Sunday, 31 March 2013


Ray Barrett (Harry Spalding), Noel Willman (Dr Franklyn), Jennifer Daniel (Valerie Spalding), Jacqueline Pearce (Anna Franklyn), Michael Ripper (Tom Bailey), John Laurie (Mad Peter Crockett), Marne Maitland (Malay)
Director – John Gilling, Screenplay – John Elder [Anthony Hinds], Producer – Anthony Nelson Keys, Photography – Arthur Grant, Music – Don Banks, Music Supervisor – Philip Martell, Special Effects – Bowie Films, Makeup – Roy Ashton, Production Design – Bernard Robinson. Production Company – Hammer/Seven-Arts.
Harry Spalding, a captain in the Royal Grenadiers, inherits a cottage in a small Cornish village after his brother Charles dies in mysterious circumstances. He moves into the cottage with his wife Valerie. Harry discovers that several locals have been killed by mysterious snake bites. This is also found to have been the cause of Charles’s death. The origin of the snake killings appears to rest with Dr Franklyn who lives in the village mansion. As Harry investigates, he discovers that these are being caused by Franklyn’s daughter Anna who was abducted by a snake cult that Franklyn was researching in Borneo and that she now periodically transforms into a snake creature.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Bette Davis (Jane Hudson), Joan Crawford (Blanche Hudson), Victor Buono (Edwin Flagg), Maidie Norman (Elvira Stitt), Anna Lee (Mrs Bates), Marjorie Bennett (Della Flagg)

Director/Producer – Robert Aldrich, Screenplay – Lukas Heller, Based on the Novel by Henry Farrell, Photography (b&w) – Ernest Haller, Music – Frank DeVol, Special Effects – Don Steward, Makeup – Monty Westmore, Art Direction – William Glasgow. Production Company – Associates and Aldrich/Seven Arts.  USA. 1962.  

It is 1917 and Jane Hudson is an enormously popular variety show child star. She is able to get anything she wants and throws tantrums when she does not get it. She is envied by her sister Blanche who vows to one day get even. Blanche’s opportunity comes in the 1930s when she becomes a Hollywood star and Jane is a has-been who has sunken into alcoholism. As the two sisters drive back from a party one night, one gets out to open the gate and the other slips the car into gear and drives forward at them. The accident leaves Blanche paralysed from the waist down. Thirty years later, Jane is left tending the wheelchair-ridden Blanche. However, Jane’s sanity has snapped and she cruelly tortures the helpless Blanche, keeping her imprisoned and feeding dead rats and her pet bird up to her.


With the exception of Psycho (1960) and to a lesser extent Les Diaboliques (1955), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is the film that had the greatest influence on the prolific psycho-thriller genre of the 1960s. It gave an entirely new impetus to the flagging careers of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, both former Hollywood stars beyond their glory years who subsequently found new careers in horror movies. Indeed, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, with its sight of former Hollywood stars over the hill and going round the bend, created a lurid pseudo-tabloid sub-genre of Grand Guignol Hollywood self-devouring (one that had its antecedent in Gloria Swanson’s swan song, Sunset Boulevard (1950), which was almost a horror film). What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was followed by a cycle of Grand Guignol psycho films featuring over-the-hill female stars – Olivia De Havilland appeared in Lady in a Cage (1964), Tallulah Bankhead in The Fanatic/Die, Die My Darling (1965), Eleanor Parker in Eye of the Cat (1969), Shelley Winters in What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971) and Who Slew Auntie Roo? (1971), Ruth Roman in The Baby (1972), Lana Turner in Persecution (1974), while both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford appeared in several lookalike films – Davis in Hammer’s The Nanny (1965) and The Anniversary (1968), and Crawford in Strait-Jacket (1964), I Saw What You Did (1965) and Berserk (1968). Indeed, Joan Crawford’s own life story was even turned into a Batty Old Dames film of sorts with Mommie Dearest (1981).

When What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? came out, a large part of its success was the shock of seeing the two former stars reduced to monsters. The horror in the film fails to translate so well to today’s teen and twentysomething audiences who often find the film dated and ludicrous because they are not conversant with the film’s context – that it represented a shock trashing of two of the icons of Hollywood glamour in the 1940s. Bette Davis in particular shocked everybody with her completely over-the-top performance. It is a real theatre-rattling barnstormer of a delivery that she gives – and one that garnered her a Best Actress Academy Award nomination. She goes totally bonkers and the results are fascinatingly grotesque to watch. The scene where she in cracked, gargoyle makeup sings a song I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy in a cracked, girl-like voice is a masterpiece of the memorably bizarre and twisted.

