Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Mill Creek Blu Ray Review Part 2 (Movies 11-20)

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

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. 

Click HERE for part one of my review. Window will open in a new browser. Make sure pop-up blockers are turned off. 

Movies 11-20 

Disc Five) Die! Die! My Darling (Reviewed in part 1), Stop Me Before I Kill! 

Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)

Directed By: Val Guest 

Starring: Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis, Bernard Braden 

    Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis) is a race car driven that, after a bad accident is left shaken. It's decided that Alan and his wife Denise (Diane Cilento) should go on holiday. While there he discovers that he's got a short temper and, worst yet an urge to kill his wife. Alan seeks help before he does something awful. Hammer released a slew of psychological thrillers in the wake of Psycho and Peeping Tom (both released in 1960). Stop Me Before I Kill! is a prime example of a great title for a not so great film. Indeed, if I had to sum it up in word one it would be overwrought. Val Guest doesn't seem to know exactly how to play up the film's suspense nor are the characters that exciting. It also bogs itself down in so much dialogue and very little action. Stop Me doesn't even really pick up until well into the third act. The horrible pacing and melodramatics are not helped by all the actors giving performances more akin to a big Broadway show rather than acting for cinema. Stop Me feels like it probably would have made a better episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents instead of stretching things out to feature length. 

Picture: Stop Me looks really good in 1080p. The black and white photography has a clean sharp look to it. Very little in the way of scratches or artifacts in the print itself. Grain is of course present but looks smooth and consistent throughout. 

Sound: Stop Me has a 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely. No background noise or audio drop outs. There are some moments where the audio echoes but I've only counted two short instances this happened.  

Extras: None

Disc Six) Never Take Candy From a Stranger, Scream of Fear 

Never Take Candy From a Stranger (1960)

Directed By: Cyril Frankel 

Starring: Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford, Janina Faye, Felix Aylmer

Trigger Warning: This movie deals with the subject matter of children in danger and also contains the subject of pedophilia. 

    Peter Carter (Patrick Allen), his wife Sally (Gwen Watford) and their nine year old daughter Jean (Janina Faye) move to a new town to start a new life. Everything seems idyllic until Jean casually mentions one evening that the she was lured to an older man's house and was made to strip in exchange of promises of candy, along with her other new school friend. Clearly upset the parents go to the law only to discover that the man that did this heinous act named Clarence Olderberry (Felix Aylmer), is apart of a powerful family within the community. Never Take Candy From a Stranger is certainly one of the more unnerving in Hammer's cycle of psychological outings. It's not hard to see why the film was so shocking at the time as the subject of pedophilia was never talked about let alone the driving plot of a film. Though, of course these events are never depicted, it's an unsettling watch and one that will make most people squirm in their seats. There really are moments that are legit harrowing, especially for those parents watching this. Things like the townsfolk not believing or worse yet victim blaming is really harsh stuff but sadly, seems believable for the time period. The movie is not without it's issues and I think the narrative could have been a little more focused though. It's seemingly building to a court-room drama only to abandon that pretty quickly. There are some tense moments but I think it could have somehow played up the thriller elements. The movie does have some interesting ideas at play such as how this town thrives off of and insolates creeps like Clarence but, sadly they never take this far enough. It's a shame because factors like shady police and officials could have been used for more tension and drama. At the end of the day it feels like a movie built around it's daring premise, instead of masterfully folding in a thriller around it. I will say though, the finale however is really well handled and, actually really bleak. In fact, it may be the bleakest of all Hammer films I've seen. I think it's worth repeating if this subject matter messes with you, you might want to skip this movie altogether. It's by far not a great film with some what under developed script but, I will give the filmmakers credit for boldly tackling this subject. A movie that is still disturbing but drops the ball in the story department. 

Picture: Never Take Candy is a really nice looking 1080p film. The image is sharp with very little in the way of scratches or artifacts within the print. Overall, everything retains a nice amount of detail. Some grain but it's very smooth and consistent throughout. 

Sound: Never Take Candy has a 2.0 track. No issues with the audio with dialogue coming through clear. 

Extras: Never Take Candy features a brand new commentary by filmmaker/historian Constantine Nasr. Nasr provides a really engaging commentary track that gives us the audience a lot of background on the film and the players involved. 

