Saturday, December 2, 2023

The Viking Queen (1967)

The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita, poster

Part of The Hammer-Amicus Blogathon 

 During the Roman Invasion of Britain, a dying tribal King (Wilfrid Lawson) churns his oldest daughter, Beatrice, (Adrienne Corri) and instead nominates the more level headed Salina (Carita) to become the new Queen in order to live peacefully side by side with the Romans under Governor Justinian (Don Murray).
 Beatrice is under the influence of war hungry Druid Priest Maelgan (Donald Houston) while Justinian’s Second-in-Command Octavian (Andrew Keir) also schemes to take over his Governor’s role. 
Unaware of the schemings from both sides, Justinian and Salina quickly - very VERY quickly - fall in love and plan to marry, yet face obstacles from each of their camps. 
When Justinian is on an away mission to quench a distant rebellion organised by some dissatisfied local traders, Octavian seeks power, burns down the Queen’s village and rapes her younger sister Talia (Nicola Pagett). 
Chaos ensues and Salina leads her tribe in a brutal rebellion against the oppressors. 
Will love conquer all in the end? 
Don’t hold your breath for that. 

The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita, poster
 Now, I am not a historian so can only assume that all the details in this production were meticulously researched and that there is a reason why this film is called The Viking Queen without a single Viking in sight and why the ancient pagan Briton Druids worshipped Zeus and not their local Gods, but I can clearly see that the true star of this Hammer production was the luscious Irish countryside. 
Just like the later Braveheart, this is yet another example where the freedom fight in another part of the British Isles was transferred to be filmed in Ireland. 
 And as much as I always enjoy seeing the familiar backdrop of Black Park, The Viking Queen delights with views of Powerscourt Waterfall, Loch Tay, Wicklow Gap, Sally Gap and Kilruddery Estate. Local Ardmore Studios were also used rather than Elstree that at the time was becoming the new home studio following Hammer’s time in Bray. 

 The Viking Queen does have a dreadful reputation and maybe I am getting soft in the head but it ain’t really all that bad. 
 Is it worth a full re-evaluation? 
Probably not. 
But it is a suitably entertaining little time waster with some surprisingly sadistic flogging scenes, hints of rape, fairly large scale battle sequences (with Irish soldiers as extras) and sufficient enough tittilation (including a wet T-Shirt scene after a convenient fall into a river) that I was again suitably entertained when I rewatched this production. 
The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita, lobby card

 A lot of the negative comments about this film are aimed at Carita, the main star, but for a complete unknown with practically zero experience she seems to have thrown herself wholeheartedly into this and whatever she may have lacked in acting nous she sure made up by convincingly steering a chariot and just looking appropriately glamorous whenever the occasion called for it. 
IMDb lists The Viking Queen as her only film role but according to Marcus Hearn’s Hammer Glamour book she does appear to have also had a role in the Lemmy Caution film Lemmy pour les dames (1962).
 Hammer introduced her to the world as their Finnish discovery in June 1966 in Les Ambassadeurs in London. It was hoped that her pinup appeal would guarantee a follow up success similar to their other pseudo-historical dramas such as She with Ursula Andress or One Million Years B.C. with Julie Ege
Co-Producer Twentieth Century Fox paid the newcomer $5000 in comparison to $75.000 to the more established Don Murray who was still primarily only known from his part in Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe eleven years prior. 
And yet Murray with his American accent and leaden performance is arguably the weakest aspect of this production. He was also noticeably older than the female lead and there is no real chemistry between the two of them, yet we are led to believe that he had so much charisma that a simple tumble into a river makes her fall truly madly deeply in love with her country’s oppressor. 
The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita

 The charm about this movie is that all the supporting stars play even their most ridiculous lines with deadly earnest, thereby giving an enjoyable gravitas to a slice of cinematic hokum. 
Donald Houston as Maelgan is an utter delight to watch whether he demands some virgin sacrifice under a full moon surrounded by Stonehenge style standing stones or pleads Salina “before the sacred mistletoe and the golden sickle” to lead her people wisely. 
Next to him Adrienne Corri as Salina’s older sister, obsessed with hatred against the Romans and upset about having to abdicate the title that was supposed to have been hers to her younger sibling. 
Patrick Troughton is a revelation not because he joins in with an over the top performance but because in contrast to many of his other roles he actually does not display any eccentricities but instead comes across as a very masculine and heroic advisor. 
Every film automatically gets better with Andrew Keir in it and his Octavian is a tough as nails by-the-book Roman leader who does not allow for any allowances or leniency towards the people he had invaded and despises his Governor for the soft touch he repeatedly displays. 

