The mere mention of Hammer Studios brings to mind bloody terror to the legions of monster fans who grew up on a steady drive-in staple diet of the studio’s iconic monster movies. The studio picked up where Universal left off in the 1950’s and delivered a new run of the classic monsters we had been introduced to in black and white. Hammer brought these creatures to life in living … or is that living dead … color. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Werewolf, and The Mummy were all resurrected for a new cycle of films from the British studio. The place earned its often-used nickname of The House Of Horror.
But Hammer wasn’t always known as a horror factory. The company actually began in the 1930’s, creating decidedly British versions of film noir. In the 1950’s and 60’s when the horror phase began, Hammer was also putting out other fare for a hungry public. These films often embraced some chilling elements but didn’t rely on monsters for many of the scares. The films were often even crime dramas or supernatural in nature. These films often were the training grounds for some of their staple talent over the years. In this collection Sony has compiled some of these early evolving films from the House Of Horror.
You get 6 films on three discs:
Stop Me Before I Kill Again: 1960
“After a depressed fracture on the skull, cerebral contusions and four weeks unconscious and six weeks on his back, it isn’t just physical injuries. The man’s emotionally unstable. His nerve is gone. There are gaps in his memory. He’s not like you or me. These racing boys are tough.”
Alan Colby (Lewis) is the said race driver. He’s been on top of the racing world complete with championships and endorsements for major companies. Now he’s just married his beautiful French bride Denise (Cilento), and they are on their way to the south of France for their honeymoon when they are in a bad automobile accident. It’s a year later before the couple is finally ready to try that honeymoon again. Colby appears to have lost his nerve. Worse, he is beginning to have violent urges toward his wife and is afraid he’s going to kill her. At the resort in France they happen to meet vacationing psychiatrist Dr. Prade (Dauphin) who takes an interest in Colby’s case. But is it Colby he’s interested in, or his wife?
This is actually a splendid thriller that I hadn’t even heard of before. It’s based on the novel The Full Treatment by Ronald Scott Thorn who also helped to adapt it for the film. The result is a wonderful study in mental illness and the doctor who has ulterior motives in trying to cure the victim. It has a deliciously Hitchcock style ending. Jane Cilento is so charming as the new wife that she takes you completely by surprise in the film’s climax. All of the performers are first-rate here. It’s a beautiful little gem that you’ll want to see.
Cash On Demand: 1961
“Banking is one of the few dignified businesses left in the world, Miss Pringle. Do you mind terribly if we keep it that way?”
Peter Cushing stars as Mr. Fordyce, the manager of a local branch of the bank. He’s a terribly proper English gentleman who doesn’t fraternize with the help and commands the highest standards from his staff. He’s about to fire his 11-year assistant Mr. Pearson (Vernon) for covering a small error made by one of the clerks. It’s close to Christmas, and the staff fear his iron hand so that they keep on the down low their plans for a party later that evening. But Fordyce’s world is about to change when he is visited by a man claiming to be General Hepburn (Morell) from the home office’s insurance carrier. He’s there to inspect the branch’s security measures. It’s merely a nuisance, really, until Fordyce gets a call that appears to come from his wife and son who are held captive. Hepburn soon reveals his intended purpose to rob the bank, with Fordyce’s help, or he’ll have his family tortured. Now the proper bank manager must go against every instinct in his body to protect his own loved ones. In the end he’ll be needin’ a little bit of understanding from his misunderstood staff.
This is such a counter role for Cushing. It’s not merely the whole bank robber image, but how often has Cushing been so timid and frightened? There is a decidedly Dickens Christmas message about fellowship and even a little Christmas spirit going on in this rather charming film by Hammer. The film is based on a play, and you really can see how that would work. It’s all really in one location. I would love to see a live version of this one.
The Snorkel: 1958
“If you can show me how a man can be in a room, invisible, a room full of gas, but with air to breathe, I shall arrest him.”
Paul Decker (Van Eyck) has committed the perfect crime. Sure, we’ve heard that before. But, he appears to have pulled it off. He kills his wife making it look like suicide and fools everyone around him except his wife’s daughter Candy (Miller) and her dog Toto. Candy not only knows Paul killed her mother, but she knows that years ago he had killed her father, his wife’s first husband. No one will believe her, but that doesn’t slow her down one bit. She won’t stop until she’s proven it.
