Archive for the ‘Hammer Film Productions’ Tag

Freddie Francis: Reluctant Horror Icon   3 comments

Freddie Francis once said, “Horror films have liked me more than I have liked horror films.”

The director of more than forty films and television episodes, including twenty-five horrors and the cinematographer of nearly forty more, Freddie Francis may have been typecast as a horror director for good reason. He was good at it.

He started his film career as a camera operator. A friend and protégé of Oscar-winning cinematographer, Oswald Morris, Francis worked for and with Morris and Ronald Neame at Pinewood Studios until World War II broke out in 1939. Francis joined the Army Kinematographic Society, based at Wembley Studios, and spent the next seven years making training films. After leaving the military in 1946, Francis found work as a camera operator at Shepperton Studios, where he worked with Powell & Pressburger, John Huston, Tony Richardson, and a bunch of other incredibly talented directors. On the set of Huston’s Moby Dick, Francis asked if he could head up the second unit. Oswald Morris gave an enthusiastic yes, and Francis acted as director of photography for the first time.


“Call me irresponsible.”

From 1956 to 1964, Francis was director of photography on over a dozen films before beginning his directing career with the film, Two and Two Make Six in 1962. It didn’t fare well. After winning the Oscar for cinematography with Sons and Lovers in 1960, and acclaim with The Innocents, (Francis’ favorite film), his friends were surprised he made the leap to directing.


Don’t turn around.

His background in cinematography may explain why Francis directed some of the most visually stunning of the Hammer and Amicus films. In the early 1960s, Francis directed Paranoiac, Nightmare, Hysteria, and The Evil of Frankenstein for Hammer before making Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, The Skull, The Psychopath, The Deadly Bees, and The Torture Garden for Amicus. In 1968, another terrific Hammer director, Terence Fisher was hit by a motorbike and broke his leg during post-production work on The Devil Rides Out. Fisher was set to direct Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, starring Christopher Lee, but Hammer replaced him with Freddie Francis. Throughout the 1970s, Francis worked for both Hammer, Amicus, Tigon, and other, smaller companies, making The Creeping Flesh, Trog, Tales from the Crypt, and an odd little nugget made by Apple films and starring Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr, called Son of Dracula. He also directed some episodic TV shows before returning to cinematography.


Ringo Starr is Merlin and Harry Nilsson is Count Downe. Yup.

In 1980, David Lynch hired Francis as director of photography on his disturbing and poignant film, The Elephant Man, and later his ill-fated, but gorgeously-photographed, Dune. Francis also served as DP on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Executioner’s Song, Glory, for which he won his second Oscar, The Man in the Moon, Cape Fear, School Ties, and the beautiful and simply shot film, The Straight Story, again, for David Lynch.


Mr. Bytes thinks up his next good deed.

One of the reasons I chose to write about Francis for this blogathon was my love for Amicus anthology films and Freddie Francis directed three of them. In Amicus’ first anthology, Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), six men meet on a train. Peter Cushing (Dr. Terror) pulls out a deck of tarot cards, claiming he can see what’s to come for each man in the car. Oddly, their futures don’t look bright. Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Donald Sutherland, and Bernard Lee also star in the five segments.


“Got anyyyy eights?”

In Francis’ next anthology film, The Torture Garden (1967), Burgess Meredith stars as Dr. Diabolo, a carnival barker who lures four unsuspecting victims into his cave-like back room where they learn about their less than rosy fates. Peter Cushing, Michael Ripper, Niall MacGinnis, and Jack Palance join in the fun. Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame, wrote the stories in The Torture Garden and many of the other Amicus anthologies. They’re literate, full of black humor and twisty endings, and a lot of fun.


“Lemme tell ya about the rabbits, Jack.”

Francis ended his anthology run with a bang. Tales from the Crypt (1972) stars Ralph Richardson as The Crypt Keeper, who leads five people through their terrifying stories. Peter Cushing, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Nigel Patrick, and the spectacular Joan Collins star in these dark tales, based on William Gaines’ EC Comics.


“Want to hear a story?”

Francis dug Peter Cushing, by the way. He said of the actor, “I think Peter is absolutely wonderful. There is not an actor in the world who can speak rubbish like Peter and make it sound real.”


“I can’t believe it’s not butter!”

Amicus producers, Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg borrowed the template of individual tales connected by a linking story, from the portmanteau horror film, Dead of Night (1945). Dead of Night was not the first anthology film or even the first horror anthology, but it aligned well with Amicus’ association with Robert Bloch and suited the repertory company of actors working in horror films at the time. It also made money for Amicus, who made seven of these films.