 Directed by Don Chaffey, who had already helmed One Million Years B.C. for Hammer and would also be responsible for Creatures the World Forgot a couple of years later, The Viking Queen looks well but suffers from being a bit of a mess with regards to its message. 
Though Maelgan and Beatrice (just like Octavian on the other side) are generally being portrayed as scheming manipulators, when all is said and done given the way the Romans pillage their village when their soft-hearted Governor is absent, they are actually being proven right in their predictions. 
Justinian’s tax tribunal in which he makes seemingly fair but at the same time also totally random ad hoc decisions is quite a bit of a head scratcher and though the ending is surprisingly bleak and downbeat, it also feels incredibly rushed. 
The Viking Queen, Hammer, Carita, lobbby card

 Still, I can’t hate a film where ancient pagan Amazons wear makeup that is as groovy as in this production. 
It certainly may not be one of Hammer’s greatest but this Boadicea-in-disguise is a fast paced slice of humbug that is more than worth a watch. 
 That head-to-toe black-faced slave girl, however…. 
Yeah, not sure about this one. 

Monday, July 31, 2023

MASK OF DUST (1954) on TPTV podcast

 Talking Pictures TV just posted their new podcast with the schedule for August and I contributed with a little bit of info about Hammer's racing movie MASK OF DUST aka A RACE FOR LIFE (1954), directed by Terence Fisher. 

You can listen to it from around the 55 minute mark.

mask of dust, a race for life, poster, hammer

mask of dust, a race for life, poster, hammer

mask of dust, a race for life, poster, hammer

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula

Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula, Hammer, BBC, Audible

I swear, sometimes I feel this blog is like my own private Fantastic Four, i.e. an IP that once a year I need to keep updated so as to be able to hold on to it. 

Truth be told whatever little writing time I have I now mainly invest in my Krimi blog where I feel I have more to contribute as Hammer is a subject that already has so many good and incredibly well informed writers. 

Still, Hammer is one of my first loves so every once in a blue moon I may put virtual pen to virtual paper and write a few lines. 

The occasion this time was my discovery of Audible's The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula. I had heard of this courtesy of the Facebook's Hammer Lovers Group

Directed by Mark Gatiss, this BBC production was originally transmitted around Halloween, on October 28 , 2017 at 2.30pm on BBC Radio 4 and is part of a series of radio adaptations of film scripts that never passed the pre-production stage. 

The radio play is based on a 1974 script, The Insatiable Thirst of Dracula, by John Elder (=Anthony Hinds) and would have been following up from The Satanic Rites of Dracula. At the time Hammer had planned a national talent search to replace Christopher Lee in the role. (This is according to Last Bus to Bray, Vol. 1. The Amazon sales blurb mentions that this would have followed Scars of Dracula and was replaced in favour of Dracula AD 1972 so what do I know?) 

Similar to The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) where Lee had been replaced by John Forbes-Robertson, this production would also have been set in the early part of the 20th Century in Asia but this time it saw the Count having escaped from England to India. 

Kali Devil Bride of Dracula, Hammer, poster

Another more famous unfilmed Hammer production, Kali - Devil Bride of Dracula, had a similar premise and was written by Christopher Wicking. 

According to Mark Gatiss Kali was indeed a later version of Hinds’ script. 

When The Insatiable Thirst of Dracula failed to make it into production as a feature film, there were discussions about turning it into an episode of the planned The Hammer House of Horror TV series that was to focus on feature length TV films per episode. 

Alas, this idea also was scrapped. 

 The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula follows young Englishwoman Penny seemingly on a spontaneous trip through 1930s India after being left a bit of an inheritance. On the train she meets two musicians, a brother and a sister, as well as another Indian who hosts her when she can’t find a hotel on short notice.

 The two musicians are hired by the Maharajah and his wife to perform for them, not knowing that all this is on command of Count Dracula who has found shelter there and has the local court under his command.

 And what about Penny? Did she really just go there on a whim? 

