Hammer Chooseday #16: The Lost Continent

The Lost Continent (1968) 4/5

Enjoyable hokum as Hammer favourites Suzanna Leigh and Michael Ripper appear in a madcap but entertaining story, though I’m not sure whose idea it was to start with a Bond-style theme song.


Passengers and crew on a ship discover that they are carrying a dangerous cargo-Phosphor B, that explodes on contact with water. Should be safe on a ship, though, yes? Cue an approaching hurricane.

The ship is abandoned by the fractious crew, marooned in a lifeboat enveloped by a mysterious mist, surrounded by some, erm, killer seaweed.

I like how, after her overbearing father is eaten by a shark, Suzanne Leigh becomes something of a maneater herself. I like even more how my auto correct kept changing this sentence to : After her overbearing father is eaten by a shark, Suzanne Leigh becomes something of a manatee herself.

Did someone call me a sea cow?

All this despite the intervention of a one-eyed rubber octopus chaperone.

I know, this all seems like some drug-induced trip. As one of the characters said:

“We go where the weed takes us.” Quite.

The storm abated, they return to their ship. They’d bought tickets after all.


They drift into an otherworldly graveyard of galleons, a character observing:

“It’s like all of the world have come here to die.” 

Just the kind of optimist you need when the chips are down.

To add to the fantastical cast of thousands we meet some murderous Spanish pirates. It is discovered that they are able to walk upon the seaweed with snowshoes and balloons tied to their shoulders. Don’t think the look would ever make Vogue.

This was not how I envisaged my acting career developing.

But in doing so they encounter a giant crab that is a forerunner of E.T, and a scorpion on wheels.

Go hoooome!!!

After many fireworks with the help of Phosphor B, the seaweed burns and the pirates are defeated, leaving the cast to survive and dream of Hollywood.

I know it sounds like someone dropped me an acid as soon as I pressed play on my Sky box, but despite not expecting much I was pleasantly surprised.

Hammer Chooseday #15: Rasputin The Mad Monk

Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966) 3/5

This film is a fictional account of the real life Grigori Rasputin.

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Christopher Lee is commanding as the peasant-mystic who we first encounter when he uses his healing powers to save an innkeeper’s wife. He then heads for St.Petersburg, where he begins a campaign to gain influence over the Tsarina.

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“You want to introduce us to someone? His name is Rasputin? He is a Mad Monk? Go on then- let’s take tea.”

He uses her lady-in-waiting Sonia (Hammer favourite Barbara Shelley) to both satisfy his sexual appetite and gain access to the royal family, the latter he does by putting her in a trance and instructing her to injure the Tsar’s son and heir so he can then heal him.

Oh go on then, I like your beard.

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It’s a hard life being a Holy Man.

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But someone has to do it.

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You just look at him and think ‘I bet he lives in a cabin in the woods. I bet he has vittles cooking on the hearth. I bet he uses hypnotic powers to ingratiate himself into the royal household.’

Once ingratiated into the royal household (told you) having no more need of Sonia, he instructs her to commit suicide. Like an obedient girl she does.

She likes his beard.

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Ra ra Rasputin, lover of the Russian Queen. Okay, so that song wasn’t in the film, but Lee did display some fancy footwork.

As his influence and power grows, he begins to make enemies, and eventually two of these plan to murder him. After luring him to a meeting, they give him poisoned chocolates and wine. When these aren’t enough to kill him, there is a struggle, and he is pushed through a window to his death.

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Death by chocolate.

This was one film that I never really fancied, despite Lee and Shelley being in it, but it was okay. Probably wouldn’t watch it again though. Unless I should look into those eyes…

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(I must add, that when I was writing this post, my autocorrect kept changing the title to Rasputin The Mad Mink. It amused me no end-filling me with a whirlwind image of fur and saliva and teeth. If Hammer did Natural History programmes…)

Hammer Chooseday #14: The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman (1957) 3/5

This film was overshadowed by Hammer’s other science fiction/horror film of that year: The Curse Of Frankenstein.

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‘See It With Someone Brave!’ It says. No chance of that: Hammer goes on, wife goes to bed.

Peter Cushing plays Dr Rollason, who, after staying as a guest of the Lhama with his wife and friend while on a botanical expedition to the Himalayas, joins a second expedition of five people fronted by glory seeking Tom Friend (Forrest Tucker) to find evidence of the fabled Yeti.