Scream of Fear (1961)

Directed By: Seth Holt

Starring: Susan Strasberg, Ann Todd, Ronald Lewis, Christopher Lee

    Scream of Fear from 1961 is one of the better psychological thrillers to come in the wake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Indeed, I think its the best of the psycho-thrillers Hammer ever produced. Penny (Susan Strasberg) is a wheelchair bound woman who returns home after ten years to see her father. But is he dead or alive? Thats the question in this twisty mystery thriller. Seth Holt who would later go onto to do the sorely underrated gem The Nanny (1965) directs this tight little film and really makes the most out of Jimmy Sangster's (Horror of Dracula) tightly focused and twist filled screenplay. Holt is clearly channeling the great Hitchcock in the best way and provides the film with a lot of style and a rich Neo-Gothic vibe. I cannot stress how great this film looks. Providing the look of the film is the legendary Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lion in Winter) and gives Scream of Fear it's tense, moody and at times darkly beautiful black and white photography. This film also includes a score by the underrated Clifton Parker (Curse of the Demon). Susan Strasberg heads up a very solid cast that includes Ann Todd, Ronald Lewis and the late great Christopher Lee, in a small but memorable role. Lee boldly stated that out of all his Hammer movies Scream of Fear was the best and his favorite. What makes the film work outside of the amazing talent in front of and behind the camera is how engaging the mystery is and how Holt and Sangster makes us the audience always feel uneasy and unsure of what's really going on. Obviously, no spoilers here but will just say that the film races to a brilliant and clever finale. 

Picture: This is a visually stunning movie so I am happy to report Scream of Fear looks great on 1080p. The print retains a nice clear look with no artifacts or scratches that I could notice. Grain is faint and well maintained throughout.  

Sound: Scream of Fear has a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through clear with no background hiss or audio drop outs. 

Extras: Scream of Fear has a brand new commentary by Author and film historian Steve Haberman. I've been a long time fan of Haberman and, as always, his commentaries are extremely well researched and engaging to listen to. It's a really great addition to a very well done thriller. Certainly well worth the listen to. 

Disc Seven) The Stranglers of Bombay, The Terror of the Tongs

The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) 

Directed By: Terrance Fisher

Starring: Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, George Pastell, Jan Holden, Marne Maitland 

   Set in 1800's an East Indian Trading Company headed by Capt. Lewis (Guy Rolfe) investigates a cult of thieves and murderers in this adventure outing from Hammer. This is the first adventure movie I encountered on this set and, also one of the other film's that's making its North American HD debut. Bombay is a bit of a mixed bag. To Fisher's credit the film is for the most part a nice action adventure given a big scope by way of Arthur Grant's (Quatermass and the Pit, The Damned) expressive black and white photography. I also have to give the filmmakers props for really pushing the envelope with the sadism and violence. And, though it is incredibly tame by today's standards I think it still packs a punch. Most of the brutality is done off screen but, in my opinion, not showing it is actually worse. Guy Rolfe also really helps give this movie a sense of class to, what is admittedly a pretty hooky, almost B-Serial affair. So, Bombay is kind of an odd film because I can't say it doesn't have a lot of action going on but it feels like the actual narrative could have used an over haul nonetheless. Characters feel flat and motivations are sketchy at best. Also, there is no getting around the cultural stereotypes are on the cringe-worthy side. There also features a scene (I believe inserted nature/stock footage) of a snake mongoose fight. Same with Italian cannibal films, these scenes make me extremely uncomfortable and scenes of that ilk honestly add nothing to the story. At the end of the day though, for all it's shortcomings and dicey cultural depictions I found this to be a breezy action adventure outing that is well photographed and for the most part well acted. It also features a nice score by James Bernard. Hammer Horror fans will know Bernard for his countless scores.

Picture: For the most part Stranglers of Bombay looks sharp in 1080p. The photography of Arthur Grant is really showcased well here and has a nice level of clarity. I will say the print at times did some it's age but I gather that they did the best they could with the material they sourced the transfer from. Though, surprisingly I saw very little in the way of scratches or artifacts. Overall, a solid print. 

Sound: Bombay features a solid 2.0 track and dialogue and score come through nicely. No background distortion or other issues like audio drop out. 

