Category Archives: Hammer-Amicus-Tigon
On Saturday 26 May 2018, I spent a wonderful day in the coastal town of Whitstable in Kent to celebrate Peter Cushing’s 105th birth anniversary and see the handover of the legendary actor’s handprints to the Whitstable Community Museum & Gallery by long time fan Chris Hassell.
Peter’s secretary Joyce Broughton provided some great anecdotes about her dear friend, whom she always called ‘Sir’, while the museum’s volunteers put together a mini exhibition of Peter’s personal artefacts and memorabilia from some of the many items that they have in storage.
Lunch followed at the Peter Cushing pub – a former cinema where many of Peter’s classic Hammer films were shown; followed by a walk to Peter’s former home and his bench at Cushing’s View.
Interestingly, the plaque which has been missing for a while was recently returned to the museum, and Joyce was over the moon – as it was she who had organised to have it made in the first place. She is now hoping to have it reinstated on the bench very soon. Let’s just hope no-one vandalises it again.
Courtesy of the Peter Cushing Association, here’s a copy of the press release which tells the story of the handprints long journey to the museum.
At the end of the post, I have included a video that I made of the museum exhibition, which was mounted in 2013 to mark Peter’s centenary. The museum is now looking at redevelopment plans, which enable more of Peter’s personal items to go on permanent display.
THE TALE OF THE PETER CUSHING HANDPRINTS
Peter Cushing was one of the most beloved and important actors for the genres of horror and fantasy films. He began in British Theater before making a name for himself in Hollywood with such films as The Man in The Iron Mask and A Chump at Oxford. Cushing returned to his native England during World War II and soon after became a television star with such hits as Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Creature and Beau Brummell. To his fans however, Mr. Cushing is recognized mostly for his work with Hammer Films. He began to star in many of Hammer’s horror and fantasy films starting in the late 1950’s, which consequently breathed new life and energy into the nearly forgotten genre of classic horror films.
These films gained such favor and popularity with the public that Mr. Cushing was quickly catapulted to international stardom. Such classics included The Curse of Frankenstein, Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed plus many more. He also appeared in films for Amicus – Hammer’s rival. Some of these classics included Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Dr. Who and the Daleks, Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., I Monster, Asylum, and Tales from the Crypt. Mr. Cushing capped off his career in the late 1970’s with Star Wars.
From then on, he made only a handful of films with Biggles being his last in 1986. Still very active in retirement, Mr. Cushing wrote two autobiographies, received the O.B.E. (Officer of the British Empire) in 1989, helped in raising money for cancer research, along with painting, collecting books, and bird watching in his spare time.
The Peter Cushing framed handprints you now see displayed at the Whitstable Museum were almost lost to history if not for the diligent actions of Peter Cushing Association member Chris Hassell. Peter Cushing had his hands cast in plaster in 1992 at Leicester Square in London. The plaster prints were framed and eventually displayed at the Prince Charles Cinema in London.
Years later a member of the Peter Cushing Association informed the group about the prints in their fanzine ‘The Cushing Courier’ which immediately struck the curiosity of Hassell who, finding no information about them in Cushing’s own autobiographies, wrote to the Prince Charles Cinema explaining about the Peter Cushing Association and inquiring about the prints.
Little did he know the events he would set in motion but weeks later Hassell received a postcard from Ben Freedman, owner of Robins Cinemas, who asked if he would like to come to London to collect the handprints! The Prince Charles was originally owned by the Cannon group and Robins Cinema had taken it over. Freedman wanted the prints to be housed in a suitable location relevant to fans of Peter Cushing.
Amazed at the response, Hassell reached out to Freedman who explained to him that the Cinema would consider donating the handprints to the Peter Cushing Association, so it could be displayed at a final resting place for all fans of Peter Cushing to view. Hassell worked with the first president of the Peter Cushing Association, Brian Holland, to send an issue of ‘The Cushing Courier’ with a letter outlining the plan for the handprints. On July 27, 1999, Robins Cinemas called Hassell to inform him they would be happy to donate ‘The Relic’ (the nickname Hassell gave the handprints) to the PCA.
After an unforeseen circumstance, Hassell was unable to pick up the handprints at Robins Cinema on October 22 at the Prince Charles Cinema. As described by Hassell, “Picture, if you will, a shallow wooden tray about four inches deep, eighteen inches square with sides almost one-inch-thick, filled to the brim with heavy and hardened years-old plaster. Inset into the plaster, a pair of hand-prints, above which is etched a very familiar signature and a date (‘92). Unfortunately, the middle finger of the left hand-print shows some slight damage but, otherwise, the plaster is perfect. Between, and slightly below, the two hand-prints is embedded a five-pointed golden star. In the middle of this star are engraved two words: ‘PETER CUSHING’.”
