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The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) | Hammer’s ancient avenger stalks Victorian London in HD

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.

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…

The Curse of the Mummy's 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.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

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.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

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.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

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.

SPECIAL FEATURES
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

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The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen: Volume Two (1961-1964) | Mysterious Island, Jason and the Argonauts and First Men in the Moon

  

From Indicator/Powerhouse comes three more classic Ray Harryhausen adventures presented with brand new 2K and 4K restorations, and containing a wealth of new and archival extras. Here’s the lowdown…

Mysterious Island (dir. Cy Endfield, 1961)
2K restoration – UK Blu-ray premiere

American Civil War prisoner Captain Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig) escapes in a balloon with other Confederate officers and a war correspondant Gideon Spillet (Gary Merril, aka Bette Davis’s ex) and end up on an unknown island in the Pacific along with shipwrecked aristocrats, Lady Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Elena (Beth Rogan). Holed up in a cave they nickname the Granite House, the plucky castways encounter strange creatures, pirates, an angry volcano and the charismatic Captain Nemo (beautifully underplayed by a blonde Herbert Lom).

This action-filled adventure, loosely based on Jules Verne’s 1874 novel, provides a field day for special effects man Ray Harryhausen, who conjures up a magnificent menagerie of oversized critters: including a giant crab (whose carapace was bought from Harrods Food Hall), a prehistoric Phorusrhacos (which looks like an oversized cassowary), a hive of bees, and a slumbering multi-tentacled cephalopod.

The picturesque Spanish locations (including Sa Conca Bay in Catalonia, and some others that would later be used in Jason and the Argonauts), evocative production design (especially the Nautilus and its Victorian-futuristic paraphernalia) and atmospheric score from composer Bernard Herrmann are an added delight to Harryhausen’s fantastical-take on a Boy’s Own-styled castaway adventure.

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SPECIAL FEATURES:
• 2K restoration from the original camera negative
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• 2012 audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton (This is thoroughly enjoyable, and I love it when a genuinely surprised Ray keeps commenting on how sharp everything looks in the restoration – especially as he used filters to soften the actor’s faces in the first place. He also reveals many of his camera tricks, including using a cardboard cut-out for the Phorusrhacos)
• Audio commentary with film historians Randall William Cook, C. Courtney Joyner and Steven C. Smith (having heard everything from the master himself, I might leave this for a rainy day)
• Archive interview with Ray Harryhausen (featuring many of his storyboards)
• 2017 interview with actor Michael Craig (who talks about the difficulty of trying to act against an invisible crab on a beach filled with onlookers)
• 2017 interview with clapper loader Ray Andrew (who gives an entirely different account of that crab story)
• 2017 interview Kim Newman (on the shared cinematic universe of Jules Verne)
Mysterious Magic: 2017 interview with visual effects animator Hal Hickel (on the huge impact Harryhausen’s work had on his career)
• Islands of Mystery: vintage black and white featurette (this one really beefs the film up – making you expect more monsters)
• Super 8 version (a cut-down version, in colour, with a narrator to paste over the gaps)
• Back to Mysterious Island: A preview of the 2008 Bluewater Comic that re-imagines the adventure for a younger generation (colourful, but not my cuppa tea, sorry)
• Isolated Bernard Herrmann score (just perfect to listen to over and over)
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Image gallery

Jason and the Argonauts
(Don Chaffey, 1963) | 4K restoration

With his father’s kingdom in the hands of a tyrant, Jason (Todd Armstrong) sets sail with the bravest men of all of Greece aboard the Argo on a quest for the Golden Fleece. Along the way, they encounter a host of mythical creatures and rescue Medea (Nancy Kovack), the high priestess of Colchis, who soon causes problems for the crew when she falls in love with Jason…

This spectacular mythological adventure marked the pinnacle in the career of Ray Harryhausen. A landmark in the history of movie special effects, it was this film that inspired many a budding young film-maker – from Nick Park to Peter Jackson (who provides one of the commentaries in this Indicator/Powerhouse release) and – on a personal note – fuelled my love for myths, fantasy and ancient history.

Harryhausen’s Dynamation effects are delivered with amazing imagination (and took him almost two years to complete). Jason’s climactic sword fight with a band of resurrected skeletons remains the film’s highlight of course, while the other weird creatures including the giant bronze automaton (Ray’s take on the Colossus of Rhodes), a band of hungry harpies (who torture poor old Patrick Troughton) and the magnificient seven-headed Hydra.