 Hearing this dramatisation is actually an absolutely amazing way to imagine what this film may have been like. It’s very well acted with excellent and moody sound effects and the fact that this sticks closely to the original script ensures that its running time of 86 minutes is also very much in line with that of a typical Hammer production so it definitely has that classic Hammer feeling… which may indeed be one of the reasons why it never saw production as it is something that ultimately would have come a bit too late in a period where even Hammer themselves had started approaching more contemporary approaches to their films (e.g. To The Devil A Daughter) and The Exorcist had redefined the way genre films were approached. 

Still, I loved it and am planning to at least also listen to a similar adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s unfilmed The Blind Man


Friday, December 9, 2022

Hammer Playing Cards

 I haven't updated this blog all that much. Truth be told I don't think I have even watched that many Hammer movies this year. (Shock, gasp, I hear you say.) 

Whatever little blogging energy I can muster nowadays I primarily spend on my Krimi related blog. There's just so much Hammer related info out there, I feel I can contribute more to the less reported sub-genre of the German Krimi.

Still, this blog will stay up and every once in a while I may still add to it.

Just the other day came across my old set of Hammer Horror playing cards that were published in 1996 by the Heritage Toy and Game Company.

Once upon a time there were some decent scans of them around in a long deleted blog. So here are some less than decent scans to give an idea of what those cards look like.

Hammer Horror, playing cards

Hammer Horror, playing cards

Hammer Horror, playing cards

Hammer Horror, playing cards

Hammer Horror, playing cards

Hammer Horror, playing cards

Friday, January 14, 2022


Frankenstein Created Woman, Italian Poster, Susan Denberg, Peter Cushing
Following Cinepunked’s first live stream discussion between Robert JE Simpson and David L Rattigan about all things Hammer (“In the Grip of Hammer”) yesterday, I decided to rewatch Frankenstein Created Woman again. 

The discussion is still available on YouTube and was an utterly enjoyable goodhearted chat between the two about their personal fascination with Hammer Films as well as about the fandom those movies generated. There was lively audience participation in the form of chat messages that the two picked up and elaborated on. 

In the context of this movie they mentioned that it’s often criticised for not featuring enough of Peter Cushing but that it never bothered them personally. 

Must admit that I also never took note of that before though this rewatch made me notice that he did indeed spend possibly less time on screen than in other outings, however, this production is notable for introducing us to a range of other truly memorable supporting characters (including Susan Denberg’s gender bending meat-cleaver swinging Christina) that it actually would have been a shame to lose time with them in exchange for more time with Cushing’s character so it’s probably fair to say that even though from a purely time on the screen perspective there was indeed less Cushing in this film than in others of the series but what we did get was more than sufficient for this particular story. 

Part of the discussion also focused on their desire to explore Queer Hammer more and of course this movie is quintessentially queer whether it is the overt gender transfer between Christina and Hans (Robert Morris) or the more implied charmingly doddering bromance between Frankenstein and Thorley Walters’ Dr. Hertz. 

So much to appreciate in this, one of Hammer’s most unusual productions. If only they’d have gone even further and also included that wraparound bandages bikini style outfit that was used in the film's poster and promotional material for Susan Denberg…. 

Really glad that this discussion made me return to Frankenstein Created Woman again and hope that there will be more similar live streams to follow. 

 Below samples of some German and US lobby cards for this film as well as the recording of the live stream. (Best to watch it directly on YouTube though to properly read the parallel chats between the audience members.) 

German Lobby Cards:

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Peter Cushing

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, Lobby Card, Germany, Susan Denberg

US Lobby Cards:

Frankenstein Created Woman, US Lobby Card, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, US Lobby Card, Peter Cushing

Frankenstein Created Woman, US Lobby Card, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Frankenstein Created Woman, US Lobby Card, Thorley Walters

Frankenstein Created Woman, US Lobby Card, Susan Denberg

Frankenstein Created Woman, US Lobby Card, Peter Cushing

Frankenstein Created Woman, US Lobby Card, Peter Cushing, Thorley Walters

Frankenstein Created Woman, US Lobby Card, Susan Denberg

Available on Amazon:

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Vengeance of She (1968)

This post is written as part of the Hammer/Amicus Blogathon being hosted by Barry_Cinematic and realweegiemidge on Twitter. 


The Vengeance of She, H Rider Haggard, Olinka Berova, poster, Hammer Films
Filmed on location in Israel, She (1965) was Hammer’s most expensive and ambitious project.

 A follow-up was inevitable but whereas She was by and large a faithful adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s original novel, for its sequel The Vengeance of She (1968) Hammer strayed away from the original tales and instead created a new plot courtesy of screen writer Peter O’Donnell.

