I’ve lapsed with the blog but the last year has been a pretty rough time, loads of upheaval in my life. However that’s all over now and things are starting to smooth out so I’ll be getting things going around here pretty soon. I’ve got a lot to talk about – The Walking Dead’s just finished it’s fourth season and , Stephen King’s delivered a follow up to the Shining. There’s much to talk about…hopefully I’ll find time to do so.
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This is the second title in the massive Ultimate Hammer Collection and out of the 21 films contained in the set it is the only one in black and white. Made in 1965, the studio made a good choice in deciding to make the movie in old school black and white – there are some effectively blocked shots here, shadows dancing over Bette Davies’s face, caressing and highlighting her bone structure, that just wouldn’t be the same in colour, especially the blood red tones Hammer are known for.
The movie is not the standard horror picee that Hammer became famous for, but rather a clever psychological thriller that will keep new viewers guessing right up to the very last reel.
“Is it Master Joey who is actually mad? Or is he right about his seemingly gentle nanny? Is she actually a barmy fruitcake with murder in mind?”
When I placed the disc in the player, I was of the impression that I’d never seen this movie before but a few minutes in and I realised that I had seen the film before, though long ago on a TV viewing and I’d not realised the film was done by Hammer who I associated with Dracula, Frankenstein and other gothic chillers. Mind you I didn’t really remember that much, just had the vague impression that I’d seen it somewhere. sometime. And so I was not sure how things would turn out and then cleverly laid aura of mystery completely enveloped me.
When we are first introduced to Master Joey (William Dix) we are shown a troubled, though clever little boy who has a very black sense of humour. He scares one of the teachers at his home for disturbed children, by rigging up a device that makes it look as if he has hung himself, within the first few minutes of the movie. And as soon as he returns home to his family he is shows as cheeky and incredibly naughty, while his nemesis, the titular Nanny, comes across as all sweetness and light. If anything the old woman, played by Bette Davies, comes across as having the patience of a saint in the way she deals with the boisterous Joey.
The movie contains a commentary from Jimmy Sangster, Marcus Hearne (author of The Hammer Vault) and Rene Glynne and for a commentary recorded 41 years since the film was made, the anecdotes come thick and fast – it seems both Sangster and especially Glynne who possesses an incredible memory. Sangster tells us that Greer Garson was Hammer’s first choice for the role of the Nanny but when the actress turned the role down, Bette Davies was approached.
Besides the Hollywood weight of Bet Davies, we have British actress Wendy Craig as Joey’s mother. I found it unusual to find Craig in such a dramatic role since I was brought up watching her playing variations of a dizzy middle aged mum in sitcom after sitcom. And although her part isn’t that substantial, she seems to spend most of the movie lounging about half wasted, she certainly comes across well – through subtle use of her eyes she clearly shows the anguish of the woman who is still mourning the accidental drowning of her daughter. The young actor playing Joey is William Dix and the Internet Database tells us that he made one more film in 1967 and then didn’t make another until 2001. The rest of the cast are made up those familiar British faces that often turn up in old movies or TV shows.
I really enjoyed this movie – Bette Davies and her young co-star William Dix are particularly good, and the plot is paced so the suspense runs right up until the final denouncement.
A creepy movie, excellently directed, written and acted…and you can’t really ask for more than that.
I’ve just picked up the amazing box set, The Ultimate Hammer Collection – this impressive set contains 21 films on 21 discs. That’s a lot of hours from the house of horror – expect reviews here as I watch each and every movie, some of them for the first time. Stay tuned, fright fans…ghoulish fun comes your way.
Weekly Stats Report: 10 Dec – 16 Dec 2012
Project: Scary Motherfucker
|First Time Visits||78||97||83||117||74||57||84||590||84|
|Returning Visits||2||2||2||1||2||2||1||12||2Weekly Stats Report: 10 Dec – 16 Dec 2012
Project: Scary Motherfucker
Hammer’s Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
So suitable for the British horror studio was Conan Doyle’s, The Hound of the Baskervilles that it could have been written with Hammer Films in mind. Indeed following their success with revamping the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises Hammer turned to the most famous fictional detective of them all, Sherlock Holmes for this movie which was intended to be the first in a new series with Peter Cushing in the title role. Alas the movie didn’t perform as well at the box office as expected and plans for the series were scrapped while Hammer concentrated on more gothic material. Pity really – I would have loved to have seen Hammer tackle The Giant Rat of Sumatra.
