Oh No SHE Didn’t!! (MGM/Hammer 1965)

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…didn’t manage to keep me awake, that is! That’s right, I actually dozed off in the middle of SHE for a good fifteen minutes! This so-called adventure film, a remake of the rousing 1935 Merian C. Cooper production starring Helen Gahagan and Randolph Scott, is based on a novel by H. Rider Haggard, a pretty big-deal adventure novelist back in the day, who also wrote the novels KING SOLOMAN’S MINES and ALLAN QUARTERMAIN. The ’35 version was filled with sumptuous Art Deco sets and a dynamic score by Max Steiner, and proved popular with moviegoers of the day.

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But the times, they do a-change, and so do tastes. Hammer Films decided to do this remake thirty years later, with Ursula Andress in the title role. ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. caveman John Richardson plays Leo Vincey, who’s the spitting image of Queen Ayesha’s long-lost love Kallilkrates. Hammer’s top tag-team Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are in the cast, as is British comic actor Bernard Cribbins. An exciting story, a top-notch cast… what could go wrong?

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Well, to put it simply, the whole thing’s boring, with no chemistry at all between sexy Ursula and stiff John. Maybe he’d spent too much time in the stone age, I don’t know, but they just don’t click. Cushing and Lee are good as always, though the sight of Cushing boogieing with belly dancers in the opening scene is unintentionally funny. Lee has his moments as Ursula’s high priest, but they’re few and far between. The film just felt hopelessly outdated, and dragged on and on. Zzzzz…

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How boring was it? Well, I woke up in time to catch the final twenty minutes or so, hoping for a rousing finale. It wasn’t… I should’ve stayed asleep! And this was in the middle of the day, mind you, not during some late night movie marathon. Surprisingly to me, SHE was a box office hit, and Hammer actually made a 1968 sequel starring Richardson and the immortal Olga Berova, which tanked (I tried watching it and ended up turning off the TV).  So my recommendation is you watch the older version and skip this comic book nonsense. And not even a good comic book, mind you… I’m talking like Charlton or *gasp* Gold Key!

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Halloween Havoc!: Christopher Lee in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (Hammer/Warner Brothers 1968)

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“You just can’t keep a good man down” states the  poster’s tagline for 1968’s DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE, and how right they were! This fourth entry in Hammer’s Dracula series (and third with Christopher Lee as the Count…1960’s BRIDES OF DRACULA had Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing battling a different bloodsucker) takes up where DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS left off. Dracula’s still buried under the ice, but the villagers are still fearful of living in “the shadow of evil” cast by Castle Dracula. Monsignor Muller (Rupert Davies) rides into town, berating the citizens for not attending church, and their priest (Ewan Hooper) for letting them. The Monsignor and the reluctant priest trek up to Castle Dracula to perform an exorcism of the evil, but the cowardly priest won’t go all the way up. While Monsignor performs the Latin rites, bolting the castle door with a golden cross, the priest (who remains nameless, by the way) tumbles downhill to the frozen water, cracking the ice. Blood dripping from his forehead makes contact with the dead vampire’s lips and…Dracula lives!

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Dracula demands to know who put the cross upon his unholy castle. The priest, now under the Count’s command, is forced to tell him, and Drac and his new minion head out to Klienenberg, where the monsignor lives with his sister Anna (Marion Mathie) and her beautiful daughter Maria (the beautiful Veronica Carlson). Maria’s boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) is an atheist, which doesn’t sit well with the Monsignor.  Dracula originally planned to turn his wrath on Monsignor Muller, but when he discovers there’s a beautiful niece, his vengeance takes a different, more sinister, route.

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Freddie Francis directed this outing, taking the reigns from Terence Fisher. Francis was a distinguished cinematographer (ROOM AT THE TOP, THE INNOCENTS) whose horror credits include DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, THE SKULL, TORTURE GARDEN, the truly twisted GIRLY, and TALES FROM THE CRYPT (he’s also responsible for the abysmal Trog, but hey, let’s cut the guy some slack). Francis’s DP on this film, Arthur Grant, used some special lenses to give the scenes with Dracula a colored spectrum around the edges, adding a nightmarish quality. Francis, who died in 2007, won Academy Awards for his cinematography on SONS AND LOVERS (1960) and 1989’s GLORY.

