Sunday, November 30, 2014

Carry on Screaming! British Horror Week - The Sequel! - Happy Birthday Hammer! 80th Anniversary Moviethon

Despite being a long term horror fanatic, I'd barely seen any Hammer films until late last year. Prior to that, all I can remember seeing were one or two when I was at university and that was in less than favourable conditions (overly bright lecture theatres in the middle of the afternoon, while hungover not being the best way to watch movies). But being aware of their importance to British cinema history and that some of my friends are big fans, I knew I owed it to myself to pull my finger out and start exploring their large and varied back catalogue.

As I think I said in the first post of this sporadic theme month, this British horror kick started by accident. But when I saw that Hammer were celebrating their 80th anniversary this month, I started watching as much as I possibly could. My characteristic laziness and procrastination has meant I've blogged about perhaps barely 10% of what I've watched but I'd be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to let you know about the Hammer 'thon I had three weeks back.

It being their 80th anniversary, I decided to watch 8 films in one day (not a world record by any stretch but perhaps a personal best for me), 3 of which I'd never seen. Rather than going in depth on these right now (we can always return to the films individually at a later date), here's a blow by blow account of how the Hammer action went down...

Saturday 8th November 2014 

10:00 - The Quatermass Xperiment (Val Guest, 1955)

Literally two days before this moviethon, I was lucky to stumble across a DVD of this and its sequel (I hadn't seen either) for the very reasonable sum of £5. And I'm damn glad I bought it. The Quatermass Xperiment (the title apparently stylised to xpolit - sorry couldn't resist -  the recently introduced X rating) is not only an excellent sci-fi horror film but apparently it could be considered Hammer's first horror film. 

Based on the seminal TV serial from a few years earlier, the film follows the eponymous Professor (played here by Brian Donlevy, who writer Nigel Kneale reportedly hated, calling his performance "belligerent" if memory serves. Apparently the actor was mostly drunk during shooting, which might explain this) as he and Inspector Lomax of Scotland Yard (Jack Warner) attempt to track down an AWOL astronaut (the only survivor of an ill-fated mission) who is mutating into an alien organism that has invaded his body and which is now attempting to assimilate anything unwise enough to cross its path.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Curse of the Crimson Altar (Vernon Sewell, 1968)

For the second part of my impromptu Boris Karloff's birthday celebrations last night, I decided to check out today's movie, which I'd never seen. It seemed appropriate as it was supposedly Boris's last British movie (yesterday's film, The Ghoul, being his first). And very strangely (i.e. I only discovered this a few hours ago) it also features someone he shares his birthday with, who is a horror movie fan favourite in his own right, Michael Gough! And that's Alfred from Burton's Batman for you young whippersnappers wondering who I'm talking about!

Also starring horror icons Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele (seen above, looking even scarier than usual), the film follows antiques dealer Robert Manning (Mark Eden), who is looking for his missing brother. His search leads him to the seemingly remote Craxted Lodge, where he wanders into a party full of swinging hippies and is soon escorted to meet the house's owner, Morley (Christopher Lee, plus moustache) by his lovely niece Eve (Virginia Wetherell). During a discussion regarding Manning's missing brother, he and Morley are soon joined by a Professor Marshe (Karloff!), who, when not rolling his eyes at Manning's lack of appreciation for his brandy, is generally helping twist the creepiness dial (located next to the lever opening the secret passage) up higher and higher.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Happy Birthday Boris Karloff! The Ghoul (T. Hayes Hunter, 1933)

I'll confess that due to post work fatigue I was tempted to be lazy and skip another day but when my good friend Brad of Yellow Razor informed me it's Boris Karloff's birthday today, I had to take the opportunity to talk about a movie of his I just re-watched last night (funnily enough!)... and while I'm not quite gonna be able to do this one justice right now, I'll try and briefly tell y'all why you should check it out if you haven't...

While somewhat reductive, a description offered by one critic of the film being like The Mummy meets The Old Dark House still gives you a reasonably clear and concise idea of what you can expect here. Karloff plays Professor Morlant, who just before dying, spends most of his fortune on an Egyptian jewel that he believes will allow him to come back from the dead and achieve immortality. His faithful servant Laing (played by Ernest Thesiger... reversing roles with Boris here from what they played in The Old Dark House), is on hand to help carry out his esoteric instructions relating to what to do when he passes. And around all this are assorted scallywags all trying to get their hands on said jewel.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Happy Birthday Hammer! Nightmare (Freddie Francis, 1964)

Sorry for the slight hiatus there folks, life intrudes! As I said in a previous post, the British horror blogging is probably gonna run till the end of the month anyway. So then, as I also mentioned earlier, Hammer Films is celebrating its 80th anniversary this month. We'll be looking at quite a few of their movies before November is through but first up I figured I'd share some of my initial impressions of one I saw for the first time recently and it's a film that's 50 years young this year... the Hitchcock inspired Nightmare.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Madhouse (Jim Clark, 1974)

More Amicus on the menu today folks, and like Asylum, this is something I discovered recently for the first time, though unlike that movie, I'd never even heard of this one! I know another Madhouse, but that one's Italian and from '81, where as for this film, we're heading back forty years to 1974...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bloody Hell! It's British Horror Week! - Asylum (Roy Ward Baker, 1972)

So my plans to have a belated Halloween blogathon went right out of the window but no matter, there's always next year! On the watching films front I've been busy as ever though and for the next week/possibly till the end of the month, I'm gonna be talking about an area which has been shamefully neglected by me up until recently... homegrown horror!

While there are certainly many British horror films I love, some of which have been firm favourites for years, for some reason I still haven't checked out as many of the classics of the British horror canon as I no doubt should have. This recent kick I've been on started somewhat accidentally with the film I'll be looking at today, but when I discovered that Hammer are celebrating their 80th anniversary this month, I decided to start immersing myself in as much Anglo-horror as possible.

I'll be getting to Hammer in due course over the next week (including a write up of a moviethon I had to celebrate said birthday) but the first few films are courtesy of Amicus...