Buzzing Thru the Pylon: Halloween Free-For-All, Pt. 6: Hammer Down!

With the near completion of my Universal horror collection over the past few years (there are only a handful of the obscurer titles still outstanding, with all of what would be considered the true "classics" covered), comes the time to pay attention to my Hammer collection.

Almost more influential to me in my youth than the Universal versions of the famous monsters were the Hammer versions of the same. Once I discovered that these films even existed as a near-teen, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (and to a lesser extent, Oliver Reed for his role in Curse of the Werewolf) became my gods for a number of years. I have recounted my devotion to a late night ABC affiliate program called The World's Most Terrible Movies a couple of times before; Lee and Cushing were the chief reasons that I tuned in week after week. With scant few references at hand in my local small town library and an absolute lack of internet in those days, I had little knowledge of Hammer Films except for the fact that I saw their names on many of my then favorite films, most of them starring those twin gods of mine.

And then, over the years, as I discovered more of their films, the immediate assumption was that all of these films were also Hammer Films, an assumption, if one were to judge from board comments on various websites, that many other horror film fans make to this day. When I made some recent purchases in addition to my obtaining the latest Icons of Horror DVD set, this time focusing on a quartet of unreleased as of yet Hammer Films, I grabbed the extra pair of discs continuing that assumption: that the related films featuring either or both of the Lee/Cushing team just had to be Hammer Films, even though I had read before that they weren't. So strong is the connection between that studio, those stars and their eager public, that it matters little when the film does not actually belong to the studio.

The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)
Director: John Gilling
Triad/Regal, 1:37, b/w
TC4P Rating: 6/9

The Skull (1965)
Director: Freddie Francis 
Amicus/Paramount, 1:30, color 
TC4P Rating: 6/9

First, the imposters: one I have never seen, The Flesh and the Fiends, a black and white version of the Burke and Hare story starring Mr. Cushing, and The Skull, an Amicus adaptation of a Robert Bloch short story featuring both members of the famous team. The Skull certainly fits the assumption well, as I have always lumped it into the Hammer camp. Having seen the film numerous times over the years, I suppose that I have seen the Amicus name in the credits over and over again, and it was still not enough to wipe the association with Hammer out of my mind. Never having actually owned a copy of this movie, though, I will be glad to finally get a chance to see it in its true aspect ratio (if indeed it proves to be), rather than the chopped and leaping prints with which I have had to make do over the years.

I always seem to think that I have seen The Flesh and the Fiends, but my memories of Karloff's The Body Snatcher (a favorite, for which I have always supported Danny Peary's notion that perhaps the man could have won an Oscar for his performance if the Academy were smarter) are very strong as regards black-and-white grave-robbing flicks, and I am also probably mixing it up with The Doctor and the Devils, a 1985 Timothy Dalton starrer directed by Freddie Francis (who, coincidentally, also directed The Skull). Judging from what I have read about this one, I am in for a gruesome treat. But only watching it will tell... [Note: And once I did, I liked it well enough, but not as half as much as The Body Snatcher.]

Icons of Horror Collection: Hammer Films
4 Creepy Classics from the Hammer Film Archives featuring:

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
Director: Terence Fisher
Hammer/Columbia
TC4P Rating: 6/9

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) 
Director: Michael Carreras 
Hammer/Columbia
TC4P Rating: 6/9

The Gorgon (1964) 
Director: Terence Fisher 
Hammer/Columbia
TC4P Rating: 7/9

Scream of Fear (1961)
Director: Seth Holt
Hammer/Columbia
TC4P Rating: 7/9

And now for the real deal: the Hammer flicks, two of which I have never had opportunity to see. The Gorgon is a personal favorite, as it was one of the few Hammer films of which I actually own a real copy of on VHS, and yet again, I will be glad to be given a chance to see it in widescreen for the first time. I have never thought much of Hammer's Mummy series beyond the swell first flick, but I am willing to give them all another chance with fresh viewings, so The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb will likely be part of my Halloween program this weekend (though, unlike the other three films on this set, there is no Lee or Cushing).

I did get to watch half an hour of Scream of Fear a few months ago, before my pothead neighbors somehow convinced the cable guy to switch our connection off so they could get the Super Bowl (we have no proof of this, but the circumstantial evidence against them, especially as collected by Jen and I, is astounding). So, this will be another first, as will my viewing, long awaited, of the Hammer version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which I think might be the only version which I have not seen. (Believe me, I have seen a lot of them...) All told, it pulls in another chunk of Hammer all at once into my collection, cheaply and effortlessly.

And the other films? Like many a horror fan, I bid them all an eager welcome, whether we can remember if Hammer produced them or not. 

After all, in the end, it's really Pete and Chris that matter...

RTJ

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