“Once, I picked up a squirrel and squeezed it until it stopped moving.”

While I love the portmanteau horrors Freddie Francis directed, I love two of his films more. In 1965, Francis took the Robert Bloch story, “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade” and an all-star cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Nigel Green, and Patrick Magee, and made The Skull. The Skull is awesome on so many levels, it’s hard for me to contain myself to write this. Cushing and Lee collect demonic art. They also play billiards holding brandy snifters and wearing smoking jackets while discussing pure evil. The oft-sniveling Patrick Wymark is a scuzzy seller of stolen devil memorabilia, who offers to sell Cushing the skull of the Marquis de Sade. He happens to have it lying around. Since Wymark already sold Cushing a book made of human skin, he figures it’s a cinch. Amazingly, the skull of the Marquis de Sade is no ray of sunshine. Let’s just say anyone associated with the skull in question better have his beneficiaries updated. Story aside, the effects in this film are killer. The evil skull floats all over Cushing’s well-appointed gentleman’s lair of evil stuff and the skull POV shots are fantastic. The Skull is so much fun.


“Have I mentioned I sell Amway?”

The second film worth highlighting is The Deadly Bees (1966). If you know me at all, you know I love skulls and movies with bees in them. The Deadly Bees is a movie with bees in it. Suzanna Leigh is a frazzled pop star recuperating from a nervous breakdown. Her doctor recommends that she rest on friendly, Seagull Island, where no one is getting killed by bees or anything. While Leigh relaxes, her hosts, who might have watched Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf too many times, fight about just about everything, including bees. Will bees attack Suzannah? What about Michael Ripper? The Deadly Bees also has a cool cameo. Ron Wood, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, appears on a Hullabaloo-like show, early in the film, as a member of The Birds. The bee effects lack sophistication, but it was the first killer bee film, after all, so back off.


Suzannah Leigh wears a bear before meeting the bees.

Freddie Francis may not have relished his career in horror, but I do and if you’re reading this, you probably do, too. Francis directed and filmed the biggest stars in Britain over a career spanning sixty years. He worked with Hammer, Peter Cushing, the Archers, Christopher Lee, Amicus, John Huston, and Captain Ahab. Not a bad record for this vicinity.

I wrote this article for The Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon, hosted by Barry of Cinematic Catharsis and RealWeedgieMidget Reviews. They’re swell movie types and @Barry_Cinematic and @realweedgiemidge on Twitter.

 

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Twins of Evil (1971)   6 comments

Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) is an avenging angel, burning folks at the stake for doing horrible things like living alone, being too pretty, and not attending church regularly. He’s looking for evil in all the wrong places though because living right next door is a super evil guy, Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), who worships the devil and rents local girls for torture, sex, and blood-letting. The aristocracy protects the Count though so Gustav’s out of luck. Into Gustav’s already full life enters his twin nieces, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn (Mary and Madeleine Collinson), who come to live with Gustav and his wife Katy (Kathleen Byron) after the deaths of their parents. Since the girls are twins, one is good and the other bad. Natch. Maria, the sweet, pious girl does what she’s told and falls for her teacher, Anton (David Warbeck), while Frieda, the scamp, falls for horny Count Karnstein and his torture chamber of fun.


“We’re all out of dip.”

Count Karstein and his agent, Dietrich (Dennis Price) continue with their late-night debauchery until some loose blood makes its way to the gates of Hell or Vampire Town or somewhere and Countess Mircalla (Katya Wyeth) transubstantiates to chew on Karnstein’s neck. Now that he’s a vampire, none of the peasant girls he leases from their families have a snowball’s chance in, well, you know where. Since Frieda’s been hanging out at Karnstein’s grotto, she too goes vampiric, but since her guardian’s a religious zealot, she keeps it to herself. When more villagers turn up with small neck holes they weren’t born with, Gustav and his minions decide to switch from hunting random hotties to chasing down actual murderers.


“And I-I-I will always love youuuuu!”