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Hammer Films were getting a bit more randy by this time, with Carlson and Barbara Ewing (barmaid Zena) showing plenty of cleavage. The blood quotient went up, too, especially in the finale with Dracula ending up impaled on that huge golden cross. Christopher Lee was crueler than ever as The Count, snarling out what few lines he had. Lee’s beastial interpretation set the standard for vampires to come, for better or worse. Sporting those bloodshot eyes, imposing his will on the weak, Christopher Lee has a field day in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. Would he return from the dead in yet another sequel? Like the tagline says, “You just can’t keep a good man down”!

Halloween Havoc!: Christopher Lee in DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (Hammer/Warner Brothers. 1966)

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Christopher Lee returns to the role of the undead Count in this direct sequel to Horror of Dracula. The movie even begins with that film’s climactic battle between Dracula and his arch-nemesis Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing, who also played Hammer’s Dr. Frankenstein). DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS takes place ten years later, and while not as good as the original, it does have some scary moments.

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Four English tourists are traveling through the Carpathian Mountains, heading to Carlsbad. Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) warns then to steer clear of “the castle”. Their coach driver refuses to take them any further when darkness begins to fall, leaving them stranded. A riderless horse and carriage appears out of nowhere, and they commandeer it to travel the rest of the way. But the horses instead take them straight to the forbidden castle. The door has been left open, and they find a table for four awaiting them. Helen (Barbara Shelley) has an ominous feeling about the place. She screams when she sees a creepy, gaunt figure enter the room. He states his name is Klove (Phillip Latham) and his  Master has left instructions to serve all weary travelers. When the quartet ask if the Master will be joining them for dinner, Klove intones, “He’s dead….his name was Count Dracula.”

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Now the fun really begins, as Helen’s husband Alan (Frances Matthews) snoops around at night, discovering a secret crypt room. Klove murders him and hangs him by his feet, adds ashes to the sepultcher, then slits Alan’s throat. The blood comingles with the ashes, and Count Dracula is reanimated! Klove leads Helen to Alan’s body, where Dracula is waiting. Sporting a pair of blood-shot eyes, he puts the bite on Helen. The other couple, Charles and Diana (no, not THAT Charles and Diana!) manage to escape by brandishing crosses.

Charles and Diana (Charles Tingwell, Suzan Farmer) come across Father Sandor in the woods, who takes them to his monestary. The good Father recounts the legend of Count Dracula to the frightened couple, and introduces then to Ludwig (Thorley Waters), a seemingly harmless former victim of the Count. Ludwig likes to eat flies (shades of Dwight Frye!). Things begin to heat up when Dracula and Klove arrive at the monestary and, with the aid of Ludwig, kidnap Diana. Charles and Father Sandor trek to Castle Dracula to hunt the fiend down, in a unique ending involving “running water” (one of the many ways to stop a vampire, according to legend…in this movie, anyway).

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It is said the reason Lee remains mute during DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKENESS is because he thought the dialogue sucked (yes, pun intended). I didn’t find the rest of the cast’s dialogue too bad, so I wonder just what the problem was all about. Even mute, Lee is an imposing Count, commanding attention in every scene he’s in. Barbara Shelley (VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED) makes a damned good vampire herself, while Phillpi Latham as Klove is appropriately creepy. The movie’s definitely got atmosphere, but it wasn’t sufficiently gory enough for me. DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS is a minor entry in the Lee/Hammer canon, but worth a look nevertheless. Especially during this Halloween season!

Gods of the Hammer Films 3: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and THE MUMMY (1959)

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(third in a series)

The gang’s all here in 1959’s THE MUMMY – Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, director Terence Fisher, writer Jimmy Sangster – but the result is far different than CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF DRACULA. Based on Universal’s 40s Mummy series, not the 1932 Karloff classic, THE MUMMY is as slow moving as…well, as a mummy! Try as they may, the film suffers from budget constrictions and a poor script. Definitely not one of Hammer’s shining moments.

It’s 1895, and the Banning family (father Steve, son John, uncle Joe) are on an archeological expedition in Egypt when they stumble upon the tomb of Princess Ananka. Father finds the sacred Scroll of Life and, upon reading it, is driven mad by the sight of mummy Kharis (Christopher Lee) returning to life. Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), servant of the great god Karnak, vows vengeance on those who’ve dared to desecrate the tomb.

