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.
















Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Face the Music (1953)

A jetlagged and overworked Jazz musician discovers a fascinating singer. They go to the best spaghetti house in town: her place! There they exchange cheesy quotes from songs about girls who lie and men who cheat. When he leaves the place, he forgets his trumpet and ends up being one of the main suspects when she is discovered killed. He turns amateur sleuth in order to find the real killer. 

This very noirish thriller is one of Hammer’s best quota pictures from the early 1950s before they turned into a horror power house. Alex Nichol from South Pacific was Hammer’s American star du jour and was also used as the lead in Hammer’s next movie, The House Across the Lake. Terence Fisher directs and Michael Carreras manages to instill his love for jazz into the production. He can even briefly be glimpsed as one of the Band members in Kenny Baker’s Dozen. 

 Jazz permeates the entire movie and is the narrative thread that ties it all together: It introduces the main characters who are also repeatedly seen playing it. Jazz records are leads and red herrings in this mystery and Jazz instruments are even seen as potential murder instruments. 

The screenplay was adapted from his own novel by Ernest Borneman, a fascinating character, jazz critic and musician, crime fiction writer, dedicated socialist and – most (in)famous of all – well known sexologist. Jimmy Sangster at that stage had not been elevated to writer status yet and acted as Assistant Director. Watch out for Geoffrey Keen who would later appear in many a Bond movie as Sir Frederick Gray. 

There is one annoying plot hole when we discover that only two copies of an important demo record were ever pressed yet we can clearly see three copies making the round. Nevertheless the film overall is quite enjoyable especially given the novel jazz twist. 

 Oh yeah, in the US the film is also known under title The Black Glove, although it completely beats me as to why.

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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Wayne Kinsey: The Hammer Vampire Scrapbook

Hammer Vampire Scrapbook, Wayne Kinsey, Peveril Publishing
 Wayne Kinsey has done it yet again!

Only a few months after publishing The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires Scrapbook, his Peveril Publishing House has now released The Hammer Vampire Scrapbook.

Their previous Hammer Dracula Scrapbook focused on the Christopher Lee Dracula movies and is now out of print and goes for crazy money on Ebay (on the rare occasions that it actually surfaces). And needless to say - and to my everlasting chagrin - I didn't grab it when it was still available, just like I also failed to obtain a copy of their Hammer Frankenstein Scrapbook.

Ah well, life is made up of a series of regrets...

His new book now concentrates on The Brides of Dracula, Kiss of the Vampire, Vampire Circus and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter, leaving room for the Karnstein Trilogy for a later publication.

Don't know what to write without falling into the ever same superlatives with regards to the Peveril Books. I seriously never tire of them and The Hammer Vampire Scrapbook is no exception with 352 pages choke full of often ultra rare and never before published images from contact sheets as well as promotional material, scripts, lobby cards and posters covering everything from promo photos of actors and other crew members, to behind-the-scenes coverage of the shooting, a look at the sets and locations, censor reports etc etc.

My own copy was 516/700 and no doubt this will sell out as fast as most of their other books did. This book can as always exclusively be purchased only on their website.



Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Stranglers of Bombay (German Film Program)

  Illustrierte Filmbühne 5276

Scan of a four-page German film program for The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) that I just received in the mail today.

Also check out a similar film program I had previously posted for The Pirates of Blood River.

The Stranglers of Bombay, Illustrierte Filmbühne, Film Program

The Stranglers of Bombay, Illustrierte Filmbühne, Film Program

The Stranglers of Bombay, Illustrierte Filmbühne, Film Program

The Stranglers of Bombay, Illustrierte Filmbühne, Film Program


Thursday, April 8, 2021

German SHATTER poster

Ti Lung - Der tödliche Schatten des Mr Shatter, German film poster

German poster for Shatter/Call Him Mr Shatter (1975), Hammer's second co-production with Shaw Brothers following right after The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.

 

Friday, April 2, 2021

Caroline Munro and David Hasselhoff promoting STARCRASH

 

Caroline Munro and David Hasselhoff on promo tour for STARCRASH
Just discovered this photo on The Grindhouse Sleaze & 80s VHS Trash Facebook Group.

I know absolutely nothing about where this originally came from other than that after years of obsessing over Starcrash this is the first time I have come across this image.

Given that this was obviously a well stage promo event for the film, I suspect that there must be other similar material out there somewhere.