Notes from Andy in 2017 –
I said an awful lot before Part 1 about this series as a whole, so here I’ll talk a bit about why it was split into parts and what that did for the series. The reason for the divisions between the posts was because within the box set itself the movies were stored in four booklets: five movies in the first three, and six in the last, for a total of 21. This split up the movies into chunks very nicely.
It also did that elusive thing of providing discrete goals within a larger framework – if I had simply set out to review 21 movies in one go I would have undoubtedly stumbled, but this way I actually got the series finished in a relatively short amount of time. It helped that virtually none of these movies are more than around 90 minutes in length, meaning watching one, even if it was bad, never seemed to take very long. And some of them were very bad indeed, especially later on and especially as Hammer went into decline.
Here though, we’re still in the relatively sunny uplands at the tail end of the 60s, and there is still a lot of life in the old dog yet.
One more thing. After removing the sexism, I think the thing I’m finding weirdest to go back over is the cameos. Most of them are pretty obscure, and were written with a British audience in mind. To most of my (now) North American audience, every one of them must read like “Guy who was in this thing was also in other thing”. Which is pretty funny, to me at least. There are also a couple of added in notes for now addressing things in the introduction, but again, I am trying to leave the text alone as much as possible, besides a few editorial cleanups and extra information.
Part 2 was originally posted on the 6th December 2016. Part 1 and Part 2 were written together.
Watching these Hammer films from the sixties can be a rather surreal experience, especially if you’ve been raised on significantly higher-budgeted affairs. There’s usually only a handful of sets, the colors can seem slightly too bright (especially the blood) and the scripts usually have a sense of wry, understated humor.
They can also be very, very camp, which is what they are famous for I suppose, but generally not in a modern nudge-nudge-wink-wink look-how-silly-we’re-being kind of way. These films, at the very least, and for all their faults, present their stories straight and straight-faced – there’s no narrative flashbacks as such, few dream sequences (although there’s a good one in The Plague of The Zombies – doing something occasionally and well is really effective). This can actually be quite refreshing, and it bizarrely makes the films quite a bit less predictable. They are also very British, but then again, so am I.
Movie #6: The Reptile (1966)
I made the mistake of watching this one too soon after The Plague Of The Zombies. It reuses a lot of the sets having been filmed back to back and undoubtedly the former is a much better movie. Not to mention it goes way beyond déjà vu. It’s the same flippin’ town!
The plot revolves around an evil monster knocking off the locals which may have something to do with a sinister local Doctor, his Malay servant and his reclusive daughter (spoiler: it totally does).
This one’s a bit average, to be honest, but it has its creepy moments; plus Hammer didn’t really go in for creature features that much, so it is unusual. It also unfortunately looks like it was shot through a yellow filter, for some reason. Eww.
Best Moment: The first appearance (well, second) of the titular reptile.
Unintentionally Funny Moment: The friendly publican’s easy acceptance of going grave robbing. Casual grave robbing isn’t a thing, dude.
Bonus Cameo: John Laurie, best known as Private Frazer from Dad’s Army (“We’re all doomed, doomed I tell ye!”). Here, he rather wonderfully plays a character called Mad Pete. Rural, lizard-haunted villages from er, that era, weren’t known for their PC language. Which era that was, I honestly couldn’t tell you, a lot of these movies take place in a sort-of Georgian Victorian mélange.
Bonus 2017 Observation: I used two different French phrases in this review. No idea why.
Movie #7: The Witches (1966)
Joan Fontaine gets menaced by a coven of witches that may or may not be in her head, having returned from a mission school in Africa. It’s nice and understated for about 80% of its length, but it goes absolutely batshit for the last ten minutes or so.
Nothing to do with the Roald Dahl book or film, unfortunately, although reasonably good fun and occasionally sinister, if not at all scary. It could have done with more of a sense of humor about itself, and the poster plus a whole thing at the beginning with a witch doctor comes across as super racist.
