The Ultimate Hammer Horror Saga – Part 1

Notes from Andy in 2017 –

It all began with an impulse Amazon purchase…

Seriously though, if there was one thing that lit the Hallowfest flame for me, it was this feature I wrote between December 2012 and February 2013. It was my first experience reviewing a lot of movies in a short space of time, and it taught me valuable lessons about the time it takes to pull this kind of thing off.

I had been on a bit of a horror kick after Halloween week, and decided I needed to expand my “classic horror” collection. Never one to do anything by half, I bought The Ultimate Hammer Collection, a DVD selection of 21 movies made by Hammer between 1965 and 1975, and including some fantasy, some ‘historical’ movies, and of course, a healthy dose of horror. As I say below, the rundown was inspired by being completely unable to find even a list of the movies in the box.

As always, I am trying to present the features I wrote as originally written, however in this case there is one very important exception. The original reviews included a section called “Hammer Glamour” – an unfortunately sexist addition that added nothing to the reviews except a vaguely creepy and laddish air. After much debate, those sections have been removed wholesale, as they don’t represent the current ethos of me personally or of Hallowfest as a whole. I have also added years of release to the titles, because I have no idea why those weren’t there in the first place.

Part 1 was originally posted on the 5th December 2012
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A few weeks ago while doing my Christmas Shopping on Amazon (it’s not that I don’t like going shopping, it’s just there’s a lot of other people) and among all the things I bought for other people I bought this thing for me:

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…because what’s Christmas without a bit of low budget 60s and 70s film making, courtesy of Hammer?

The trouble was, before I bought it I had real trouble finding even a list of movies included in the box, let alone a comprehensive review. So here’s my new series, including everything you wanted to know about the movies in this box!

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The Ultimate Guide to The Ultimate Hammer Collection

Movie #1: She (1965)

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A fun fantasy romp in which Peter Cushing and two friends go in search of a lost city in somewhere that is either Egypt or Palestine after the First World War (it’s not exactly clear). This city also may or may not contain an immortal sorceress played by Ursula Andress who’s hell-bent on resurrecting her dead lover. And Christopher Lee may or may not be her High Priest.

Overall it’s very pretty to look at, and the costumes are amazing: almost like a very high budget episode of classic Doctor Who. Definitely worth a look.

Best Moment: The Village Elder has his daughter ‘returned’ to him. Mwa ha ha.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Christopher Lee’s collection of increasingly bizarre hats. They are glorious.

Bonus cameo: Hey look! It’s Bernard Cribbens!

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Movie #2: The Nanny (1965)

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Hammer’s last release in black and white stars Bette Davis as a kindly old Nanny who is mistreated by an obnoxious brat. What is his problem? She hasn’t done anything wrong…or has she?

Of course she has. This is Bette Davis we’re talking about.

This is one of the best non-traditional ones in the box by far, swapping the Hammer standards of lavish set design, sex appeal and gore in exchange for a tidy little psychological thriller. This is probably the least Hammer-y Hammer film in the set and probably worth watching even if you don’t like the rest of these (the DVD booklet describes it as ‘representing a bit of a departure’).

Best Moment: Can’t put the main one without spoiling the film, so I’ll just cheat and say any time Bette Davis is on screen. She’s that good.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The jerk kid’s father goes so far beyond disinterested and stern he becomes hilarious after about two minutes.

Bonus cameo: Bit of an obscure one, but Bond fans will recognize Auntie Penelope as Jill Bennett, the skating instructor from For Your Eyes Only.

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Movie #3: Dracula, Prince Of Darkness (1966)

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In full, glorious color, mostly red, and featuring Christopher Lee as the iconic Count, you can’t beat this. Those three things I listed as Hammer standards in The Nanny review above? Yes, yes and hell yes.

Subbing for an absent Van Helsing this time is Andrew Keir as Father Sandor, an awesome, booming presence who is a worthy opponent for the evil Count. This is actually the third in Hammer’s Dracula series, and the second with the Lee, but as he always dies at the end it doesn’t really matter where you jump in (and people complain about endless Friday the 13th sequels).

My only criticism, and it is a small one, is that Lee doesn’t actually speak, but in many ways he doesn’t need to, he’s intimidating as heck just standing. Apparently his lines were so bad he refused to say them.

Best Moment: Undoubtedly the first appearance of the resurrected Count. There’s a reason he’s so well known for this.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: This is played very straight so not many laughs, but Francis Matthews’ “I’m sure this creepy, deserted castle with food laid out for us is perfectly safe” attitude is somewhere between grim and very, very silly. You stupid boy.

Bonus cameo: Peter Cushing appears in his role as Van Helsing for the first few minutes or so to recap how Dracula bit the dust at the end of the previous entry, The Horror of Dracula. Always nice to see him and Lee together.

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Movie #4: The Plague Of The Zombies (1966)

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Ultra-low budget yarn about bodies going missing from a graveyard after a mysterious illness – maybe the local English aristocrat turned voodoo priest knows something about it?

Kind of understated, it nevertheless manages to exude menace throughout, and not just through the shambling undead. Containing virtually no known stars at ALL it spins, as they say, a good yarn (seriously, you will not recognise these people). Not half bad, it was shot as the B-Movie to Dracula, Prince of Darkness. I love it, and it would be a contender as the most underrated zombie movie of all time if The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue didn’t exist.

However, a caveat: do NOT go into this expecting Night Of The Living Dead. You will be disappointed; it hits the beats of a different era. Which is odd, because this and Night of the Living Dead were released just two years apart – it might be worth watching this one and then NotLD just to get an idea how shocking Romero’s movie was for the time.

Best Moment: The dead rising from their graves – it’s now a cliche, to be sure, but this is one of my favorite instances.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Not many, again, as it’s played fairly well, but I like the way everyone says Haiti. Hay-eetee.

Bonus cameo: Like I said, there’s no massive stars here, but classic Doctor Who fans might recognize the local constable as a doomed Kaled commander from Genesis of the Daleks (This is known as ‘scraping the barrel’. Also you should watch Genesis of the Daleks, it’s really good).

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Movie #5: Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966)

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For those of you (like me) that were disappointed that Lee didn’t say anything in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, this is the antidote. Lee merrily eats his way through the scenery and rises through the ranks of Russian Society after being kicked out of his monastery, becoming one of the most infamous men of the 20th Century.

It’s all very camp and overwrought, but if you go with it, it’s actually pretty effective, as Rasputin is Not A Nice Man. There’s no one else who really stands out here, but this is Lee’s film, all the way, so if you’re a fan of his then definitely watch. And if you aren’t, why are you here? Shoo!

Best Moment: “Be careful little Peter, there are acids in here…”

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Dark and charismatic he may be, but sexy he ain’t, especially with that beard. However, the looks of disappointment on his Russian groupies’ faces when he decides his ‘appointments’ are done for the day are priceless. Russia’s Greatest Love Machine indeed.

Bonus cameo: Alan Tilvern is probably the most recognizable – you’ll know him as studio head R. K. Maroon in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Bonus Trivia: When this movie came out, one of Rasputin’s assassins, Prince Felix Yusupov, was still alive, 50 years after the assassination. He died in 1967.

Bonus Bonus Trivia: Christopher Lee met Yusupov as a child. WHAT.

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Part 2 >

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