After the pickup, the PCA was awaiting a decision on whether the Whitstable Museum or the Theatre Royal, Chatham would become the final resting place for the Peter Cushing handprints. Unfortunately, the Theatre Royal closed-down and the PCA went through changes in leadership which delayed the final decision. The Whitstable Museum, with its permanent display of some of Peter Cushing’s personal items, was chosen as the final resting place of the handprints and Hassell was once again tasked with arranging the final trip. On May 26th, 2018, Peter Cushing handprints will finally be on display at the Whitstable Museum in town he called home.
Anyone interested in joining the Peter Cushing Association to enjoy and discuss his films and legacy (no dues to join, just request to join us on Facebook) please visit us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/petercushingassociation/
1960’s Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (aka Never Take Candy from a Stranger in the US) was one of Hammer’s bravest ventures: an earnest precautionary tale with its intentions in the right place that never really got a chance on its original release. But its now ripe for rediscovery as it joins Indicator’s second volume of Hammer classics: Criminal Intent.
Adapted from a 1953 play, The Pony Cart, by Roger Garris, it follows a British family settling into a small Canadian town where the father, Peter Cater (Patrick Allen) has been appointed the new school principal. When daughter Jean (Janina Faye) claims that the town’s respected patriarch, Clarence Olderberry Sr (Felix Aylmer), offered her and her friend Lucille (Frances Green) sweets in exchange to seeing them naked, Jean’s horrified mother Sally (Gwen Watford) demands an investigation. But the ensuing trial sees Jean coming under some brutal cross-examining and the elderly Olderberry being found not guilty… a verdict that results in murder!
Hammer’s social drama boasts great turns from Allen and Watford as the concerned parents, while Janina Faye gives a career-best performance as Jean (in a role that she also played on the West End). As the elderly paedophile, knighted stage and screen actor Felix Aylmer must be one of Hammer’s most chilling monsters (with or without makeup), and the fact he never utters a word only makes his performance all the more unnerving – as you never know what’s really going inside his sick mind.
Cinematographer Freddie Francis adds a touch of cinéma vérité to the nerve-wracking courtroom sequences, which were all shot in a single take at Bray Studios, and he makes atmospheric use of some of Hammer’s favourite locations – Oakley Court (standing in for a sanatorium) and Black Park, as well as Burnham Beeches and a housing estate in Slough. The suspenseful score is from idiosyncratic composer Elisabeth Luytens, while director Frankel brings a tremendous amount of suspense to the proceedings (he would later helm Hammer’s The Witches in 1966).
Hammer purposely plays down the sensationalism to craft an insightful message movie which explores both predatory behaviour and how power and privilege can shield dangerous people from proper justice. Applauded by critics of the day, the film was quite ground-breaking – especially as child sexual abuse was still a taboo subject. But the film was denied a certificate that would have allowed children to see it, as it was deemed too upsetting. Even the film’s star Janina Faye did not see her fine performance for many years. While promoted as a warning for parents, the film was not a commercial success and quickly disappeared – becoming one of Hammer’s most elusive titles in their back catalogue.
Watching it afresh, it is a stark and impressive piece of cinema that continues to send a chill down the spine with its authentic exploration of a very real grim subject that refuses to go away. Brave, intelligent and way ahead of its time – this is Hammer at its most sincere.
• HD restoration with original mono audio and new improved English subtitles.
• Two presentations: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (UK); and Never Take Candy from a Stranger (US).
• New documentary: Conspiracy Theories: Inside Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (The film’s background and production are retraced by Indicator’s stable of Hammer experts, plus there’s some great archive audio interview excerpts from director Frankel).
• Appreciation of Gwen Watford by British cinema expert Dr Laura Mayne.
• An interview with Janina Faye, who looks back over her career with Hammer and recalls her role in the film.
• The Perfect Horror Chord: David Huckvale explores composer Elisabeth Lutyens’ ‘eerie weirdy’ musical compositions for Hammer (if you are musically inclined, this is a must).
• Actor and film-maker Matthew Holness explores the film’s message, intentions, cast and crew.
• Trailers From Hell commentary with Brian Trenchard-Smith, who succinctly does the same.
