Hammer Chooseday #6:One Million Years B.C

One Million Years B.C (1966) 3/5

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John Richardson plays a prehistoric man banished from his savage tribe. He leaves behind his own dark haired, cold, volatile people (and Martine Beswick), to find, or rather, be found by, a contrasting tribe of blonde, warm gregarious people (and Raquel Welsh).

Every cloud and all that.

But soon he is banished from there, too, taking his new found mate with him. Popular guy, ain’t he?

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Being banished in exile has a few perks, yes?

You can bet Martine Beswick won’t take that lying down.

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Think I can sense a recurring theme here.

According to this film, we learn that prehistoric man had Victorian values:the men went out hunting while the women stayed at home making necklaces and sewing animal hides. Also, even less believable than the fact that dinosaurs and man lived side by side, is the fact that prehistoric women didn’t have hairy legs. And only the men had beards. But I’m not one to quibble.

The adventures of these two tribes play out with a sprinkling of wild beasts and dinosaurs before an apocalyptic ending with an erupting volcano. Even the landscape back then was deadly.

If dinosaurs and people aren't credible, about a, ahem, giant turtle?

If dinosaurs and people aren’t credible, how about a, ahem, giant turtle?

An enjoyable story, it is as much remembered today for Welch in her fur bikini than for Ray Harryhausen’s  dinosaurs.

Let's finish with this shot of Welch, a publicity shot for the film. I can't for the life of me think just what relevance the cross has for the movie. Perhaps one of you guys can come up with some symbolism? To me it just further symbolises why my Mrs won't watch Hammer with me.

Welch, in a publicity shot for the film. I can’t for the life of me think just what relevance the cross has for the movie. Perhaps one of you guys can come up with some symbolism? To me it just further symbolises why my Mrs won’t watch Hammer with me.

Hammer Chooseday #5:Countess Dracula

Countess Dracula (1971) 4/5

Ingrid Pitt, the unanimously crowned ‘Queen Of Horror,’ appears in her most celebrated role. Dracula is a bit of a misnomer, though, as there is no Dracula in the film. (Just an uttered “Countess Dracula!” at the end to maybe  justify the title.) There isn’t even any vampirism.

Yes, I know what is says on this poster, but she didn't drink any blood.

Yes, I know what is says on this poster, but she didn’t drink any blood.

Pitt plays the historic figure of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who was said (probably falsely) to have murdered hundreds of women to bathe in their blood. Nice.

Did you not hear me? I said BATHE in their blood!

Did you not hear me? I said BATHE in their blood!

In the film, the aged Countess accidentally discovers that the blood of a young virgin has regenerative effects. (Probably in the way that I accidentally discovered drinking vinegar as a kid made me vomit.) And so begins her quest for eternal youth. Both her and Madonna.

But every time the effect wears off, she ages greater than before. And there are only so many deaths or missing girls you can get away with before suspicions start to mount. (Not that I’m speaking from experience, you understand. Honest.)

What are you staring at? Have you never seen an eighty year old woman before?

What are you staring at? Have you never seen an eighty year old woman before?

Pitt is great as the woman who manipulates those around her to get what she wants, not least the man who has been besotted with her for the last twenty years: Captain Dobi, played brilliantly by Nigel Green of Zulu fame.

However, the Countess now has her eyes on a younger man, passing herself off as her daughter, who she has had imprisoned in a cottage deep within the forest by a mute.

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Love’s, ahem, young dream.

Bathory seems to be getting her way until, horror of horrors, her real self is revealed at the wedding ceremony.

"Wait a Goddamn minute!" shouts the groom. "I haven't signed anything yet!"

“Wait a Goddamn minute!” shouts the groom. “I haven’t signed anything yet!” He  no doubt has the honeymoon in mind.

In the end, as the enormity of her crimes are discovered, it is the noose that awaits the Countess. She really should have given Oil of Ulay a go instead.

Although not a favourite, (and surprisingly with little actual horror in it), it is a good film which, along with The Vampire Lovers, defines a Hammer favourite in Ms Pitt.

