Friday, November 13, 2020

Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Mill Creek Blu Ray Review Part 1 (Movies 1-10)

 Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Mill Creek Entertainment 11/17/2020

Films Within This Set: The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Camp on Blood Island, The Snorkel ,Yesterday's Enemy, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Never Take Candy From A Stranger, The Stranglers of Bombay, The Terror of the Tongs, Cash On Demand, Scream of Fear, Stop Me Before I Kill!, These Are The Damned, The Pirates of Blood River, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, The Old Dark House,  Maniac, The Gorgon, The Devil-Ship Pirates, Die! Die! My Darling, Creatures the World Forgot

    When it comes to releases I've been chomping at the bits to get my fiendish mitts on, Mill Creek Entertainment's Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection. Mill Creek has not only gathered all of their previous Hammer films together but added new titles to the mix. AND, they have added some new extras exclusive to this new set. This set proves that the label has really come into their own and this box isn't just something they slapped together. Since this contains 20 films I will be breaking this into two parts. As always I will be doing short reviews for each title and a break down of what's on the disc and how it looks and sounds. 

Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Part 1) Movies 1-10 

Disc 1) The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

The Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958)

Directed By: Terence Fisher 

Starring: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthew, Eunice Gayson, John Welsh, Michael Gwynn

    The follow up to the smash-hit The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) finds Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) continuing his work re-animating the dead now under the name Dr. Stein. Despite the sequel sadly not having Christopher Lee as the monster, these Frankenstein film's are more about the Doctor (played to the hilt by Cushing) than the creation. Fisher does what a great sequel should, which is not simply remake the first film but, expand the story and the characters. Here we are a deeper insight into Cushing's Frankenstein whilst also getting a tragic creation that is more in line with Shelley's novel. As was the way with a lot of Hammer horror the production value looks great for the budgets they worked with. Fisher also injects some nice dark humor sprinkled throughout. A thrilling and worthy follow up to The Curse of Frankenstein. 

Picture: Revenge of Frankenstein has a fairly decent transfer. The print is not without some issues however, with scratches and minor artifacts. Details could have used a sharper focus in this print.  Grain is nicely fine and consistent throughout. Night and darkly lit scenes really benefit from this upgrade. 

Sound: Revenge of Frankenstein features a nice clear 2.0 Mono track. Dialogue and sound design comes throughout nicely. No background hiss or audio drop outs. 

Extras: Revenge of Frankenstein features a brand new commentary for this boxset with Filmmaker/Film Historian Constantine Nasr and Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman. Both gentlemen give a great informative and entertaining commentary which is a nice addition to this boxset! 

Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)

Directed By: Michael Carreras 

Starring: Terrance Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, George Pastell, Dickie Owens 

    British archeologists uncover a priceless find of treasures and a mummy that has remained undisturbed. They along with the American investors bring back the contents to London for exhibition. But, of course a heavy curse comes with the barging in this mid '60's Hammer outing.    The second in Hammer's Mummy series is in my opinion less successful. The talents of Terrance Fisher are sorely missed as is the charm and dazzle of Cushing and Lee. If I'm being frank the film is kind of a sore-fest with the first actual mummy attack taking place nearly an hour into a scant 80 minute runtime. The mummy as a monster is always a tough sell but this film bogs itself down in tons of exposition and some filler scenes. On the plus side, the mummy itself looks decent enough (but that might be generous) and, like most Hammer outings has really solid  production design and loads of atmosphere. For example, the second mummy attack is done in such an amazingly Gothic and stylized way that its really a stand out moment. It's a pity that one) the film takes that long to really get going and two) that this scenes is really the films high point. This is where I think a more seasoned veteran like Fisher could have streamlined the pacing. As it stands, Curse has a few good moments but mostly languishes in the tomb of boredom.  

Picture: Curse of the Mummy's Tomb is a fairly nice looking transfer. It has some flaws like some slight scratches and artifacts. Images though are clear and retain a good amount of detail in my opinion. The colors are well balanced with a fine grain quality.  

Sound: Curse of the Mummy's Tomb has a robust 2.0 Mono track. Dialogue comes through nicely, as does music and sound design. No background hiss or audio drop outs to be found. 

Extras: None 

Disc 2) These Are the Damned, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. 

