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Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960) | Hammer’s bravest venture is ripe for rediscovery in HD

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

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.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

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!

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

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.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

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).

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

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.

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger

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.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
• 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) .

Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent

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Nightmare (1964) | Hammer’s unsung psychological thriller is a heart-pounding game of two halves!

Nightmare (1964)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.

Nightmare (1964)

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…

Nightmare (1964)

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.

Nightmare (1964)

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.

Nightmare (1964)Jennie Linden Memories: A lovely 13-minute chat with the actress – who famously dared to say ‘No’ to Ken Russell – conducted at her home on the Isle of Wight.

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 (1964)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

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Craze (1974) | Jack Palance goes OTT in a slice of prime British horror sleaze

Craze (1974)

From Nucleus Films in the UK comes their remastered DVD release of 1974’s Craze. Now, the description really does sum this Britsploitation cult up to a tee, so read on… it will make you want this for your cult film collection by the time you get to the last line.

jack and dianaApparently, director Freddie Francis (Tales From The Crypt, Torture Garden) didn’t care much for this, his 1974 assignment for the Kandel and Cohen production house- even going so far as to describe it as “worse than Trog” We at Nucleus, however, disagree: Craze is a slice of prime British horror sleaze, ripe for rediscovery.

It’s got everything!! It’s got Jack Palance (Dracula, Torture Garden, Hawk The Slayer) pretending to be English, exclaiming “Jeezus Christ Almighty!” and picking up dollybirds in funky psych nightspots!! It’s got Martin Potter (Goodbye Gemini, Satan’s Slave, Cruel Passion) as his paranoid, hard-drinking gay business partner, Julie Ege (Creatures The World Forgot, Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires) and Kathleen Byron (Twins Of Evil) as ritual victims, and Michael Jayston (Thriller, Quiller, Tales That Witness Madness) Percy Herbert (The Fiend, Black Snake) and David Warbeck (The Beyond, The Black Cat) as a trio of grumpy flatfoot coppers!! It’s got Suzy Kendall (Up The Junction, Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Torso) as a curly-wigged hooker with a jaw-dropping sex-aid collection, and Trevor Howard, Diana Dors, Hugh Griffith and Edith Evans (you KNOW who they are), slumming it in late-career cameos!!!

chukuNot convinced? How about an homage to Peeping Tom (though we’re not telling you where, so you have to buy it) an occult coven in purple robes chanting “armuneminuum” and a series of ghastly, grisly, gory, gruesome deaths? Or, best of all, how about Chuko, the ugliest, most googly-eyed fetish idol ever seen onscreen? Seriously, this doll makes both Hammer’s Charlie Boy and the Zuni from Trilogy Of Terror look handsome by comparison. Let him into your life (even better, let this beautifully remastered disc into your player) and the rewards are plenty- but they don’t come cheap. As the song says, “it’s no sacri-fi-i-iiiice…”

ORDER YOUR COPY HERE

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1.66:1 / 16×9
• Optional English Subtitles
• Theatrical Trailer
• Crazy Days – Brand new featurette with Jonathan Rigby who explores the book to screen
• Freddie Francis trailer reel (45 minutes!)
• Nucleus trailers

Tales That Witness Madness (1973) | It’s not Amicus, but it’s still a chilly treat

Tales That Witness Madness_poster

It happens beyond madness – where your mind won’t believe what your eyes see or …Is it just your imagination or your sanity that’s in question?
At London’s Department of Psychiatric Medicine, Dr Tremayne (Donald Pleasance) believes he has unraveled the mystery behind four bizarre incidents of mental ‘aberration’. When a hospital colleague Dr Nicholas (Jack Hawkins) visits, the doctor related their case studies, which involve an invisible tiger, a time-travelling vintage bicycle, a jealous living tree, and ritual cannibalism.

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

An orgy of the damned? Not quite.
1973’s Tales That Witness Madness has always been regarded as the unwanted poor cousin in the British horror portmanteau genre that began in 1965 with Amicus’ Dr Terror’s House of Horrors and ended in 1980 with The Monster Club.

With director Freddie Francis on board and featuring a host of stars that had cropped up in previous entries, it’s also often mistaken for another Amicus offering. It was, in fact, an independent production by World Film Services, orchestrated by former Ealing Studios producer Norman Priggen, and written by Dr Terror’s actress Jennifer Jayne (under the pseudonym of Jay Fairbank).

Taking her cues from EC Comics’ cautionary tales from the crypt and the black comedy of Robert Bloch, Jayne’s four stories of the macabre are a mixed bag of horror and humour, and just as good as anything Amicus conjured up.

Mr Tiger updates the Aesop fable, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with elements of Val Lewton’s The Curse of the Cat People, and concerns young Paul who escapes his parent’s squabbling by manifesting an imaginary friend (with claws). While it might be predictable, it does give child actor Russell Lewis a chance to shine. In later life, Russell took up writing himself, and ended up creating the Morse prequel, Endeavour.