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Three years later, in jolly old England, John (Peter Cushing) visits his dad in the sanitarium. Dad warns him of the curse of Karnak, but the son doesn’t believe him. Bey has ventured to England, and hired a pair of drunkards to transport some “relics” to his new abode. The relics in question contain the mummified remains of Kharis. When they pass by the sanitarium, Dad senses Kharis’ presence, smashing his windows, and the spooked drunks lose their cargo in a swamp. Bey goes to the swamp and using the Scroll of Life (no tanna leaves necessary), revives the mummy and sends him to kill the infidel.

John and Uncle Joe discuss the legend of Ananka and Kharis (in a flashback sequence to 2000 BC). They’re interrupted by Kharis, who throttles Joe. John shoots the monster but bullets don’t affect it. The police inspector (Edd Byrne) doesn’t believe John’s story, and neither does John’s wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), who of course is a dead ringer for dead Ananka. Kharis returns to kill John, but is stopped in its tracks when it gets a load of Isobel.

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The inspector does some investigating, and comes around to John’s way of thinking. He warns John not to try anything rash, so naturally John pays a visit to his new Egyptian neighbor. Bey thought John was dead, but plays it cool. The two have an interesting debate abut religious beliefs, with John goading the foreigner about the “third-rate god” Karnak. Later, Bey leads Kharis back to the Banning home, and the mummy chokes John until Isobel interrupts again. Furious Bey commands Kharis to kill Isobel, but the mummy turns on its master, killing Bey and carrying Isobel off to the swamp. John and the police pursue them and the good guys finally win the day.

I can’t really fault the cast and crew for the failure of THE MUMMY. The Universal Mummy saga just isn’t on a par with the source material from previous Hammers (Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Arthur Conan Doyle). The “comic relief” drunkards make me long for Wallace Ford (Babe in the originals). Hammer’s Mummy movies, unlike their Frankenstein and Dracula series, were few and far between (1964’s CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, 1967’s THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, 1971’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB). And also unlike the other series, there’s no continuity from one film to the next. Different movies, different mummies. Hammer did much better with their undead Count and mad Doctor Frankenstein. They should’ve let THE MUMMY stay in its tomb.

GODS OF THE HAMMER FILMS 2: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958)

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(second of a series)

Hammer Films Ltd. knew they were on to something with the release of 1957’s THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. The Gothic horror was box office gold on both sides of the Atlantic, and Hammer wasted no time finding a follow up. Reuniting CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN costars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee with director Terence Fisher, the company set its sights on giving the full Eastmancolor treatment to Bram Stoker’s immortal Count Dracula.

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Gods of the Hammer Films: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)

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When Britain’s Hammer Films began in the early 1930’s they were just another movie production company. After finding some success with the 1955 sci-fi adaptation THE QUARTERMASS EXPERIMENT, they chose to make a Gothic horror based on Mary Shelley’s classic 1818 novel about a man obsessed with creating artificial life. FRANKENSTEIN had been filmed many times before, most notably Universal’s 1931 version that brought eternal fame to Boris Karloff. This time however, the producers shot in vibrant color, with blood and body parts on gory display. Tame stuff compared to today’s anything goes horrors, but in the fifties it was considered quite shocking.

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee had appeared in two films before, Lawrence Olivier’s 1948 HAMLET and John Huston’s 1952 MOULIN ROUGE, though not as a team. Once CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was unleashed upon the public, they were paired another nineteen times, making Cushing and Lee terror’s all-time tandem. HORROR OF DRACULA came next, with Lee as the Immortal Count and Cushing his nemesis, Van Helsing. There followed THE MUMMY, THE GORGON, DR TEROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, HORROR EXPRESS, and their final film together, 1983’s HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, with fellow horror icons Vincent Price and John Carradine. But it was THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN that started it all off, one of the best fright films of all time.

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Giant Lizards and Fur Bikinis: ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1966)

raquelJURRASIC WORLD and its CGI dinosaurs have stomped their way to box office domination this year, raking in over five hundred million dollars (and counting). The youth market just eats up those computer generated special effects. But for my money, you just can’t beat the prehistoric hijinks of Hammer Films’ 1966 ONE MILLION YEARS BC. Two reasons: Ray Harryhausen and Raquel Welch.

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