The film looks like a Hammer movie – the colour is excellent, garish in places with all that over saturated red and the gothic elements that the studio did so well, are brought out in Doyle’s story like never before. Of course they were always there, even in the original story but Hammer emphasise these parts of the storyline without really altering the original. There are some differences to the original story – Stapleton’s webbed hands for one thing, the tarantula attack for another but these work well within the story and indeed the webbed hands carried by one line of the Baskerville clan is inspired and is a nice little macabre touch.
Peter Cushing here gives an excellent performance as Sherlock Holmes – the actor was a Sherlockian himself and he brings his knowledge of the character to the role. Andre Morell is a more than suitable Watson. It is also nice to see Christopher Lee playing a romantic lead role and one wonders what would have happened had he played more such roles. He is certainly convincing here. All in all this is a great Sherlock Holmes movie and under the direction of Terence Fisher the ponderous middle section so obvious in most productions of this story moves along at a great pace.
Why wasn’t it a big box office hit then? Well the blame for this lies with Hammer themselves. They promoted the movie as a big horror flick in the style of their successful Dracula and Frankenstein movies, with hardly any mention that this was in fact a Sherlock Holmes movie. The advertising posters suggested a kind of werewolf but when we see the hound on screen it is nothing more than an over sized Great Dane. Movie fans back in the day may have been disappointed – after all, they were going to see a film starring Hammer’s two biggest horror icons with a large slavering hound in the advertising posters and what they got Sherlock Holmes adventure. A damn thrilling one nonetheless but word of mouth could have harmed the movie after its strong opening weekend. SEE THE ORIGINAL CINEMA TRAILER EMBEDDED BELOW TO SEE HOW THE FILM WAS MARKETED.
Still the movie’s stood the test of time and this is a great version of the much filmed story – it’s also nice to see the current DVD version showing such an impressive looking cut of the movie. The colours are vibrant and the sound booming. It is only a pity that it is a full frame 4.3 version on the UK release when I believe the American market get a true widescreen version.
Peter Cushing would of course go onto play Holmes for the BBC, but his performance as the detective here is perhaps his definitive stab at the part. Christopher Lee also got a stab at playing both Watson and Holmes in future Holmes movies but the less said about them the better.
The second part of the BBC new version of Dracula is now available to listen to Here –
“Bram Stoker wrote it in the late 19th century, having been both a civil servant and the personal manager of actor Sir Henry Irving. No doubt he was as much informed by the metaphorical blood-sucking propensities of governments and actor managers as by Vlad the Impaler, legendary 15th-century Wallachian king said to be his original inspiration. Most of us have grown up with Count Dracula, recognising him even when he craftily spells his name backwards in Hammer horror films. We know this monster as well as we know our uncles. We have learned what to do when someone sleeps all day in a coffin or mirrors don’t hold his reflection. Hand me a crucifix, get the garlic, pass the stake.
It is, therefore, a challenge to any adaptor to make Dracula scary again. Writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz did well here. Actor Nicky Henson did even better. His Count guzzled blood with the kind of lipsmacking relish only heard on Woman’s Hour when some visiting cook is handing round fresh chocolate cake. He even made it sexy. But so did his victim, lovely Lucy (Scarlett Brookes), longing for the next visit of the demon lover she calls the man bird, the Earl King, the dream. Lucy is adored by shy Dr Seward (Charles Edwards), engaged to handsome Arthur (Joe Sims), watched over by canny Dr Van Helsing (John Dougall) all of whom transfuse her with blood when she is reduced to waxen pallor by nightly visits from the Count. She tries to resist him. In vain.” Gillian Reynolds, The Telegraph