HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Hammer Horror Classic Collection: Volume 1
HTS Overall Score:64
WARNING: THE SCORES ABOVE ARE A COMBINED SCORE FROM ALL 5 FILMS, THE INDIVIDUAL SCORES ARE CONTAINED BELOW IN THE INDIVIDUAL SECTIONS OF THE REVIEW
Warner brothers is back again with another boxset of classic movies, and this time they decided to dip deep down into their vault of Hammer Horror classics. This made the horror nut in me turn cartwheels as I saw the inclusion of the 1959 version “The Mummy”, as well as a fun pair of Dracula movies and even a nice little sequel to “Frankenstein”. Not every one of the films is iconic as say the movies from the Universal monster movie collection, but every horror fan on the planet who enjoys the movies that Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee cut their teeth on will want a chance at this set.
The Mummy :3.5stars:
“The Mummy” 1959 is the crown jewel of this particular boxset, and shares the distinction of also being the sole movie in the set that isn’t a direct sequel to another movie or franchise. Redoing the classic tale of woe and terror from Boris Karloff’s 1932 film, it actually almost surpasses it in some ways. A bit looser and more humorous, it brings mega horror stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to the same movie. Made by the same team that did “Horror of Dracula”, “The Mummy” is widely considered one of the most memorable and iconic horror films ever made.
“Horror of Dracula” was not only a wildly successful film, but it caught the attention of Universal, who let Hammer come in and cherry pick many of their monster films and allowed them to make spin off sequels and remakes. A few years later and “The Mummy” is born. Most people will immediately think of the fun, but cheesy, 1999 remake starring Brendan Frasier, but this iconic film is almost nothing like the fun little action movie that Steven Sommers directed. The hero and the villain are treated with the utmost respect, and while a bit short at 88 minutes, manages to impress upon the viewer the intensity and ferocity of the horrific monster.
The year is 1895 and a team of archeologists have uncovered an ancient ruin in Egypt. The tomb of the princess Ananka. While this is the greatest find of the century, the finding of the tomb is not without its share of sacrifices. John Banning (Peter Cushing) is so excited with the find that he misses a trip to Cairo to set his broken leg, which leaves him wandering the rest of his life with an impressive limp. John’s father, Stephen (Felix Aylmer) mysteriously suffers a terrible crippling mental condition. From the style of the movie, we know that Stephen is struck with terror at the sight of the horrible mummy, but that isn’t known till much later in the film. This tragedy ends with a mysterious Egyptian harboring of doom, named Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) praying to his ancient gods, promising to bring ruin and holy vengeance on the desecrator’s of the tomb.
Fast forward 3 years and John Banning is back home in jolly old England, enjoying the fruits of his labor and the success of bringing home the Princesses tomb. John’s father is stuck in a mental institution with no sign of getting better, only to suddenly snap out of it and start babbling on about seeing a monstrous mummy in the Tomb of Ananka. In typical horror fashion, John and everyone else around him shrugs it off as the ravings of a loony old man. That is until Mehemet Bey shows up in England and brings with him an ancient artifact from the tomb. Armed with the scroll of life from Ananka’s tomb, Mehemet unleashes the monstrous remains of an ancient Egyptian priest named Kharis (Christopher Lee) in vengeance for the desecration of the tomb 3 years ago.
“The Mummy” tells the majority of its tale in a mixtures of flashbacks and modern day sequences. We get to see how Kharis murdered the temple workers who helped bury Ananka, and shows him inserting himself into the Princesses burial chamber. We also get to see the full reveal about why Stephen Banning has gone insane and the motivation behind the mummy’s rage. Aspects of it remind me of Stephen Sommer’s “The Mummy” from 1999, and you can see that while that modern remake is almost NOTHING like the originals, it still borrowed themes and bits from the 1959 movie to make that little action jaunt.