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Hammer Chooseday #4:Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb

Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971) 4/5

Enjoyable Egyptology hokum, based on a book by Bram Stoker, and made watchable by the beautiful Valerie Leon in a rare lead role. In fact, she plays a double role: that of Margaret, the daughter of Professor Fuchs (Andrew Keir), and also that of the ancient Egyptian Queen Tera. She waits all her career for a lead role, then two come along at once.

One way to stop biting your nails.

We discover that Margaret’s mother died giving birth to her at exactly the same moment that Fuchs makes the discovery of the inexplicably still-bleeding body of the Queen. Now what a coincidence you may say. Or perhaps there’s something going on here. Maybe even just get on with it.

I bet my wife is giving birth at home right now. It's all about bleeding mummies today.

I bet my wife is giving birth at home right now. It’s all about bleeding mummies today.

Twenty years later, Margaret, plagued by nightmares, is given a ring by her father on the day before her birthday. And guess who the ring used to belong to?

As modelled by Thing. Father, really, you shouldn't have.

As modelled by Thing. You shouldn’t have, Father, really, you shouldn’t have.

What ensues is the discovery that, among many deaths, Margaret is the vessel through which Tera still wields her magic, ahead of her planned resurrection. Along the way we are treated to such creepy images as the shadow of a jackal, and a crawling, severed hand.

I hear Strepsils are good for sore throats.

I hear Strepsils are good for sore throats.

In the end, both of Leon’s characters are buried in rubble as a battle between them occurs. Only one woman survives-but which one? Lay in a hospital bed, wrapped ridiculously in a swathe of bandages covering everything but the eyes, and looking just like, well, a mummy, a clue is that the patient is missing a hand. Hmm. Thank God for the NHS. Sleep well.

Why Grandmother, what nice eyes you have.

Why Grandmother, what nice eyes you have.

I enjoyed this film, but it could have been so much more for the presence of the great Peter Cushing, who had to leave the production after just one day to nurse his wife who had fallen ill (and eventually died). Although Keir does a satisfactory job as a last minute stand in.

Leon and Cushing together on the first day of filming, before his unfortunate withdrawal.

Leon and Cushing together on the first day of filming, before his unfortunate withdrawal.

Also, five weeks into filming, director Seth Holt suffered a fatal heart attack, encouraging rumours of a mummy’s curse, and another director had to fill in to film the remaining sequences.

Given Leon’s presence, it is curious why Hammer never gave her another lead role. Someone suggested to me that it could be because she was quite tall, and leading actors of the time did not want to be set against taller leading ladies. And they couldn’t run around graveyards wearing heels. Or maybe it could be down to something much more credible like a mummy’s curse. Either way, Leon can lay claim to be the only Bond girl who worked with two different Bonds-both Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Whenever put on the spot to name her favourite she played it safe, saying that she thought both were good.

See-savvy too.

Now where did that hand come from?

Now where did that hand come from?

Hammer Chooseday #3:Straight On Till Morning

Straight On Till Morning (1972) 1/5

Rita Tushingham plays a rather pathetic and timid Brenda, who moves to London in a desperate move to find someone who will give her a baby. Like you do. Of course, this was before the days when you could advertise on Facebook, get someone to come around and get you pregnant, delete and block them, then meet up with them again some years in the future on Jeremy Kyle.

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Unfortunately for her, the first man who shows any interest, after she makes the initial pursuit, is psychotic Peter, played by Hammer regular Shane Briant, who has the unfortunate compulsion to destroy anything of beauty, be it women or, erm, dogs.

Peter's own dog is safe from harm, flea bitten old scamp that she is. But then Brenda comes along, armed with a bottle of shampoo and a lovely pink ribbon.....

Peter’s own dog is safe from harm, flea bitten old scamp that she is. But then Brenda comes along, armed with a bottle of shampoo and a lovely pink ribbon…..

