Film Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Release Date: May 4th, 1959 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Peter Bryan
Based on: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Christopher Lee

Hammer Film Productions, United Artists, 87 Minutes

Review:

“I warned him! What could have possessed him to come out here alone?” – Sherlock Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes franchise is possibly the biggest of all-time, as the character has had more literary stories than I care to count and an endless stream of movies and television shows going back to the invention of celluloid. Maybe there are more live action Dracula adaptations but one can’t deny that Holmes has owned pop culture before the term “pop culture” entered the mainstream lexicon.

It’s only natural that Hammer would take a crack at a Holmes story after their success at adapting Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, along with their versions of The Mummy and their other horror successes. Plus, they had the uber talented Peter Cushing at their disposal, who was definitely Hammer’s perfect man to play the world’s most famous detective. Add in Cushing’s best friend and the man he worked with the most, Christopher Lee, and you’ve got a solid cast. However, this also teamed the great duo up with Hammer’s third best male lead, André Morell. And then on top of that, this was directed by Hammer’s premier director, Terence Fisher. To put it simply, Hammer assembled their dream team to give life to the literary work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What I most enjoyed about this film, is that even if it takes some liberties, it doesn’t do what you would expect Hammer to do. What I mean is that it doesn’t give the story a supernatural twist. It could have been easily turned into a werewolf movie or had a bunch of black magic stuff but it kept things grounded in reality and honestly, that made for a better picture than conjuring up some sort of unnatural threat.

While I always loved seeing Cushing and Lee together, Cushing spends more time with Morell, which is fun stuff to watch, as I love both men and wish that they got to play off of each other more often. Morell should have been in more films with Cushing and Lee, as the three men are sort of Hammer’s Holy Trinity.

This is a very straightforward Holmes picture that does the material some justice and is a nice experience, overall. It has that standard late ’50s/early ’60s Hammer visual aesthetic, which just makes this cooler and helps to make it fit within their catalog of horror titles from that time.

I love Holmes pictures and I love Hammer, so this is certainly a film I really enjoy and appreciate for a myriad of reasons.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Other early Hammer films starring Cushing and Lee. Also, the Hammer film with André Morell that deals with the undead: The Plague of the Zombies. I also like pairing this with another Hammer classic that stars the super cool Oliver Reed: The Curse of the Werewolf.

Film Review: The Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

Also known as: Il castello dei morti vivi (original Italian title), Crypt of Horror (alternate)
Release Date: August 5th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Warren Kiefer
Written by: Warren Kiefer
Music by: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Cast: Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy, Donald Sutherland

Serena Film, Filmsonor, Cineriz, 90 Minutes

Review:

I’ll watch anything with Christopher Lee in it. And even though he’s been in some dreadful pictures out of the 280 credits he has on IMDb, he is always a bright spot in them. This isn’t one of those dreadful pictures but it’s also not very good. It’s in a weird limbo.

The Castle of the Living Dead is also the first film with Donald Sutherland in it. He started his career playing triple duty, as he has three different roles in this. Maybe the studio could only afford five actors but they needed seven characters.

If the plot is anything, it is bizarre.

We have a group of carnival folk who arrive at Count Drago’s (Lee) castle to entertain him. What the carnies don’t know, is that he is a mad scientist that mummifies humans and animals with some mysterious liquid. The token carnival midget figures out something is shady and he tries to be the hero. Apart from a scene where the midget literally gets thrown off of a castle turret by a zombie, he does save the day in the end.

This was a film where the production was pretty much a clusterfuck. Directors changed, staff changed and it isn’t really known who should get credit for what. It’s possible that Mario Bava worked on some of the film’s special effects. However, things here certainly feel beneath Bava’s level of talent.

This is a dirty looking film with bad sound and a disorienting presentation. Scenes that I assume are supposed to be at night, are shot in daylight with a lot of shadows added in but the contrast between the darkness and obvious sunlight is strange.

The Castle of the Living Dead is only really worth checking out if you love Lee, Sutherland or gratuitous dwarf abuse. Even at ninety minutes, it is too long for a picture of its style and quality from its era.

 

Film Review: Howling II: … Your Sister Is A Werewolf (1985)

Also known as: Howling 2 (worldwide informal title), Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch (original title)
Release Date: August 28th, 1985 (France)
Directed by: Philippe Mora
Written by: Robert Sarno, Gary Brandner
Based on: The Howling II by Gary Brandner
Music by: Stephen W. Parsons
Cast: Christopher Lee, Annie McEnroe, Reb Brown, Marsha Hunt, Sybil Danning

Hemdale Film Corporation, Granite Productions, 87 Minutes

Review:

“For it is written: the inhabitants of the Earth have been made drunk with her blood. And I saw her sent upon a hairy beast and she held forth a golden chalice full of the filthiness of fornications. And upon her forehead was written: “Behold I am the great mother of harlots and all abominations of the Earth.”” – Stefan Crosscoe

The Howling is a much better movie than its sequel… or any of its sequels. Strangely, I watch this one more. Maybe it’s because of Christopher Lee. Maybe it’s because of just how friggin’ 80s cheesy it is. Maybe it’s the sweet tunes of Stephen Parsons and his band Babel. Maybe it’s because I’ve always loved B-movie queen Sybil Danning. Maybe it’s because I am always amused by C-movie action star Reb Brown. I don’t know, this film is just a perfect storm of shit and awesome.