While there’s nothing even remotely scary about “The Mummy”, it still is spellbinding and completely enthralling, especially to this jaded horror fan. Instead of relying on fancy CGI or jump scares, the movie is steeped in mystery and intrigue, as the heavy use of practical effects stand up quite well against a modern day film. The green fog, the wrapped up garb of the mummy, and the old fashioned costumes work well against the native English backdrop. There’s a few times that you can see through the effects, but they work so flawlessly that you can’t help but enjoy them. Christopher Lee was rumored to have been injured heavily on set from doing all of his own stunts, and some of those injurious supposedly still followed him up until his death. Even the limp that Peter Cushing shows off in the film is supposedly added in after the start of production to hide an accident that the actor sustained off set.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=55194[/img]Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed :3.5stars:
Hammer Horror had been stagnant for a bit, but with the introduction of “Frankenstein Must be Destroyed”, their fifth foray into the character, they hit some relative gold. Bert Bratt writes a tightly done script that even creeps this jaded and stoic horror fan a little bit. Peter Cushing plays Frankenstein as a veritable monster in such a way that makes you feel as if he has ice water running through his veins. It may not be as amazing as other Hammer films, but it was a bright light in a sea of “blah” that Hammer was experiencing in the late 60’s/early 70s.
A petty crook (played by Harold Goodwyn) stumbles upon Baron Von Frankenstein’s house one evening, only to run into the madman himself and one of his experiments. Fleeing for his live this crook runs into the police, who laugh at his claims of a madman with a mask. Little do they know, that the man they ran off for experimenting on the dead is back, and this time he’s experimenting on the living.
This time Frankenstein is flying under the radar. Staying at a boarding home, run by Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson), Baron Frankenstein sees an opportunity. Her fiancée, Doctor Karl Holst (Simon Ward), works at the mental institution where the Baron’s ex partner, Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda) is being held until strict mental care. Driven mad by the very same people who ran Frankenstein out of town, Brandt holds a formula for brain transplanting that Frankenstein desperately wants to get ahold of. Blackmailing the young couple with threats of police intervention, Frankenstein holds the two as his forced assistants in an effort to break Brandt out of the facility and extract the information.
Things go as planned, at least at first, but once they have Brandt in their custody a new problem crops up. The mentally unstable man has suffered a severe heart attack and only has days to live. Jumping into action and once more performing a madman like surgery, Frankenstein transplants Brandt’s brain into another human body so that he has more time to work on curing the man’s mental illness and extract the information he so desires.
Anna and Karl are at the mercy of the madman, and soon realize that they may not make it out of this. The good Dr. is not as forgiving as he seems at first, and throughout his experiments, shows an incredible lack of empathy or honesty. No matter where they turn, though, there seems to be no way out. Their one and only chance of escape comes when Brandt’s wife spies Dr. Frankenstein and recognizes him. This forces him to skip town with his captives, and the change in pace allows for a chaotic ending that allows more than just our young couple to escape.
“Frankenstein Must be Destroyed” is the darkest of the 4 film in this set. It’s cold, creepy and downright disturbing at times. It doesn’t stray into R-rated territory, but it portrays Dr. Frankenstein as a worse monster than he ever was portrayed in the other films. Cold, calculating and a demon to women (there’s one scene in particular where he attacks Anna that is visceral and chilling, despite the sensibilities of the time), Cushing manages to make Frankenstein so unlikeable that you are seriously rooting for his death at the end of the film.
Much like “The Mummy”, the movie is littered with copious amounts of practical effects, ones which are stunningly lifelike to the naked eye. It may not be as intense, or mystical as “The Mummy”, but it carries much of the same feel as they were both directed by Terence Fisher and share the same lead actor. While there a lot to love about the horror flick, there are some pitfalls too. Brandt is allowed to escape and wander about in a body that is not his, opening up the door for some fantastic storytelling, but at this point in the film we’re almost at the ending. This sadly leaves us with a great idea to play about with, but not enough time in the film to really flesh it out. Thus the film rushes towards its inevitable, but immensely satisfying conclusion a bit too fast.
