The Ultimate Hammer Horror Saga – Part 4

Notes from Andy in 2017 –

Trigger Warning: References to pedophilia in the last entry on this list.

Most of my notes here are a simple rearrangement of the original introduction, which was probably the strongest of the four.

Two things are worth remarking on for the last six movies in this series; the slightly cosy, home counties atmosphere of the earlier films was gone and all of the films rated 18 in this box are represented below.

Everything from She to Prehistoric Woman in this set came out over four years: 1965 – 1968 (inclusive). The seven films from Scars Of Dracula to To The Devil A Daughter represent a much longer time: 1970 – 1976. They also represent what is considered by many, including me, to be the decline of Hammer Horror into exploitation, cheap titillation and senseless violence in an effort to keep up with the new American horror boom represented by movies like Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist.

By 1977, the studio had all but bankrupted itself, and didn’t release another movie under its banner for over 30 years.

Originally published on the 17th of February 2013

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Movie #16: The Horror Of Frankenstein (1970)

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Ralph Bates takes over from Peter Cushing this time around in what is essentially a reboot of the franchise; and one with a pretty massive tongue in its cheek. Bates’ Doc is less a driven scientist with a skewed moral compass and more of a complete bastard: cruel to women, sneering to his friends, and dismissive of his (disposable) helpers. What a cad.

The monster looks good as well (when it eventually appears), and there’s also a huge acid bath which might as well be labelled “people will end up in me”. Very funny in a very understated way and highly recommended – this and Scars of Dracula make a really good double bill.

Best Moment: Frankenstein sells an old school chum up the river with an amazingly display of feigned innocence. “He’s babbling about a monster? Clearly he is hiding something!

Unintentionally Funny Moment: “He was actually a pretty nice monster.” Murderin’ excepted.

Bonus cameo: The housekeeper is Kate O’Mara, who played The Rani in Doctor Who – probably the best classic villain not to make a comeback in the 2005 series as of 2017.

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Movie #17: Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

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An evil sorceress is discovered in an Egyptian tomb by an intrepid group of explorers. She is of course perfectly preserved. As time goes on, one of the group’s daughter grows up looking exactly like the dead princess, each of the expedition has stolen a relic from the tomb, and as she approaches her eighteenth birthday the rest of the movie writes itself.

I thought I’d enjoy this one more than I did. The plot’s fun, but it buries itself under loads and loads of characters, although of course the herd rapidly thins. What I feel it should have done is just focused on the daughter, the father (Andrew Keir again!), and the Creepy Man Across the Street who Knows More Than He’s Telling. Characters like the fortune teller and the boyfriend don’t add a lot.

Best Moment: Some poor git gets menaced by a cobra statue, of which we only see the shadow.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The ‘perfectly preserved’ sorceress is clearly breathing at a couple of points.

Bonus cameo: Aubrey Morris, who in the same year played the youth worker in A Clockwork Orange

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Movie #18: Straight On Till Morning (1972)

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A very odd tale about a young innocent  (Rita Tushingham) who gets into an intense relationship with a murderous psychopath named Peter (Shane Briant) who names her ‘Wendy’. As it’s apparent from early on that “Wendy” is also a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket this turns less into a stalky psycho-thriller and more into a weird romance between two damaged people.

…Yeah, not really my cup of tea either, but Lilly loved it, and it’s genuinely worth reading Lilly’s longer review of this for a, shall we say, different perspective. It’s will be in the archive as soon as possible.

Best Moment: All of the costume designs are fantastic, as is most of the facial hair.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Not so much funny, but I did find myself wondering how Peter can commit extremely loud murders in a terraced house in the middle of London, let alone dispose of the bodies.

Bonus cameo: New Tricks star James Bolam.

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Movie #19: Fear In The Night (1972)

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After the weirdness of the last entry, this one comes as something of a relief, with Peter Cushing starring. A teacher brings his young wife (recovering from a breakdown, naturally) to the school grounds to live after she is attacked by a one-armed man in her apartment. But where are the rest of the staff? Where are the boys? Why does only she seem to converse with the very, very strange headmaster?

This is a very nicely plotted thriller that sets up some odd occurrences and miraculously doesn’t cheat in explaining them. It reminds me of the similar Taste of Fear, an excellent Hammer thriller from 1961.

Best Moment: The moment when a shotgun is fired, and the twenty seconds afterwards when you desperately try to work out what the hell just happened.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: Peter Cushing is immaculately polite, even when being shot at.

Bonus cameo: There’s only really four main characters in this one, so here is the first one where I didn’t see anyone.

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Movie #20: Demons Of The Mind (1972)

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A brother and sister (twins?) who are way more into each other than they should be are kept locked up by their father in an effort to ‘cure’ their madness, which is apparently hereditary. A quack doctor is also on hand with an array of gadgets and a mad priest is living in the woods yelling about demons. Also the local girls keep disappearing.

I patiently waited for what was going on to be explained to some degree, but sadly that moment never came. The result is that this is plays like a cross between Witchfinder General and The Fall of The House of Usher but is much more of an incoherent mess than either. I have no idea if they were going for a riff on that whole Italian horror lack-of-narrative, or if it’s just that badly written. Plus our female star gets naked for such a flimsy reason it’s actually kind of offensive. This is Hammer at its shitty and exploitative worst.

Best Moment: “The world will be a better place without me, and it won’t even know that you died.” Brutal.

Unintentionally Funny Moment: The moment when a young doctor’s efforts to ‘save’ the girl backfires on him. Badly.

Bonus cameo: Sir Michael Hordern plays the nutty priest.

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Movie #21: To The Devil… A Daughter (1976)

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The last film in the box! And the second based on a Dennis Wheatley novel. Christopher Lee (yay!) plays the head of a satanic cult aiming to turn a sweet, innocent young thing into an Avatar for Astaroth. Against him Richard Widmark plays a researcher bent on stopping the cult and saving the innocent young girl.

This film is pretty nasty, but it also has the most convincing satanists in anything I’ve seen; they’re much, much better than the suicidal nutters in The Omen, at any rate. Lee’s obviously trying so hard to make this movie better than it is. Which is a shame, because it’s the only one in the box that I would tell people never, ever to watch.

The nudity and gore add almost nothing, but the worst thing by far is that we certainly did not need to see a naked 14 year old girl. Christ. To us, some of the moral censors of the time may seem like awful prudes (because many were) but this kind of exploitation suggests that maybe, just maybe, they had a point, and maybe Hammer deserved its lengthy hiatus after this moral nadir – I felt I had to put a trigger warning on this article just to discuss it.

I don’t know if there’s a cut version of this out there, and other than the horrendousness above it’s an above average flick with a lot of good moments – but I mean, come on. There are no extra features for this last movie; it didn’t feel right.

I’m now going to go shower forever. Gross.

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< Part 3

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