Joan Crawford’s fine performance was not unexpectedly overshadowed by Bette Davis but is one that elicits a good deal of pained sympathy. Although such is something that the film seems to misunderstand. The final twist in the ending mutes the horror – seeming to imply that we should forgive Jane for what she has done as Blanche deserved it. A good deal of the venom between the characters was apparently something that existed between the two actresses in real-life with both delighting in spitefully nasty games of one-upmanship on the other on set – there was even a book written about such Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud (1989) by Shaun Considine. The irony that only came out in later years is that the roles were uncommonly close to the truth upon the parts of both actresses – Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were both utterly vain, particularly when it came to their own celebrity, both abused their own family members and both had daughters who wrote books about the cruelty of their parents.

Director Robert Aldrich has the power to shock at his disposal – the dead rat scene always has gross-out impact. There are the odd moments of suspense – the move down the stairs and the balled-up note – although there are also times when the film seems talky, almost too stagy, and needs more drive and tension. Indeed, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a film whose effect lies with the barnstorming theatrics of its two stars rather than as a straight psycho-thriller. (It would make a very interesting revival as a stage play). There is fine black-and-white photography, which only serves to bring out the deliberately unglamorous making-up of its two stars. The other Academy Award nominee among the cast was Victor Buono as Supporting Actor – there is a sly amusement to the scenes with his mother and a piquant charm to his clumsy English mannerdness in the scenes with an outrageously flirting Bette Davis. In recent years, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? has gained the status of a gay cult classic because of its campy over-acting.

The film was later blandly remade as a tv movie What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1991), which was executive produced by Robert Aldrich’s son William. In a piece of freakish stunt casting, the Joan Crawford and Bette Davis roles were played respectively by real-life sisters Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave.

Robert Aldrich later returned with Bette Davis (and it was originally intended Joan Crawford who quit/was fired in mid-production because of the rivalry with Davis) in a follow-up of sorts Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), which is a much better film, if not as famous. Also of interest is Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George (1968), which returns to the same Hollywood Grand Guignol as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? although is not a horror film, and his The Legend of Lylah Clare (1969), where a producer attempts to turn Kim Novak into a replica of his dead wife, which hovers for a time on the edge of being a ghost story. In the Hollywood Guignol stakes, Aldrich also produced a further Batty Old Dames psycho film What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969) and Bert I. Gordon’s Picture Mommy Dead (1966) where the spirit of Zsa Zsa Gabor haunts her daughter from out of a painting. Robert Aldrich had a celebrated career that stretched between the 1950s and 1980s, making films such as The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Longest Yard (1974) and The Choirboys (1977). He made several other films of genre interest, including the quasi-sf Mickey Spillane adaptation Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which is perhaps one of the finest of all Hollywood film noirs, and the nuclear missile silo hijacking thriller Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977).

Novelist Henry Farrell, whose 1960 novel the film was based on, also developed a film career as a result of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Farrell furnished the script for Robert Aldrich’s Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the novel for the Curtis Harrington-directed Baby Jane copy How Awful About Allan (1970) and the script for Harrington’s What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), as well as scripts for two tv movies, the haunted house drama The House That Would Not Die (1970) and the clairvoyance thriller The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972). 

Saturday, 23 March 2013


John Malkovich (Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau), Willem Dafoe (Max Schreck), Cary Elwes (Fritz Arno Wagner), Udo Kier (Albin Grau), Catherine McCormack (Greta Schroeder), Robert Aden Gillett (Henrik Galeen), Eddie Izzard (Gustav von Waggenheim), Ronan Vibert (Wolfgang Muller) 

Director – E. Elias Merhige, Screenplay – Steven Katz, Producers – Nicolas Cage & Jeff Levine, Photography (colour & b&w) – Lew Bogue, Music – Dan Jones, Digital Effects/Titles – Cine Image, Special Effects Supervisor – Rick Weissenhaan, Makeup – Pauline Fowler & Julian Meriya, Production Design – Assheton Gordon. Production Company – Saturn Films/Long Shot Films/BBC Films/Deluxe Productions/Shadow of the Vampire Ltd.  USA/UK/Luxembourg. 2000.