Dracula Has Risen From the Grave :2.5stars:
The last two entries in this collection happen to be direct sequels to the afore mentioned classic “Horror of Dracula”, also directed by Terence Fisher. This time Terence had to step to the side due to some injuries sustained during a tragic car accident. In his place stands cinematographer Freddie Francis, a man most well-known for “Cape Fear’s” filming. Casting Christopher Lee as Dracula in “Horror of Dracula” the studio made a drastic change compared to the days of old. Up to this point most people associated the name “Dracula” to Bella Lugosi, and had anyone but Christopher Lee attempted the role, things might have turned out very differently. Lee vacated the role for some of the earlier sequels to the movie, but came back in “Dracula: Prince of Darkness” and stayed with the character for the next several sequels.
10 years since “Horror of Dracula” was first filmed, we’re back for “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, which is a passable horror movie, but really only just that….passable. the insane issues that went on behind the scene and the lack of Terence Fisher really hurt the end product, as Freddie Francis has some amazing flair and style, but his directing style lacks just a bit.
Opening up the film with a bit of terror, a young altar boy finds a bloody and mangled corpse, only to be struck mute by the experience of what he’s scene. Fast forward a year and Dracula (Lee) has been defeated by Father Sandor, but the surrounding town has never really recovered from the brutal reign of the bloodsucking vampire. Ernest Muller (Rupert Davies) sees nothing but a town of shattered people, terrified at the towering castle of Count Dracula. Vowing to settle this once and for all, Muller conscripts a priest into his service to exorcise the castle. Acting as the series “Van Hellsing”, Muller and the priest make their trek up to castle Dracula and manage to exorcise the castle once and for all. However, the exhausted priest is not able to finish the trip, and accidentally releases Dracula from his resting place.
Waking up to find his castle barred by a cross and the exorcism of a priest, the vampire forces the terrified priest into his service and vows revenge of Muller. Strangely enough, the first half of the movie leaves Dracula in the back seat. We get to be privy to a domestic squabble as Muller returns home to his family and engages in some good old fashioned parenting. His niece Maria (Veronica Carlson) wants to marry her wannabe fiancée, Paul (Barry Andrews), but Paul just so happens to not believe in this whole religion thing. This is scandalous to the devout Ernest Muller. Running around the rosie with a pocket full of Benny Hill level of dysfunction, the family feud just fills up time as the lord of darkness descends upon the town.
I honestly wondered why a Dracula movie could get away with a PG rating, but now I understand. With Dracula sidelined for over half the film, we really don’t get to see the vamp make much of an impression. In most films the villagers are whispering about the beast and his impending terror, but we get so much family drama between Muller, Maria, Paul and the rest that we kind of forget about Dracula. Maria is out sneaking out of windows and going over to talk to Paul, and Muller ends up yelling at both. When Dracula DOES come to town and Muller realizes that the Priest is under the count’s control, it’s almost too little too late. The final battle kicks it up a notch as it brings a bit of gore into the picture as Dracula meets his nasty demise.
Taste the Blood of Dracula :3stars:
With the direct sequel to “Dracula has Risen from the Grave”, Christopher Lee once again returns to his famous role. One of the downfalls of the last film was that Dracula himself really didn’t make an appearance. Lee had gotten a bit tired of the role of Dracula and “Taste the Blood of Dracula” has even LESS Dracula in it than its predecessor. With that in mind, one might expect this one to be even worse. Strangely enough it actually is the better film of the two included in the set, and for good reason. Writer Anthony Hinds recognized that Lee was pulling out of the franchise, but was being locked in by Warner, who wanted a bankable star to frontline. Using some creativity, he wrote the script with a bit harsher tone than other Dracula films. There’s evidence of the exploitation that was to come in the 70’s and a much more sadistic and hedonistic take on the supporting characters. The original script was meant to hand the mantle off to someone else as Dracula, and there’s hints of that along the way, but the real joy comes from the brutally dark and uncut R rated script that Hinds wrote for the audience.
The prologue of the film is actually a recutting of the finale from “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave”, but this time with the added benefit of a secret viewer. One Weller (Roy Kinnear) had been booted from his passing stage, only to witness the demise of Count Dracula. After Muller and the rest had left the scene, Weller gathered up the remains and blood of the count and takes the leftovers to London.