Twins of Evil is a fun entry in the vampire exploitation genre Hammer perfected. The village and castle look appropriately provincial and the story, written by Tudor Gates and J. Sheridan Le Fanu, is more fun than similar films. Peter Cushing does sanctimonious well and you can see he really believes he’s doing the right thing. Later, when he realizes the true impact of his actions, he makes a huge sacrifice to redeem himself, save the good twin, and release his town from the clutches of Satan. John Hough, who also helmed The Legend of Hell House and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry directs, highlighting simply the difference between the daylight world of goodness and the dark, malicious world of the Devil. The film moves at a good clip and the Collinson twins can act and are lovely to look at. Since this is a Hammer film, the women are between 19 and 25, buxom, and not averse to a little gratuitous nudity. It’s like the producers invaded the Castle Anthrax to cast their picture.


“A spanking?”

I’m a big Hammer fan, but I’ve seen more of their thrillers than straight Gothic horrors. Watching this crisp, high-definition transfer makes me want to see more.


“Oh, hi.”

Maniac (1963)   Leave a comment

maniac poster

American artist Jeff Farrell (Kerwin Matthews) stumbles into an isolated village in the Camargue region of southern France and meets Annette Beynat (Liliane Brousse).  There’s obvious chemistry between them, but Annette gets blocked by her stepmother, the sexy Eve Beynat (Nadia Gray).  Eve’s still married to Annette’s dad, but he’s out of town so Eve makes a play for Jeff.  She’s very subtle.  After Eve and Jeff go horseback riding, she takes off her blouse and asks him to towel her off.

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“Jeff? Are we still on for tonigh…oh.”

It works.  Soon, they’re making the beast with two backs all over the place and Annette’s left out in the cold.  There’s just one little problem.  Eve still has that pesky husband.  I said he was out of town, right?  Well, he is.  He’s in an asylum for the criminally insane for using an acetylene torch to kill the guy who raped Annette years earlier.

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“Just a little off the eyes.”

And you thought ONE LIFE TO LIVE was complicated.  Eve says her husband has all his marbles.  He just went a bit overboard (a bit) and if Jeff helps him escape from the sanitarium, he’ll leave the country and start a new life leaving Eve and Jeff to do the horizontal mambo as much as they want.  Sounds logical, right?  Jeff, blinded by lust, says he’d love to help a torch-wielding maniac (TITLE-DRINK!) out of the booby hatch and can we do that toweling-off thing again, honey?  Anyway, cool asylum-escaping ensues, but things go a little twisty.  Will Jeff do crimey stuff?  Will Eve’s husband find his matches?  Will Annette get a little action?  Will Eve take Jeff horseback riding again?  Please?

torch check
“An adjustment et voilà! Ready for your close-up!”

Writer Jimmy Sangster loved LES DIABOLIQUES.  He set MANIAC and SCREAM OF FEAR in France and added a bunch of plot twists in both.  He also cast women in lead roles and made them strong and smart.  Eve’s a real multi-tasker too.  She runs a tavern while hatching an escape plot and seducing a young stranger.  Way to go, Eve!  Sangster writes realistic dialogue and the plot hums along nicely.  Director Michael Carreras and cinematographer Wilkie Cooper keep the mood tense and the atmosphere noirish.  There are some terrific night shots around the inn and later, they film a nifty climax in a cavernous quarry.

final battle
“This is the biggest version of Don’t Break the Ice I’ve ever seen.”

This film is a hoot.  Despite the over-the-top elements of the story, it’s all very natural.  It’s naturally gruesome, but MANIAC was made by Hammer so they have to have a soupcon of gore.  It’s in the contract.   I had fun watching this one.  The cast, screenplay, location, and complexity combine to make it a fun watch and Sinbad, uh, Kerwin is a cutie.

cyclops
“Anybody else see a Cyclops?”

 

Cash on Demand (1961)   Leave a comment

cod

Harry Fordyce (Peter Cushing!) manages a London bank. His micro-managing and general fastidiousness put him at odds with his staff who he belittles every chance he gets.

cush
“Smudges!”

When Colonel Gore Hepburn (Andre Morrell) from the bank’s insurance company arrives to inspect its security protocols, Fordyce sets out to impress him with his efficiency.  The thing is, the colonel is not from the insurance company and he has a cunning plan.

black
Yes, THAT cunning!

Without giving the game away, I can say that CASH ON DEMAND’s director, Quentin Lawrence, knows how to build tension.  What starts out as a slice-of-life drama about a tight-lipped bank manager abusing his staff switches quickly to a race against time to save a family.  In the morning, Fordyce runs roughshod over his subordinates.  In the afternoon, he scurries to save his family, his job, and his freedom.  Writers David T. Chantler and Lewis Greifer adapted Jacques Gillies’ play for the big screen.  That this film started as a play makes sense.  It takes place in three sets, but could easily be done in two or even one.  The excitement comes, not from action, but from acting and a terrific script.

pete
“Where’s my stake?”