Now I can’t honestly sell this as a good movie. Anyone I could point towards this will most assuredly hate it. It just hits a certain chord for me. I don’t even know what the hell that chord is and I probably don’t want to know. This is an atrocious movie but it is an awesomely atrocious movie. I mean, it’s dreadful… really dreadful. But I still feel the need to put it in the DVD player every couple of years.

Hell, this movie is so bad that the first thing that horror icon Christopher Lee did when he was cast in Gremlins 2, was apologize to Joe Dante for being in it. Dante directed the far superior original, for those who didn’t know. Lee was not in the original, unfortunately, but one of his iconic horror colleagues, John Carradine, was.

Howling II is a disjointed mess featuring furry werewolf sex scenes, abysmal acting, ridiculous situations, goofy action sequences, a midget that is a master of throwing knives and Christopher Lee wearing very 80s sunglasses in an attempt to fit in at a punk rock bar. Maybe I’m wrong in trashing this film, maybe there is a lot to like.

I just don’t want to be responsible for someone else having a bad time. Therefore, I cannot officially vouch for the absurd delight that this film is. The closing credits alone have to be seen to be believed, as it is one of the most ludicrously edited sequences I have ever seen and I’ve seen a lot of motion pictures.

Howling II is probably no one’s cup of tea except my own. It is the movie equivalent of someone saying, “Hey come over, we’re having tomahawk ribeyes and oysters!” And then you reply with, “I’m just going to stay home and eat these Pizza Rolls, thanks.” Sometimes, you just want those damn Pizza Rolls and some solitude.

Film Review: Corridors of Blood (1958)

Also known as: Doctor From Seven Dials (working title)
Release Date: December, 1958 (UK limited)
Directed by: Robert Day
Written by: Jean Scott Rogers
Music by: Buxton Orr
Cast: Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Betta St. John, Finlay Currie, Francis Matthews, Adrienne Corri, Nigel Green

Amalgamated Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t stop me. Operations without pain are possible, and I’ll not rest until I’ve proved it to you!” – Dr. Bolton

Despite the catchy title, Corridors of Blood really isn’t a horror film in the way that you’d expect. Sure, it stars Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee, both horror legends, but it plays more like a dark crime drama.

Set in London in 1840, the film follows Dr. Bolton (Karloff), a surgeon that is trying to develop a breakthrough in how surgery is done. Bolton is looking for a way to perform surgery without the patient feeling any pain. He thinks he has figured it out but when he gives a demonstration to a room full of his peers, he fails miserably and is publicly disgraced. Bolton becomes his own guinea pig, as he continually tests his anesthetic on himself. Ultimately, Bolton becomes addicted and becomes a junkie. He then gets pulled into a criminal gang through a blackmail scheme, which leads to Bolton playing a part in the gang’s murderous ways.

To my surprise, I discovered that this was a film that has been added to the Criterion Collection. I actually watched this on the Criterion Channel through FilmStruck. While films like this aren’t normally added to the Collection, I can see why it deserves the recognition and respect.

Mainly, it is one of the best things that Boris Karloff has done in his incredible career. This film really showcases Karloff the actor, as opposed to Karloff the monster. Also, Lee’s performance is one of his most chilling. Plus, anytime you have two legends come together, it is worth a watch.

The film also has a few other notable actors from the era and the horror genre. Francis Matthews, who did some work for Hammer, has a role as a young doctor. We also get to see a very young Adrienne Corri, who starred in Hammer’s fantastic Vampire Circus (one of my favorites), and Nigel Green, who popped up in a lot of stuff, most notably Zulu.

Corridors of Blood sounds like a later Hammer film, when they got more into exploitation, gore and violence. There certainly weren’t corridors of actual blood throughout this movie. The title is quite misleading.

The cinematography looks more like something that is film-noir than just classic horror. I guess that would make it more like the Val Lewton RKO horror pictures than the more commercial and better known Universal Monsters franchise.

Corridors of Blood is a nice surprise if you stumble across it looking for a standard British horror picture from their best horror era. It’s a film with a bad title that doesn’t do it justice and probably deterred a lot of people from giving it a real chance.

Film Review: Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

Also known as: The Crimson Cult (US)
Release Date: December, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Vernon Sewell
Written by: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln
Music by: Peter Knight
Cast: Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele, Mark Eden, Michael Gough, Rupert Davies

Tigon Films, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like a house from one of those old horror films.” – Eve Morley, “It’s like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment.” – Robert Manning

The only thing that this movie really has going for it is its great cast of horror legends. It boasts the talents of Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Barbara Steele. It also features Michael Gough, most famous to American audiences as Alfred from the Tim Burton Batman films. Rupert Davies even pops up in a small role.

