Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Scarlet Blade (1963)

Following the success of Pirates of Blood River (1962), director John Gilling was asked to again helm Hammer’s next swashbuckling adventure The Scarlet Blade.

Jack Hedley as Robin Hood, sorry: The Scarlet Blade, has to go undercover and battle for his king against his opponents. Though set during the English Civil War there really is very little that differentiates The Scarlet Blade from the more traditional Robin Hood fare. It has all the typical elements of undercover war fare in the forest, friends being lost and rescued, scheming baddies, chivalric heroes and ladies who can’t help but fall for the outlaw. Nothing we haven’t seen done much better before.

The film is sorely lacking in big name actors. Oliver Reed is the one charismatic actor in the production and pretty much carries the movie with his moody looks and mellifluous voice. His character, Capt. Tom Sylvester, becomes traitor against Cromwell out of love for his Colonel’s (Lionel Jeffries) daughter (June Thorburn) who has turned against her father to support the king. When he discovers that his love interest has herself fallen for The Scarlet Blade the pendulum swings back and he again betrays the royal supporters. When his treachery gets discovered he outs the Colonel’s daughter as one of the main key figures in the fight against Cromwell and ends up being shot by her protective father.

It is hard not to root for his egotistic cause at times as he is clearly used and his emotions are being played with by the nominal heroes of the movie. It is these moral dilemmas that on the one hand distinguish The Scarlet Blade from similar productions, on the other hand make it such an utter disappointment: We see a daughter turn against her father and use a lovesick soldier for her cause; a father trying to protect her daughter from becoming a victim of the very same system he supports; a jilted lover twice turning traitor and finally ending up being pretty much the only one of the main cast who ends up dead, yet he’s the one who’s the least of all interested in any one side.

This moral ambivalence is carried through right to the end of the very short running time, though rather than making this an exercise in ethical dilemma, the overall ending just comes across as an anti-climactic let down. After barely 80 minutes – at a time when the viewer could usually expect some kind of show down between the opposing parties – we see The Scarlet Blade and the Colonel’s daughter escaping from Cromwell’s troops and finding refuge in a gypsy camp run by Michael Ripper in quite possibly his worst make up job ever. The Colonel searches through the camp. Now will he or will he not discover daughter and lover there? Will The Scarlet Blade be captured and battle him to the death? Will we see a fight scene that will be imitated by all the teenage boys on their way out of the cinema?

Err, no…..

He discovers both of the fugitives, then turns to Michael Ripper and advises him to make sure his gypsies remain in the forest. As he rides off the credits announce that we have just seen a “Hammer Production”.

This denouement is by far Hammer’s worst ending ever. Forget about Dracula removing his stake or seeing the devil in To the Devil… A Daughter being killed off by a simple stone. The Scarlet Blade will have you look at your neighbour in sheer disbelief with a quiet look of “What the….” on your face.

Jack Hedley is a very competent actor, but not the first person you’d have in mind for a swashbuckling debonair role. He is generally better suited for authoritative, grumpy old man parts as in Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982).

For June Thorburn this would prove to be her second last movie. A promising career that had previously included Peter Cushing’s Fury at Smuggler’s Bay (also directed by John Gilling) was cut short when she died heavily pregnant in a plane accident.

The film is Suzan Farmer’s debut Hammer production. She has very little to do in her small part as Hedley’s sister Constance Beverley, a few lines and a terrified scream when she is led away by Cromwell’s troups.

John Gilling would soon direct his most famous movies, Hammer’s Cornish Horror duo The Reptile (1966) and Plague of the Zombies (1966).

Overall The Scarlet Blade is quite pedestrian and generally very unexciting. It is by far not Hammer’s worst swashbuckler - that dubious honour will have to go to A Challenge for Robin Hood (1967), an utterly charmless movie with moustachioed Merry Men that look as if they’re right out of an early porn production -, but it certainly was far from being one of the company’s best either.

Michael Gough in CANDIDATE FOR MURDER (Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre)

I recently posted some screen caps from Hazel Court's Merton Park Wallace THE MAN WHO WAS NOBODY. Michael Gough was also in one those films. CANDIDATE FOR MURDER features him as a jealous husband hiring a German contract killer to off his wife but the killer has his own plans. It's probably one of the best Merton Park Wallaces around and well worth searching for.

