Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Nanny (1965)

***WARNING! Short as this piece is, it may contain some SPOILERS if you are not already familiar with the film****

Slowly, very very slowly, making my way through the mammoth Ultimate Hammer Collection set of 21 Hammer DVDs I recently caught The Nanny for the very first time and was quite pleasantly surprised.

The first surprise came when I noticed that this was a black and white production. Not sure why, but I always assumed that this was a colour movie, so I was intrigued to learn that it was indeed Hammer’s very last black and white production.

Another aspect of the film that I was unaware off was the absence of practically any sympathetic character. Hammer had at a time played with formats that offered no obvious positive characters to identify with as a viewer (most notably in my opinion in their underappreciated Dennis Wheatley adaptation The Lost Continent (1968)), but this was still a very unusual approach for screen writer Jimmy Sangster: The husband (James Villiers) is a bully, the wife (Wendy Craig) hysterical. Even the little boy (William Dix) is a brat who regularly fakes his suicide a la the later Harold and Maude and often has the viewer feel quite sorry for Bette Davis’ character who often comes across as the only sane person of the lot. As such there is indeed a certain amount of welcome suspense left as to whether her nanny really is a deranged psycho killer or whether this is just part of the boy’s vivid imagination.

Directed by Seth Holt - who died when filming of Blood of the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) had started and who was also responsible for Hammer’s equally intriguing Taste of Fear (1961) - this is one of Hammer’s best psycho thrillers. Well acted and tightly written, this is a Must See for anyone willing to stray away from Hammer’s usual Gothic tracks.

Who's that girl?

Ever since I purchased this photo a couple of years ago I've been wondering who the woman in this picture is. The guy is of course Roy Ashton, Hammer's Make Up man extraordinaire, but I have no idea what the occasion for this shoot was and who the other person is. I have since asked a handful of other Hammer fans, none of whom was able to assist, so this is now an open appeal to the world at large: Can anyone identify who the woman in this photo is and maybe even identify what film was being produced? (I am of course assuming that this is from a film shot, though even this fact is far from certain.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stolen Face (1951)

Seeing some pics of Hammer’s early Noir movie, Stolen Face, in the recent set of Hammer Trading cards reminded me that I had yet to watch any of the Hammer Noirs that came out a while ago, so this was as good an excuse as I ever needed to pop this movie into the player.

Directly by Terence Fisher this film tells the story of a brilliant plastic surgeon (Paul Henreid) who falls into a holiday whirlwind romance with a pianist (Lizabeth Scott), who, alas, is already engaged to a guy played by future Hammer stalwart, Andre Morell in his first role for Hammer. Frustrated about not being able to get the lady he wants, he transforms the horribly disfigured face of a female convict into the spitting image of his lady love and subsequently marries her. Needless to say things soon go awry in that mismatched relationship especially when the marriage is called off for his his real love.

The film is often quoted as an early example of Science Fiction, though it doesn’t have a lot of Sci Fi elements to it and with its themes of plastic surgery is more rooted in reality. If anything that film appears like a forerunner for Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), another film about an obsessive relationship and a man’s wish to recreate the image of the woman he loves.

The prevailing notions in this production are of course preposterous. Beauty may be only skin deep, but one should also not scratch too deeply on the surface of this plot as there is little of substance there, however, it is directed and acted absolutely straight which gives it a certain charm and makes this an overall entertaining production that, at 70 minutes, also doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The one link to Hammer’s (and Fisher’s) later Frankenstein productions is that physical defects can have an influence on criminal developments, though it is somewhat more believable to draw comparisons between damaged brains and abnormal behaviour than to come to similar conclusions by looking at damaged faces.

Not sure if I am the only one, but I also thought that the “awful” jazz and booze loving criminal crowd appeared to be more fun to be around with than the oh so prim and proper doctor and pianist. Ah well, how times have changed….

The first minute of the YouTube video below is from Stolen Face, the second half from a different production called Strange Impersonation (1946). The common themes: They both feature plastic surgery, doctors and smoking. Also check out this excellent review from a blog dedicated to Film Noir.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Vault of Horror uncut on Film 4 in the UK

For those of you living in the UK or Ireland: Set your timers for August 25 when Film 4 will be screening a new Hi-Def, remastered and uncut print of Amicus' Vault of Horror at 11:35 p.m. I am not exactly sure how much this version will differ from the previous DVD releases, but will definitely check it out.