 Haggard’s own literary sequel Ayesha, the Return of She was serialised by “Windsor Magazine” from December 1904 - October 1905 and then published in book form in 1905, 18 years after the original She.

 Ayesha takes place two decades after the events of the first book and reunites Horace Holly and Leo “Kallikrates” Vincey from the previous novel hosting a search for Ayesha through Tibet and Asia and eventually back to Africa after they receive indications that She hadn’t died after all all those years ago.

 Haggard followed up this novel with two more in that series: She and Allan (1921) - bringing together his two most popular fictional characters, Ayesha and Allan Quatermain - and Wisdom's Daughter (1923), a prequel narrated from Ayesha’s perspective describing her (or should I write: She’s) past life in Ancient Egypt.

 Rather than make this yet another period piece and set The Vengeance of She back at the beginning of the 20th Century, screen writer Peter O’Donnell (very likely for budget purposes) created a contemporary follow-up story.

 O’Donnell is mainly known as the writer of the Modesty Blaise series of comic strips and novels. He was involved in the writing of Joseph Losey’s 1966 movie with Monica Vitti but was so disappointed with the way the production was developing that prior to the movie’s release he adapted his screenplay into a novel that was to become the first in the series of thirteen Modesty Blaise books.

 From 1971 on he also wrote a number of unrelated novels under the pseudonym Madeleine Brent (same initials as Modesty Blaise).

 The Vengeance of She was his second and final venture into movie screenwriting though in 1966 he had also written a six part BBC series Take a Pair of Private Eyes about a husband and wife detective team featuring Derek Fowlds and Jeanne Roland.

 O’Donnell and Michael Carreras had in the past been discussing a possible screenplay for Modesty Blaise so both were familiar with each other which explains why Carreras opted for him as a screen writer in this production.

The Vengeance of She, Lobby Card, Olinka Berova

 This was director Cliff Owen’s sole Hammer production. In actual fact this was also one of only a very small number of feature films he directed in general. Mainly known (if known at all) as a TV director (most regularly for “ITV Television Playhouse” and “ITV Play of the Week”), he sure was an odd choice to helm this movie.

 Towards the end of the shoot producer Aida Young even took over directorial duties when Owen suffered from a slipped disc. The Vengeance of She would be Young’s first full producer credit for Hammer, making her one of the very few female producers at the time.

 The main reason for having such a number of Hammer atypical talent involved lies in the fact that The Vengeance of She was - next to The Devil Rides Out, The Lost Continent and The Anniversary - one of four productions that were shot at about the same time so most of their regular house names were therefore otherwise employed.

 Filmed between June 26 - September 16, 1967 on location in Monte Carlo and Almeria as well as in Elstree Studios, The Vengeance of She is arguably one of Hammer’s least loved productions. It has been called “a remarkably dull load of hokum” and “a cheap and gaudy piece of mumbo-jumbo”.

 I had previously only watched this film once before a long, long time ago and remember enjoying it quite a bit regardless. When I picked this as my choice for the Hammer/Amicus Blogathon a part of me was wanting to give this a re-appraisal after years of bad press. Another part of me, however, was also anxious as to whether or not my opinion may not have radically changed over the decades and maybe, just maybe I may have actually developed a sense of refined taste and class that may have been sorely lacking in my younger years.

 Fear not though… 

 I still seem to be the same unsophisticated ingénue I was way back when as I still enjoyed this considerably more than the rest of Hammer (or even: general) fandom appears to do.

  I do, however, feel I have also discovered the reason why I dig this more than others.

 The Vengeance of She is unlike most other Hammer films regardless of genre. If you were to try and summarise its plot, you would undoubtedly run into major issues as it is hand on heart quite a confusing mess in that regard.

The Vengeance of She, Lobby Card, Olinka Berova

 Especially in its first half, the film comes across more like a hallucinatory kind of dream following a mesmerising dream logic when we see Carol, Olinka Berova’s character, mutely stumble across the Southern French landscape, being picked up by a lecherous truck driver who attempts to rape her just to himself be crushed to death by his own vehicle while we hear snazzy variations of the film’s lounge lizardy title tune.