We soon learn that Peter is behind the disappearance of several girls in the Earl’s Court area of London. Rest assured, Plain Jane Brenda is perfectly safe among the capital’s bright young things. That is, until she decides to help herself to some of Peter’s money and goes out to have a make over. Purely to please him, you understand. She has a habit of these faux pax, doesn’t she?

"Mirror mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" For God's sake name Snow White.

“Mirror mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” For God’s sake name Snow White.

In the beginning the film jumps around a little, drags in the middle, and has an ambiguous ending: Brenda learns the truth of Peter’s true nature when he plays her a horrific audio recording of him killing his dog, and also of the murder of Brenda’s friend, and she tries in vain to flee from his home while he assures her he would never harm her. The last thing we see is him sitting alone, with no sign of her. Is she in the bedroom? Did he kill her? Do we care?

The film does have its moments, as well as its fans, but I hated it. It was too slow, and the character of Brenda was too pitiful for me to care about. This is one of the few Hammer films that I wouldn’t sit through again. I’m not really selling it to you, am I?

"We are watching it again? Noooooo!!!!!!!!! "

“We are watching it again? Noooooo!!!!!!!!! “

Released as a double feature with Fear In The Night (last week’s Hammer post), Fear is far superior to this one.

Hammer doesn't do love stories, but if they did.......

Hammer don’t do love stories, but if they did…….

Hammer Chooseday #2:Fear In The Night

Fear In The Night (1972) 5/5

The much better film of a double feature release (the other being the dreadful Straight On Till Morning), Judy Geeson plays a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown, who is attacked by an intruder with a prosthetic arm. Soon after this she moves, along with her new husband, a teacher, to the country, where he has a new job at a boys’ school. At least she will be safe in the country, won’t she?

Of course not, this is a Hammer film.

A further attack happens in her new home, but, due to her previous mental health problems, her husband Robert (Ralph Bates) doesn’t believe her. She meets the headmaster of the school, the unsettling Michael, played by the ever great Peter Cushing. We soon learn that Michael has a prosthetic arm. Now I’m no Sherlock, but this could just be a clue, couldn’t it, as the number of people that you meet with a false arm you can count on, well, one hand?

Peter Cushing should have gone to Specsavers.

Peter Cushing should have gone to Specsavers.

One night, alone and tormented, Peggy shoots Michael and flees. The next morning, when Bob returns, she neglects to tell him what has happened. Finding blood, used cartridges, and a damaged door, (but no body), Bob try’s to put the pieces of the jigsaw together, and hunts for Michael’s body.

Eventually, we learn that the villains of the piece are actually Bob, in cahoots with his lover Molly, (played by Joan Collins), who just happens to be Michael’s wife. Keeping up? They have set up Peggy to kill Michael for them.

Call me unreasonable, but the fact that Molly has made a clay model of Peggy, and likes to thrust sharp implements into the eye, should have set alarm bells off.

Call me unreasonable, but the fact that Molly has made a clay model of Peggy, and likes to thrust sharp implements into the eye, should have set alarm bells off. Nice cardigans though.

In the end the unstable Michael, who we learn is the headmaster of a school that, like Molly’s model, has no pupils, comes to Peggy’s rescue and we are left with the image of Bob hanging from a tree.

The things you have to do for art.

The things you have to do for art.

An entertaining thriller with good performances all round.

Whatever you do, don't let Peggy have a go of the Karaoke.

Whatever you do, don’t let Peggy have a go of the Karaoke.

That's right, keep her away from the mic.

That’s right, keep her away from the mic.

Too late:"You know you make me wanna shout..." (Clears the room. No wonder the school had no pupils.)

Too late:”You know you make me wanna shout…” (Clears the room. No wonder the school had no pupils.)

Hammer Chooseday #1:Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde

Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971) 5/5

Dr. Jekyll’s experiments transform him into a beautiful, female, alter ego, and both he and she go to any lengths to get the female hormones needed to continue the work. The film incorporates historical figures into the story: when bodysnatchers Burke and Hare can no longer provide the bodies, Jekyll becomes the Ripper of Whitechapel.