There are really no spoilers here. You see the crime as the film begins. We already know how he did it. But, it’s a genuine locked-door whodunit, and Columbo hasn’t been invented yet. The fun here isn’t figuring out the mystery. It’s trying to guess how he might get tripped up in the end. Young Mandy Miller was quite impressive as the super sleuth little girl on a mission. It’s too bad she never had any success as an adult actress and disappeared before she was 20. This has another quite obviously Hitchcock inspired climax. Another very solid obscure film.
“The Camargue: a remote area in Southern France, where wild horses roam, fighting bulls are bred, and violence is never far away.”
A welder comes to the rescue of a young girl being raped. This part of the world doesn’t call the cops. Our welder friend takes the law into his own hands and makes things a little too hot for the rapist. The murder lands him in prison. When a stranger blows into town, he gets caught up in a twisted love triangle with a mother and daughter and ends up in a plot to free the rapist’s killer.
This one is an absolute mess and hands down the only stinker in the collection. None of the characters are very likable. The story is too convoluted for me to completely follow, and the performances are all decidedly wooden. Unfortunately, it comes with the collection, so you can’t save any dough by skipping it, only 86 minutes of your life.
Never Take Candy From A Stranger: 1960
“This story, like its characters, is fictitious. It is set in Canada, but could happen anywhere. And … it could be true.”
Peter Carter (Allen) his wife (Watford) and their young girl Jean (Faye) have just moved to Jamestown, a small town in Canada, from England. Peter has gotten the position of principal in the town’s high school. Tragedy strikes on their first night in Jamestown. Jean is taken by a new young friend to see Clarence Olderberry (Aylmer) for some candy. Once there, the elder sexual predator forces the girls to strip and dance. Of course, the parents are outraged and call the cops. The town is quite aware of Olderberry’s sickness, but it has been kept quiet because he practically founded the town, and his mill is bringing prosperity. He runs the town through fear and intimidation. The Carters soon find that it is they who are treated coldly by the town’s population for pursuing the case. Justice is a problem in Jamestown.
This is as chilling as anything Hammer has done in its monster or horror days. The film is quite realistic in its setting and portrayals. Felix Alymer is absolutely creepy as the town pedophile. There is a scene where he is following two girls in the woods, and his expression will tear right through your spine. It’s a brutally spot-on portrayal. Janina Faye is also quite good as the young girl subjected to the slimy criminal. Her range of emotions is so realistic that the film is almost too effective. It’s more than fair warning to persuade anyone who is sensitive to these kinds of images should really skip this film, in spite of just how good it really is.
These Are The Damned: 1963
“Anybody can command beatniks. Only a gentleman can command loyalty.”
Oliver Reed stars as King, the leader of a Weymouth motorcycle gang. They are the typical hoodlums of the era. With the help of his sister Joan (Field), he lures men into an ambush where they are beaten and robbed. One such victim is American tourist Simon Wells (Carey). But after the crime, Joan takes a bit of a liking to Simon, and the two escape the gang on Simon’s boat. They put in on an isolated coastline where a secret government project is underway. Nine children, born with a radioactive mutation, are being kept and raised by a military group training them to inherit the Earth after “The Bombs” drop. King, Joan, and Simon contaminate the children’s society and are contaminated in return by the children’s radioactivity.
This starts out like a gang film. We see the gang and listen to choruses of an awful dated ditty called Black Leather Rock. Ironically, Reed’s character is the only one not in a black leather jacket. Before long we enter into a strange world better fit for Fox Mulder than anyone else. It’s not a bad film. It just can’t really decide what kind of film it wants to be. It also ends on a bit of a downer.
All of the films are presented in their original aspect ratios. The studio used relatively clean prints. The films are doubled up on each disc, but relatively short, so you won’t find any compression artifact to distract from the prints. Many of the films are in remarkable condition with sharp images and excellent contrast. Black levels are also often impressive here.
All are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. The films are mostly dialog-driven, so that’s really all that is serviced here.
Some bad news. All three discs reside on a single spindle and are not very well protected here.
There is tremendous historical value to be found here. This is not the Hammer that most of us remember. Although I’ve heard of a couple of these titles, I had not seen any of these films before. But it’s very much worth the extremely reasonable 25 bucks. Three of the films are very good. Two of them are quite good. One of them sucks. Watch five of them, and you can use your imagination on what to do with the 6th. Of course, I realize “That’s an extremely improper suggestion.”