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Penny Farthing, in which Peter McEnery’s antique store owner Timothy travels back in time to witness his late Uncle Albert’s fatal courtship of a young woman reminded me of Richard Matheson’s 1975 novel Bid Time Return (later filmed as Somewhere in Time). It’s an inventive and engaging mystery tale featuring a creepy turn by Frank Forsyth as Albert, whose changing portrait really gave me the shivers.

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Mel is a curious looking tree which Michael Jayston’s art lover Brian installs in the front room of his modernist country bungalow. Joan Collins, attired in baby doll negligee and fluffy mules, is the jealous wife who ends up six feet under when she dares to take an axe to her wooden rival. This is my personal favourite as Collins plays up to her bad girl image in typical superbitch fashion, while the 70s-stylings are confirmation that this really was the decade that taste forgot.

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The final story, Luau, echoes Stanley Ellin’s 1948 short story The Speciality of the House, only in place of lamb Amirstan we have a sumptuous suckling pig wrapped in banana leaves being served up to Kim Novak’s obsequious literary agent, who is unaware that she’s eating her own daughter (Mary Tamm, aka Doctor Who’s Romana No1). Novak was a last minute replacement for Rita Hayworth and broke a four-year hiatus to guest star in this film, and she doesn’t disappoint. But if the grisly premise doesn’t make you gag, then those outfits that Novak wears certainly will.

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Whether it’s an antique shop, a catacomb, a haunted house or an asylum, what makes an anthology film a hit or miss is the wrap-around story. Unfortunately, it’s a miss here and the film’s weakest link. Noticeable also is the poor dubbing of Jack Hawkins, appearing here in his final feature film. The voice you actually here is Charles Gray as Hawkins had had his larynx removed in an operation for throat cancer in 1966.

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)

Tales That Witness Madness is available on Blu-ray and DVD using a re-mastered print from Fabulous Films in the UK, and if you are as much a fan of British horror portmanteau as I am, then this is a must-have for your collection.

 

The Brain (1962) | The shadowy Edgar Wallace meets Donovan’s Brain thriller

The Brain (1962)
This British-German co-production was the third screen version of Curt Siodmak’s classic science-fiction novel Donovan’s Brain. This time round (it was Erich Von Stroheim in 1944 and Lew Ayres in 1953), it’s Peter Van Eyck (1000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse) as the not-so ethical scientist convinced that the brain of dead tycoon can be kept alive. But the brain has an hypnotic effect on him that forces him into tracking down and punishing those responsible for Holt’s murder…

The Brain (1962)

With the mood and feel of an Edgar Wallace crime thriller that was popular in Germany at the time, this was Freddie Francis’ second feature as a director after carving himself an Oscar-winning career as a cinematographer on classics like Sons and Lovers and The Innocents. Francis would follow this shadowy affair with Day of the Triffids (in which he filmed the lighthouse sequences) before heading over to Hammer and Amicus. Watch out for Bernard Lee, who’d appear as M in Dr No the same year, Jack MacGowran and Cecil Parker.

The Brain (1962)

The Brain screens today (Tuesday 22 December) at 2.20am on Movies4Men (Sky 325, Freeview 48, Freesat 304), so expect it to be a cruddy print, just the one below.

 

Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965) | Amicus’ portmanteau blueprint still impresses on Blu-ray

Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1965)1965’s Dr Terror’s House of Horrors was the first of six horror anthologies to come from Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg’s Amicus Productions and became the blueprint for their successive entries.

Following so-so returns on their two teen musicals, the duo decided to return to the horror genre (their first being 1960’s The City of the Dead) in a bid to give Hammer (who was doing big business) a run for their money. And it was on the back of the success of this film (their first under the Amicus banner) that would turn them into leading exponents of British cult, sci-fi, fantasy and horror over the next two decades.

Armed with some old scripts written (some say appropriated) back in 1948 and inspired by the 1940s British classics Dead of Night and Train of Events, Subotsky conceived the film, and added a linking story in which five train passengers have their destinies told by the Tarot-wielding (mispronouced as Tah-row) – Dr Sandor Schreck (Peter Cushing).

‘I think there is room for one more in here’
Their stories included a Scottish estate haunted by a werewolf (Ursula Howells); am Education Officer (DJ Alan Freeman) and his family coming under attack from a homicidal vine; a jazz trumpter (Roy Castle) who steals some voodoo music; an art critic (Christopher Lee) being pursued by a severed hand of a snubbed artist (Michael Gough); and a doctor (Donald Sutherland) who suspects his wife (Jennifer Jayne) is a vampire…

Dr Terrors House of Horrors (1965)

The Fear of the Year
With the exception of the supposedly comic voodoo episode (generally known as ‘that Roy Castle one’) and the silly vampire story, this House of Horrors still impresses. Freddie Francis directs with style, the Technicolor/Techniscope cinematography from Alan Hume (The Kiss of the Vampire) is suitably atmospheric, Bill Constable’s production design evokes each stories mood, and Subotsky adds a tongue-in-cheek tone throughout.