Operation: 101010 - Movies starring Hammer actors or actresses (non-Hammer)

I finished another one of my Operation: 101010 categories dedicated to 10 non-Hammer Movies starring Hammer actors or actresses.

Surprise, surprise, a good number of those films featured Christopher Lee. If anything I am surprised that I didn't finish this category faster.

I have now finished six of my ten 101010 projects and with only one month to go am doubtful that I'll finish it completely.... though will do my darndest. I have watched movies in each of the remaining categories so from a pure number perspective I may just about manage to wrap it up, but my mind is flighty and I often feel like watching a whole range of other stuff.

So here's what I viewed in the last couple of months:

Trial by Combat (Peter Cushing) - THE discovery of the year for me. Loved the AVENGERS style atmosphere. Pity there is nothing on YouTube for it.

Curse of the Crimson Altar (Lee, Gough, Wetherell, R. Davies)

The Castle of the Living Dead (Christopher Lee)

Royal Flash (Oliver Reed) - This YouTube "clip" is actually the entire movie!

Crimson Rivers 2 (Christopher Lee) - Short Lee part displaying his linguistic skills

Ill Met By Moonlight (Christopher Lee)

Lisbon (Yvonne Furneaux)

The Man Who Was Nobody (Hazel Court)

The Death Ray of Dr. Mabuse (Yvonne Furneaux)

Five Golden Dragons (Christopher Lee)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ingrid Pitt's most personal film project

Amongst all the tributes that have poured in following Ingrid Pitt's passing I just learned about probably the last and definitely most personal project she was ever involved in: an animated short movie about her time in the Stutthof concentration that she provided the voice over for. The film is not yet finished but a clip on YouTube gives a first glimpse at what's to come.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Do widzenia, Ingrid!

Really saddened to hear about the passing of Ingrid Pitt just two days after her 73rd birthday. I only heard about this late last night when I returned home from work and noticed how much the Internet was abuzz with news about her death in Facebook tributes, countless blog posts and numerous tweets... truly an indication how much Pitt was loved and admired by several generations of Hammer Fans.

She was one of the most prominent female Hammer Stars despite the fact that she only ever acted in two of their movies and one of which (Countess Dracula) really wasn't all that great. The other one (Vampire Lovers), however, launched a whole new wave of lesbian vampire movies and messed around with many a teenage boy's - and their father's! - hormones for years to come.

Given that Pitt's most iconic decade were the 1970s it bears reminding that during that period she only ever shot five feature films: the two Hammers as well as The Wicker Man, The House That Dripped Blood and the virtually unknown Nobody Ordered Love.

It is a sign of Pitt's resilience that out of this handful of movies she managed to create a lasting image in an active career that lasted up to her final days.

These days you're labelled a “survivor” just for making it through a bout of flu. Pitt, however, clearly had managed to beat the odds against her from an early age on when she survived the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. She also escaped into the West by swimming through the Berlin River Spree.

Her most prominent role in the 1960s was alongside Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare, though she was also an extra in Doctor Zhivago and Chimes at Midnight, battled invisible dinosaurs (to save on special effects costs) in Sound of Horror and was the unfaithful wife in super cheap jungle adventure The Omegans.

Her key roles demonstrated that she not only had a very unusual Slavic sensuality – she was never what could be called the girl next door – but also a true ability to act that was never properly acknowledged at the time and even strangely covered when her voice was dubbed for Countess Dracula. An Easter European actress playing an Easter European aristocrat with an Easter European accent apparently was too radical a concept for Hammer.

After a break of a couple of years she returned back to the screens again in a small number of supporting roles in the 1980s such as Who Dares Wins, Wild Geese II and Underworld (aka Transmutations).

Probably noticing that her cinematic heyday was likely going to be over soon and not content to exclusively appear on the convention circuit like so many other female genre stars of her time, she switched over to writing. Her debut novel, Cuckoo Run, was published in 1980 followed by a number of other fictional books. Over several years Pitt had a regular monthly column in the sadly defunct Shivers magazine. Her autobiography, Life's a Scream, is essential reading for all Pitt Fans and she also penned a number of books about various aspects of Fantastic film and literature including the delightfully titled Ingrid Pitt Book of Murder, Depravity and Torture.

