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The Brigand of Kandahar (1965) | Oliver Reed hams it up wildly in the vintage Hammer adventure

Brigand of Kandahar (1965)

His Plundering Army of Bandit Raiders Sweeps to Glory
Across the Plains of India!

In director John Gilling‘s 1965 adventure The Brigand of Kandahar, it’s 1850 and the British Army are holed up in a fort in remote north-east India (actually Bray studios in Berkshire), valiantly trying to protect the Empire’s interests.

When mixed-race British officer Lieutenant Case (Ronald Lewis) is unjustly discharged, he finds himself being becoming a pawn in a rebel plot to attack the fort. Oliver Reed hams it up wildly as the ‘half-mad’ tribesman leader Eli Khan, while Yvonne Romain lends her exotic beauty to play his treacherous sister Ratina.

Meanwhile, when Glyn Houston’s foreign journalist Marriott sets out to uncover the truth behind the officer’s dismissal, he discovers not everything’s as it seems…

Brigand of Kandahar (1965)

While it wouldn’t win any awards for historical accuracy or political correctness (especially the use of white actors ‘blacked-up’, and the scant regard for Benjali culture or customs), this studio-bound non-horror Hammer is a lively enough romp to enjoy on a lost weekend, with Romain’s busty performance and Reed’s shouty turn being the film’s highlights.

The action scenes were lifted from the 1956 adventure, Zarak, which was actually shot in Morocco, while the military-influenced music score is by legendary Australian composer Don Banks.

The Brigand of Kandahar is out DVD in the UK from StudioCanal Home Entertainment and also screens on Movies4Men (Sky 325, Freeview 48, Freesat 304) on Sunday 22 May at 3.30pm

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) | Resurrected on vinyl – the original soundtrack with Peter Cushing

Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

Released in 1974 in the UK only, the Peter Cushing narrated ‘The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires‘ made its brief appearance in the racks of record stores and then vanished. Unavailable on vinyl for over 40 years, Dust Bug Records have unearthed this second gem of a release to sit next to their now sold-out Hammer Presents Dracula with Christopher Lee.

This retro release, limited to 500 numbered copies only, has been cut on vintage analogue equipment from restored original source materials to 1/4 inch tape and has been produced on 180g blood red and black belt marble vinyl.

Get it now:





Tomorrow’s World: The Unearthly History of Science Fiction| Catch three ’50s sci-fi classics on BBC2

From Doctor Who to Star Wars, the four-part BBC2 documentary series Tomorrow’s World: The Unearthly History of Science Fiction explores our continuing fascination for all things Sci-Fi. Space, Invasion, Robots and Time are four themes covered by historian Dominic Sandbrook, who uses the show to checklist all our fave classics on the big and small screen. The series, which kicks off BBC2’s Sci-Fi Season, starts tonight at 9.45pm (10.30pm in Wales).

The Thing From Another World (1951)

To accompany the series, BBC2 will have late night screenings of 1951’s The Thing From Another World (tonight at 1.50am); 1955’s Quatermass (Sunday 23 November, 1am – its in HD also) and 1957’s Quatermass 2 (Friday 28 November, 1.50am).

To get you in the mood, here are the trailers.

The Damned (1963) | Bikers and boffins head for a radioactive showdown in Joseph Losey’s chilling British sci-fi

The Damned poster

From acclaimed director Joseph Losey comes The Damned, a chilling British sci-fi film noir from 1963 set in… Weymouth.

The Damned (1963)

Come At Your Own Risk …If You Come Alone!
Trying to escape a gang of Teddy Boy bikers, a middle-aged American sailor (Macdonald Carey of Days of Our Lives fame) and the sister of a vicious gang leader (played by a youthful Oliver Reed) hide out inside a highly classified military base. Here, they find a group of radioactive children (including a very young Nicholas Clay) who are being groomed to repopulate an Earth following the inevitable atomic apocalypse. Shirley Anne Field lets rip as Reed’s slapper of a sister, while veteran Swedish actress Viceca Lindfors plays a bohemian sculptress whose creepy art pieces were actually the work of celebrated artist Elizabeth Frink.

The Damned (1963)

Adapted from HL Lawrence’s novel Children of the Light, The Damned is a bizarre blend of rebel youth culture, arthouse pretension and fatalistic sci-fi that all comes together thanks to Evan Jones’ intelligent screenplay (it was written just two weeks before filming began because the director chucked out the first treatment) and Losey’s stylish eye. Fascinating and foreboding in equal measures; this ranks as one of Hammer’s most unique releases and a highpoint for post-war British sci-fi. Cut by censors from 96 to 87 minutes in Britain and 77 minutes in America (where it was called These Are The Damned), the film was restored by Columbia in 2007.

