Countess Dracula (1971 United Kingdom)

Despite its misleading title, this is a rendition of the exploits of Elisabeth Bathory–a Hungarian noble woman who killed around 650 girls in the 16th century. She believed bathing in their blood would restore her youth. The film’s feel of Hungary circa that time is convincing throughout, perhaps because director Peter Sasdy, producer Alexander Paal and romantic lead Sandor Eles were all native Hungarians. In a role at one time earmarked for Diana Rigg, Ingrid Pitt is frostily sinister as the elderly Countess and fulsomely passionate as the younger one, despite Hammer Studios re-dubbing her dialogue by another actress.  [Read more…]

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The Witches (1966 Britain)

There are things that keep you watching here, of course; there always are in a Hammer Horror. I particularly liked the depiction of rural village life in the 1960s; it’s picture postcard stuff, the sort of thing to make me nostalgic for a time I never actually knew. After a hell of a start, The Witches, which could indeed have used a more masterful director like Terence Fisher at the helm, slowly loses its grip. The screenplay is from Nigel Kneale, and he was dissatisfied with this film because he intended it to be a dark comedy that poked fun at witchcraft but Hammer wanted a serious horror movie so all comedic touches were removed.  [Read more…]

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969 United Kingdom)

Following a long period of cheap-looking productions designed to play as double-features on their home turf, Hammer returned to premium quality with Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. This is Peter Cushing’s definitive portrayal of the Baron. For once a Hammer Frankenstein doesn’t need an actual monster, but lets the baron himself become “more monstrous than the monsters he created”, as the advertisements proclaimed. And for a horror film, you’d have to agree that the locations used for filming were really quite elegant and ornate. The Spengler boarding house and Brandt’s home were exquisitely appointed and furnished, and all the while I kept thinking that they would have been a pretty nice place to live.  [Read more…]

Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb (1971 Britain)

I’ve been sweating cobs over some major computer problems recently and its been tough trying to write new posts. But while there’s some life in my old Toshiba there’s some hope. Hammer Studios had already peaked and it’s two marquee stars, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, had moved on to greener pastures. Loosely based on Bram Stoker’s “Jewel of the Seven Stars”, which is to say they ripped off a few elements, put Stoker’s name on it, safe in the knowledge that he was long dead and his works had entered the Public Domain. Two directors worked on this because the first one died and a lacklustre disorganization is evident. It’s also hard not to shake the feeling that Hammer horror were already on the way out. [Read more…]

Dracula A.D. 1972 (United Kingdom)

(I dedicate this post to Peter Cushing, who always maintained his dignity even when his hands were full.) Moving on…no prizes for guessing which year this baby was released. T’was a leap year in horror. A vintage year for being a vampire trapped in St Bartolph’s churchyard, London. Although it feels slapdash, with its day-as-night shots, total lack of continuity and sloppy script, this film succeeds as a comic masterpiece. A bit like the Beatles disastrous Let It Be sessions, Hammer’s Dracula run-at-the-top was also nigh. Right nigh. And there was little Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee could do to stop the rot except to throw as much middle aged, Anglo-Saxon gravitas at the latest concotion they had found themselves roped into. [Read more…]

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