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Team photo before kick-off.

Unbeknownst to Rollason, who is going out of scientific curiosity, Friend’s real motive is to try and capture one of the creatures. Maybe he should have just got a nice Dalmation dog instead.

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‘We Dare You To See It Alone!’ No bleeding choice pal!

The first sight we have of one of the creatures is when one of the biggest hands you ever saw comes creeping beneath the canvas of their tent. Seriously in need of a manicure.

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Hello Bighand. Are you related to Bigfoot?

Sherpa guide Kusang flees, not before being questioned by the others. “What did you see?” “I saw what men should not see.”

Helpful.

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“I saw what men should not see.” Say no more. Same thing happened to me when I accidentally went in the women’s toilet at a Manchester nursing home.

Soon they manage to kill one of the creatures, but we still don’t see the full animal, just the arm and that oversized hand. (We are not to have a more revealing glimpse until the end of the film.)

As snowstorms set in, the film has a claustrophobic feel to it, and the snowy setting is ideal for the black and white format. Tensions rise between Rollason and Friend. One by one the men begin to die, but not directly at the (big) hands of the Yeti.  One falls to his death, one has a heart attack, and one (Friend) is killed in an avalanche.

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To lose one expedition member may be regarded as a misfortune…

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…to lose two you should get the bejesus outta there.

After this last death, Rollason staggers back to a cave that the men used, where he finally encounters two of the Abominable Snowmen.

And at last we see the Yeti’s face, then Rollason passes out.

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Looks like a science boffin after being struck in the face with a spade.

The creatures, who just want to retrieve the dead body of their kin, leave Rollason out to be found by a search party that includes his wife Helen, played by Maureen Connell, and I was reminded of some earlier wisdom dispensed by the Lhama: “The fate of your husband will be governed by his own nature.” 

“That’s you doomed then,” says my wife.

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See these footprints here? They are nothing like that in the film. This looks like Bambi has trotted by.

The film finishes with Rollason, the only survivor of the expedition, telling the Lhama that they found no evidence of the creatures.

The newly resurrected Hammer Films have announced that they are going to do a remake of this film. I look forward to comparing the two.

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Hammer Chooseday #13: Brides Of Dracula

Brides Of Dracula (1960) 5/5

There is actually no Dracula in this, but the name sells, so the title is justified by the early explanation that, though Count Dracula is now dead, (this follows the film Dracula, 1958), his disciples live on to spread the cult of the undead around the world. Thank God that they didn’t have social media back then.

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The most-evil, blood-lusting Dracula of all! Who isn’t Dracula. Pedantic, I know.

Paris schoolteacher Marianne Dannielle (Yvonne Monlaur) is on her way to take up a post at a Girl’s Academy, when she foolishly accepts an invitation by the Baroness Meinster to stay at her chateau.

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Just what you need when the Undead abound: no 50p for the electricity meter.

Danielle discovers that her son, Baron Meinster, is kept in chains there, mental illness being the reason given. Danielle frees the Baron from his shackles, and unwittingly unleashes a vampire upon the local population, his first victim being his own mother. Psychiatrists would have a field day with that.

Blind to all this, Danielle escapes the chateau and is rescued fortuitously by Dr Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) who has been summoned by the local priest.

Soon the Baron is visiting the Girl’s Academy, to become engaged to the still unwitting Danielle, and also to feast upon the nubile pupils. Not necessarily in that order.

Student life- the morning after.

Student life.


As usual, it is up to Van Helsing to intervene.

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A scene which caused great shock is when Van Helsing is bitten. The great Peter Cushing defeated? No worries-he awakens to heal himself with a hot brand and some holy water. I much prefer a coffee and an hour to come around.

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Quick-pass the hip flask.

The Baron is eventually defeated in a novel (and unconvincing way), covered by the cruciform shadow of a windmill. I’m sure he could have just stepped out of the shadow. Ancient evil personified in the form of this blood-sucking nefarious creature of the night. Destroyed by a windmill.

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The most evil Dracula of all! Except, well, you know the score by now.

Cushing is always convincing as Van Helsing, and David Peel does an okay job as the vampire Baron, but he’s no Christopher Lee. But then again-who is?

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“I am Dracula.”

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“See you in court!”

