Link!

BEHIND THE PINK CURTAIN: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema - Jasper Sharp Link!

EROS IN HELL: Sex, Blood and Madness in Japanese Cinema - Jack Hunter Link!



Biographies Pt 1 - Directors (Hollywood, Classic Cinema)

D.W. GRIFFITH: An American Life - Richard Schickel Link!

CHAPLIN: His Life and Art - David Robinson Link!

CHARLES CHAPLIN: My Autobiography - Charlie Chaplin Link!

JAMES WHALE: A New World of Gods and Monsters - James Curtis Link!

SEARCHING FOR JOHN FORD: A Life - Joseph McBride Link!

ABOUT JOHN FORD – Lindsay Anderson Link!

THE DARK SIDE OF GENIUS: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock - Donald Spoto Link!

ALFRED HITCHCOCK: A Life in Darkness and Light - Patrick McGilligan Link!

HITCHCOCK'S NOTEBOOKS: An Authorized And Illustrated Look Inside The Creative Mind Of Alfred Hitchcock - Dan Auiler Link!


HITCHCOCK - Francois Truffaut, Helen G. Scott Link!

GEORGE CUKOR - A DOUBLE LIFE: A Biography of the Gentleman Director - Patrick McGillan Link!

FRANK CAPRA: The Castastrophe of Success - Joseph McBride Link!

HOWARD HAWKS: The Grey Fox of Hollywood - Todd McCarty Link!

CECIL B. DE MILLE: A Life In Art - Simon Louvish Link!

FRITZ LANG: The Nature of the Beast - Patrick McGilligan Link!

DAVID LEAN: A Biography - Kevin Brownlow Link!

A LIFE IN MOVIES - Michael Powell Link!

EMERIC PRESSBURGER: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter - Kevin Macdonald Link!

DESPITE THE SYSTEM : Orson Welles Versus the Hollywood Studios - Clinton Heylin Link!

THIS IS ORSON WELLES - Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich Link!

ORSON WELLES Vol.1: The Road to Xanadu - Simon Callow Link!

ORSON WELLES Vol.2: Hello Americans - Simon Callow Link!

SIRK ON SIRK: Interviews with Jon Halliday Link!

ON SUNSET BOULEVARD: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder Link!

KAZAN ON KAZAN - Elia Kazan, Jeff Young Link!

ELIA KAZAN: A Life - Elia Kazan Link!

NICHOLAS RAY: An American Life - Bernard Eisenschitz, Tom Milne Link!

A THIRD FACE: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking - Sam Fuller Link!

A SIEGEL FILM: An Autobiography - Don Siegel Link!

CASSAVETES ON CASSAVETES - John Cassavetes, Ray Carney Link!

STANLEY KUBRICK: A Biography - Vincent Lobrutto Link!

JOESPH LOSEY: A Revenge on Life - David Caute Link!

SAM PECKINPAH: If They Move...Kill 'em! - David Weddle Link!

SCORSESE ON SCORSESE – Martin Scorsese Link!

SCHRADER ON SCHRADER – Paul Schrader Link!

FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA: A Filmmaker's Life - Michael Schumacher Link!

COPPOLA: A Biography - Peter Cowie Link!

GEORGE LUCAS – John Baxter Link!

STEVEN SPIELBERG – Joseph McBride Link!

STONE: A Biography of Oliver Stone - James Riordan Link!


ALTMAN ON ALTMAN - David Thompson Link!


Biographies Pt 2 - Directors (World Cinema)
THE EMPEROR AND THE WOLF: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune - Stuart Galbraith Link!

INGMAR BERGMAN: A Critical Biography - Peter Cowie Link!

PASOLINI REQUIEM - Barth David Schwartz Link!

COCTEAU: A Biography - Francis Steegmuller Link!

JACQUES TATI: His Life and Art - David Bellos Link!

GODARD ON GODARD: Critical Writings by Jean-Luc Godard - Jean-Luc Godard Link!

EVERYTHING IS CINEMA: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard Link!

LETTERS – Jean Renoir Link!

LETTERS – Francois Truffaut Link!

FEDERICO FELLINI: His Life and Work - Tullio Kezich Link!

TIME WITHIN TIME: Diaries, 1970-86 - Andrei Tarkovsky Link!

SCULPTING IN TIME: Reflections on the Cinema - Andrei Tarkovsky Link!

TARKOVSKY: Nathan Dunne Link!

MALLE ON MALLE - Louis Malle, Philip French (Editor) Link!

KIESLOWSKI ON KIESLOWSKI - Krzysztof Kieslowski Link!

ROMAN BY POLANSKI - Roman Polanski Link!

SERGIO LEONE - Something to Do With Death - Christopher Frayling Link!

HERZOG ON HERZOG – Wener Herzog Link!

PAUL VERHOEVEN - Rob Van Scheers Link!

Biographies Pt 3 - Directors (Cult Cinema)

ALTERED STATES: The Autobiography of Ken Russell - Ken Russell Link!

DIRECTING FILM: The Directors Art from Script to Cutting Room - Ken Russell Link!


LYNCH ON LYNCH – David Lynch Link!

THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE PITTSBURGH: The Films of George A. Romero - Paul R. Gagne Link!

BROKEN MIRRORS/BROKEN MINDS: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento - Maitland McDonagh Link!

ART OF DARKNESS: The Cinema of Dario Argento - Chris John Gallant Link!


FANTASY FILM MEMORY: Directed By Dario Argento – John Martin Link!

BEYOND TERROR: The Films of Lucio Fulci - Stephen Thrower Link!