These Are the Damned (1962)

Directed By: Joseph Losey 

Starring: Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed, Viceca Lindfors

     An American sightseer gets tangled up a motorcycle gang and government experimented children in this odd-ball Hammer film. This is the just one of the titles that's making its HD debut (in North America) in this boxset! Joseph Losey's British sci-fi outing starts off with a nice air of mystery all whilst clipping along at a brisk pace. And the film maintains this engaging sense of mystery as it slowly unfolds the plot. I'm a sucker for high-concept British science fiction and this one is clearly a reflection of the changing attitudes of the time, whilst also aiming for a teen-age audience. I will say the film is a bit overwrought and dull in places for its own good which ruins any momentum Losey is able to craft. A fairly interesting film with some really solid children acting and strange atmosphere. The haunting black and white photography really helps sell the mood and overall Gothic tone, despite a non-Gothic setting/story. And if also features Oliver Reed so that's always a win. Flawed but engrossing nonetheless. 

Picture: These Are the Damned is clearly sourced from a really nice print. The film has a nice level clarity and sharp detail. Very little in the way of any scratches or artifacts with small details coming through crystal clear. Overall, I was hoping that the US debut of this film would look great and it met expectations. 

Sound: Damned features a nice DTS 2.0 track. Music, sound design and dialogue comes through nicely with no issues like hiss or audio drop out. 

Extras: None

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

Directed By: Terrence Fisher 

Starring: Paul Massie, Dawn Adams, Christopher Lee, David Kossoff

     The second in Hammer's re-telling of author Robert Louise Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde see's the infamous Doctor Jekyll (Paul Massie) as he transfers into the fiendish Mr. Hyde. I recall not really liking this movie I first time I saw it. Indeed, it's not as fast paced as some other Hammer titles but it does have its charms. Fisher takes the themes of Victorian repression of Stevenson's novel and uses that as a spring board for this 1960 retelling. Given this is a later re-imagining of the story Fisher is able to push the boundaries of drug use, sex, and of course, the use of violence.  I'm really glad I gave this another try because it's just as fun as Fisher's other Hammer outings and injects dark humor, production design that is lavish (and impressive considering its budget) and colorful characters. Speaking of, Lee and Paul Massie simply devour the roles and are clearly having a lot of fun with it. It also has a wonderful visual presents with neon hues and big bright colors that are broadline garish. For me its among the best looking Hammer films with rich details in sets and costumes. Is this my favorite re-telling of Robert Louise Stevenson's material? No. I think while it pushes boundaries in terms of content it never pushes the source enough in terms of making it truly stand out. This would be achieved better in my opinion in  1971's Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde directed by Roy Ward Baker. Still, a solid Hammer outing, though probably not as well loved as other films in this set. I do love the finale though. 

Picture: Dr. Jekyll is a very visually provocative film and the transfer in my opinion does justice to it. Overall, the colors really pop with a nice deal of clarity. Though fairly smooth and consistent the film has that nice grainy-film like quality. Details in costumes and set also are a stand-out.  

Sound: Dr. Jekyll has a  nice DTS 2.0 track. Dialogue and sound design some through nicely with no background hiss or audio drop outs. 

Extras: None

Disc 3) The Old Dark House, The Gorgon, Cash on Demand

The Old Dark House (1963)

Directed By: William Castle

Starring: Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott, Joyce Grenfell 

    What do you get when you mix the B-Master William Castle with Britain's House of Horror's Hammer Studios? You get the zany chiller comedy The Old Dark House (1963). In England a dopey American car salesmen named Tom (Tom Poston) is talked into spending the night at a creepy mansion by a rich friend native to Britain. A web of lies and murder ensue.  Here's the thing: I am a huge William Castle fan. In fact, I think that his movies work even when you strip them of their gimmick's. Like any filmmakers though a few duds are par for the course. Sadly, such is the case with '63 remake of the classic '30's film by James Whale. The film starts out promising with a painted title sequence by none other than Charles Addams (yes, the creator of the legendary cartoon strip). This is a fun spooky start to the film but sadly, the bulk of the time is bogged down in unfunny humor that is much too broad for me taste. Robert Dillion (who would later go on to pen the screenplay for the criminally underrated Prime Cut (1972)) seems out of his depths here and the whole thing feels like it could have used a tighter focus story wise. The audience is lead through a convoluted mess and Dillion takes a simple creepy story and bloats it needlessly. Tom Poston also makes for an awkward leading man, even if he is suppose to be awkward. Poston is uneven but I guess he does the best with the material. I was hoping that I would have found some charm in this Castle outing but it's just as messy as other's have said it was. For hardcore completist only. James Whale's 1932 version of The Old Dark House is a classic and should not be mistaken for this disaster. 