Hammer Chooseday #12: Hell Is A City

Hell Is A City (1960) 5/5

Not a horror, Hell Is A City is a fast-paced thriller filmed on the grimy backstreets of my home city of Manchester. I spent half of the film trying to recognise landmarks in this long altered cityscape.

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Stanley Baker plays Harry Martineau, a tough police inspector on the trail of a man that he put away for robbery fourteen years ago.

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Billie Whitelaw marvels at the Inspector’s giant-sized head.

In escaping from jail, Don Starling (played by John Crawford), clubbed a warder who subsequently died, and so is now wanted for murder.

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Don Starling, armed with a pistol and his Death Ray Eyes stare.

To further ensure that it is the gallows that await him, the escaped convict puts a gang together to rob bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Donald Pleasence) in an attempt to get enough money to get out of town, but a nineteen year old girl, to whom the bag of money is handcuffed, is killed. And the money is marked with a green ink, too, scuppering that particular plan of escape.

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“You know you make me wanna shout, ooh, shout, ooh…”

Starling then desperately seeks places of refuge throughout the city while the Inspector tries to track him down. One implausible place is the bookie’s own attic, after threatening Hawkins’ cheating wife, played by the great Billie Whitelaw.

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Hawkins suspects that there is a bird in his attic. Little does he know how right he is: he has a jailbird named Starling.

After the convict terrorises deaf-mute ( and greatly named) Silver Steele, Martineau’s pursuit of Starling ends in a roof-top chase, with both cop and robber injured in a shoot-out. Eventually he is overpowered by police officers where I normally only see pigeons, and heads for the hangman.

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“I can see the pub from here.”

This is a good film with a great cast, and, being a lover of old black and white movies, I think it qualifies as a classic film noir.

Anyway, next time: back to horror.

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Hell Is A City. You don’t have to tell me: I live here.

Hammer Chooseday #11: The Satanic Rites Of Dracula

The Satanic Rites Of Dracula (1973) 5/5

This was Lee’s eighth and final outing as the vampire Count, and the third pairing with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing (along with Dracula in 1958, and Dracula A.D 72 in, funnily enough, 1972). It was also the very last Hammer film that would feature both of those great friends.

A minute’s silence, please.

My wife: please stop rolling your eyes.

The film’s working title was Dracula is Dead . . . and Well and Living in London. 

Christopher Lee wasn’t amused: “I’m doing it under protest . . . I think it’s fatuous. I can think of twenty adjectives-fatuous, pointless, absurd. It’s not a comedy, but it’s got a comic title. I don’t see the point.”

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Eschewing the usual gothic setting, as was done in the previous Dracula film also, for Twentieth-Century London, this has the feel of a modern (for the time) thriller, complete with appropriate soundtrack. There are snipers on motorcycles, donning leather, fur parkas and 1970’s porn tashes.

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No, I wasn’t in CHIPS.

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I know-women chained up in the cellar. I can say from experience: it’s  a drag.

A research establishment and real estate business serves as a front for a satanic cult, headed by Dracula, which is developing a deadly strain of the plague to unleash upon mankind, at midnight on the feast of the sabbath of the undead. Suppose it sounded better than doing it on Pancake Tuesday.

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Lee as always, is iconic as Dracula, although in this film he doesn’t appear until thirty minutes in. At one point, with a flourish of his hands, he makes candles burst into life like a stage magician.

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And now for my ‘sawing a woman in half’ trick, Hammer style-best fetch a mop and bucket.

As his plans come to light, Van Helsing wonders why Dracula is attempting to destroy his only food source-does he harbour a subconscious desire to end his own torment?

This is a great twist, but unfortunately we don’t learn the truth of this, as, in the finale, Van Helsing’s granddaughter, played by Joanna Lumley, is rescued from the vampire’s clutches, and fire engulfs the only person stricken with the plague.

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Joanna Lumley: I should have stayed on the catwalk.

? playing ? : I should have stayed as a traffic cop.

Michael Coles, playing Inspector Murray: I should have stayed in the traffic division.

Dracula, in his endless pursuit of Van Helsing, becomes entangled and sliced in hawthorn, and is then dispatched by a fence post used as a stake.

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A (vampire) rose (from the dead) among thorns. No? I tried.