The Damned (1963)

The Damned screens at the BFI Southbank on 25 and 28 October as part of the Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder season, and is also available on DVD in the UK from Hammer Films.


Countess Dracula (1971) | Ingrid Pitt loses her voice in Hammer’s historic take on the Elisabeth Báthory legend

Countess Dracula on blu-ray

History and horror collide in Hammer’s 1971 chiller, Countess Dracula, in which Ingrid Pitt – who proved a big hit in Hammer’s The Vampire Lovers (1970) – took on the role of the elderly widowed Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy, who discovers that bathing in virgin’s blood restores her youth.

Countess Dracula (1971)

In his second feature for Hammer following Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), director Peter Sasdy drew his story from the research of historian Gabriel Ronay and The Bloody Countess, Valentine Penrose’s 1962 biography of the real-life 17th-century Hungarian serial killer Erzsébet Báthory, who was convicted in 1611 of murdering 80 young women, but suspected of killing hundreds more.

Nigel Green plays the smittened Captain Dobi, who supplies his cruel mistress with victims, while a youthful Lesley-Anne Down is Elisabeth’s daughter Ilona, whose identity her mother steals so that she can win over Sandor Elès‘ hunky Hussar, Imre – much to the annoyance of poor Dobi. However, when Imre learns of the Countess’ blood lust, he is unable to tear himself away from her, and their wedding plans go ahead – with suitably tragic results.

Countess Dracula (1971)

Ingrid Pitt does her best to covey the mad Countess’ all-consuming desire for youth, even if it means the death of her own daughter – talk about taking vanity too far! However, that’s not Pitt’s voice you hear in the film, as she was overdubbed in post-production. It was a costly decision that deeply upset the Polish-born actress, who soon parted ways with the studio and refused to speak to the director ever again. But then, had she stayed, she may never have ended up in Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult classic, The Wicker Man

Countess Dracula (1971)

Released in the UK in January 1971, audiences were also unimpressed with the results. Coming out just a couple of months after the surprisingly sadistic Scars of Dracula and at the same time as the bosom-heaving Lust for a Vampire, Countess Dracula just didn’t cut it in the horror and sex stakes.

It’s a shame because it looks impressive (the spacious sets and costumes were purloined from the Tudor epic Anne of a Thousand Days), has an intelligent script and a splendid cast. It’s just more of a historic set piece than your usual Hammer horror fare. A truly impressive take on the Báthory legend however came the following year, with Harry Kumel’s erotic 1971 Belgian masterpiece Daughters of Darkness. Sasdy’s next film for Hammer, however, was a much more grisly affair – the underrated Victorian psycho thriller Hands of the Ripper (check out my review here).

Countess Dracula (1971)

Network Distributing Blu-ray release features the film in a High Definition transfer from the original film elements in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio. The special features, except a new gallery, also appeared on Network’s 2006 Special Edition DVD release, and are in standard definition.

• Audio commentary with Ingrid Pitt and horror experts Kim Newman and Stephen Jones. While this also appeared on Network’s 2006 DVD release, its worth including here as Ingrid Pitt has since left us, having passed away shortly after her 73rd birthday on 23 November 2010.
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Archive interview with Ingrid Pitt (Tonight, 1999, 6min)
• 50 Years of Hammer – news feature about the celebrations (Meridan TV, 1999, 2min)
Thriller episode: Where The Action Is featuring Ingrid Pitt (60min). The whole series is also available through Network (click here for info).
Conceptions of Murder episode: Peter And Maria: a 1970 play about mass murder with Nigel Green (25min)
• Extensive image galleries (New and in HD)
• Commemorative booklet

Ingrid Pitt was a also a successful author, and her posthumously released novel Dracula Who…? (2012) featured the return of the character of Countess Dracula.