• Advertising and Publicity Gallery
• Press Material
• Exclusive booklet
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) can be found on Indicator’s Limited Edition Box Set, Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent, which includes three other classic thrillers from the vaults of Hammer Films (all world Blu-ray premieres): The Snorkel (1958), The Full Treatment (1961) and Cash on Demand (1961) .
I’m finally dipping into Indicator/Powerhouse’s fantastic box-set Hammer Volume One: Fear Warning, in which a quartet of classic chillers get their first-ever HD restorations (region free) with a host of exclusive extra features. Here’s my look back at 1964’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.
In 1900 Egypt, a team of archaeologists, including John Bray (Ronald Howard) and his Egyptology expert fiancée, Annette (Jeanne Roland), unearth the tomb of the Ra-Antef.
When Annette’s father is murdered, the expedition’s main backer, Alexander King (Fred Clark), hatches a plan to have the treasure and sarcophagus shipped back to England for a luridly sensational tour. But when the seals are cut during the exhibition’s opening night – the coffin is found to be empty.
Soon the beat of cloth-wrapped feet begin to sound in foggy Victorian London as the ancient avenger (Dickie Owen) pursues all those who defiled its tomb…
What happens next is entirely predictable: the mummy goes on the rampage as Annette gets herself involved in a love triangle with her wimpy fiancé John and charismatic arts patron Adam (Terence Morgan), before ending up in the sewer system with the lumbering bandaged evil.
This 1964 horror sequel is a far cry from Hammer’s original 1959 classic; with pretty lame sets (especially the desert scenes) and suffers from some middle of the road casting (and sadly lacking Hammer favourites Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee), but US import Fred Clark certainly makes up for it as Alexander King, a PT Barnum meets William Castle showman with a heart of gold. A great comic actor, Clark would go onto co-star alongside Frankie Avalon in the Vincent Price spy spoof Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine the following year.
Burmese-born actress Jeanne Roland tries her best to present her educated Annette as an independent, modern (Victorian) woman, but ends up being little more than an alluring decoration.
This was Roland’s only starring vehicle for Hammer (she also suffered the same fate as many a Hammer scream queen – being dubbed), and later popped up in You Only Live Twice as Bond’s masseuse.
Hammer stalwarts George Pastell and Michael Ripper also appear – albeit too briefly, and future Virgin Witch director Ray Austin gets into a punch-up with Morgan’s Adam.
With its scenes of head crushing and severed hands, it’s surprisingly violent, and there’s a neat twist in the final act. Originally released in the UK and the US on a double-bill with The Gorgon, it actually proved a big success for Hammer despite its flaws.
• Blood and Bandages: Inside The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (very informative and illuminating anecdotes)
• An appreciation of Jeanne Roland by Diabolique editor-in-chief Kat Ellinger
• Interview with Michael McStay (2017): the British film and TV actor looks back at his time working for Hammer (his deaf person’s story is a hoot)
• Interview with composer Carlo Martelli on the use of sourced music for the film
• Super 8 Version: original cut-down home cinema presentation
• Trailer and Image Gallery
Heading into black comedy horror territory, Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster made his directorial debut with 1970’s The Horror of Frankenstein, a revisionist remake of the studio’s stylish 1957 Gothic horror classic The Curse of Frankenstein – which he also wrote. But it’s quite the disappointment – even to die-hard fans.
With Hammer eyeing up a hipper, younger crowd, Taste the Blood of Dracula’s Ralph Bates takes over the title role of the monster-making Baron from Peter Cushing (who had played it four times) and he portrays him as a psychopathic serial killer and arrogant womanising misogynist who prefers tight breeches to show off his ‘average’ manhood.
Taking its narrative cue from Curse, the Gothic horror parody finds Bates knocking off his dad, claiming his Baronic title and fortune, and heading off to medical school. But, after getting the Dean’s daughter pregnant, he returns to the family castle, where he sets up shop with fellow medical student, Wilhelm Kassner (Graham James, wearing a hideous pink cravat), to create human life using a big chart labelled with numbered body parts.
Once assembled and activated, the new Baron’s creature – played by a pec flexing Dave Prowse (aka bodyguard Julian in A Clockwork Orange and the strongman in Vampire Circus) – starts killing all and sundry for no apparent reason – altough the indignity of having to wear an S&M collar, nappy and red lipstick applied stitch marks could be justifiable.
The studio-bound exteriors (except for a shot of Austria’s Hohenwerfen Castle, and a bridge and churchyard scene shot in North Mymms, Hertfordshire), re-used sets (the castle stonework looks like wallpaper), and ‘toilet humour’ does Sangster a real disservice (something he later admitted); but this lacklustre affair is worth watching for the Hammer glamour on display.