 Haunted by visions of a golden statue she finds refuge on a beach in Monaco, then strips to her undies, leaving all the clothes behind (fur coat and all) and swims to a nearby yacht where married playboy George (Colin Blakely) together with his wife (Jill Melford) and friend Philip (Edward Judd) first parties hard, then dramatically sets sail in an attempt to escape from the creditors he owes money to. It is only on open sea that he discovers amnesiac Carol who can’t remember much about her life and what it is that drives her ever further on haunted by her mysterious visions.

 This free flowing dreamlike narration underlined by swinging 1960s muzak ensures that this movie much more resembles contemporary Continental European productions by the likes of Jess Franco than traditional Hammer fare.

 Now admittedly that is faint praise given that someone like Franco is a very acquired taste and most film viewers rather stay clear of his style of idiosyncratic film making. I do, however, belong to the minority of fans who actually digs this kind of feverish improvisational style so if you can stomach film making in that vein, then you may also be able to get a kick out of The Vengeance of She.

 And if you can’t - and admittedly most won’t be able to do so - well, then you may still consider this a stinker.

The Vengeance of She, Lobby Card, Olinka Berova

 Cause it just continues in similar fashion when we follow the perils of Carol aka the possible re-incarnation of Ayesha being driven ever closer back to Kuma where John Richardson’s Kallikrates under the guidance of Men-Hari (Derek Godfrey) hopes to guide her back through the flames again and resurrect his former lover back to eternal life at his side. 

 Between Vengeance and the original She there is practically no sense of continuity with regards to the character of Kallikrates. There is no single mention of him ever having been Leo and he appears to have been around for centuries if not millennia as opposed to the few decades between those two Hammer productions.

 En route to Kuma Carol stumbles through Northern Africa, finds refuge with a local mystic (André Morell), is in the centre of some cool looking rituals (bearing more than just a little resemblance to Hammer’s Satanic rites in their Dennis Wheatley adaptations), is captured and fetishistically tied up and bound by a white slave trader while being followed by her personal white knight Philip and and and…..

 It is only when she and Philip reach Kuma that the feverish surreality of her chase scenes makes way for a more conventional plot of court intrigues that see Kallikrates being manipulated by various fractions around him. For me this is then also when the film does start running out of steam a bit even though we at least get a flash back to the times when Ayesha ruled her kingdom with a merciless hand and enjoyed watching some poor souls being sadistically put to death in front of her eyes.

 What we do not see is Ayesha with a whip at hand, an image that featured prominently on the posters and promotional material used to advertise the release of this production.

The Vengeance of She, Lobby Card, Olinka Berova

 A Deus Ex Machina in the shape of a slave revolt and a poorer rehash of She’s original flame transformation effects rounds up this uneven follow up to Hammer’s biggest adventure films.

 Somehow I cannot see this film ever being given a proper critical re-appraisal. Everything about it is second rate. It features none of Hammer’s biggest stars and Olinka Berova, beautiful as she is, cannot hold a candle to Ursula Andress. This is a seriously flawed production no doubt but if you are able to appreciate seeing Hammer emulate contemporary Continental Eurotrash and forsake conventional plot in favour of improvisational and hallucinatory set pieces under the ever memorable tunes of composer Mario Nascimbene, then this just may be for you after all.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

German lobby cards for SCARS OF DRACULA (1970)

This is one of the few Hammer Draculas I hadn't watched multiple times. I remember not taking to it first time round, found it tacky and that those early 1970s hair styles were jarring and had turned me off the movie. 

And jar they do indeed and yet, despite this, some dodgy bats and having both one of the lamest resurrection and destruction scenes, as a whole this film was actually a lot of fun and giving Lee (in whiter, sicker looking make-up than usual) considerably more lines than in any of the previous productions outside the very first one. 

It also had more gore than normally associated with Hammer until then and some wonderful performances. I particularly enjoyed Anouska Hempel's impatient "Love me!" seduction spiel. 

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, shooting took place in Elstree from May 07 - June 23. The film then premiered on November 08 on a double bill with Horror of Frankenstein

 For appearing in this film Lee would receive £10.000 plus a 10% share of the profits. Unfortunately this production would prove to become the least successful of all Hammer Draculas. Lee himself considers it to be “the weakest and most unconvincing of the DRACULA stories”. 

Jenny Hanley remembers that his singing had drowned out the music from Bread, the rock band she was listening to at the time. When requested to turn down his voice a bit, he asked to be introduced to what she listened to and promised to sing this instead. 

 Lee suffered from back problems during the production and had to rely on stunt double Eddie Powell for some of the heavy lifting required when carrying Hanley to her bed room.