Extras: None

The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Directed By: Anthony Bushell 

Starring: Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone, Brian Worth 

      A British captain named Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) seeks revenge on a crime ring called The Red Dragon run by the Tongs. The Terror of the Tongs (1961) is one of only three feature length films directed by Anthony Bushell, someone more known for his acting. I will say at the outset this movie leans in on the Chinese phobic films that surged in the wake of WWII. It's not that I'm saying that this attitude reflects anyone involved with the film (obviously I would have no way of knowing that) but it's hard to not get a uncomfortable feeling in the way people of Chinese heritage are portrayed. Not to mention the fact that White people including Lee perform as Asian characters. If you cannot get passed this fact, I dont blame you, I myself found it hard to put this aside. Besides the mountains of cringe-worthy moments the film is kind of a by-the-numbers pulp crime story that, much like The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) pushes the envelope when it comes to violence and features a few legit disturbing deaths. Disturbing not so much in graphic deaths but innocent characters you think wouldn't meet such fates. Probably the movie I was least looking forward to, not only because of the cultural issues that is injected into every fiber of this movie but, it's also kind of forgettable. 

Picture: Terror of the Tongs is a fairly good looking film on 1080p. Colors for the most part are nice through there are some uneven moments. At times things look a bit muted. Some scenes though really do have such rich vibrate pops of color. Grain is nicely maintained and consistent throughout. 

Sound: Tongs has a 2.0 track. Dialogue and sound come through clear with no audio drop out or unwanted background noise. 

Extras: None

Disc Eight) The Pirates of Blood River, Sword of Sherwood Forest 

The Pirate of Blood River (1962) 

Directed: John Gilling

Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corbett, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed

    A group of blood thirsty pirates lead by Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee) invade a small settlement in search of treasure. I was pretty excited for an action adventure pirate movie starring Christopher Lee. The results are not as fun as one might hope though. While Blood River has some fun moments the film feels a bit stuffy and worst yet aimless. Scenes go on for far too long and the film seems to lose narrative focus. It strangely take's itself a bit too seriously  and Gilling forgets just to showcase a fun adventure outing. I give the film credit for trying to have some emotional stakes but it's just not well written enough to  feel satisfying. I do like the pirate iconography being leaned in, I just wish the entire thing didn't feel underdeveloped and lackluster. I guess we should also talk briefly about Christopher Lee donning an eye patch and French accent as LaRoche. Lee has a commanding presents and though it's not what I would call a good performance it is certainly a memorable one.  

Picture: Pirates of Blood River was filmed in color. The 1080p print is clear but doesn't really retain the kind of sharp details you might want from a color epic. There is some blurring and I noticed some noise levels in certain scenes. On the plus side the colors do pop, especially in lush outdoor scenes. Also, while not perfect the film has very little in the way of scratches or artifacts. 

Sound: Pirates has a 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely with no drop out or background noise. 

Extras: None

Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

Directed By: Terrence Fisher 

Starring: Richard Greene, Peter Cushing, Nigel Green, Niall McGinnis, Oliver Reed

        A 1960 re-telling of Robin Hood (Richard Greene) an outlaw. Much like Blood River, Sherwood Forest is baffling as it sucks out all the fun to be had in an action adventure romp. Instead, Fisher bogs the movie down in boring politics, side quests and really awkward humor. Oddly, the movie focuses a big chunk of the movie to justice for a character that we hardly know or care about. Sherwood has all the trappings of a Robin Hood movie but unlike the '38 version The Adventures of Robin Hood, this lacks focus and fun. Also, I think Richard Greene tries his best as Robin Hood but I honestly don't buy it. In fact, I think Nigel Green who plays Little John would have made a much better Robin Hood. Speaking of cast, Peter Cushing relishes his role as the villain the Sheriff of Nottingham. Cushing as always is so effortless in his acting and though he could play the good guy, he, in my humble opinion, always played the villain the best. An over-dubbed Oliver Reed also has a small but memorable role. It's so weird how you can not simply tell a breezy adventure re-telling of Robin Hood yet Fisher and screenwriter Alan Hackney manage to make this a tedious affair. I came to learn that this was based upon the popular British Robin Hood television series The Adventures of Robin Hood (not to be confused with the '30's film version of the same name) which ran from 1955-1960. Perhaps being unfamiliar with the show left me with confused and underwhelmed. Missed out on just being a straight forward enjoyable adventure film. 