The Vampire Lovers‘ Kate O’Mara, sporting a dodgy accent that’s West Country by way of the Emerald Isle, vamps it up as the ‘accommodating’ chambermaid Alys, while statuesque Veronica Carlson (who was so good in 1969’s Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) tries her best as needy professor’s daughter, Elizabeth, whose designs on the Baron get short shrift – probably on account of her Heidi hair-do of greasy links of bratwurst.
Both O’Mara and Carlson add some real Hammer glamour to the proceedings, and on a personal note, it has been great to have met them on the convention circuit. Sadly, Kate O’Mara passed away on 30 March 2015, aged 74, from ovarian cancer. Veronica, meanwhile, has become quite the artist and lives with her family in the US.
Dennis Price (now there’s someone I would have loved to have met) and Joan Rice (in her last film role) steal the show as a husband and wife pair of body snatchers, while Jon Finch is totally wasted as the Baron’s former childhood friend turned local copper. He did, however, find his stride in Roman Polanski’s The Tragedy of Macbeth the following year, and Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme in 1973.
Carry on… Young Frankenstein this is not! But it should have been!
The Horror of Frankenstein gets its Blu-ray UK debut (on Doubleplay from 29 January 2018) courtesy of Studiocanal featuring a brand new HD restoration (which only serves to accentuate the ‘wallpaper’ scenery, plastic forest trees and garish costumes).
It does, however, include the featurette, Gallows Humour: Inside The Horror of Frankenstein, which includes some interesting comments from Veronica Carlson about her time on the production, as well as some interesting production trivia from a handful of Hammer experts.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) | The Hammer Horror that turned Valerie Leon into a legendary scream queen
After locating the tomb of Tera, Queen of Darkness in the Egyptian desert, archaeologist Julian Fuchs (Andrew Keir) returns to England with her mummy and sarcophagus where he secretly recreates her tomb under his house. But when he gives Tera’s ruby ring to his daughter Margaret (Valerie Leon), the ancient queen’s evil power tempts the young woman into helping her father’s rival, Corbeck (James Villiers), into restoring her to human form…
Based on Bram Stoker’s 1903 adventure novel The Jewel of the Seven Star, this supernatural shocker breathed sexy new life into the old mummy’s revenge plot and has become a enduring favourite amongst Hammer horror fans. It was also the fourth and last time that the company resurrected the ancient Egyptian avenger to join their stable of monsters.
The first, The Mummy, in 1959, saw a bandaged Christopher Lee crashing about Bray Studios; the second, 1964’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, found Dickie Owen shuffling about Elstree; and the third, 1967’s The Mummy’s Shroud, meant a return to Bray, where Eddie Powell pulled on the swaddling to take out members of an expedition team.
For Blood, their final Mummy film, Hammer ditched the bandages and got the tall, buxom Carry On actress Valerie Leon to play (rather brilliantly, I might add) the dual roles of Egyptian queen of darkness and professor’s daughter. She’s the best thing about the film, which has one bizarre piece of plotting: the recreation of a tomb in the cellar of a suburban North London house. Now, who constructs something like that without getting any attention from nosey neighbours or the council? Only in Hammer’s fanciful Home Counties horror universe could it exist.
Keir (who was my favourite Bernard Quatermass in Hammer’s Quatermass and the Pit) does a stalwart job playing the obsessed Fuchs, a role that was originally intended for Peter Cushing. He had to leave the production after one day’s filming to care for his ailing wife, Helen (who died on 14 January 1971). And the seemingly cursed production had another setback five weeks into the six-week shoot at Elstree when the director, Seth Holt, had a fatal heart attack, which forced Michael Carreras into completing the movie.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb was released in October 1971 as a support feature to Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, and now is available on Doubleplay (DVD & Blu-ray) from Studiocanal, newly restored in HD, as part of their Hammer Horror Collection. It looks and sounds superb on Blu-ray, even if it does show up how fake those sets look; but the liberal use of Kensington gore is a vivid treat for horror-hounds. Oh, and Leon looks just stunning.
The extras include a trailer and a single featurette The Pharaoh’s Curse: Inside Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, in which a handful of Hammer experts provide insight into the film’s production, while Leon also shares her recollections.
By the way, the motion pictures soundtrack, featuring music by composer Tristam Cary (The Ladykillers, Quatermass and the Pit), was released by GDI Records back in 2002, and having find it just recently myself, it’s well worth tracking down.