In 1921, the brilliant, highly acclaimed German film director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau seeks to make the greatest and most realistic vampire film of all time. He calls his film ‘Nosferatu’ after Bram Stoker’s widow refuses him permission to film ‘Dracula’. He takes his crew to the small town of Wismar. In the role of the vampire, Murnau employs an actor called Max Schreck who is so much of a character actor that he even appears in his own makeup. The unnerved crew soon discover that Schreck is a real vampire and that Murnau has promised him leading lady Greta Schroeder to feed upon at the end of shooting. 

Shadow of the Vampire was announced immediately after the critical success of Gods and Monsters (1998), which was based on the life of the real-life genre director James Whale. Indeed, the initial pitch for Shadow of the Vampire had it sounding like it was a similar biopic of silent German director F.W. Murnau. Gods and Monsters was an honest attempt to speculate about true events surrounding Whale’s death. On the other hand, Shadow of the Vampire takes reality as a springboard for a What If story – in this case, what if F.W. Murnau shot Nosferatu (1922) using a real vampire?

The important difference between the two is to realize that Shadow of the Vampire is a work of fiction, not of historical accuracy, even though it mimics such. Max Schreck, although the character has attained a certain creepy mythology, was a real flesh and blood actor and did not die in 1921 as is stated here but went on to make some twenty other films over the next decade up until his death in Munich in 1936 of a much more mundane heart-attack. Nor were screenwriter Henrik Galeen and cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner killed as depicted in the film – Henrik Galeen went onto write other fantastic classics such as Waxworks (1924), became a director with the remakes of The Student of Prague (1926) and Alraune (1928) and died in 1949 after emigrating to the US to flee the Nazis, while Fritz Arno Wagner filmed more than 100 films including such Fritz Lang classics as Spies (1928), M (1931), The Testament of Dr Mabuse (1933) and did not die until 1958.

There are a few other inaccuracies – the film makes the claim that F.W. Murnau wanted to make the “most realistic vampire film of all time” – but as there had been no other vampire films made before Nosferatu, it seems difficult to make such a qualitative statement. Shadow of the Vampire also calls F.W. Murnau the greatest filmmaker of the German silent era (which is probably true) but most of Murnau’s reputation came as a result of Nosferatu and with later films such as The Last Laugh (1924), Faust (1926) and particularly Sunrise (1927). The film’s characterization of Murnau as a reckless tyrant obsessed with his art to the extent he is prepared to sacrifice human life also verges on the libellous. However, as long as one can get the proper perspective, one can enjoy Shadow of the Vampire for exactly what it is – a work of historical fiction, not of accuracy.

As such, Shadow of the Vampire is rather enjoyable. The sense of verisimilitude achieved is strikingly well done. Most impressive is the haunting and beautiful credits sequence all in a stylised three-dimensional recreation of 1920s art deco frescoes. Director E. Elias Merhige’s recreations of the camera set-ups of the original Nosferatu are striking in their exacting precision. There is almost a sense of watching the original Nosferatu and being able to stop the film you have just seen and walk around the edges of the frame to watch the filmmakers at work. Merhige is only too aware of the effect of this and starts to play into and against audience expectations – when it comes to the scene where Orlock picks up the locket with the photo of Johannes’s wife and Willem Dafoe playing Orlock picks it up and looks at the photo of Greta Schroeder who has been promised to him by Murnau, the expected line “What a beautiful throat” rather wittily comes out as “What a beautiful bosom.” The classic death scene with Ellen luring Orlock to her bed and keeping him until dawn is revealed in reality as being conducted by an actress who is too drug-addled to be able to wield the stake through the heart that was originally intended to be Orlock’s form of dispatch, while the film’s wonderfully cinematic death scene where Orlock is killed by the dawn’s rays is revealed as being Schreck’s death caused by the accidental opening of the set doors. 

Steven Katz’s script pays exceptional attention to characters and E. Elias Merhige has an excellent cast on hand. Even the smaller parts in the film are filled with excellent, wonderfully nuanced characterizations – especially notable being Cary Elwes’s fine performance as the handsome, gung ho cameraman. Of course, the performance that had everyone talking and received a number of award nominations (the Golden Globes and the LA Film Critics Awards) is Willem Dafoe’s Max Schreck. It is a part where Willem Dafoe completely submerges himself in the role and is totally unrecognisble on screen. His performance has a creepy fascination, although is one that is very different to Max Schreck’s. This is a vampire cast as a pathetic and aged figure that has lost all former glory and lacks anything in the way of classic vampire movie magnetism, evil or dark sexuality. It is a performance considerably abetted by the extraordinary character soliloquies that Steven Katz provides – most haunting of all being the one where he tells how the saddest part of Dracula (1897) is the scene where we see Dracula forced to act as his own servant, a scene where we see the touching sense of an aristocrat (not Dracula, but Schreck) having been reduced to squalor.