By far the two best stories are Werewolf (in which Subotsky is suprisingly inventive with the myth) and Disembodied Hand, long regarded as a fan favourite because of Christopher Lee’s memorable turn as a pompous petulant art critic (some say he was playing a parody of himself). While its obviously ripped off from 1946’s The Beast with Five Fingers, it’s gripping (pun itended) to watch Lee being terrified by a mechanical prop (which ended up in a couple of other Amicus films), and you can watch it here (courtesy of Screenbound).

Freddie Francis (who became Amicus’ in-house director) would helm three more omnibuses – Torture Garden (1968), Tales from the Crypt (1972) and the non-Amicus Tales that Witnessed Madness (1973) – and each would feature framing stories with varying degrees of success. Given that Peter Cushing’s merchant of Death is so memorable here, it’s always puzzled me why Amicus didn’t use the character again. Cushing, whose role here is little more than a cameo, would be promoted to lead in Amicus next three features: The Skull and the two big-screen Dr Who adventures.

THE SCREENBOUND RELEASE
Following a 4k remastering at Pinewood, this is the best-looking release of the film to date (despite the limitations due to the film’s use of the cheaper Techniscope widescreen process). The limited edition (4000 copies) Steel Book also benefits from the fantastic new artwork from Graham Humphreys and the following special features…

SPECIAL FEATURES
• Audio commentary from director Freddie Francis
House of Cards: Documentary, directed by Jake West, about the film’s production history, with interviews from likes of Jonathan Rigby and Reece Shearsmith (contains spoilers – but also some neat bits of trivia).
Sir Christopher Lee – British Legends of Stage & Screen (2012, 60min): From spear carrying in Olivier’s Hamlet to Dracula, Lord of the Rings and his Bafta fellowship award, Lee looks back over his career (this is a must see).
• Gallery Images: From the collection of Stephen Jones (Monsters from Hell).
• Original theatrical trailer.

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The Skull (1965) | The eerie Amicus curio weaves its hypnotic power on Blu-ray

The Skull (1965)Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee unite in the doom-laden 1965 British supernatural shocker, The Skull, which gets a first-time HD restoration in the UK.

Director Freddie Francis endows the Amicus-produced frightener, originally penned by Psycho writer Robert Bloch, with a chilly sense of menace and provides an eerily effective dream sequence, seen through the eyes of the skull of the infamous Marquis de Sade that Cushing’s collector of occult objects procures…

‘The unknown is always intriguing’
Peter Cushing gives an excellent study in bewildered terror as the skull slowly exerts it’s malign influence on his obsessive collector, Christopher Maitland, resulting in murder and madness; and gets solid support from ‘guest star’ Christopher Lee as the skull’s previous owner and Patrick Wymark as the sleazy dealer who steals it from him. Other familiar faces popping up are Michael Gough, Patrick Magee and Nigel Green (sporting a dodgy moustache), while poor Jill Bennett, playing Cushing’s socialite wife, gets to do little more than lounge about in lovely evening gowns.

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The film’s almost wordless final 25-minutes, set to a stirring score by acclaimed avant-garde composer Elisabeth Lutyens, is a surreal waking dream that still has the power to unnerve. Sumptuously shot with a baroque and gothic sensibility, though set in 1960s London, this curio is certainly one to covet – especially now that it has been given a gorgeous restoration on Blu-ray.

And it’s the look and the feel of this menacing chiller that wins through, and makes up for the lack of action (and obvious wire effects) which continue to divide audiences (including my own horror friends). The heavily dressed sets, meanwhile, are like an antique collector’s wet dream.

The Skull (1965)DID YOU KNOW?
The Marquis de Sade’s name was taken off all theatrical advertising material following legal action by the family’s estate.

In France, it was changed from Les Forfaits Du Marquis De Sade (The Infamies of Marquis de Sade) to Le Crâne Maléfique (The Evil Skull) at the last minute in order to get a release.

THE EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE
The 2015 Dual Format release features a restored 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray with a linear PCM 2.0 mono audio and optional English subtitle. Plus, the following extras…
• Interview with film scholar Jonathan Rigby (24:14)
• Interview with film critic and author Kim Newman (27:18)
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and new artwork
• Collector’s booklet, featuring an essay by BFI archivist Vic Pratt
• DVD of the feature

THE VERDICT
This handsome dual format HD release from Eureka! Entertainment finally gives this underrated Amicus horror a chance to shine.

 

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