As well as Troughton, a host of other recognisable British actors provide great support, including Laurence Naismith and Nigel Green as Argus and Hercules, Douglas Wimer as Jason’s nemesis Pelias, amd Michael Gwynn and Honor Blackman as Olympians Hermes and Hera. This truly is the greatest mythical adventure film ever made.

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SPECIAL FEATURES:
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (despite the odd flashes of grain, this really is the best presentation of Harryhausen’s film we shall ever see)
• English mono and English 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalston (This one is filled with lots of behind-the-scnes anecdotes, some we’ve heard before on the other commentaries, and much of it is also explored in the three books that Ray and Tony have published – which are also a must have)
• Audio commentary with film-maker Peter Jackson and Randy Cook (Also very interesting, as Peter and Randy cover the film’s influence and legacy, although some of their conjecture is cleared up in the Harryhausen commentary)
• Original Skeleton Fight Storyboards
The Harryhausen Legacy: archival documentary
• Ray Harryhausen interviewed by John Landis
The Harryhausen Chronicles: archival documentary narrated by Leonard Nimoy
• Original trailers & TV spots
• Previews (Ghostbusters, Close Encounters, 20 Millions Miles to Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 7th Voyage of Sinbad)
• Image gallery

First Men in the Moon (Nathan Juran, 1964)
4K restoration – UK Blu-ray premiere

The world is shocked when a team of United Nations astronauts land on the Moon in 1964 only to discover that the Victorian British beat them to it – back in 1899!

In a Dymchurch nursing home, they track down the only survivor of the expedition, 91-year-old Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd)… Bedford then tells the assembled investigators how he travelled to the Moon with his fiancée Kate (Martha Hyer) and inventor Professor Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) in a spaceship which Cavor had coated with a revolutionary anti-gravity paste. And what did they find living beneath the Moon’s surface? Only an insectoid population with advanced technological know-how.

HG Wells’ 1901 science fiction tale gets the Dynamation treatment from Harryhausen and his 20 Million Miles to Earth director Nathan Juran, based on a screenplay by Nigel Kneale, who was best known for his Quatermass series.

This is entertaining yarn finds Lionel Jeffries going full pelt with his cranky inventor act, while the always stalwart Judd provides some energetic heroics. Martha Hyer’s Kate, meanwhile, is a spirited and feisty creation that was not in Wells’ original novel, but proves to be most welcomed here (and not just on account of her looks).

The film’s stand out creature is the giant caterpillar-like ‘moon-bull’, while the Selenites (actually kids in rubber suits) could easily have come out of a classic Doctor Who adventure or even Lost in Space (which Juran would later direct). Boasting great production values in spite of its limited budget, and having a great sense of Victoriania, this is million times better than the 1967 Jules Verne-pastiche Rocket to the Moon and a Harryhausen adventure that I can happily revisit time and again.

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SPECIAL FEATURES:
• 4K restoration from the original camera negatives (It looks fantastic, especially the sequences involving the lunar surface and the Selenites’ underground city).
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
• Audio commentary with Ray Harryhausen, Tony Dalton and Randy Cook (there’s a wealth of information on offer here from the trio, with Harryhausen spending a lot of time chuckling at the film’s more comic elements, like Jeffries’ performance and improbably science. But then Ray does say, ‘you should never over analyse fantasy’. Now that’s something I totally agree with. He also reveals that his major influence for the stairs leading to the Grand Lunar’s throne room was 1935’s She – which was produced by Merian C Cooper, whose King Kong inspired Harryhausen in the first place).
• An introduction by Harryhausen fan Randy Cook
Tomorrow the Moon: This vintage featurette is my favourite extra as it combines behind-the-scenes footage of the film (featuring producer Charles Schneer, Harryhausen and Juran, and some of the sets, and models) with the real-life US Apollo space project.
• 2017 interviews with special effects assitant Terry Schubert (who reveals how all the effects were created in a small space on a Slough trading estate); production manager Ted Wallis, clapper loader Ray Andrew (who has some great memories of cinematographer Wilkie Cooper) and title designer Sam Suliman (who wasn’t impressed with his titles).
• Isolated score by Laurie Johnson
• Trailer commentary from John Landis (who quickly runs out things to say)
• Trailers
• Image gallery

Read about the First Volume of The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen HERE.

 

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Fragment of Fear (1970) | This baffling Blow-Up imitation starring David Hemmings is one helluva delirious ride

Fragment of Fear (1970)

Before heading to cult-dom in Dario Argento’s Deep Red, David Hemmings was the hot ticket in Michelangelo Antonioni’s unfathomable but unquestionably hip 1966 arthouse classic Blow-Up. Four years later, 1970’s Fragment of Fear aimed to recapture the same magic, but ended up even more baffling – a delirious puzzle box that sets the nerves on edge, but leaves you screaming for answers.