Director E. Elias Merhige had previously made the extremely weird art film Begotten (1991) concerning a day in the life of God, who disembowels himself, and Mother Earth. Subsequently, Merhige went onto make the serial killer thriller Suspect Zero (2004). Screenwriter Steven Katz went onto write the ghost story Wind Chill (2007). 

IMAGES: Marcus Brooks

Friday, 22 March 2013


Great to announce that our PCASUK Fan Page has just hit another milestone with another thousand followers! Many thanks to everyone who have joined up in the last month and to everyone for your support and comments! JOIN HERE!

Thursday, 21 March 2013


Bill Travers (Captain Joe Ryan), William Sylvester (Sam Slade), Vincent Winter (Sean), Christopher Rhodes (McCartin), Joseph O’Conor (Professor Hendricks), Bruce Seton (Professor Flaherty), Martin Benson (Dorkin), Maurice Kaufmann (Radio Reporter), Basil Dignam (Admiral Brooks) 

Director – Eugene Lourie, Screenplay – Daniel Hyatt & John Loring, Story – Daniel Hyatt & Eugene Lourie, Producers – Wilfred Eades, Photography – F.A. Young, Music – Angelo Lavagnino, Special Photographic Effects – Tom Howard, Art Direction – Elliott Scott. Production Company – King Bros. Productions Ltd..USA. 1961

Joe Ryan and his business partner Sam Slade, the owners of a fishing trawler operating off the Irish coast are witness as a dinosaur emerges from the ocean in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. With their ship damaged in the encounter, they are forced to set ashore on tiny Nara Island. The orphan Sean attaches himself to them but they are afforded a frosty welcome by the harbourmaster, the archaeologist McCartin, who they find is wanting to keep a trove of sunken treasure he discovered in the nearby deeps to himself. The dinosaur then emerges and rampages across the island but Ryan and Slade are able to capture it. They set sail back to England with the creature, which they nickname Gorgo. They decline the offer of scientists who want to study the Gorgo and instead accept the substantially better offer to exhibit it at Dorkin’s Circus in Battersea Park. There the creature becomes a source of great public fascination. The scientists then realise that the dinosaur is only an infant. Its parent emerges from the ocean and heads to London, destroying all in its path, in order to get its child back.


Director Eugene Lourie is a name of some genre interest. Lourie spent the bulk of his career as an art director and production designer, first in France and then in the US. Lourie only took the director’s chair on four occasions but each of these was a genre film. The first was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation vehicle about an atomically revived dinosaur amok in New York City. This was enormously influential in that it was the very first atomic monster film, something that rapidly became one of the most predominant 1950s fads, and created the great era of atomic monsters, revived dinosaurs and giant insects amok. Lourie next went onto make The Colossus of New York (1958) about a scientist who transplants his son’s brain into a robot body. He was evidently in demand as a monster movie maker and was brought to England to make one further stop-motion animated monster movie with The Giant Behemoth/Behemoth the Sea Monster (1958), which was intended as a copy of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and is a weaker effort. With Gorgo, his last film, Lourie again went to London to make a revived dinosaur movie – although, unlike the other two, this is not an atomic monster film. 

Gorgo was made at the behest of the King Brothers, two US producers who made a number of B Westerns in the previous decade and would subsequently make Captain Sindbad (1963). Lourie is also working with less resources in terms of effects budget than he was on his other dinosaur two films – where they created their dinosaurs via the time-consuming stop-motion animation process, here he resorts to the good old man in a monster suit as has been patented a few years earlier by Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954). That said, Gorgo emerges as the best of Eugene Lourie’s dinosaur films due to the fact that it gives the rampaging monster story an entirely different spin and a surprise twist of sympathy. 