 

Just the kind of coat the Ripper needs to blend incongruously into his surroundings.

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A battle for dominance between both personalities leads to a struggle for the life of Jekyll’s unsuspecting love interest, played by Susan Brodrick, in a real pea souper of a fog.

 

Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who is the fairest of them all? What do you mean you quit?

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Just Jekyll’s luck-not only did he manage to transform himself into a woman, but he managed to transform himself into a woman with PMT.

imageA striking resemblance between the two, great, leads-Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick, helps to cement a credible portrayal of Stevenson’s story.

 

If only Jekyll grew a beard, Hyde would be in trouble. And so would Lewis Fiander, playing her love interest. If he only knew. Death by stubble burn.

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At the end of the film, in an attempt to escape capture by the police, the doctor hangs from a rooftop as Jekyll, screams as Hyde, (this is getting confusing), and plunges to his/her death. We see his/her face disfigured by the fall and also, perhaps, the interrupted gender struggle.

 

Even John Lennon could not resist her charms. Perhaps she was the inspiration behind his Beatles song-You’ve Got To Hyde Your Love Away? Sorry, I’ll get my cloak.

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A good film with some great imagery, I can recall watching this many years ago one night at my grandparents’ house. Although I am sure I watched it in black and white-must have been the good old days before they had a colour television.

 

‘The sexual transformation of a man into a woman will actually take place before your very eyes!’ Thank God my Gran had cataracts.

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A good good film which I enjoyed. Now, what’s next?

Introducing Hammer Chooseday Tuesday. On Monday.

So you guys probably all know by now that I’m an old horror fan, and when I was a kid I loved in particular the old films made by Hammer, or Hammer Horror, as we used to refer to the production company back then. Recently I have begun to either watch for the first time, or rewatch again, their back catalogue of movies. The problem is keeping tabs on what I’ve seen and what I haven’t seen.

Hammer studios was operating, in many genres, between 1935 and 1979. From 2008, the company started releasing horror films again. It is quite an umbrella that covers their work.

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There is no point me asking my wife about the various films, as she refuses point blank to watch them with me. I tried to get her to watch their very first Dracula film, made in 1958.

She lasted fifteen minutes.

She told me how bad it was. It was like a dagger, or rather a stake, through the heart. I couldn’t believe it, saying to her:

“What do you mean? It’s a classic! What about the part when Christopher Lee’s Dracula closes the door behind himself, and Van Helsing’s fear is palpable as he realises that he is trapped inside the tomb with no less than The Lord of the Undead?” 

“I would rather watch dog shit cooling”

You can see who the real poet in our marriage is, can’t you? The Laureate later elucidated:

“Once you put it on, I knew it wasn’t for me. It was like being out on a blind date, and you are sat at the table thinking ‘I shouldn’t be here’. Do you know what I mean?” 

Oh yes Jen, I know exactly what you mean.

So, not being able to rely on my other half, I thought I would use City Jackdaw to keep a record of what I’ve seen and what I haven’t seen. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get carried away and fill my blog with Hammer posts. God forbid I get all nerdy on you. Not in public anyway. I will just just post a film a week, and I’ve picked Tuesday as Hammer Chooseday is the best I could come up with. I thought of Hammer Film Friday, but that would clash with my occasional Claws For The Weekend posts. And Winding The Wife Up Wednesdays was a non-starter.

You can tell I’ve really thought this through, can’t you?

So every Tuesday, starting tomorrow, I will pick one of Hammer’s horror, science fiction, or thriller films to watch and document. (I have decided to ignore their comedies, as my life span is just not long enough.) It wont be a review, only a brief summing up, as I’m no Barry Norman. Maybe some nice shiny pictures too. Perhaps a poster cover art sort of thing, too, for those of you who like that.

So, if it’s not your cup of tea please bear with me. I will serve you something else up the other six days of the week. Something for you to look forward to while you watch that, you know, dog shit.

Cooling.

This photograph reminded me of the Mrs, radiating excitement as the credits start to roll. Pass me an apple, darling.

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