Picture: Like Blood River, this film is also shot in color. Colors really pop, especially in outdoor scenes and make the costumes and sets stand out. Though, having said that, there are some scenes that are wildly uneven when it comes to tones and some scenes dont retain the kind of sharp detail you`d want them to. Overall, its a good but not great transfer but I think outside of experts causal viewers will be content.  

Sound: 2.0 Sound is nicely done. There is one slight instant of a weird echo but only occurs once for a split second. Otherwise a solid soundtrack. 

Extras: None

Disc Nine) The Camp on Blood Island, Yesterday's Enemy 

The Camp on Blood Island (1958)

Directed By: Val Guest 

Starring: Andre Morell, Carl Morell, Phil Brown, Barbara Shelley, Walter Fitzgerald

    The first of two WWII era films in the collection The Camp on Blood Island (1958) tells of the last days of the war in a POW camp. It seems that even though the war is over the camp is still very much active. In the wake of the Vietnam war there were a slew of movies depicting WWII some classics and some pretty forgettable. Blood Island is by no means a classic but it's ambitious enough with a decent story, good action scenes and some tense moments. For a film with the name Blood Island the violence is pretty tame with most the deaths taking place off screen. DP Jack Asher gives the film a polished Noir-like look. Asher as some of you may remember photographed a lot of great films for Hammer. My biggest issue with Camp Blood is the story could have used streamlining and at just 81 minutes the film has some dull moments. And, as you may expect the cultural portrayal of the Japanese are not at all flattering. 

Picture: Camp Blood seems sourced from a decent print and the transfer to 1080p is clear with heavy grain but it's consistent. The black and white photography retains a nice amount of detail throughout. It's by far a perfect print however and is plagued with some artifacts and slight scratches in the print. Casual fans may not even notice as these issues are faint but still present. 

Sound: Camp Blood has a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue is clear and no issues with unwanted background noise or audio drop out. 

Extras: None 

Yesterday's Enemy (1959)

Directed By: Val Guest 

Starring: Stanley Baker, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKern, Gordon Jackson 

     Captain Langford (Stanley Baker) is a heartless commander that executes two Burmese POW's in this riveting WWII drama. Out of the two movies Camp Blood and Yesterday's Enemy, (both directed by Val Guest) on this disc, I prefer Yesterday's Enemy. Both films have well directed action yet, I think the latter film has a better handle on story and the emotional center. The central conflict is provocative and raises some really interesting moral questions which I think makes this movie more interesting. In a big ay this feels very much like an anti-war film released during America's conflict in the Vietnam war. It doesn't demonize the Japanese which I also thought was a good way to go. Though, having said that I don't think that Guest really digs as deep as he could and, much like Camp Blood, the story could have used a tighter focus.  There are war movies that seem to transcend the genre and are so well made that even non-war film lovers will enjoy. This movie however is not one of those and, for all of the interesting concepts. Well directed, beautifully shot with production that is next level. Worth a watch but could have been stronger narrative wise. 

Picture: Yesterday's Enemy was shot in black and white and looks decent on 1080p. The overall picture is clear yet doesn't retain high def details in some shots. Some background details are a bit on the blurry side. Some scratches are artifacts are present. On the plus side the grain level is fairly well handled with consistent throughout. 

Sound: Yesterday's Enemy has a 2.0 soundtrack. Dialogue comes through nicely with no audio drop out or background distortion. 

Extras: None 

Disc Ten) Creatures that World Forgot, Bonus Features

Creatures that World Forgot (1971)