One of the other bonuses about Gorgo is that it is the only of Eugene Lourie’s films to have been made in colour. Lourie has gone to shoot on the Irish coast and this makes a visually impressive piece of location photography. The characters are drawn somewhat better than usual in these films. Lourie creates some good set-pieces – Bill Travers’ descent by bathysphere and encountering the Gorgo in the depths; or the scene where the Gorgo is initially taken to London and manages to get free as they transfer it to the carnival. In the middle of the film, Lourie also does a fine job of integrating what is clearly footage of the British Navy on manoeuvres – it is certainly blended with opticals and original footage better than it is in a comparable film like Invaders from Mars (1953). 

When the invasion of London comes during the film’s last quarter, Lourie pulls off his best effects set-pieces – the demolition of the Tower Bridge; the mother Gorgo standing towering over Big Ben backlit by orange smoke, demolishing the clock as the military fire missiles at her. There is an enormous sense of convincing panic created as the monster starts trampling the crowds and people are forced to take refuge in the subway. Even though the effects are down around the level of the average late 1950s Godzilla film, you tend to forget it is a man in a monster suit and be impressed by the sheer spectacle on display. What we end up with is a superior monster movie. 

The plot for the first half of Gorgo has been borrowed from King Kong (1933) – the monster that is captured and taken to be exhibited in the city, whereupon it proceeds to escape and go amok. The touch that makes the film stand out is the revelation in the last third that the dinosaur they have captured is only an infant and that the mother has arrived to get her child back and is very angry. This gives an extra level of poignancy to the film – the final image the film goes out on with the mother and child by her side walking into The Thames as London burns around them is a beautiful one. It makes the antagonistic force of the film something strikingly different as opposed to a rampaging monster that only needs be exterminated by the forces of law and order. 

The idea of the monster and its child was promptly borrowed by Toho for the Godzilla series in Son of Godzilla (1968) wherein Godzilla almost identically gained a son, although that was played as far more of a cutsie children’s film. A rival Japanese company stole the basic plot for their monster movie Monster from a Prehistoric Planet/Gappa the Triphibian Monster (1967) 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Following the success of The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula, Hammer Studios decided to turn their attention to the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In keeping with the tone of their recent films, their choice of The Hound of the Baskervilles seemed a solid concept. Certainly it was the most famous of Doyle’s many Sherlock Holmes stories, and it was arguably also the one that was best suited to feature length adaptation. On top of that, it had a macabre component – even if the inevitable intervention of logic would render its supernatural elements easily explained by the master sleuth by the time the film faded to black. The casting of Peter Cushing as Holmes was a given, even if Hammer executive James Carreras’ assertion that he would be the screen’s first “sexy” Holmes remains highly questionable. Had the film been made a few years later, it would not be inconceivable to picture Holmes as being played by Christopher Lee (who would indeed later essay the role several times, beginning with the bizarre West German production Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace, 1962, directed by Terence Fisher), with Cushing supporting as Dr. Watson. In 1958, however, Lee was only beginning to establish a name for himself, whereas Cushing was more of a proven quantity.

Sensibly realizing that Lee was too young and too imposing to play Holmes’ right hand man and confidante, Dr. John Watson, he was instead given a chance at playing the romantic lead, a bit of casting which Lee openly relished; he would therefore become one of the few actors to lend much in the way of presence and color to the usually disposable role of Sir Henry Baskerville. To play Dr. Watson, Hammer turned to veteran actor Andre Morell. Morell was known as a prickly sort, given to speaking his mind, and he and Lee apparently did not hit it off at all – but neither ever made much of a commentary on this, leading one to suspect that perhaps they were simply too similar in disposition. Happily, no such conflict would come into play with Morell’s relationship with Cushing – they had already acted together in the controversial, Nigel Kneale-scripted adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 (1954) for the BBC , and following Hound, they would appear in Cash on Demand (1960), Cone of Silence (1960) and She (1964). Sadly, however, this would mark their one and only outing as Holmes and Watson – while Cushing would go on to play the role many more times (always on TV, it should be noted), Morell’s association with the world of Conan Doyle would begin and end on Hound.

The film itself is a problematic one, and this is down more to the screenplay than anything else. While some Hammer fans have praised scenarist Peter Bryan for structuring the film so that it would have some consistency with the “sins of the fathers” motif that was so common in Hammer horror (and in British horror in general, if truth be told), it seems to this writer that his attempts to “Hammerize” the material results in a film that sits unsteadily between two different styles of filmmaking. The more sensational elements feel rather grafted on, while the mystery angle becomes negligible in the bargain. Viewers unacquainted with Conan Doyle’s story might hope to have some sense of surprise when the killer is finally unmasked, but thanks to the heavy handed approach, there’s never any real doubt as to “who done it.” As such, the film fails as a mystery, and while there are token gestures towards the horror crowd, it’s a little too tame and restrained to really work on that level, either.