Over the last couple of years she lovingly held court over her fans during meet-ups organised by herself and her fan club, in Don Fearney's fabulous Hammer events as well as during other conventions and gradually became somewhat of an eccentric auntie who was always loving and grateful but never afraid to speak her mind.

It is my understanding that Pitt's latest (and now sadly last) book dedicated to The Hammer Xperience had only recently been finished and will hopefully soon find a publisher. Ingrid Pitt, Queen of Horror by McFarland, the first book covering her entire career, is also due out December 01.

I think I am not the only one who over the next couple of days will honour Pitt's memory by watching some of her movies and/or reading her books and silently thanking her for all the pleasure she brought us over the years. Her presence and larger-than-life personality will sorely be missed.

Operation: 101010 - Movies starring non-Hammer Horror icons

Another category finished in the Operation: 101010. These are the 10 movies that I have watched so far this year featuring non-Hammer Horror icons. I am making progress in a number of the categories but not sure if I'll properly finish this project before the year is over.

The Invisible Ghost (Bela Lugosi)

The Story of Mankind (Price, Lorre, J Carradine)

The Shootist (J Carradine)

Stranger on Horseback (J Carradine)

The Black Sleep (Lugosi, Chaney, J Carradine, Rathbone)

Island of Lost Souls (Bela Lugosi)

Spider Baby (Lon Chaney Jr)

The Deerslayer (1920, Bela Lugosi)

The Eve of St Mark (Vincent Price)

The Black Cat (1941, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Peter Cushing Lives in Whitstable

What can I say?

When I woke up this morning I had never heard about this song by The Jellybottys.

And now I know of two versions.

Guess this day was not quite in vain.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins (UK, 1971)

The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins is a comedy that in the past has had its fair share of detractors. In actual fact, if you believe most reviews prior to the Region 2 DVD release from a few years ago, you may even expect this to be a complete flop. It is now, however, possible to re-evaluate it afresh and the film comes off as surprisingly imaginative and even inventive. The most fascinating aspect nowadays is that the star studded production offers a glimpse of British comedy at a time when the older “Oooh, errr!” style antics gradually became replaced by Monty Python’s new kind of imaginative comedy. Whereas all the episodes were shot by the same director, they were in fact all written by a bunch of different comedic talents and starred people from backgrounds as diverse as Goons, Carry On and Monty Python. As such it is possible to clearly watch how one style of humour started being transformed into a more contemporary one. In a way The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins is for the history of British Humour what the Missing Link would be for Evolution. (OK, I admit I’m probably stretching credulity here a bit.)

Also of note is that the film was produced by Hammer’s smaller rival Tigon (Curse of the Crimson Altar, Scream and Scream Again).

The knee slappingly hilarious episode Gluttony features Leslie Phillips as an Executive for an international Health Food company opposite Julie Ege as the boss who invites him for dinner (and more?) up to her place. The humour of this piece is primarily based on the fact that Phillips is a gluttonous Gourmand who would love to eat anything but the company’s dry health food that he is made to consume at any given opportunity. Even when confronted with Ege’s charms, he is more tempted by her culinary promises as opposed to the other delights she's offering up. Penthouse Magazine publisher Bob Guccione also has a bit part in this episode showing him during a photo shoot with Penthouse Pet Tina McDowell. Monty Python’s very own Graham Chapman penned this script together with Barry Cryer and was also responsible for the Wrath episode.

Though Ege’s Gluttony is the funniest, the subsequent Lust is the best overall episode of the movie. Yes, seeing pervy Harry Corbett travelling around London and getting kicks out of watching Swinging Chicks of the early 70s is a lot of fun, but Marty Feldman’s script manages to land a vicious punch at the end that’ll have you not only feel sorry for Corbett’s character but also depressed about the general state of the Human Condition. Anouska Hempel has a small part as a Blonde Girl that Corbett tries to chat up.