Cushing is brilliant as the mercurial Fordyce who finally feels what it’s like to be under the thumb of a person who has the power of life and death over him.  His transition from haughty to harried develops by degrees and we see his metamorphosis in the few hours the film documents.  Morrell’s Gore Hepburn is fabulous.  He’s sublimely at home ordering Fordyce around and making points with the staff while his devious plan moves along swimmingly.  What a wonderful pair to watch.  Richard Vernon made an impression too.  He plays Pearson, Fordyce’s number two who, because of a small error which was fixed quickly, might lose this position and any hope of finding another.  The entire cast does a wonderful job.

vernon
“Did you steal that thumbtack?”

CASH ON DEMAND is another great Hammer non-horror.  I know Hammer is better known for vampires and busty maidens, but as I watch these smaller, less lavish thrillers, I wonder why they didn’t make more.  They’re wonderful.  I’m going to be sorry when I’ve seen them all.

hammer

Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (1960)   Leave a comment

image

Wow.  Where do I begin?

Peter and Sally Carter (Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford) return home from a reception given to welcome Peter as the new high school principal.  Their nine-year-old daughter, Jean tells them that earlier that day, she and her friend Lucille were at a neighbor’s home where they took off their clothes and danced naked for an old man in exchange for candy.  Let that sink in a minute.

mom

The innocent child thinks it was a game and isn’t terribly upset.  No one hurt or touched her.  Jean’s parents, of course, are livid and report the incident to the police.  The local sheriff tries to dismiss the charge as the ramblings of an imaginative child, but the Carters know their daughter and stick to their guns.

sheriff
Sally files a complaint with the local police.

The culprit, Clarence Olderberry, Sr. is the long-retired patriarch of the wealthiest family in town.  No one wants to ruffle their feathers since most of the folks in this small, Canadian town work in the Olderberry’s mill.  Olderberry, Jr. (Bill Nagy) tries to sweet talk the Carters at first.  When they make it clear that they still plan to press charges, he lets them know that his attorney will rip their little girl apart on the witness stand.  This is going to be ugly.  Despite that threat and the reaction of most of the people in town, the Carters insist on a trial.  All the while, Peter hears murmurs that Olderberry has done this before only to have it hushed up.

speech
Olderberry, Jr. threatens Peter.

I don’t want to ruin the film for you by telling you too much about the trial and aftermath.  I will say it’s riveting and realistic.  This is no sanitized Hollywood trial with a neat ending and it doesn’t end there.

trial
Jean takes the stand.

Horrifyingly true-to-life and scarier than any Hammer Gothic horror, NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER whacks you in the head with its frankness.  Writers John Hunter and Roger Garis keep it spare and sharp and director Cyril Frankel doesn’t waste a shot.  Unfortunately, the idea of a well-connected pedophile living next door comes off as a more genuine threat than a vampire in the village.  The acting, direction, and taut dialogue flow so naturally, it seems like someone recorded people talking and included it in the script.  Even the kids can act.

scary

I enjoyed this film in spite of its subject.  It’s real and well-made and I couldn’t look away.

NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER might be a rough watch for a lot of people and understandably so.  My heart was in my throat half the time.  In the other half, I was yelling at characters on the screen urging them to hurry or shut up.  It has that kind of visceral impact.  When the film ended, I had to sit down and catch my breath.  Hammer makes a hell of a thriller.

olderberry
Seriously, he’ll make you shudder.

These Are the Damned (1963)   2 comments

poster

Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) meets lovely Joan (Shirley Anne Field) on the street in a British seaside town and the two walk together toward a pub.  As soon as they leave the main drag, Simon gets jumped by a bunch of Teddy Boys led by Joan’s brother, King (Oliver Reed).  They beat him savagely and steal his wallet.  It’s clear Joan has acted as bait before, but she’s disturbed by King’s level of violence this time.

macdonald
“Look what you’ve done to his hat!!!”

What are Teddy Boys?  Teddy Boys are British teens who dressed in a modernized 1950s/60s version of the Edwardian style.  Some formed gangs and committed petty crimes and were a nuisance generally.

king
“That outfit is hideous. You had to be stopped.”