Director Terence Fisher does manage a tremendous set piece at the beginning, however, as he details the cruelty of Sir Henry’s infamous ancestor, Sir Hugo (David Oxley). Oxley tears into his role with ferocious abandon, teerting on the verge of camp overstatement yet remaining a credible villain. His presence is sorely missed when the film switches to the present day, with Ewen Solon’s sour-faced Stapleton proving to be a dull and rather listless villain. Fisher and cinematographer Jack Asher work hard to create a sense of menace on the moors, but the cramped production values sometimes conspire against their efforts. Hammer’s use of standing sets was beginning to show through at this juncture, though Hammer’s great production designer, Bernard Robinson, certainly does what he can to disguise the subterfuge. With James Bernard’s music booming away, it’s clear that this Hound is meant to be as scary as their previous Dracula and Frankenstein pictures – but it never quite catches fire.

One would be hard pressed to fault Hammer for their casting of Cushing and Morell, however. Cushing’s hawk-like visage and thin frame made him ideal casting, though his average stature is rather unfairly shown up by Fisher on occasion – when playing scenes opposite very tall men like Lee and Francis De Wolff (as the sour-pussed Dr. Mortimer), it would have made better sense to minimize this, but Fisher elects to have the other actors towering over Cushing, who has little choice but to look up at his co-stars when he should be firmly in control of the scene. Cushing’s devotion to the role was absolute, and he added bits of business straight from Conan Doyle, as well as from Sidney Paget’s famed illustrations from the original Strand Magazine publications of the stories. He brings intensity to the role, but he does sometimes rely too much on favored mannerisms. There are moments when his decision to emphasize the character’s theatricality verges on ham acting, but he manages to convey the character’s aloof nature and addiction to cocaine without becoming as over the top as Jeremy Brett would later be in the rightly celebrated Granada TV adaptations of the Conan Doyle canon. It is a performance that compares favorably with Basil Rathbone’s iconic, possibly definitive, portrayal for Fox and Universal in the 1930s and 1940s, but he would arguably grow into the role and play it with greater subtly and effectiveness when he took over the deer stalker from Douglas Wilmer for the BBC television series of the 1960s.

Morell’s challenge was arguably greater, in that the character of Dr. Watson had been reduced to the level of caricature courtesy of Nigel Bruce’s portrayal opposite Basil Rathbone in the afore-mentioned series of films. Make no mistake, Bruce was a charming and engaging performer, and his blustery portrayal had tremendous chemistry opposite Rathbone’s aloof and somewhat acerbic master detective, but it was a portrayal that was far removed from Conan Doyle. In the stories, Watson is really the author’s mouthpiece, and it is he who narrates the action and fills the reader in on the characters and their motivations. Far from being comedy relief, Watson is a solid, dependable medical man with a military background; he may seem “dim” compared to Holmes, but that’s merely because Holmes represents a kind of intellectual ideal. Watson is the everyman, and Morell’s interpretation is faithful to this conception. Morell resists the urge to play up the comedy, though he does have a few moments of subtle humor along the way.

It is, in short, an ideal pairing of two fine actors – and it is this, above anything else, that makes Hammer’s Hound linger in memory. Cushing’s wound up, energetic portrayal contrasts nicely with Morell’s more restrained approach, and the two men clearly have genuine respect and affection for each other. They make a wonderful team, though other vehicles – notably Cash on Demand and 1984 – would play them off as rivals. It’s to be regretted that Hound was something of a flop at the box office, as this killed off a potential series of Cushing/Morell/Hammer Holmes adaptations. Had they had a chance to grow into the roles and establish more audience familiarity, it’s possible that Cushing and Morell would have eclipsed Rathbone and Bruce in the mind of the public. As it stands, however, we only have this one, flawed vehicle to judge them from – and if the film itself has problems, there’s little doubt that the two actors acquitted themselves beautifully and were determined to remain as faithful as possible to Conan Doyle’s original conception. For this reason alone, the Hammer Hound remains an essential entry in the Holmes on film canon. 