Picture: I believe that The Old Dark House is making its HD debt in North America in this collection. And, it's a very impressive one at that. The colors are big, bold, and very vivid in 1080p. Grain is lovely giving it that nice film quality and is and consistent throughout. Skin colors also look nice and natural and I was happy that the details in set design come through clear. Even more impressive is there are no scratches or artifacts that I could spot. 

Sound: Old Dark House has a really dynamic DTS 2.0 track. Dialogue and sound designs come through nice and clear with no distortion or audio drop outs. 

Extras: Audio Commentary with: The Monster Party Podcast Featuring James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan, Larry Strothe, and Matt Weinhold. 

The Gorgon (1964)

Directed By: Terrence Fisher 

Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Richard Pasco, Barbra Shelley, Michael Goodliffe 

     How can you go wrong with a creature feature Hammer outing starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and directed by the celebrated Terrence Fisher? The peace of a small village is rocked when the monster known as a gorgon has been turning the locals into stone. Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing) friend of a victim investigates. The Gorgon has seemed to, after many years finally found the cult following and is now largely regarded as a solid later entry in the studio's history. What I love is the Gorgon starts out with a nice air of mystery and Fisher is able to maintain it also whilst unfolding the plot. Like a lot of these Gothic Hammer outings the film has a nice period production design that helps engross one into the story. I also love the mythological aspect that the film explores. Because, as much as I adore the other monsters it's a nice change of pace. I actually recall not being a fan of this film and later enjoying it more on re-watch. Cushing of course brings a lot of class and nuance and Lee is always so fun to see in anything, especially a Hammer horror outing. I kept a lot of the plot of The Gorgon pretty vague because it's a movie I recommend going in completely fresh. Yes, its a bit hooky at times but I think it's a real gem in the '60's era of the studio.   

Picture: The Gorgon transfer to 1080p looks pretty good in my opinion. Grain is consistent with the level of details in clothes, textures, production sets etc are all really well maintained. Some very faint artifacts (noise, scratches) do abound but overall it's a rock solid print. 

Sound: The Gorgon has a very nice 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely with no audio drop out. 

Extras: The Gorgon has a brand new commentary by super fan and filmmaker Joshua Kennedy (director of House of the Gorgon-2019). Kennedy is engaging, funny, and most importantly, informative. I really enjoyed this commentary and I think fellow fans will as well. 

Cash on Demand (1961)

Directed By: Quentin Lawrence 

Starring: Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Richard Vernon, Norman Bird

    1961's Cash on Demand marks the first non-sci-fi/horror in this set and, I might hear some groan but it's a damn interesting little crime film. A uptight bank manager named Harry (Peter Cushing) finds himself in deep with a network of criminals.  With his family in danger the morally righteous man must assist in the robbery and also keep the authorities from getting wind. Set around Christmas time this movie is a smooth, witty, and suspenseful heist movie. The film is constantly upping the stakes while also injecting some nice dramatic irony and dark humor. Peter Cushing is really grade-A in this film and adds little touches that brings his character to life. Andre Morell also plays opposite with Cushing in The Hounds of the Baskervilles (1959). Morell like Cushing really adds weight and energy to his character. While not as clever as it maybe could have been, the film does have some nice tricks up it's sleeve. It also almost plays like a weird re-telling of A Christmas Carol. I actually wish they would have leaned into this aspect harder. Not amazing but a damn charming little Christmas crime film with Cushing and Morell making an amazing acting duo. 

Picture: Cash on Demand seems to be sourced from a nice print. There are a few artifacts in the print but overall its a clean clear presentation. Grain is smooth and consistent with deep black levels.  

Sound: Cash on Demand sports a nice robust 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nice and clear. 

Extras: None 

Disc Four) The Snorkel, Maniac 

The Snorkel (1958)

Directed By: Guy Green

Starring: Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller, Gregorie Asian 

Trigger Warning: A major plot point involves suicide and mental health topics like depression. Also a dog does die. 

     With a title like The Snorkel I really didn't know what to expect. I was happy to find out it's a pre-Psycho (1960) thriller. When her mother seemingly dies of suicide by way of gas poisoning her young daughter Candy (Mandy Miller) is convinced her step father Paul (Peter van Eyck) is to blame. Problem is nobody believes her. Guy Green wastes little time in putting us the audience right into the thick of things and he get a nicely paced first few minutes. I will say that Green doesn't really maintain that same level of suspense but the film is not without its charms. For example. the black and white photography by the legendary Jack Asher (The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula) really gives this movie a nice pulpy mood that helps an otherwise paper thin plot feel more interesting. Peter van Eyck also adds some nice touches to make his character properly unnerving. As for the overall acting, it's...hmmm. how to put this nicely, wooden but does the job. Mandy Miller does a decent enough at carrying the bulk of the films emotional center. The Snorkel despite having some issues really does have such an amazing finale that reminds me of  The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Guy Green also injects a nice amount of dark humor which was a wise choice. By no means a perfect film I did find myself engaged throughout, and, as I said that ending really does make the film. 