Anyway, Joan sees the error of her ways and joins Simon on his boat.  Simon has a boat.  The two moor at a remote cabin atop a craggy mountain of rock.  The house happens to be the summer home of bohemian artist Freya Neilson (Viveca Lindfors) who happens to be the longtime lover of Bernard (Alexander Knox).

viveca
Freya being all arty and junk.

Bernard?  Bernard runs a top secret military base next door to his girlfriend’s place.  Yup.  There’s a lot of Freya wondering aloud about the purpose of the outpost surrounded by barbed wire and guard dogs, but Bernard isn’t talking.  We get a vaguely sinister vibe from Bernard and his cohorts Captain Gregory (James Villiers) and Major Holland (Walter Gotell), but no real clue as to their mission until Bernard skypes with some kids in a classroom.

skype
“I hope you brought your number 2 pencils.”

After we meet the children, we’re left to divine who they are.  Is Bernard training them to be spies?  Are the kids aliens?  Read: THESE ARE THE VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.  We’re not sure about them until Simon and Joan (remember them?) run into the kids’ hideout while escaping King and his cosh boy pals.  Then the whole part science fiction/part Cold War nightmare/part love story plot makes sense.  Well, sort of.

children cave 2
“A Pakuni kid called Cha-Ka and Sleestaks? What kind of cave is this?”

Director, Joseph Losey doesn’t get too arty, but manages a few suspenseful scenes in THESE ARE THE DAMNED.  Based on the novel, THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT by H.L. Lawrence, the film meanders a bit and is hampered by underdeveloped characters and a less than exciting script.  To be fair, screenwriter Evan Jones had to cram a lot into 87 minutes.  More creative editing might have helped.  There are a few scenes in the first half of the film which, if cut, would have given the plot and characters more time to gel in the second half.  If they had spread the ‘getting to know you’ part all through the film instead of the stock first half, biography, second half, action, the movie might hold more interest.

these-are-the-damned-06
“I thought you said there’d be water.”

Alexander Knox does a decent job playing the benevolent captor and Macdonald Carey and Sally Anne Field grow into a nice chemistry as the story progresses.

couple
“Our love transcends the 20 minutes we’ve known each other.”

Oliver Reed is suitably brutal as the disturbed gang leader.

reed
“When you’re a Jet…”

I liked watching this film because I wasn’t sure what would happen and the dark ending surprised me.  Hammer Studios made a number of non-Gothic horrors which I generally love.  This one tries to do too much and falls short.  THESE ARE THE DAMNED is watchable though and it’s always fun to see another dystopian Cold War film.

8Damned
One of these things is not like the others…

Stop Me Before I Kill (1960)   Leave a comment

stop

British race car driver Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis) and his new bride, Denise (Diane Cilento) get into a nasty car wreck on their honeymoon.  The accident leaves another driver dead and Alan with a severe head injury.  After months in the hospital, the couple finally head to the French seaside for their wedding trip.  It’s clear that Alan still needs time to recover since every once in a while, he goes into a trance and tries to strangle his wife.

choke
“If I can just get your neck size…”

What a bore.  Denise dotes on Alan and seems to have made the leap from wife to mother seamlessly.  Since she’s running out of scarves to hide the neck bruises, Denise seeks the help of a psychiatrist they happen to meet on their trip.  David Prade (Claude Dauphin) proposes a radical form of therapy to help Alan remember the accident and stop choking his wife all the time.

pillow
“Just five minutes more.”

Since Alan is paranoid and his moods turn on a dime, Denise lies to him about meeting David to ask for medical advice.  Yup, that goes well.

stop me
“Analyze me, will ya!!”

Will David cure Alan?  Will Alan kill Denise?  Will Denise stop saying Alan’s name all the damn time?  I’ll never tell.  I will say this is a neat little thriller with an unusual psychiatric bent.  Director, Val Guest keeps you guessing and the mood tense.  Parts of the film drag, but even the talky parts keep the plot moving forward.  The script, apart from Denise saying Alan’s name about 82 million times, flows naturally.  Cilento and Lewis are believable lovers and I found myself worried about them both.

cure
“The doctor said to wear that radio around your neck until you’re cured.”

STOP ME BEFORE I KILL is another fun Hammer thriller.  I’m a big fan of these films.  They’re racier and more violent than most American films of that era and they generally have a more mature attitude toward love and sex.  It makes for a more realistic film which, in turn, makes the scary parts scarier.  Scary is good.

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