The episode with the third Hammer Girl, Madeline Smith, in this film – Sloth – is easily the worst and unfunniest, but also blissfully the shortest. Scripted by Spike Milligan, he is up to his usual nonsensical escapades. I know the notion of nonsense implies that it’ll make utterly - well - no sense to anyone, so if you’re into that kind of humour you may see your appreciation of it shoot up. It’s all about people who can’t be bothered: Marty Feldman bounces against a tree rather than walk around it; Madeline Smith plays the unsatisfied wife of a guy who is too lazy to, ahem, make an effort; Milligan himself is a tramp who prefers to starve than to raise his arm and reach for an apple. There’s also an ongoing walnut joke. (Don’t ask: I told you it made no sense.) It’s shot in sepia toned, rapidly cut silent movie style. All the dozen or so comedians in it, including Smith, appear for all but a few seconds. Blink and you’ll miss them. And you just may be better off without it. If the only reason you were going to watch the movie was for Maddy Smith, then learn from the characters in this episode and don’t bother... unless you really need to watch absolutely everything she ever appeared in.

The remaining four episodes do not feature any Hammer Glamour, but are still chokablock with British Comic Talent such as Bruce Forsyth, Bernard Bresslaw, Joan Sims (Avarice), Harry Secombe, Geoffrey Bayldon (Envy), Ian Carmichael, Alfie Bass (Pride), Ronald Fraser and Arthur Howard (Wrath). Pretty much all of them are entertaining and tightly scripted enough as not to overstay their welcome. Pride’s tale of class snobbery on the motorways is the one of the remaining that’ll stick out the most with regards to the execution of general premise.

It is good to see The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins popping up in a budget DVD release here in Region 2 land. It’s a half forgotten film well worth checking out. Quite clearly not a hidden pearl as such, but much better than you have previously been made to believe. Time to judge for yourself if you have so far only heard about it. [Wow, this reviews brings me back a few years. The film has now been on the market for the best part of a decade.]

Yvonne Romain (* February 17, 1938)

Also known as Yvonne Romaine and Yvonne Warren.

Despite her exotic looks and French name, Yvonne Romain is a born and bred Londoner. Her parents are of Maltese and British decent and her maiden name was Yvonne Warren. She took the stage name Romain after the family name of her grandmother and great-grandmother.

Educated in St Mary’s Abbey, her mother sent her to the Italia Conti acting school at an early age and from the age of 12 on she appeared in children’s television shows and repertory. Unfortunately nothing more in depth is currently known about any of these childhood performances.

Her measures at the height of her success were a stunning 38-22-36. Just what Hammer generally looked for in their female stars: She first played Oliver Reed’s mother in Curse of the Werewolf, then became his fiancée in Captain Clegg, before sharing her third and final screen appearance with him in his (and her!) last Hammer outing The Brigand of Kandahar.

Other memorable roles include: Action of the Tiger with a young Sean Connery. She also starred with him again in The Frightened City, the year before he made it big as 007. Corridors of Blood unites her with screen legend Boris Karloff. She gets fed to the lions in the excellent Circus of Horrors. One of her final British roles was in Lindsay Shonteff’s shlock classic and ventriloquist horror movie Devil Doll.

She fell in love with and married composer Leslie Bricusse (Goldfinger, You Only Twice as well as the excellent Sherlock Holmes – The Musical) and subsequently moved to L.A. At that time she had to turn down a seven year contract with Fellini as that would have meant spending all the time in Rome away from her Hollywood based husband and little son. Once based in the US, she gradually moved away from the film business. Her last two roles in the 60s were in the groovy The Swinger opposite Ann Margret and she became one of Elvis’ film gals for Double Trouble. She then practically retired and only returned to the screen briefly for the excellent murder mystery The Last of Sheila: She’s Sheila, which means she is dead and an all star cast of familiar 1970s faces is attempting to solve the Whodunnit as to who killed her off.

Still stunning looking at over 70 she occasionally shows up at Fan Get-Togethers like Wayne Kinsey’s first book launch.

Sexy and sultry, she may not have made a huge number of screen appearances, but is fondly remembered by male Hammer Fans the world over.