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST: And the Savage Cinema of Ruggero Deodato - Fenton, Grainger, Castoldi Link!

BIG BOSOMS AND SQUARE JAWS: The Biography of Russ Meyer - Jimmy McDonough Link!

A TASTE OF BLOOD: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis - Christopher Curry Link!

ABEL FERRARA: The Moral Vision - Brad Stevens Link!

DONALD CAMMELL: A Life on the Wild Side - Rebecca & Sam Umland Link!

GHASTLY ONE: The Sex Gore Netherworld of film maker Andy Milligan - Jimmy McDonongh Link!

IRON MAN: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto Link!

JACQUES TOUREUR: The Cinema of Nightfall - Chris Fujiwara Link!

MARIO BAVA: All the Colors of the Dark - Tim Lucas Link!

MAKING MISCHIEF: The Cult Films of Pete Walker - Steve Chibnall Link!

AGITATOR: The Cinema of Takashi Miike - Tom Mes Link!

DEREK JARMAN - Tony Peake Link!

Smiling In Slow Motion: Diaries, 1991-94 - Derek Jarman Link!

Dancing Ledge - Derek Jarman Link!

Kicking the Pricks - Derek Jarman Link!

DESPERATE VISIONS: The Films of John Waters & the Kuchar Brothers - Jack Stevenson Link!

SEX MURDER ART: The Films of Jorg Buttgereit - David Kerekes Link!

Biographies Pt 4 - Actors, Producers

SHOWMAN: The Life of David O. Selznick - David Thomson Link!

MEMO FROM DAVID O. SELZNICK : The Creation of "Gone with the Wind" and Other Motion Picture Classics, as Revealed in the Producer's Private Letters, Telegrams, Memorandums, and Autobiographical Remarks - David O. Selznick, Rudy Behlmer (Editor) Link!

LION OF HOLLYWOOD: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer - Scott Eyman Link!

SAM SPIEGEL - Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni Link!


MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields - Simon Louvish Link!

CHARLES LAUGHTON: A Difficult Actor - Simon Callow Link!

IN THE ARENA: An Autobiography - Charlton Heston Link!

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT - Michael Caine Link!

JOHN WAYNE : The Politics of Celebrity - Garry Wills Link!

BRANDO - Peter Manso Link!

STEVE MCQUEEN: Portrait of an American Rebel - Marshall Terrill Link!

KINSKI UNCUT: The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski Link!

BRUCE LEE: Fighting Spirit - Bruce Thomas Link!

IF CHINS COULD KILL: Confessions of a B Movie Actor - Bruce Campbell Link!

Cult Film Writing (Horror, Exploitation, Sci-fi)

THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR (The Overlook Film Encyclopedia Series) - Phil Hardy Link!

THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: SCIENCE FICTION (The Overlook Film Encyclopedia Series) - Phil Hardy Link!


NIGHTMARE USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents - Stephen Thrower Link!


SLEAZOID EXPRESS: A Mind-Twisting Tour Through the Grindhouse Cinema of Times Square - Bill Landis Link!

SLIMETIME: A Guide to Sleazy, Mindless Movies - Steven Puchalski Link!

NIGHTMARE MOVIES: A Critical Guide To Horror Films - Kim Newman Link!

KILLING FOR CULTURE: An Illustrated History of Death Film from Mondo to Snuff - David Kerekes Link!

LOST HIGHWAYS: An Ilustrated History of Road Movies - Jack Sargeant Link!

THE MONSTER SHOW: A Cultural History of Horror - David J. Skal Link!

FLESH AND BLOOD COMPENDIUM: Cinema and Video for Adults - Harvey Fenton Link!

BOOK OF THE DEAD: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema - Jamie Russell Link!

DVD DELIRIUM Vol 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 : The International Guide to Weird and Wonderful Films on DVD - Nathaniel Thompson Link!

EYEBALL COMPENDIUM: Sex & Horror, Art & Exploitation - Stephen Thrower Link!

SEE NO EVIL: Banned Films and Video Controversy - David Kerekes Link!

SHOCK! HORROR!: Astounding Artwork from the Video Nasty Era - Marc Morris Link!

THE ART OF THE NASTY - Marc Morris, Nigel Wingrove Link!

THE ART OF HAMMER: The Official Poster Collection From the Archive of Hammer Films - Marcus Hearn Link!

Books about Individual films

PICTURE - Lillian Ross Link!

THE DEVIL'S CANDY: The Bonfire of the Vanities Goes to Hollywood - Julie Salamon Link!

FINAL CUT: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists - Steven Bach Link!


CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES: The Complete History of Friday the 13th - Peter M. Bracke Link!


WILLIAM PETER BLATTY ON THE EXORCIST: From Novel To Film - William Peter Blatty Link!



2001: Filming the Future - Piers Bizony Link!

FUTURE NOIR: The Making of Blade Runner - Paul M. Sammon Link!

THE MAKING OF CASABLANCA: Bogart, Bergman, and World War II - Aljean Harmetz Link!

THE MAKING OF WIZARD OF OZ: Movie Magic and Studio Power in the Prime of MGM - Aljean Harmetz Link!

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD - Christian Sellers (Author), Gary Smart Link!

THE JAWS LOG - Carl Gottlieb Link!

INSIDE THE WICKER MAN: How Not to Make a Cult Classic - Allan Brown Link!

FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET: A Film Directed by Dario Argento - Luigi Cozzi Link!

In addition the list above, please head over to the highly recommended Shocks the the System blog where Jon has compiled his own list of essential books on Horror Cinema.