Valerie Leon is a fantastic regular on the convention circuit and appears frequently at many film fairs throughout the UK, she even has her own one-woman show. Check out her official website here: http://www.valerieleon.com/
SCREAM With Guests From The “Other World” When You Ring For DOOM SERVICE!
Professor Driscoll (Christopher Lee), is an authority on the occult who persuades one of his students (Venetia Stevenson) to research his hometown, Whitewood, once the site of witch burnings in the 17th century. Booking herself into the Raven’s Inn, she soon learns that devil worship among the locals hasn’t been consigned to the past…
Produced by future Amicus founders Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, and beautifully shot by Desmond Dickinson (whose credits ranged from Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet to Horrors of the Black Museum), The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) is a wonderfully atmospheric and still shocking slice of horror that stands firmly alongside with its Hammer contemporaries.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
• New 4K digital restoration by the Cohen Film Collection and the BFI
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations of two versions of the film: The City of the Dead and the alternative US cut, Horror Hotel
• Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM Audio
• Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
• Audio commentary by film critic Jonathan Rigby
• Newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
• First pressing only: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Vic Pratt
Legendary hellraiser Oliver Reed may be better remembered for his drinking antics than his acting credits, but I think a reappraisal of the spirited thespian’s cinematic roles is long overdue – especially after watching this 2010 release from Eureka Entertainment.
Having made his name in Hammer’s Curse of the Werewolf in 1961 after a string of minor roles – including playing a camp chorus boy in The League of Gentlemen – and five years short of achieving stardom as Bill Sikes’ in Oliver!, Reed gives a terrifically OTT turn in 1962’s Paranoiac! – the third of Hammer’s psychological thrillers to be penned by Jimmy Sangster (The Curse of Frankenstein).
Loosely adapted from a 1949 crime novel by Brat Farrar, this Psycho-inspired chiller sees Reed take on the role of the greedy, egotistical Simon Ashby, the spoilt heir to a family fortune. Janette Scott (of Day of the Triffids fame) is his mentally fragile sister Eleanor, while Sheila Burrell plays aunt Harriett, who acts as the siblings’ guardian following the death of their parents. With the family fortune about to be split, Simon psychologically tortures his sister in a bid to have her declared unfit. But his plans come royally unstuck when his supposedly dead brother Tony (Alexander Davion) returns home…
Twists and turns abound in this gripping chiller that fuses an Agatha Christie-type mystery with gothic horror scares – particularly a ‘what the Hell’ moment involving the family chapel, a wheezing organ and a very creepy masked figure – and adding a dash of fratricide, incest and insanity for good measure.
As the deranged Simon, Reed is a stand out and the scenes where he is drinking and lashing out are weirdly prophetic. Making his directorial debut is Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis, who has a real eye for creating scenes of suspense – helped greatly by the eerie lighting and the stunning Dorset locations.
Eureka Classics‘ 2010 Blu-ray and DVD release features a stunning restored Cinemascope HD transfer, along with a music and effects track and trailer as extras, and this is a must-have for your Hammer collection – and one to include alongside the Final Cut release of Hammer’s follow-up chiller, Nightmare, which I reviewed here.
From Final Cut Entertainment in the UK comes a double-bill of classic Amicus horror anthologies to make you shiver!!!!
First up is Tales From the Crypt. Directed with finesse by Freddie Francis, this 1972 British creeper was the fourth horror anthology to come from Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenburg’s Amicus outfit, and it remains a classic of its kind thanks to the sterling performances of an all-star cast and the five genuinely macabre stories, inspired by the original EC Comics, which still have the power to chill.
Subotsky drew on five more tales for the following year’s Vault of Horror, Amicus’ penultimate entry in their horror anthology cycle. Asylum director Roy Ward Baker was called in after original choice Freddie Francis (who helmed the first four entries) declined to oversee a mixed bag of horror and humour, which upped the horror quota, and boasted another starry line-up. You can read more HERE.
The extras on this new Blu-ray, which uses the same uncut transfer that Shout!/Scream Factory put out as part of their 2014 double bill, includes a 36-minute featurette featuring interviews with the likes of Jonathan Rigby, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Chibnall.
Available from Amazon from Monday 5 December 2016
Best known for her roles in the 1960s classics, Women in Love and Dr Who & the Daleks, British actress Jennie Linden made her big-screen debut in Hammer’s 1964’s Nightmare, which get its first-ever UK Blu-ray release from Final Cut Entertainment.