If you're interested in reading more about her, check out Yvonne Romain's by far lengthiest interview (to my knowledge) in The House That Hammer Built #18, p. 99-102. This is Wayne Kinsey’s special Captain Clegg issue, so it is only fitting that he manages to extract a lot of valuable info from her for this one. 90% of the biographical info I have published for this blog post came courtesy of this single interview!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hazel Court in THE MAN WHO WAS NOBODY (Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre)

In the early 1960s Merton Park Studios adapted a number of Edgar Wallace books for the big - or should I say: small? - screen as those hour-long shows got cinematic releases but were also screened as a TV series under the heading “The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre”.

Most of the episodes are quite talky and bordering on the dull though some are still of interest these days due to some of the guest stars on view. They sure aren't as much fun as the German Rialto series from about the same time, though I have long discovered that I am gradually turning into a Wallace completist so all of the episodes are fair game to me.... provided I can get a hold of them. They are notoriously difficult to trace and I have so far only managed to get my dirty grips on about a dozen of them thanks to a very kind Procurator.

THE MAN WHO WAS NOBODY is only the second and one of the most interesting films of the series as it features Hazel Court in unusual modern gear for a nice change. If you look at the screen caps below you may think: “How classily dressed she is!” Ironically, though, her character is meant to be an incredibly hip (not classy), boho and unconventional female private eye in search of a missing man and possible diamond smuggler. Look she even does Yoga! How radical!

I wish I could say this was a long lost treasure but it really is still a very talky affair with the added benefit of seeing Court in an unusual lead role far away from the Gothic parts she generally took.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Victoria Vetri (* September 26, 1944)

Though born Victoria Cecilia Vetry to an Italian-American family in San Francisco, for the first couple of years of her career the actress/model worked under the pseudonym Angela Dorian, reminiscent of the famous ill fated schooner “SS. Andrea Doria” until she changed her name back to her original native version following the advice of Roman Polanski with whom she had filmed Rosemary’s Baby (1968). In that movie there is a famous scene in which Mia Farrow’s character asks Angela Dorian as to whether she was the actress Victoria Vetri which she denies. That scene came straight from the book though in there the character was asked whether she was Piper Laurie. Some sources also indicate that at some stage she used the surname Rathgeb.

Prior to her supporting role in the Polanski thriller she had parts in a large number of popular TV shows of the time. He biggest career jump was when she was nominated as Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in September 1967 and subsequently became Playmate of the Year 1968. At the time she was such a popular Playmate that some practical joker in NASA even went so far as to secretly place her photo into Apollo 12’s check list. Years later Vetri reappeared for a couple of new topless photos for Playboy’s April 1984 edition.

Hammer hired her for their prehistoric romp, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970). Some of the versions of the film show her in the nude. She also displayed a lot of flesh for Group Marriage (1973) and Invasion of the Bee Girls/Graveyard Tramps (1973). For most genre fans the the image of a blonde cave girl in the Hammer production is the way Vetri would most of all be remembered, however, she is a natural brunette who had point blank refused to get her hair dyed and instead insisted on wearing a blonde wig.

For a while it appeared as if she was going to start a promising B-movie career, however, nothing much was heard off her afterwards other than that she was reportedly suffering from a broken nose and ribs following a brutal attack in her house in 1980.

Some sources claim that she also attempted a rock music career, however, I have yet to come across any reference to recorded singles or albums under any of her pseudonyms.

She still seems to raise quite a few male hart beats: Bestseller author Dan Brown sounds like a fan given the fact that the female lead character in his Angels and Demons was called... Vittoria Vetra. Unfortunately, since October 2010 she will likely be remembered as much for her movies as for the fact that she was arrested following the alleged attempted murder of her boyfriend and is now facing possible jail time.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hammer Fantasy & Sci Fi book

An hour or so after posting my current Hammer book overview I received a jpg of Bruce G Hallenbeck's upcoming book due out around March 2011. Now is that a beauty or is that a beauty?

Following this publication another two books are planned in the series focusing on Hammer Noir and Gothic.

'Nuff said.