Speaking of Amicus: I have finally started reading the latest edition of Little Shoppe of Horrors, this time entirely dedicated to Amicus. I am half way through and it is absolutely excellent. This is effectively not a magazine as such, but the publication of a book length manuscript by Philip Nutman. His "Scream and Scream Again: The Uncensored History of Amicus Productions" was originally meant to be published in the 1980s, but then lingered for various reasons (partly legal issues) unpublished until now. This is a completely reworked and updated version of the original manuscript. Not only is this highly readable but also comes with some of the best art work (front cover, back cover, inside covers etc) that LSoH has ever seen.

You can order the issue directly from Dick Klemensen's website. Also of interest is the fact that Dick will soon make CD copies of all his old and unavailable back issues available. Given the fact that some of the very early ones are now auctioned off for $100+, methinks that yours truly will definitely avail of this much cheaper option to fill up the holes in my collection.

Hammer Horror Official Trading Card Collection

Back in the 1990s I missed the boat with Cornerstone's set of four volumes of Hammer Horror trading cards which soon became collector’s items and are now mainly available through Ebay.

As such I was quite excited to hear that Hammer has teamed up with Strictly Ink to commission a new set of officially sanctioned Hammer Horror trading cards.

Strictly Ink are around since 1999 and have created a nice little niche for themselves by publishing a range of trading cards covering diverse areas such as the CSI Franchise, Dr Who, The New Avengers and 2000 AD.

The only thing that put a damper on my initial expectations was when I saw some of the reproductions on their official website. Let’s just say that the artist’s sketches left me seriously unimpressed, however, some comments on Yahoo’s Hammer discussion board convinced me that their actual base set was indeed superior to the cards they had advertised.

These trading cards are released in single packs of five that I seem to recall being sold individually in the likes of London’s Cinema Store. Most people, however, will probably avail of the offer to purchase at least one sealed box directly from the company’s website.

Each box contains 30 packs of 5 cards that will leave you with a guaranteed complete base set of collector cards 1-72. (Cards 71 and 72 actually constitute a check list of all the cards available.)

Doing the maths you will notice that with 150 cards sold in the box and a basic set only containing an initial 72 cards that this will leave you with a good number of duplicates. Of course, on top of the basic set a properly full collection of these cards would also constitute a handful of rarer special cards: 10 autographed cards by a predominantly female group of Hammer stars (Caroline Munro, Valerie Leon, Ingrid Pitt x 2, Jenny Hanley, David Prowse, Hazel Court, Madeline Smith, Veronica Carlson and Martine Beswicke), 9 foil cards of often rare publicity material as well as a number of even rarer hand drawn artist sketch cards.

It was these sketch cards that initially had me highly sceptical about this set as for the most part these look God awful and very amateurish, definitely not like a high class collector’s item you’d be dying to have in your possession.

I needn’t have worried, though, as these cards indeed only make up a fleetingly unimportant part of the set. In actual fact I find that Strictly Ink should have probably put more of an emphasis on their base cards in their advertising as opposed to these very special but dodgy looking sketch cards. The odds of finding one of these are one in every 2 or 3 boxes. (The odds of finding an autograph card were one per box and for the foil cards 1:12 packs.) For my own box I received an autographed card by Martine Beswicke as well as foil cards with promotional material for Hands of the Ripper, The Devil Rides Out, She and Scars of Dracula.

What is in the main set is a wonderful collection of often very rare photos covering the whole history of Hammer movies and stars. The pictures were compiled with the assistance of none other than Hammer historians extraordinaires Stephen Jones and Wayne Kinsey and cover the following areas: Early Science Fiction Thrills, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, Bloodsuckers & Other Monsters, Hammer Glamour and Behind the Screams (featuring production photos).

The reproduction of those cards is much superior than my inferior scans are suggesting. Overall this set of Hammer Trading Cards comes highly recommended and is anticipated to become a collector’s item over time. Some of Strictly Ink’s offers appear to already be sold out or down to the last few items, so I would recommend that anyone even remotely interested in this set get around to ordering soon before the only options left will be inflated prices on Ebay.

I notice that the Strictly Ink advertises this to be the “first in [a] series of incredible trading card collections exploring the horrific history of Hammer Films featuring many rare colour and black and white images”. I guess that means that the company will have some goodies in store for us Hammer fans. Definitely something to look forward to!

Now, where will I find the remaining autograph and foil cards for my set...?