Aged just 23 at the time, Sussex-born Linden was hand-picked by Hammer’s producers to replace Julie Christie for the role of troubled teenager Janet ,who is haunted by memories of witnessing her mother killing her father when she was a child.
Expelled from boarding school, Janet is sent home to High Towers, a vast country mansion, to live with her guardian Henry Baxter (David Knight). But when the nightmares persist, Janet starts to loose her mind…
Originally given a title that gave away the film’s shock reveal 45-minutes into the story, Nightmare was Hammer’s fourth psychological thriller to be written by Jimmy Sangster, who wanted to move away from the Gothic horrors he was best known for.
Like 1961’s Scream of Fear, 1962’s Paranoiac and 1963’s The Maniac, Nightmare shares its DNA with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, while returning director Freddie Francis and Hammer’s in-house production crew imbues the gripping mystery with lashings of atmosphere, especially those initial 45-minutes, where the film’s Grand Guignol horror tropes come out to play.
The film’s second half, which plays like a straightforward whodunnit, may not be as polished as those early scenes in which an excellent Linden brings pathos and hysteria to the fore, but it does give Moira Redmond, playing Janet’s nurse with a hidden agenda, a chance to strut her stuff.
Keen eyed fans might recognise actress Clytie Jessop, who plays David Knight’s scarred wife – she was the spectral Miss Jessel in The Innocents.
This cracking little chiller originally went out in a double-bill with The Evil of Frankenstein, but has remained in the shadows of its better known siblings, like Paranoiac! This new Blu-ray release, however, which looks and sounds superb, is the perfect opportunity to pay it a revisit, and hopefully gain a new appreciation. It also benefits from three insightful extras.
• Madhouse: Inside Hammers Nightmare: A 13-minute look at production with insights from The Hammer Story author Kevin Barnes, English Gothic author Jonathan Rigby and others.
• Nightmare in the Making (26min): Hammer historian Wayne Kinsey retraces the history of the thriller from concept to release, and includes archive interviews with screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, art director Don Mingaye and actress Jennie Linden (using elements not used in her own interview).
Available from Amazon
When the BBC1 TV series Doomwatch began hitting the headlines in the early 1970s and shows like On the Buses started heading into cinemas, Tigon’s Tony Tenser rushed out this big-screen spin off in the hope it would become the new Quatermass. But this ‘Chilling Story from Today’s headline’ was not the success that Tigon had hoped for, and ended up sitting on the shelf following its disappointing run in UK cinemas.
An ecological nightmare gone berserk!
A year after an oil tanker sinks off the west coast of England, Doomwatch scientist Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) heads to the isolated island of Balfe to investigate the effects on marine life and discovers the local population have also been affected, creating physical abnormalities and turning the men-folk aggressive. Seeking out the aid of local teacher (Judy Geeson), Shaw then finds he has a battle on his hands trying to convince the locals he wants to help the, while also trying to get the Ministry of Defence and a chemical corporation to accept responsibility for the accident.
Director Peter Sasdy (Countess Dracula), cinematographer Ken Talbot (Hands of the Ripper) and production designer Colin Grimes (Nothing But the Night) do what they can with a script by Clive Exton (10 Rillington Place), that was part thriller, part horror, part ecological drama, and was shot on location around Polkerris and Falmouth in Cornwall and at Pinewood in October 1971.
But there isn’t enough depth, action or sense of menace to make it work, which also lessens the impact of Tom Smith’s effective makeup. Even the classic Doctor Who serial The Green Death, which used the mutations vs multinationals premise, is way more effective; and we all know how brilliant The Wicker Man turned out, a film which also followed an official’s investigation of a closed island community.
It was disappointing for fans of the TV show to see regulars John Paul and Simon Oates taking a back seat in the film, and their replacements are not that much cop either. Ian Bannen comes off as overly shouty and unempathic, while Judy Geeson seems like a fish out of water as the mainland school teacher who has no connection with the locals. At least she doesn’t eat their fish!
Future Bond star Geoffrey Keen and veteran actor George Sanders put in safe, but dull cameos, but its Shelagh Fraser who brings some unlikely comic relief as the nosey local who possesses the only phone on the island. And keen-eyed viewers will catch future EastEnders‘ star Pam St Clement playing one of the villagers.
Doomwatch has been digitally restored for a Blu-ray and DVD region free release by Screenbound Pictures, available from 20 June 2016
• Read all about the original Doomwatch TV series UK DVD release HERE