Directed By: Don Chaffrey 

Starring: Julie Ege, Tony Bonner, Robin John, Sue Wilson

    Fun Fact: A clip from Creatures that World Forgot is featured in Kubrick's seminal A Clockwork Orange (1971). In a harsh unforgiving prehistoric world it's a tight for dominance over a small tribe of cave people in this early '70's Hammer offering. So, remember the caveman scene from History of the World Part 1 (1981), well this is like that, only played straight and, ugh, for ninety minutes. First let me say, Don Chaffrey does a really good job at directing this film yet, it's doomed to fail. For me there was a reason why these cave-man movies we're never that popular. Outside of maybe One Million Years B.C (1966) which had Raguel Welch to make it noteworthy, these were largely forgettable films. The biggest issue for me is the characters grunt and groan and with no dialogue I found it hard to really connect with any characters on any kind of level. The action is also kind of difficult to follow and, again it doesn't help that it never really retained my interest. As I said this film isn't bad from a technical level and as I said Chaffrey is a solid filmmaker and the film features some decent action sequences and photography. Though, everybody having perfectly maintained '70's hair is pretty amusing. Other people's mileage may vary but I've never been big into these prehistoric drama's yet, other people seem to dig them. 

Picture:  Creatures retains a nice look in 1080p. The film, which was shot in color looks great. When the film goes into a more lush green environment is where I think the colors and detail really shine. Being a fairly newer film in the set comparatively there is very little in the way of artifacts of scratches in the transfer. Colors also remain consistent throughout.  

Sound: Creatures has a 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely with no drop out issues or unwanted background noise. 

Extras: None

Bonus Disc:  Hammer At Columbia Pictures (11mins) This featurette talks about the history of Hammer Studios and their partnership with Columbia Pictures. Features interviews with Author and Film Historian Courtney Joyner. Courtney really knows his stuff and provides a clear engrossing history of this era in Hammer's history. This featurette is well produced and features clips, photos, and promo along with Mr. Joyner's interview. Produced, directed and edited by Daniel Griffith this is a great companion piece to this set.  

The Actors of Hammer Film (8mins) Historian David Del Valle provides an amazing over view of the actors of Hammer during the Columbia Pictures era. Like Courtney, David not only knows his stuff but is wildly engaging and fascinating to listen to. I really enjoyed his talk about the actors on Die Die! My Darling! Also produced, directed and edited by Daniel Griffith

Curse of the Mummy's Tomb Retrospective (7mins) this featurette is a nice overview of Curse of the Mummy's Tomb as told by Richard Klemensen author and Hammer historian. Klemensen provides a lot of background information leading up to Mummy's Tomb as well as the filming and legacy. 

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll Retrospective (9mins) Another featurette with Richard Klemensen author and Hammer historian. Like Mummy's Tomb, this retrospective is an engrossing and well produced. Klemensen is incredibly well researched and I enjoyed this piece. 

Overall/Final Thoughts: Let me first say that I was a little taken back (but sadly not totally surprised) by how a few "fans" had trolled my part 1 of Hammer Films review when I posted it on Twitter. They just dismissed Mill Creek as a bargain basement label and, how dare they try and compete with the big boys. But, here's the thing: Mill Creek Entertainment has been working hard on upping their game and, we as supporters of physical media should give them another chance. Now, the big question is:  Is the Hammer Collection worth your hard earned money? Yes! As somebody who actually watched all twenty films in this collection, this set offers a nice cross section of what Hammer was producing in the late '50's through the '70's. Not only do you get some great horror titles but also: action, adventure, psychological thriller, war and crime. This set pushed me to watch a couple films that I might not have otherwise. Die! Die! My Darling, for example is one such film that will now be firmly in my film rotation. Some fans might bemoan the fact that this isn't just horror but I love how other genres are explored. Overall, they seemed to have sourced from nice prints. Some people have higher standards but I think the transfers are solid and the sound a crossed the board was satisfying. Wisely though, Mill Creek didn't stop there and provided brand new commentaries and retrospectives on selected titles. This set also includes some titles to make their US HD debt. I don't know about you but that is really exciting. Hammer films are firmly my jam but I've only seen mostly their horror films. This boxset was a nice crash course in exploring the other genres the studio was tackling. But, of course for horror fan's they also have some great horror outings. Well worth picking up! 

Finally: I wanna mention the following people who made this set awesome (Also, if you too are reviewing this please give them a shout out! Also, forgive me if I missed anybody) Daniel Griffith, the Bollyhoo crew, Steve Haberman, David Del Valle, C. Courtney Joyner, Richard Klemensen, Constantine Nasr, Joshua Kennedy, Mark Jordan, Phoeff Sutton, James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan, Larry Strothe, Matt Weinhold 

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