The Ultimate Hammer Horror Saga – Part 3

Notes from Andy in 2017 –

There was a substantial gap between the last post and this one of almost exactly two months. There was a few reasons for this – I was living somewhere where the internet went up and down several times a day, I was involved in some controversy at my job at the time that ended with me leaving and of course Christmas 2012 and the New Year happened. I also moved in with Lilly in January, a couple of hours down the road, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The other reason was that it took me a really, really long time to get through Vengeance of She. I’ve seen worse movies, from a technical, or a scripting perspective, or an editing perspective; but this may be one of my least favorite movies ever. Then again, as one of the first horror reviewers I ever got into back in the heady days of Geocities said: “The problem with being a fan of these sorts of movies is that you have to reassess what the worst movie you’ve ever seen is more regularly than the average person”. His site is preserved on reocities, and I’ve linked to it from our archive, as he was one of my most important influences.

These notes replace the original introduction, but I feel like this still holds true 5 years later: whatever you do, do NOT watch Vengeance Of She without a buddy and a safe-word.

On the plus side, this box contains one Quatermass and the Pit, which is hands-down my favorite Hammer movie, and The Devil Rides Out, which is easily Top 5 material. It’s also worth saying that after this point I watched most of these movies with Lilly.

Originally published on the 7th of February 2013
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Movie #11: Quatermass and The Pit (1967)

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While extending an underground station in London, workers discover a skeleton of a prehistoric human. They also uncover what at first appears to be an unexploded bomb from the Second World War. Except surely the skeleton should have been crushed by the bomb when it landed. And it doesn’t look like a bomb, and the brilliant but gruff Professor Bernard Quatermass is insisting it’s much, much older than that…

Words cannot describe how much I love this one. Andrew Keir plays Quatermass here, a kindly scientist who nevertheless Doesn’t Suffer Fools Gladly. This film combines some of my favorite tropes: the military who remain obstinate and ignorant until it’s too late, Quatermass yelling at them that they are fools, fools I tell you!, workmen getting knocked off like redshirts in Star Trek. It’s all so good. The effects are a little hokey, but the plot is a wonderful blend of thinky sci-fi and unpredictable nightmare scenario.

Out of all the films in the box, this was the only one I had seen before I started this and the only one I would recommend completely without caveats or a tongue in my cheek. Amazing. And it’s a remake!

Best Moment: An exceptionally creepy moment when a man goes back to collect his equipment. At this point, it’s almost impossible to guess what happens next.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Some of the model work is somewhat less than convincing.

Bonus cameo: Duncan Lamont, who played the doomed astronaut in the BBC’s original Quatermass Experiment waaay back in 1953 – pretty much the first sci-fi shown on British TV and an important forerunner to Doctor Who.

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Movie #12: Vengeance Of She (1968)

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From the sublime to the ridiculous. Actually, screw ridiculous, this film sucks. A remake/sequel (I can’t tell which) of She, minus Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Bernard Cribbens, Ursula Andress, most of the budget, the sense of fun and the awesome costumes.

The plot, such as it is, moves to the present day, as after her untimely demise at the end of She, Ursula Andress has apparently been reincarnated (as Czech actress Olga Shoberova), and Kilikrates wants to summon her to the Forbidden City to rule as his Queen once again. I mean, as far as I can tell. I can’t cope with trying to recall too much of this garbage at once.

Best Moment: The closing credits.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Kilikrates has adjusted well to being an immortal ruler, considering how bitter he was about it in She.

Bonus cameo: Pink Panther Strikes Again fans might remember Colin Blakely as the British detective who has to deal with Clouseau, as well as starring in a bunch of other stuff in the 70s. Other than that, I’m drawing a blank.

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Movie #13: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

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This one’s great fun.

Based on the Dennis Wheatley novel, two friends discover a third friend is getting in too deep with a shady cult, and then endeavor to rescue him from their wicked grasp. Meanwhile, the cult attempts to do such fun, wholesome things as literally summon Satan in the middle of a field in Berkshire.

It all culminates in a siege where Christopher Lee (in a good guy role for once) pitches his wits against the nefarious cult leader played by Charles Gray (the Blofeld in Bond who wasn’t Telly Savalas nor Donald Pleasance), smirking brilliantly throughout. Amazing effects, fun plot, and very well paced, this is an extremely enjoyable hour and a half – despite some bizarre moments involving possibly the most neglectful parents ever, but even that is funny as hell.

Best Moment: The entire siege sequence, which is basically the latter third of the film, is inventive and relentless. Also everything Christopher Lee says: “The Angel of Death has been summoned. He cannot return empty-handed…” If you read that in his voice and still don’t want to watch this right now I can’t help you.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: A couple makes sure they are perfectly safe and protected from the evil goings-on, meanwhile completely forgetting they have a daughter sleeping upstairs. The moment they realize is priceless.

Bonus Cameo: Paul Eddington, playing Neglectful Parent #1. Now I just need to spot Nigel Hawthorne to have the full Yes, Minister set.

Bonus Trivia: This was one of Christopher Lee’s favorites, and the one he would have most liked to have seen remade with modern effects. I’d be 100% on board, even if satanic cults are a tad out of fashion.

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Movie #14: Prehistoric Women (1968)

MARTINA-BESWICK

The boxset giveth, and the boxset taketh away.

After the success of One Million Years BC, Hammer quickly re-used the sets. And Martine Beswick. In this, one blond haired tribe is oppressed by a dark haired tribe (this is all sounding suspiciously familiar) and there’s also something, something legend of the White Rhino. It was around the 10 minute mark that I remembered that OMY BC had no dialogue, and I felt a wave of affection for it.

The former movie also got the benefit of the doubt for being somewhat unique, at least in my experience, but this isn’t going to get away with being bad so easily. And there’s no Ray Harryhausen creature effects! Boo!

Best Moment: The appearance of the actual white rhino.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: This was originally called Slave Girls in the UK, because 1967 was a very different time. Not cool, Hammer.

Bonus cameo: Steven Berkoff. As in the cantankerous playwright. Seriously.

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Movie #15: Scars of Dracula (1970)

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Awesome! Although I now have whiplash from the quality of these movies jumping around on the scale of awesome to terrible so much.

Drac’s back (for the sixth time, although there is not exactly continuity). Here he’s terrorizing the locals, sucking blood and generally being awesome, although two things are different from the last time we saw him in this box.

Firstly Christopher Lee actually talks this time round, which is always nice; hypnotizing people into doing his bidding, welcoming them to his castle (mwa ha ha), you know, all that good stuff.

The second is that this film is gory as anything.  People have their faces bitten off, they are impaled, stabbed, set on fire then thrown off a cliff, and branded with hot metal. This film is nasty, and was the first Hammer movie to get an R in the United States. Would I have it any other way? Good Lord no, but it does mark a turning point in Hammer history, where the sex and violence content started ramping up in order to make the movies more ‘marketable’.

It’s also worth noting is that the commentary track Christopher Lee did for this movie is well worth a listen, if you can find it.

Best Moment: My real favorite is a bit of a spoiler, so I’ll just say the fate of one poor villager’s wife.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The angry peasants make violent speeches about taking down the evil in their midst, light torches, march on the castle shouting and praying, and then knock on the door. Scars of Dracula may be the most English film I’ve ever seen.

Bonus cameo: Is, is that Dennis Waterman? Huh.

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< Part 2   Part 4 >

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