I mean, more so than usual for movies from the 60s.
Best Moment: A doll’s disappearance and reappearance is actually kind of unnerving.
Unintentionally Funny Moment: The appearance of the coven’s leader: “Behold! My magnificent headgear!” Just look at that picture. She’s so proud.
Bonus Cameo: Leonard Rossiter of Rising Damp plays a not-very-sympathetic doctor.
Movie #8: One Million Years BC (1966)
A film whose poster is arguably better known than the film itself has the distinction of being nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before. There’s only about a minute and a half’s dialogue at the beginning in English; the rest of the film is in ‘cave-speak’.
It’s utterly incomprehensible as far as the plot goes (something to do with a conflict between two tribes), but the real stars are the creature effects by Ray Harryhausen. It’s also the longest film so far, coming in at 97 minutes.
Ambitious? Yes. Unique? Absolutely. Iconic? You bet. Worth watching? Nah.
Best Moment: The fight between a Triceratops and a T-Rex is in full glorious stop motion animation. Bugger Raquel Welch’s fur bikini, Ray Harryhausen can have my babies.
Unintentionally Funny Moment: “Akita!” is the word for literally everything.
Movie #9: The Viking Queen (1967)
A retelling of the Boudicca story with an added love story and all of the names changed for some reason. I mean, it’s not like her estate’s going to complain. It’s also pretty bad. The titular Queen is the one person without a British accent (Carita Järvinen is Finnish) and she lets her chest and Madonna’s cast-offs do most of the acting for her. She never appeared in a movie after this.
It’s all lavish and pretty to look at, but also very, very silly and overwrought, and frankly kinda sucks and is funny for all the wrong reasons. Plus if you know Boudicca’s story, you know those crazy kids ain’t gonna make it. Which is a bit of a downer.
It does however win back a few points by having Andrew (be-still-my-beating-heart) Kier in a rare villain role and Donald Houston as a druid who doesn’t so much chew scenery as tear up and devour huge chunks of it. THAT SET HAD A FAMILY DONALD.
Also, there aren’t any Vikings in it.
Best Moment: The chariot racing looks fun. I want a go.
Unintentionally Funny Moment: “This isn’t what we dreamed, is it?” is supposed to be the big emotional pay-off at the end, but I genuinely could not stop laughing. I am a terrible person.
Bonus Cameo: Oh my gosh, Patrick Troughton! Just before he was in Doctor Who! He may have been the best classic Doctor ever, but most of his episodes were wiped by the BBC in the 70s.
And yet somehow The Viking Queen still exists. This is the single best piece of evidence we have that we live in a cruel and godless universe.
Movie #10: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)
Hooray! Peter Cushing’s back!
This is the fourth in the Frankenstein series, following the wacky adventures of everyone’s favorite mad scientist rather than the monster, which was killed at the end of The Curse of Frankenstein and stayed dead, which has got to be a first. This time he’s trying to trap people’s souls after death, before transferring them to another body – it’s the key to immortality!
Cushing as Frankenstein, with his understated and calm amorality, is always a joy to watch. This is a fantastic return to the ‘good stuff’ after the past couple in the box, and it has a pretty awesome plot: it eventually turns into a pretty straightforward and grisly revenge thriller, as Frankenstein takes a back seat for the last third to observe the carnage his new creation inflicts.
Ooh boy, I want to watch it again right now. See you in Part 3.
Best Moment: “Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not…” Oh Peter Cushing, you adorable, creepy bastard.
Unintentionally Funny Moment: Frankenstein’s response to being accused of witchcraft – although come to think of it, this was probably intentional.
Bonus cameo: Yes Minister‘s Derek Fowlds plays one of a trio of despicable cads. Nice.
Bonus Trivia: Peter Cushing, one of the nicest guys ever, genuinely didn’t see Hammer movies as ‘horror’ movies – he considered movies like The Godfather to be far more ‘horrible’.
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