The House Across the Lake (1954) | A bourbon-soaked British film noir from the legendary Hammer studios


Novelist Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) becomes attracted to Carol Forrest (Hillary Brooke), the predatory trophy wife of his wealthy financier neighbour Beverly (Sid James), who resides in a grand lakeside manor called High Wray with his devoted daughter Andrea (Susan Stephen). When Carol finishes her blatant affair with pianist Vincent (Paul Carpenter), Carol moves onto Mark who, having lost a crucial publishing deal, becomes easy prey when she plots to do away with her husband…

House Across the Lake (1954)

The House Across the Lake (1954) is an early feature by writer-director Ken Hughes (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame), adapted from his own novel High Wray. This strongly cast British noir (called Heat Wave in the US), was one of a series of now highly regarded B-movies jointly financed by Hammer Films and famed US producer Robert L Lippert (Valley of Eagles).

Sympathetic performances by Susan Stephen and a pre-Carry On Sidney James outshine those given by Hollywood imports Alex Nicol, playing the Robert Taylor-styled boozy pulp writer, and Abbott & Costello regular Hillary Brooke, whose blonde femme fatale evokes the likes of Lana Turner or Barbara Stanwyck. Alan Wheatley, who’d go to play the Sheriff of Notttingham in TV’s The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1955, plays the homicide detective determined to get to the bottom of the murder, which is told in flashback.

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Made with more polish than usual for a British B, The House Across the Lake bristles and crackles with jibes at adultery, womanly wiles and how ‘sooner or later everybody wants something from somebody’, and boasts a sultry smoky theme tune from composer Ivor Slaney (Here Comes the Double Deckers) that’s film noir personified.

Shot at Bray Studios, the exteriors make good use of the Grade II listed Downs Place (which would appear in such classic Hammer horrors fare as The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy) as well as the front porch of the neighbouring Victorian Gothic country house Oakley Court (aka Frank-N-Furter’s castle in The Rocky Horror Picture Show).

House Across the Lake (1954)

Part of Network Distributing’s The British Film collection The House Across the Lake is presented in a brand new transfer from original film elements in its original aspect ratio, and also includes an image gallery and theatrical trailer. Nice print, great sound, and a great find.

Theatre review | The Gentlemen of Horror | Besties Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee take you backstage for a terribly nice chat

Gentlemen of Horror

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee defined an era of British horror, starring in a series of Hammer films together for 26 years. When they first worked together in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein and the following year’s Dracula, Peter Cushing was one of the most famous actors in Britain, while Christopher Lee was a virtual unknown. For the next quarter of a century, these two killed each other again and again on screen and became firm friends off. As Christopher Lee became internationally famous, Peter Cushing gradually retired into a quiet life by the Kent seaside. And yet neither quite lost their taste for gallows humour… The Gentlemen of Horror takes you backstage on Cushing and Lee’s relationship, into the dressing rooms of the films they made together.

Starring Simon Kane and Matthew Woodcock, directed by Kate Webster and written by James Goss, The Gentlemen of Horror plays at the Phoenix Arts Club from 2 to 7 August 2014, as part of the Camden Fringe (book tickets here).

Five trailers from Cushing and Lee’s exhaustive filmography leads us into five pivotel moments in the friendship of the two stars, beginning with 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, then Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973), Star Wars (1977) and finally 1983’s House of Long Shadows, the last film in which the two actors would appear together.

Writer James Goss has done a sterling job in condensing Cushing and Lee’s careers into a one-hour two-hander, with much of the dialogue culled from vintage interviews and the two actors biographies. Given that Cushing’s memoirs are much more candid than Lee’s, it’s no surprise that Cushing does most of the talking – and this is where the play is at its strongest. Cushing’s devotion to his beloved Helen is touchingly handled here, while the evening’s best moment comes when Simon Kane’s Cushing recounts how Jimmy Savile managed to get a rose named after Helen. But Kane ends the story with a joke about the predatory sex offender which literally brings the house down.

Kane and Woodcock may not look or sound like either Cushing or Lee, but they do a sterling job at bringing Goss’s witty and articulate script to life, relying on minimal props, set, wardrobe and make-up. This is an energetic, fascinating piece of the theatre and an affectionate love letter to two icons of British cinema.

Writer James Goss is a former producer of the BBC Cult website and has written a number of books in the Torchwood and Being Human series, a series of audio books (including 2010’s award-winning Dead Air, read by David Tennant), and adapted Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for the stage.

Actors Simon Kane and Matthew Woodcock can be heard together as Sir Maxwell House and Roy Steel in Wireless Theatre’s podcast, The Monster Hunters. Simon has appeared on Radio 4′s John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme and Before They Were Famous, and has written for Mitchell & Webb. Matthew’s recent work includes The Saint Valentine’s Day Murder for Newgate Productions and The Legend of Springheel’d Jack and Sherlock Holmes Strikes Back with Wireless Theatre Company.