Images: Marcus Brooks (PCASUK) 

Monday, 18 March 2013


NEWS: Famous Monsters Magazine Celebrates Peter Cushing in June! 'This June we celebrate what would have been Peter Cushing's 100th birthday, and Famous Monsters will look back over the life and classic works of one of cinema's greatest legends! Featuring a Peter Cushing cover by Oscar-winner Dave Elsey'....


Unrestored frame from the 'lost' Japanese print of Hammer Films DRACULA (1958) featuring Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Melissa Stribling as Mina. Dir: Terence Fisher. Reels 6 -9 can be seen on the DRACULA blu ray released today.


It’s a lost art, perhaps one of the lesser known signs of the true gentleman, but Peter Cushing is able to do up a double-breasted suit while holding a lit cigarette, later holding a nicotine stained figure up in emphasis. It’s a detail you’d be hard pressed to pick out in any of the more naturalistic, and arguably more realistic and relatable, horror movies of the Sixties and Seventies.

It’s easy to focus on the all-new special features, the luscious HD transfer, and of course the deleted scenes, restoring the crucial original edit of Hammer‘s definitive movie some 55 years after it was viciously attacked by the somewhat prudish censors of Fifties Britain, but the truth is that every time you watch or rewatch 1958′s Dracula (known in the US as The Horror Of Dracula), you notice something new.

Most of the something new comes from three camps, the incredible performances from Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the decadent cinematography and set design, and the wonderfully tight and reductive screenplay that trimmed much of Bram Stoker’s gothic novel. Rather tell a cheap and short story well, than a long and expensive story badly seemed to be the philosophy, thus eliminating wolves, bats, ships, asylums, gypsies and a chase across half of Europe in favour of a carraige dash across an Austro-Hungarian border, complete with comedy, face-slapping customs official on loan from an Ealing caper.

Cushing, here at the height of his formidable powers, exudes the timeless class and steely precision that once ruled British cinema, while Lee, at the beginning of his career as a leading man looms and glowers, punching a black hole in the light and life of each scene with his flinty glare. Unable to show (or afford) the Count’s otherworldly nature in all its wall-crawling, transmogrifying majesty, Lee is instead called upon to project it through presence alone, drifting from almost elemental inscrutability as to irresistible force as he effortlessly escapes the clunky machinations of would be vampire slayer John Harker, and ensnares the women of the Holmwood house in his animalistic thrall.

Though Lee came to resist the role and fear the fluttering bat-wings of typecasting, his appearance in later efforts becoming all the more begrudging and embittered, here there’s no denying how definitive a performance it is for his career, to which the vast majority of his future roles are indebted

While Sangster‘s script treats the original novel as a children’s home toy box of scuffed characters and battered ideas (and the liberties taken are still jarring for fans of Bram Stoker’s inconsistent masterwork), Lee’s Dracula is a far more commanding and physical presence than the carrion Count Orlock, or Bela Lugosi’s sexless methuselah, and through that more true to Bram Stoker’s conservative paranoia, his fear of swathy foreigners, alien cultures and sexual predators seeking to hollow out the moral Camelot of Victorian England.

Modest ambition on a miniscule budget was clearly what Hammer did best, and using a minimum of sets, mere seconds of locations and barely double figure supporting cast allows the production team to emphasise what they do have, decking out baroque splendour for Castle Dracula and floral cosiness for the Holmwood house, and equally atmospheric streets, subterranean undertakers and a fog-caked graveyard.

The sad reality of the film’s age leaves the extras largely in the hands of fans and academics – the former camp featuring Mark Gatiss and Kim Newman – and what must be one of the last interviews from the fantastic Jimmy Sangster. What they lack in eyewitnesses, they make up for with thoroughness, with an incredible piece on Hammer’s long running battle with the British Board of Film Censors of particular interest given those recently restored deleted scenes.

Doubtless you ever really thought of Dracula as incomplete. But after watching the all new restoration – there is a slight dip in quality food the new scenes, which have been restored from a fire-damaged, water-logged Japanese print, but not to the extent you’d have though – it’s inconceivable you’d go back, the original theatrical climax seeming now strangely abrupt. The option is available though, should you wish to watch the 1958 theatrical release in its 2007 HD transfer, but to finally see Hammer’s true vision tells a more complete story about the sex and the violence that made the studio’s name, the astonishing physical effects that would need another two decades to better, and the terrible lover who would not die.

More than just an aspic preservation or white glove restoration of one of the most important genre films ever as some sort of museum piece, this is a celebration, that brings Dracula to life over and over again, and without upsetting Christopher Lee in the process…

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