Blu-ray: Four Hammer horrors debut on ‘Horror Classics: Volume One’

HorrorClassicsV1Horror Classics: 4 Chilling Movies from Hammer Films(Warner, Blu-ray) presents the respective Blu-ray debuts of four films from Hammer Films, the British studio that revived the classic monster movies in gothic style and lurid color (to match the lurid atmosphere of sex and death).

The Mummy (1959) is the third of Hammer’s classic horror revivals and the fourth Hammer film to pair up its two marquee stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing stars as archeologist John Banning, whose dig for a lost tomb results in untold treasures but leaves his father a mumbling madman and marks the rest of the company for death. Lee is Kharis, a former high priest turned gauze-wrapped guardian of the tomb, a veritable Golem sent on a mission of vengeance by Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), a disciple of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris. “I’ve spent the better part of my life among the dead, but I’ve never worked in a place with such an aura of menace. There’s something evil in there.”

The scenes at the archeological dig and the flashbacks to the ancient burial are stagebound and frankly cheap looking, but Terence Fisher—Hammer’s top director—is back in familiar territory when the action relocates to the misty swamps and Victorian mansions of rural England. The towering, 6’3” Lee makes the most terrifying mummy to date. He covers ground in giant strides, smashes his way into rooms with heavy Frankenstein-like swipes of his arm, and takes shotgun blasts with barely a twitch, yet melts from rage to calm at the sight of Banning’s wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), a dead ringer for his dead Queen. He’s haunted soul, rampaging juggernaut, and a hugely powerful monster all in one. In the classic Hammer tradition there’s a sadistic twist to the flashback when Lee’s transgressive priest has tongue removed. It’s not as gory as it sounds, but it still carries a shivering eeriness about it. Hammer’s Mummy sequels, like Universal’s before it, are a spotty lot but the original is quite good.

Terence Fisher also directs Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1970), the fifth entry in Hammer’s “Frankenstein” series, and Cushing delivers his most cold-blooded portrayal of the mad Baron yet. Abandoning his latest experiment after a drunk stumbles into his secret lab (upsetting a severed head) he hurriedly finds new lodgings with a sweet young thing (Hammer glamour babe Veronica Carlson) whose boyfriend (Simon Ward, in his film debut) works in the local sanitarium. Frankenstein blackmails the lovers into complicity with his latest experiment, resorts to kidnapping and murder for his subjects, turns accomplice Ward into a killer, and even rapes his Carlson in a coldly brutal scene. It continues Hammer’s evolution of Cushing’s Baron into a truly mad scientist, as in utterly insane and cruelly amoral, destroying the lives of all around him in his search for scientific knowledge out of sheer hubris.

The goriest film of the series kicks off with a flamboyant beheading with a scythe (seen only as a spray of blood across a window) and is full of bloody brain surgery, conveniently offscreen but vividly suggested in the slurping sound effects of surgical saws and drills and the gallons of blood left in their wake. Freddie Jones is heartbreaking as Frankenstein’s latest creature, a once insane scientist who awakens to find himself cured but trapped in a grotesque alien body. When he attempts to communicate with his wife, half hiding in a dark corner while she peers around and sees only a monster, Fisher offers the most affecting moment of pathos on the entire series. It helps make this one of the best films in the series and one of the unsung Hammer classics.

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Christopher Lee stars as the malevolent Count in both Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970). The former, directed by Freddie Francis, picks up where Dracula: Prince Of Darkness left off, revived from an icy grave by the blood of a priest and pursued by a Monsignor (Rupert Davies). The latter, directed by Peter Sasdy, moves the location to Victorian London where the Count is resurrected by a depraved English Lord (Ralph Bates) and proceeds to revenge himself on the men who killed his servant by seducing their daughters and sending them to murder their own fathers.

All four films, previously available on DVD, have been newly remastered for Blu-ray. The colors are vivid, not to say appropriately lurid, and the images strong and sharp. They are distinctive upgrades from the previous DVD releases, which are well over a decade old. There are no supplements.

All four films also available in separate volumes.

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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