Director Kate Webster has produced and directed plays at the Edinburgh and Camden Fringes, and has worked with Midsommer Actors Company, London Bubble and The Pensive Federation.

Night of the Big Heat (1967) | Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing battle protoplasmic space invaders – on Blu-ray!

Night of the Big Heat (1967)

A freak heat wave in the depths of winter sends temperatures soaring and sets nerves on edge on the remote Scottish island of Fara.

Novelist Jeff Callum (Patrick Allen), who owns and runs the Swan tavern with wife Frankie (Sara Lawson), is knocked for six when his former lover Angela (Jane Merrow) arrives on the island hoping to rekindle their one-time affair. But when a farmer’s sheep herd is found burned to a crisp, Jeff turns to local physician Dr Vernon Stone (Peter Cushing) to try to uncover the reason for the sudden change in climate.

But it’s surly scientist Godfrey Hanson (Christopher Lee) who has uncovered the truth: alien creatures are attempting to raise the temperatures to match those of their home planet as part of a spearhead before their invasion of Earth.

With the temperatures about to reach boiling point, all looks lost for the helpless inhabitants unless a weakness can be found to defeat the unseen creatures…

Night of the Big Heat (1967)

Based on John Lymington’s 1959 sci-fi novel Night of the Big Heat was adapted by Ronald Liles for TV then rewritten for the screen by Pip and Jane Baker, who Doctor Who fans will be familiar with as they penned two serials in the 1980s featuring renegade Time Lady, The Rani (played by the late Kate O’Mara).

The British sci-fi was also the second film that Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher directed for Planet Film Distributors – the first being 1966’s Island of Terror (a much more superior affair and a real guilty pleasure of mine). Despite having to work with a low budget, a short shooting schedule and not being familiar with the sci-fi genre, Fisher does his best to create a sense of claustrophobia as the events unfold (like an Agatha Christie mystery) and the islanders get all hot and bothered in the unnatural November heat as the aliens (who we don’t see until the end) carry out their reconnaissance.

Night of the Big Heat (1967)

However its the film’s poor special effects that lets the side down: the screen merely bleaches out when the inhabitants are incinerated, and the protoplasmic aliens aren’t half as exciting as Island of Terror’s bone-dissolving tentacled silicates – here, they’re just big balloons with glowing lights inside that turn into deflated Yorkshire puddings when a storm hits, finally destroying them.

As a consolation prize you do get Hammer pals Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (in their last film together with Fisher): although Lee’s scientist does get the lion’s share of things to do unlike Cushing’s doctor, who basically props up the bar of the Swan tavern in a sweat-stained suit until his big death scene.

The film was released as Island of the Burning Damned in the US in 1971 in a double bill with Godzilla’s Revenge, and was shot at the legendary Pinewood Studios, with the tavern’s exterior scenes being filmed at The Swan Inn in Milton Keynes.

Night of the Big Heat (1967)

The Odeon Entertainment Blu-ray region free release, part of their OEG Classic Movies series, features the 1967 sci-fi in a 16:9 aspect ratio, with LPCM mono audio. The quality of the transfer is a huge improvement on the digitally restored 2004 UK DVD release, but there are a couple of scenes that suffer from hot spots and scratches. The audio quality, however, is excellent, making Malcolm Lockyer’s superb score really swing (it really should be released as a double bill with Island of Terror – anyone?).

The release also benefits from the inclusion of the audio commentary, moderated by Marcus Hearne, featuring an enthusiastic Christopher Lee and screenwriters Pip and Jane Baker that originally appeared on the 2004 Masters of Horror DVD release; as well an episode from the 2012 British Legends of Stage Screen documentary series, in which Lee looks back at his life and career. The lack of gallery and trailers, however, is an oversight.

Night of the Big Heat is out on Blu-ray in the UK from OEG (Odeon Entertainment) from 14 July

Island of Terror gets a digitally remastered release from OEG on 22 September 2014

The Scarlet Blade (1963) | Hammer’s English Civil War swashbuckler gets a jolly good polish

the scarlet blade dvd cover

The Bold Avenger…Whose Blade Slashed a Kingdom in Half!
1963’s The Scarlet Blade is a historical swashbuckler set during the English Civil War by Hammer director John Gilling. On the Roundheads side, we have Oliver Reed‘s devilish Captain Sylvester kidnapping King Charles on the orders of Lionel Jeffries‘s nasty Colonel Judd. Over in the Cavaliers camp, Jack Hedley (of Who Pays the Ferryman? fame) plays Edward Beverley – aka The Scarlet Blade. Thrown into the mix is Clare (played by June Thorburn, who would tragically die in a plane crash four years later) – a Royalist sympathiser who just happens to be Judd’s daughter and is going steady with Sylvester.