Books galore

Marcus Hearn's ART OF HAMMER does exactly what it says on the tin and presents close to 200 pages of wonderfully reproduced posters for most of the classic Hammer movies, both horror and non-horror. Apart from a short introduction the book almost exclusively focuses on the reproductions with a few explanatory words here or there.

No matter how long you have been fascinated with Hammer, you are bound to discover a couple of images you have likely never come across before.

This is an absolute feast for the eyes. You know a coffee table book has gone the whole way when you remove the dust wrapper and subsequently unearth not a just a blank black cover but another set of striking images both for the front as well as the back cover.

Definitely a Must Have for anyone only remotely interested in classic Hammer. One of these days I would also like to see a similar production featuring all the different lobby cards and other promotional and press material.

Another Must Have is Wayne Kinsey's new book dedicated to HAMMER FILMS – THE UNSUNG HEROES. I purchased it a week ago during the official launch at Don Fearney's latest Hammer event in London's Cine Lumiere but haven't come around to reading it yet.

If you're exclusively interested in reading about the Hammer actors, don't bother as you won't find anything in this tome. As the title suggests this is about all the folks behind the camera.

Initially I thought that he may just rely on entries he had already penned for his “House That Hammer Built” zine but I should have guessed that Wayne won't go the lazy way. A cursory glance through it reveals that he didn't just recycle old posts but instead wrote extensive new biographical entries about the directors, technicians, management and other dedicated Hammer artists. As usual with his books we also get a huge number of rare and often previously unpublished behind-the-scenes photographs both in black and white and colour.

The book is available in a strictly limited to 500 hardcover edition and the standard softcover variant from Tomahawk Press.

Wayne is already working on his next oeuvre dedicated to the Hammer film locations. If you're like me and enjoy travelling as much as watching films or reading books, then you can't help but remain in high anticipation of this one. No idea how Wayne manages to write so many well researched books while still having a highly demanding day job. Hmmm, maybe he just doesn't sleep at night.

If my pidgin French was any better I'd probably also opt for Nicolas Stanzick's DANS LES GRIFFES DE LA HAMMER. It is a reworking of a previous edition which was the first feature length French book about our favourite film studio. This is what Yvonne Monlaur wrote about it in her latest blog entry:

“In France, DANS LES GRIFFES DE LA HAMMER, the first book entirely devoted to the studios, has just been republished in a more complete version. The author, Nicolas Stanzick, whom I had the pleasure to meet at this opportunity, is a young journalist with a passion for the famous film company. His richly documented book proposes to discover Hammer films through the controversial articles of the French critics at the time of their release. It is also an homage to the early supporters of Hammer films. The annex contains very in-depth interviews with, among others, Jean-Pierre Bouyxou and Gérard Lenne.”

I'd appreciate any comments from French language readers who are familiar with this book or its predecessor as to what can be expected. I have a small smattering of French so may understand a small bit. Would it be worth my while? Are there any illustrations of e.g. French promotional material that may make it worth a purchase?

In a way it's a pity that the author did not make it to London for the UNSUNG HEROES launch as this took place in the French Cine Lumiere Institute and he probably would have been able to plug a few copies and give us all an insight into the contents.

But of course that isn't all.

Sometime later this year/early next year we should also see Bruce G. Hallenbeck's follow up to his excellent HAMMER VAMPIRE oeuvre dedicated to Hammer Sci Fi & Fantasy. It will again be published by Hemlock Books.

Speaking of Hemlock: They are also the British distributors of the 2-volume set of LAST BUS TO BRAY, dedicated to all of Hammer's unfinished projects. The first volume covers the years 1950-1970; the second volume 1970 – 2010. These volumes should be out any day now.

You may notice that I have now published a Hemlock Books logo with a link to their page at the top right corner of my blog. I don't get any commission from this, so this is entirely a show of appreciation for the great work they do in both providing new Hammer and general movie and horror related material as well as help distribute US mags such as “Little Shoppe of Horrors” (Issue #25 now out with a focus on Blood on Satan's Claw) to UK/Ireland and other countries close by. They sure helped save me the occasional penny or two in postage and always provide great service.