Picture:  The Snorkel has a high grain level in some scenes and, as most of you know this isn't an issue with me per se but it's at times distracting. Otherwise the clarity was nice and it shows off Asher's great photography. Very little to no scratches or artifacts to be seen in this presentation. 

Sound: Snorkel has a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue and sound design some through nicely with no background hiss or audio drop outs. 

Extras: The Snorkel includes a brand new commentary with writer/producer Phoeff Sutton, Writer film historian Mark Jordan Legan and screenwriter/film historian C. Courtney Joyner. A really great new commentary that is informative and just really fun to listen to. Makes a nice addition to this set. 

Maniac  aka The Maniac (1963)

Directed By: Michael Carreras 

Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Nadia Gray, Donald Houston, Liliane Brousse 

   After the success of Psycho (1960) a slew of psychological thrillers were  put into production. Hammer, always on trend also had a wave of psycho-thrillers of their own. An early example is Maniac. A drifter who finds himself in a small French village gets mixed up in a strange love triangle involving a killer who uses a blowtorch. 

    Maniac is in my opinion a mixed bag. On the one hand the film is suitably moody with beautiful black and white photography, a clever plot and a nice finale. Yet, the pacing is a bit shaggy, the writing a bit flat in places and overall, it could have used a tighter focus. It's certainly not the highlight in Hammer's post-Psycho films but it does have enough tricks up it's sleeves to help somewhat gloss over the short comings. 

Picture: Maniac has an overall nice look on 1080p. Image is nice and clear with only a small amount of distortion in the print. Grain is kept at a minimum and is well maintained throughout.   

Sound: Maniac has a nice 2.0 track with dialogue coming through nicely. 

Extras: None

Disc Five) Die! Die! My Darling

Die! Die! My Darling (1965)

Directed By: Silvio Narizzano 

Starring: Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Donald Sutherland, Peter Vaughan, Maurice Kaufmann 

    Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) was a surprise hit and kicked off what is often called Hagsploitation. This means taking an older actress and putting her in a often times low budget film, the genre often always being horror or thriller. This time Tallulah Bankhead gets in on the fun in this mid '60's chiller. Frantic later re-titled Die! Die! My Darling is certainly a product of the era. Like a lot of Psycho (1960) clones Die! offers a stripped down, moody, and sometimes nasty little outing that promises cheap thrills and somewhat delivers. My biggest issue with this film is in the pacing which is uneven, with bursts of engaging and sometimes even tense moments and at other times it lags. It also runs into the issue of becoming one note and this seems like it may have worked better as a shortened segment in an anthology rather than stretched out to feature length. This was based on a novel so I have to wonder if some of the issue may have been this not translating well to the film medium. Like, there are aspects of rich and important background information that is only strongly hinted at in the film. For example, it is strongly suggested that Bankhead's Mrs. Trefoile was a former actress but again, this is set-up and never really paid off. This movie has a bad habit of setting up situations or themes without following them to a satisfying conclusion.   What I think saves the film is it wisely leaned heavily into the campiness and director Silvio Narizzano seems to sprinkle in a nice amount of wicked humor throughout as well. This movie is pretty famous for it's cast which includes the final feature film role for Tallulah Bankhead and early roles for Stefanie Powers (Hart to Hart) and Donald Sutherland playing a young man with obvious learning/development disabilities in such a cringe-worthy way.  I was trying to figure out if Ms. Bankhead's over-the-top performance was earnest or if she too was camping it up. Whichever was the case it's a shall we say memorable turn and, for better or worse (depending on how you look at it) closed out a career that spanned to the 1910's through the '60's. I`d say for all its short comings, which is mostly due to a underdeveloped script the film is entertaining and has a nice pulpy Gothic feel which plays up the dark humor. Worth checking out. 

Picture: Die! Die! My Darling looks really good on 1080p. Colors are rich and the mood that the film is presented nicely. I will say the print has a lot of white sprinkles that are barely noticeable in some scenes but more pronounced in others.  Overall, a good but not great transfer but it does the job. 

Sound: Like the other films Die! sports a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely with no background hiss or audio drop out. 

Extra: None

End of Part 1

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