Fragment of Fear (1970)

Murder, mystery and paranoia are the order of the day in this adaptation the 1965 novel by former M15 spy John Bingham (John le Carré’s inspiration for George Smiley). Hemmings plays writer Tim Brett, who believes himself to being cured of his drug addiction.

Fragment of Fear (1970)

When his philanthropist aunt (Dame Flora Robson) is found strangled while on holiday in Italy, Brett starts digging into her past, but soon starts receiving menacing threats warning him off the case. Investigating further, he is soon targeted by a shadowy government agency…

Frankly, it’s amazing that this British psychological thriller ever got finished, as it was made under the influence of lots of late-night drinking sessions by both the film’s crew and its star Hemmings. Which might also account for some truly offbeat scenes like one in which a group of bystanders casually watch a junkie shoot up in a London street (really?).

Fragment of Fear (1970)

But while it may make for bewildering viewing, it does hold your gaze and interest throughout – thanks to Ossie Morris’ noirish cinematography – that makes atmospheric use of the Pompeii and London locations, and Hemmings’ genuinely convincing performance as the former-junkie battling to hold his own. And Indicator’s HD re-master is so pristine that it brings the excellent cinematography to the fore, while the sweat on Hemmings’ brow is so luminous, it practically drips off the screen.

Fragment of Fear (1970)

While it certainly apes Blow-Up and bears a strong resemblance to Basil Dearden’s suited-and-booted dopplegänger cult classic The Man Who Haunted Himself (which came out the same year), there are a few other reasons to check it out. First up is the fantastic moody jazz score from the legendary Johnny Harris. It’s so cool, I’m desperately hunting down its supposed LP re-release.

Fragment of Fear (1970)

Next comes the distinguished supporting cast playing the quirky, not-to-be-trusted characters including Mary Wimbush, Roland Culver, Daniel Massey, Wilfred Hyde White and Derek Newark, whose mysterious Sergeant Matthews sets Brett off on his ‘wild goose chase’. Playing Hemming’s love interest is his real-life wife, the gorgeous Gayle Hunnicutt, who apparently got the role as a condition to securing Hemmings’ involvement in the project.

Fragment of Fear (1970)

The screenplay was by Paul Dehn, who had a knack for espionage, having penned The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and The Deadly Affair (both featuring le Carré’s George Smiley character – albeit in different guises); and he also wrote four of the original Planet of the Apes sequels. Check out the extra that accompanies the Indicator release for a very informative profile of Dehn.

Fragment of Fear (1970)

Director Richard C Sarafian may not be a name you instantly recognise, but does he have some darn fine credits. Not only did he helm one of the most memorable Twilight Zone stories, 1963’s Living Doll, he also directed episodes of TV’s Batman and Wild Wild West; and followed this film with the bona fide cult classic, 1971’s Vanishing Point (now that’s one that deserves the HD treatment).

It might be a baffling Blow-Up imitation, but Fragment of Fear is still one helluva delirious ride.

Fragment of Fear (1970)

The Indicator Limited Editon (3000 copies) Blu-ray (world premiere) features a HD re-master and original mono audio, with the following special features…

The Writer as Auteur: an analysis of the life and work of screenwriter Paul Dehn
• First Assistant Director William P Cartlidge on Fragment of Fear
• Original radio spots & theatrical trailer
• Image gallery
• New and improved English subtitles
• Collector’s booklet with essay’s from Johnny Mains, composer Johnny Harris, critical responses, and historic articles

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The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen: Volume One (1955-1960) | Three classic adventures get a glorious HD restoration

Powerhouse Films have released three fantasy classics from special effects titan Ray Harryhausen for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK as part of their Indicator series. Containing a wealth of new and archival extras – including exclusive new interviews with director Joe Dante, SFX maestro Dennis Muren, and Aardman Animation co-founders David Sproxton and Peter Lord – this Limited Dual Format Edition Box Set is a must-have for your cult film collection.

First up is 1954’s It Came from Beneath the Sea starring Faith Domergue, Kenneth Tobey and Donald Curtis. One of the first films to feature Harryhausen’s special effects puppet animation, this classic sci-fi thriller uses them most impressively, while creating a tangible atmosphere of fear and chaos when a giant octopus emerges from the Pacific to wreak havoc on San Francisco. The sci-fi is presented here in both the original black and white print and an authorised (and surprisingly effective) colourised version.