In London, Three businessmen are engaged in some private debauchery. While their wives and other friends think they are out doing charity work, they are otherwise engaged at the local brothel. Living it up with their twisted lives, they are seen as not exactly the pillars of their community that they were made out to be outside the Brothel. William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen), the nasty tempered one of the group is the worst, being a wife abuser at home and a bit TOOOOOO obsessed with his coming of age daughter, Alice (Linda Hayden). The gorgeous blonde is tantalizing and seductive in her virginal status, making her the obvious choice for the risen vampire once he makes his appearance.
While the men are off gallivanting and getting into trouble, their children are just trying to live normal lives. These normal lives are interrupted when Hargood decides to kick it up a notch and ditch the brothel for more “interesting endeavors. This leads the trio of men into a local Satanist’s shop (the 70’s really had a thing with Satanists), where they enlist the help of Lord Courtley (Ralph Bates” to lead them through an incantation involving drinking the blood of Dracula. Yeah, we ALL know that this is going to turn out well, don’t we? Botching the ceremony, the trio of nitwits go back to their homes, only to have the dark count rise from the ashes and begin his reign of terror once more.
While Dracula weaves himself into the fabric of these three men’s lives, it really isn’t your typical Dracula tale. Hargood is undone by his own daughter, and we are witness to a sickening display of abuse by the twisted parent on his innocent daughter. The fact that Dracula is influencing him is of little comfort as the sins of the parent are most certainly visiting the children here. I love that we have a deviation from the standard Dracula tale, and instead focus on the other characters in the film as being the villains. We all know that the vampire is going to get his in the end, but the TRUE villains are the three men who unwittingly brought about their own demise in their constant search for pleasure. Well done and easily the best Dracula movie to come out of the Hammer Horror collection for some time “Taste the Blood of Dracula” is a twisted take on the age old terror and delightfully vicious in it’s execution.
Not Rated by the MPAA, Rated PG-13, Rated PG, Rated R
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=55202[/img]The Mummy :3.5stars:
“The Mummy” is the least “eye candy” worthy picture in the entire collection, with a noticeably softer look to the film and some heavy use of bright, neon splashes of color that dominate the screen. Shot by Jack Asher, “The Mummy” looks different than most other Hammer Horror films as the brightly lit film stands out from the drab and depressingly dark movies in the studio’s lineup. Sometimes the image is definitely TOO bright, as contrast can look a bit hot and skin tones look a bit pasty and smeary. Detail is decent on close ups, but there are times where you almost think that DNR is used due to the soft detail, but upon closer inspection it appears as if that is actually part of the filming. Long shoots look good, but also rather soft, and black levels suffer from crush and some definite brightening. The bitrate for the disc is fantastically high, hovering right under 30 mbps, and the newly mastered film looks better than it ever has before.
Frankenstein Must be Destroyed :4stars:
“Frankenstein Must be Destroyed” is noticeably better looking than the “Mummy” as the opening scene alone shows off more detail than its predecessor. Covered in a beautifully accurate layer of film grain, and then given a drab color palette, “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed” looks very good, if not a bit desaturated. Emphasis is given to light browns and dark blues, with a few splashes of primary colors thrown in for good measure. Contrasts are decently balanced, but the skin tones sometimes suffer a bit from the desaturated look. Black levels stay dark and inky, with minimal crush, and once more the new 2k transfer is given a healthy bitrate that hovers right around the 30 mbps mark, leaving no room for digital artifacting.
Dracula Has Risen From the Grave :4stars:
Shifting away from the standard “Hammer” style of filming, “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” looks uniquely graded, with stylistic colored filters that were specifically requested by Freddie Francis. The colors are wildly over saturated and looks incredibly fake (by design) and the black levels show some strange coloring as well. The image was sourced from a brand new 2K intermediary stricken from a new IP. The results are very good, with strong contrast and a great levels of detail. As was common in the time period, facial shots look good, albeit a tad soft at times, and wider angle shots tend to look a good bit softer than the close-ups. There is a nice, natural layer of grain that overlays the entire image, giving it a rustic and very dated look to it, albeit a very wonderful texture to boot.