For the final time, we see Lee’s Dracula destroyed by Cushing’s Van Helsing. As the vampire wastes away, his destroyer picks up the only thing left: his ring. Perhaps paving the way for a further film that didn’t come? Regrets, I’ve had a few.

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Van Helsing goes into battle armed with a crucifix, silver bullets and a sticking plaster.

I loved this one, an imaginative twist on the Dracula franchise that felt like a thriller, with Dracula coming over as part vampire and part Bond villain. Perhaps it served as the perfect training vehicle for Lee’s future Scaramanga role.

Okay, my good wife, the film is over-here’s the remote. What’s going on in Emmerdale?

Hammer Chooseday #10: Frankenstein Created Woman

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) 5/5

Peter Cushing reprises his role of the Baron, in this film going down the metaphysical road of soul transferral. He puts the soul of a wrongly executed man into the body of the woman that the man loved. Maybe not exactly the fantasy of her beloved, but close enough.

Could have been worse, Peter, you could have got Boris Karloff.

Could have been worse, Peter, you could have got Boris Karloff.

The producer summarised the story: “This time Frankenstein creates a beautiful girl from one who has been ugly. Only something goes wrong. She goes around chopping people’s heads off with an axe.”

There’s always a glitch, but nothing that can’t be ironed out.

Susan Denberg plays Christina, a disfigured girl who is also paralysed down her left side. When a trio of arrogant dandies (I can’t believe I called them dandies) pay a visit to her father’s bar, they mock her, angering Hans, who gets in a fight with them. Later, without witnesses, they kill her father, and Hans is arrested for his murder. Unwilling to provide his alibi, that he was in bed with the currently absent  Christina, (gentleman that he is), he is found guilty and sentenced to death.

The aerial shot. In the days before CCTV.

The aerial shot. In the days before CCTV.

Christina, returning to the town, and unaware of both her father’s death and everything else that has transpired since, spots Hans upon the hill, about to be guillotined. There is a dramatic scene as she tries to reach him, and there is a desperation as he spots her approach, but this is Hammer-they don’t do happy endings. He is executed before she gets there. Seeing the one man, besides her father, who saw past her deformities and loved her, killed, she is overcome with grief and throws herself into a river, drowning. That’s ‘don’t do happy endings’ x2.

Cue Frankenstein and his ill-advised experiments. He never learns, does he? Not with scriptwriters like he’s got.

A beautiful woman with the soul of the Devil. Have you met my wife?

A beautiful woman with the soul of the Devil.
Have you met my wife?

Once she is brought back to life, she is not the usual, patched-up lumbering monster, but is Susan Denberg, more easy on the eye than Christopher Lee. This would be Denberg’s last film, her career curtailed by a drug-induced breakdown.

Now resurrected, Christina is just a girl with no memory of who she is.

Was.

And-good news for us, her blemishes and deformities have gone, too. You don’t get that on the NHS.

Hang on, is this Frankenstein or The Mummy?

Hang on, is this Frankenstein or The Mummy? Or some freaky kind of Kinder Egg?

Several times she asks the scientist to tell her of her identity, but which he declines to do. Here’s a few snapshots that might help:

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Maybe not.

So, now that she is blessed with beauty, no longer paralysed and having to hide her face beneath her hair, do you remember what I said about Hammer and happy endings?

Yep.

Now the vengeful spirit of Hans begins to take her over, driving her on to take revenge, in turn, against the three men who were really responsible for the crime that cost him his life.

“Kill him. Kill him. Kill him, Christina.”

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After murdering the last of these, (and taking Hans’ head along for the deed, sentimental girl that she is), she flees the pursuing Frankenstein, and, having nothing left to live for, throws herself again into the river, ignoring her creator’s pleas not to do so.

The perfect combination for a stroll in the countryside: some food, a loved one, an ex's severed head.

The perfect recipe for a lovely day in the countryside: a partner, some food; a little wine; an ex-lover’s severed head. Bliss.

Farewell Christina. Farewell Susan Denberg.

I watched this while my wife had her earphones in, listening to music. When it finished, I said “It was quite good that.”  She replied “It looked boring as Hell!”

I enjoyed this different take on the Frankenstein story. We are now ten posts in on the Hammer Chooseday series, and I am yet to make a fan of her. I’ve not given up yet, but I think it best I avoid the lesbian vampires.