I do get a – paltry – commission from my Amazon links. In the interest of total disclosure: $26.75 worth of Amazon gift vouchers for the year so far. Keeping up this blog is time consuming and indirectly also a drain on my financial resources. (Ah, who am I fooling: I'd buy those books and movies anyway.) On some very rare occasions I have been provided with review copies but for the most part paid hard cash for everything on review here. With Christmas around the corner please consider ordering through some of my review links if anything tickles your fancy or even if you just feel like ordering anything from Amazon anyway.

End of desperate commercial appeal.

While at the UNSUNG HEROES book lauch I was approached by one of the folks behind FAB Press. Those guys have been responsible for some of the most lavishly illustrated, back breaking tomes on cult cinema and now it appears that a HAMMER A-Z is due by them sometime in the New Year.

Other books in various stages of production are Ingrid Pitt's view at Hammer history, a doctoral thesis about the Exclusive films and another unofficial guide to Hammer movies.

Did I forget anything?

Time to get a new shelf methinks.

Let Me In

Watched Hammer's first cinematic release in more than 30 years today, Let Me In, and was pleasantly surprised how well it turned out.

You may recall that I was not a huge fan of the original. Add to that my aversion to English language remakes of foreign productions, and I initially had major misgivings about the new release.

Then something strange happened. People whose opinions I value started raving about the film when they saw it a few weeks ago in the States. And my initial disdain for the idea started to wane and I was actually ever so slightly beginning to look forward to the movie but didn't dare raise my hopes too highly.

The moment I then saw the Hammer logo on the big screen with a collage of their most iconic classic movie posters I felt a small lump in my throat.

The film itself is very similar to Let The Right One In though there are a number of important changes. Most importantly the pacing is much better in the Hammer version. There are longer, more elegiac moments but overall whereas the original seemed to entirely consist of those (often overlong shots), here we have a right mix of slow burn and occasional fast paced.

The characters are also much more believable in Let Me In and don't act as if they're all on valium. Those ludicrous scenes of depressed Swedish people sitting in a bar are gone completely and some of the scenes now are much better directed and truly haunting. There is also one particular scene showing a car accident shot from the perspective of people inside the car that is pretty amazing.

Unfortunately none of the really dark scenes of the source novel made it over - in my interview with Simon Oakes he explains why -, but overall this is a film that New Hammer can be proud of. I would have enjoyed it more if that had been completely new territory but for a remake this was quite first rate and bodes well for future new cinematic releases.

At last we can we can forget about the truly awful Beyond the Rave and instead see the true vision the new producers were having in mind.

Will Hammer ever be the kind of horror power house again with their new productions that fans will fondly remember decades later?

Probably not.

But they are again a major player worth looking out for. And that's fine enough for me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Operation: 101010 – Sherlock Holmes

The year is drawing to a close and I have yet only properly finished three Operation: 101010 categories.... until today. I just finished my tenth Sherlock Holmes movie of the year and only need another film each to finish two other categories. So there still is some chance that I may actually draw all these to a close.

As for Sherlock Holmes: This proved to be quite a fruitful year. Following the success of last year's cinematic blockbuster, we were treated to a couple of new productions. On the one hand The Asylum's Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes that wasn't as bad as I feared it would be. It did, however, have the most awfully miscast Holmes of all times. Ben Snyder - with no previous cinematic acting experience of any kind, how did he end up with one of the most iconic roles of all times? - plays a soft spoken, near helium voiced Holmes who is at least one head too small and spouts utter nonsense.

Much better were the three episodes of the Beeb's new contemporary Sherlock series that simply redefined the Master Detective for a new and younger generation while staying faithful to the source material.

Thanks to YouTube and Archive.org I also caught up with some older Holmes interpretations that I hadn't been familiar with before. Most prominently those of Arthur Wontner who is a very convincing Holmes in some very slow paced productions.

Below the ten Holmes productions that I enjoyed in 2010:

The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Wontner)

Murder at the Baskervilles (Arthur Wontner)

Batman: The Brave and the Bold – Trials of the Demon

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes (The Asylum)

Sherlock: A Study in Pink

Sherlock: The Blind Banker

Sherlock: The Great Game

The Man Who Disappeared (TV pilot, 1954)

The Masks of Death