Taste the Blood of Dracula :4stars:
“Taste of the Blood of Dracula” returns to the more traditional filming style familiar to most Hammer Horror fans. The image is very natural looking, without any excessive filtering or grading to the image. The English period piece setting is wonderfully rich with colors and the Victorian imagery is filled with blues and greens and rich browns. Black levels are deep and inky, but do suffer from a teensy bit of crush at times. Contrast levels stay well balanced and skin tones look exceptional. Long shots to suffer from being a bit softer than their close up counterparts, but that is to be expected from the type off film used for these Hammer pictures. Grain is thick, but well defined, with no sense of smoothing or smearing of the image to lessen the impact of the grain. A well done transfer, that also is given a new 2K mastering from the IP.
The Mummy :3.5stars:
“The Mummy” comes to Blu-ray with its original 1.0 Mono audio track in DTS-HD MA lossless, and sounds excellent for the source. The movie was filmed on the cheap, and as such don’t expect a fantastic experience. The dialog is clean and clear, but sometimes drops just a bit as the actors shift away from the microphones. There are no audible pops and hisses, leaving us with a very satisfying audio experience.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed :3stars:
“Frankenstein Must be Destroyed” is a bit weaker than “The Mummy” with a very audible hiss to the track that persists throughout. Dialog is strong, and stays centered in the front channel, but that hiss can just sit in the back of your mind and germinate. The standard dialog volume drops happen when the actors move away from the mics used back then, and the creepy score permeate the rest of the track. The only real major flaw comes from the persistent hiss on the Mono track.
Dracula Has Risen From the Grave :3stars:
The 1.0 Mono track in lossless audio for “Dracula has Risen from the Grave” works well all things considering. There is some funky dialog as the track appears to have some dubbing done to it (most likely for the screen changes that happened early on) and sometimes the sound effects appear to not match the object on screen. Dialog is strong and clean, allowing us to heave the vocals at any time with almost no drop in the dialog as the other two films have shown. It’s good, but there’s not a whole lot to work with here, as there is much less action than the others.
Taste the Blood of Dracula :3.5stars:
“Taste the Blood of Dracula” is a bit stronger than its predecessor, as it sound a bit fuller and less harsh than the previous track. Encoded in 1.0 Mono DTS-HD MA, the track sounds as good as it’s going to be, despite the limited budget and lack of Dracula in the film. Sound effects are well recorded and dialog is never an issue. The somber and eerie score by James Bernard works well and sounds rather rich to the ears. Solid track that is limited mainly by budget and style of the movie.
Warner has been one of my favorite studios in the Blu-ray revolution, as they have put out more catalog titles under their own name than any other studio. They have an ENORMOUS back catalog that hasn’t been touched yet, but they have done a great job in a dwindling catalog market that many see as the final days of most catalog films. Their attention to detail and solid re-mastering of these classic films is commendable and always has me excited for the next boxset of films. Like they always do, Warner offers this set in one pretty box with cardboard sleeves, or the individual releases of the film for those who just want one or two of them. The extras are a bit anemic, but overall the set is a VERY solid buy, especially if you have a weakness for classic 60’s and 70’s horror. Recommended.
Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Freddie Jones, Veronica Carlson
Directed by: Terence Fisher : Terence Fisher : Freddie Francis : Peter Sasdy
Written by: Sonya Levien : Casey Robinson : Robert Bruckner : Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
Aspect Ratio: 1.67:1 AVC / 1.37:1 AVC /1.78:1 AVC / 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: ENGLISH: DTS - HD MA Mono, French, Spanish, German DD Mono
Studio: Warner Brothers
Rated: Not Rated/PG-13/G/R
Runtime: 117 minutes : 88 minutes : 100 minutes : 92 minutes : 95 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: October 6th, 2015
Buy Hammer Horror Collection: Volume 1 Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy The Mummy Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy Dracula Has Risen from the Grave Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy Taste the Blood of Dracula Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Great Buy
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