I also have to give props to John Coquillon’s cinematography. His use of vivid and colorful lighting was effective, as were the sets and the colorful costumes he captured and brought to life. The film, in its best visual parts, looks like living art.

Unfortunately, the story is weak and there isn’t much of anything that is surprising. Barbara Steele often times distracts from the frail and inadequate script with her alluring beauty and her piercing gaze but even with the help from Karloff and Lee, the film is still pretty flat and uninteresting.

However, anytime that you can see legends like this come together, it is an affair worth checking out. I always like seeing Michael Gough in old British horror flicks too, considering how good he was for Hammer Studios in Horror of Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera.

Karloff and Lee look like they were having fun working together but neither of them gave anything close to their greatest performances. Barbara Steele was really good but she just didn’t have a lot to do and her character was fairly one dimensional. She looked stunning in her body paint and costume and really embodied the part of the demigod witch that she was supposed to be.

The main characters of the film were Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherell but they were completely overshadowed by the legends packed into this picture. They still did decent with the material. Wetherell was very pretty and had a great body, which is obviously why she was selected to play the Stage Actress in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Curse of the Crimson Altar is just average. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just exists. The positives are cancelled out by the negatives but at least the stars make it a worthwhile experience for those who are fans of their work.

Film Review: The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)

Also known as: The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit and the Pendulum, Castle of the Walking Dead
Release Date: October 5th, 1967 (West Germany)
Directed by: Harald Reinl
Written by: Manfred R. Kohler
Based on: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Peter Thomas
Cast: Christopher Lee, Karin Dor, Lex Barker, Carl Lange

Constantin Film, Hemisphere Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“The blood is the life.” – Count Frederic Regula

I love Christopher Lee, that is not a secret. However, he is only in the opening sequence of this film and then doesn’t appear again until the last twenty minutes. That being said, the film isn’t a complete waste.

All the main actors are pretty decent with their material, although the material isn’t great. The story is based off of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum and we have also had a few adaptations of that story by the time this came out. This version is German and it takes some big liberties, which do set it apart.

For one, the story has a snake pit instead of just some long drop into nothingness. Also, the madman is pretty much a resurrected ghost – played by Lee in chalky white makeup. Plus, there is a whole horse and carriage journey that takes up the bulk of the film, until the people arrive at the haunted castle.

The sets look cheap and resembles a low budget spook house from the 1960s more than a real scary horror filled fortress. But hey, it still looks pretty cool and the wall paintings are neat. Also, the lighting is striking and vibrant and the film has a subtle giallo presentation to it.

Christopher Lee overtakes the scenes that he is in but there aren’t many. The leading lady had a very strong Barbara Steele vibe but wasn’t quite Steele. The main fellow was okay but nothing exciting. The guy who plays the priest/bandit was really fun though.

This was one of the few Christopher Lee films of the 1960s that I had not seen. Being that it was available on Amazon Video for Prime members gave me the opportunity to finally check it out. While I’m glad I did, it really isn’t anything that people who aren’t die hard Lee fans will enjoy.

Film Review: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Also known as: The Devil’s Bride
Release Date: July 20th, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Niké Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Sarah Lawson, Paul Eddington, Rosalyn Landor, Russell Waters, Eddie Powell (uncredited)

Hammer Film Productions, Associated British-Pathé, Seven Arts Productions, 20th Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“The Angel of Death was summoned. He cannot return empty-handed.” – Duc de Richleau

The Devil Rides Out is not a film that is widely recognized today but it is one of my favorite Christopher Lee pictures. It is also in the upper echelon of Hammer Studios gigantic horror catalog.

Lee’s Duc de Richleau is actually one of the coolest characters that he has ever played, which is pretty big considering that he generally played cool characters. For a guy that was Dracula, The Man With the Golden Gun, Count Dooku and Saruman, none of those characters felt as authentically Christopher Lee as this one.

The film also boasts a pretty amazing cast with Charles Gray, a man who has been in several classic James Bond pictures, as the sinister villain of the story. Gray is stellar as the evil Devil worshiping madman hellbent on shaping the world into the Devil’s playground.

Another really cool thing about this movie is that the Devil shows up in physical form. While he simply sits on an altar and disappears at the first sign of trouble, it is still a mesmerizing scene today.

This picture does have its share of hokey effects, like the giant spider and the evil knight on the winged horse but its coolness offsets its flaws. And that is what this is, a cool motion picture.

The film is dark, brooding but still lighthearted and adventurous. It has some good action, fun monsters and the sets are fantastic.

It was also directed by Terence Fisher, who was Hammer’s premier director and a longtime Lee collaborator. His films are considered to be some of Hammer’s greatest and with good reason. The Devil Rides Out isn’t as well known as Fisher’s movies featuring famous monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Mummy but it is one of his absolute best.

Also, the script was written by Richard Matheson, the accomplished novelist who wrote I Am LegendHell House and a slew of old school horror pictures.

The Devil Rides Out is truly the most quintessential Hammer Studios films that doesn’t feature a famous monster. It has a strong and powerful atmosphere, really good cinematography, top notch acting for its genre at its time and is also a lot of fun.