The Scarlet Blade

Igniting the Flames of Rebellion in a Land of Blood and Betrayal!  
All manner of adventure ensues as Clare helps Beverley (The Scarlet Blade is so much more masculine-sounding) rescue the King and bring Roundheads to heel. This is one of Hammer most memorable historical films, thanks to the BAFTA nominated colour photography of Jack Asher – the cameraman responsible for all of Hammer’s early horrors like Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein. But my highlight is seeing the one-and-only Michael Ripper playing a gypsy called Pablo in some awful pantomine get-up. What a trooper that man was.

Michael Ripper in The Scarlet Blade

The Scarlet Blade makes for great matinee viewing and is now back on DVD (for the first time in the UK) following a 2012 restoration by StudioCanal Home Entertainment, part of their on-going trawl through the Hammer archives. This golden oldie is worth a revisit.

The Scarlet Blade also screens on Film4 in the UK


The Quiet Ones (2014) | Hammer steps back into the 1970s with a chillingly effective Demons of the Mind possession horror

The Quiet Ones_Yellow Quad

In May 1974, unorthodox Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) begins a controversial experiment with research assistants Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and cameraman Brian (Sam Claflin). Based on the theory that paranormal activity is caused by human negative energy, and wanting a cure for mental illness, Coupland undertakes some questionable tests on 19-year-old Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), who believes she is possessed by an entity called ‘Evie’ and has no memory of her childhood.

When his funding is abruptly cut (warning: never play Slade at full volume), Coupland leads his team to a sprawling abandoned house in the countryside where their radical experiments continue uninterrupted. But as Coupland pushes Jane to the edge of sanity (using surveillance, sedatives and sleep deprivation), unexplained occurrences begin to take place, which triggers a force more terrifying than Coupland could have ever have imagined…

The Quiet Ones (2014)

Hammer CEO Simon Oakes describes The Quiet Ones as the kind of film the studio would have been making if they were still in business in the mid-1970s. Well it certainly pays homage to the era, in which satanic/possession films like 1973’s The Legend of the Hell House and The Exorcist (both set in contemporary times) were in vogue, while the film’s themes of psychological horror and soul transference echo those in the 19th-century-set Demons of the Mind and The Asphyx, made the year before.

Fans of classic British horror will have fun spotting the (intentional?) film references; is it just me or does Coupland’s young son look like Martin Stephens from Village of the Damned, and doesn’t the mansion that Coupland moves his team into look like Down Place, the country house at Bray Studios that was used for many a classic Hammer horror?

The Quiet Ones (2014)

Even the characters seem to be channelling real life personalities of the period. Sam Claflin’s sensitive Brian has shades of Witchfinder General wunderkind Michael Reeves in his manners and dress sense – with the added sex appeal of Warhol star Joe Dallesandro; Erin Richard’s flirtatious Chrissie, seductive in her bobby sox and mini skirt, is part Madeline Smith English Rose, part Linda Hayden free spirit; while Rory Fleck-Byrne’s ineffectual techie Harry makes for a perfect bumbling Rob Askwith type of foil.

Writer/director John Pogue (who also penned 2002’s Ghost Ship and two sequels in The Skulls franchise) creates a suitably chilly atmosphere in which his science versus faith horror tale unfolds, before unleashing (at my count) five good scares –  the steam bath scene is geniunely creepy, and watch out for the teleplasm!

The Quiet Ones (2014)

Both Jared Harris (last seen hanging himself in TV’s Mad Men) and Olivia Cooke (currently in my must-watch US drama, Bates Motel) are excellent as the obsessed Coupland and his ‘willing’ subject, the doe-eyed Jane – who may or may not be hiding the truth about her ‘condition’. But the scenes of running about in the dark come off as a bit silly – like something out of TV’s Most Haunted. Aside from that, it’s a huge thrill to see a new Hammer film on the big screen – even if the revived studio, whose last film was the Edwardian spookfest The Woman in Black, hasn’t ‘yet’ decided to shake off the past…

A question to the filmmakers: Who are the Quiet Ones?

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