 

A fun offering from the height of the 1950s monster movie boom is the second feature, 20 Million Miles to Earth, starring William Hopper (from TV’s Perry Mason) and Joan Taylor. Directed by Nathan Juran (TV’s Lost in Space) it features a scaly, clawed alien from Venus which doubles its size every 24 hours… The sci-fi is also presented in the original black and white print and a director-approved colourised version.

 

In 1960’s The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Kerwin Mathews gets to be a big man in a little world and a little man in a big world in this appealing version of Jonathan Swift’s classic. While it’s light on action, Mathews makes for an engaging hero, while Harryhausen conjures up some cute special effects for the little Lilliput and big Brobdingnag sequences (though the squirrel sequences is a bit of a disappointment). The film also makes great use of the location scenes set in Avila and Segovia in Spain.

 

INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES:
• HD restorations of It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth
• 4K restoration from the original camera negative of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver
• Original black and white and alternative, authorised colourised versions of It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth
• Mono and 5.1 surround sound audio options
It Came from Beneath the Sea and 20 Million Miles to Earth audio commentaries about the colourised versions with Ray Harryhausen (which are both excellent and hugely entertaining).
The 3 Worlds of Gulliver audio commentary with film historians Randall Cook, C Courtney Joyner and Steven C Smith (this one is heavy on the creation of the musical score and lots of bios of the cast and crew).
• New interview with filmmaker Joe Dante
• New interview with SFX maestro Dennis Muren
• New interviews with Aardman Animation’s David Sproxton, Peter Lord and Dave Alex Riddett
• Archival documentaries, interviews and featurettes
• Original trailers and promotional films
• Isolated score on The 3 Worlds of Gulliver by Bernard Herrmann (I forgot how good this was)
• Promotional and on-set photography, poster art and archive materials
• Booklet with essays from Kim Newman, Dan Whitehead and Charlie Brigden, and film credits

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Castle Keep (1969) | Burt Lancaster leads the charge in Sydney Pollack’s underrated anti-war satire

Castle Keep (1969)

Oh my Lordy, Sydney Pollack’s Castle Keep is a revelation. First thing is the magical Michel Legrand score; second is the gorgeous winter imagery – shot with Panavision perfection by French New Wave legend Henri Decaë; and thirdly, the sterling cast of Hollywood heavyweights, including Burt Lancaster, Peter Falk, Patrick O’Neal and a very nutty Bruce Dern.

Shot in Novi Sab, Serbia using a Disney-like castle (supposedly made out of Styrofoam) as its centrepiece, this dreamlike anti-war satire takes a brave stab at adapting William Eastlake’s offbeat 1965 novel of the same name, which drew on the author’s experiences at the Battle of Bulge.

Castle Keep (1969)

Burt Lancaster heads the cast as the mercurial one-eyed Major Falcone billeting his remaining soldiers at the Ardennes castle of the Count and Countess of Maldorais (Jean-Pierre Aumont and Astrid Heeren).

With the castle’s position in the direct line of the German advance, Falcone prepares the castle for an assault; much to the concern of Captain Beckman (Patrick O’Neal), an art historian who is using the long waiting time to do an inventory of the castle’s art treasures which he wants saved.

Castle Keep (1969)

While Beckman and Falcone debate the castle’s fate, the war-weary ragtag squad consisting of a ‘22-gold carat Indian’, cowboy, cook, baker, and minister occupy their free time at a local whorehouse, which is being picketed by Bruce Dern’s band of hymn-singing conscientious objectors.

Although Castle Keep preceded Robert Altman’s groundbreaking M*A*S*H* by a mere five months, it bears much the same style of black comedy, albeit with a strong dose surrealism added in. And this comes from the fact that the film is being told from the perspective of Private Benjamin (Al Freeman Jr), whose wartime experiences have been turned into a book called – yep, you guessed it! Castle Keep.

Castle Keep (1969)

Among the visual highlights is the Red Queen brothel which, under Altman and Decaë’s visual eye, is turned into a dazzling jewel box hued in Bava-esque colours, and a comical scene in which a Volkswagen racing Beetle seems to have a mind of its own (ala Herbie The Love Bug) and refuses to sink after two soldiers try to shoot holes in it.

Castle Keep (1969)

Altman peppers the film with imagery that really bangs home his nihilistic anti-war message – best represented in a sequence in which Dern’s fundamentalist Lieutenant leads shell-shocked soldiers Pied Piper-liked through a street under attack – and an underlying theme about class: which bubbles through a sub-plot involving the castle’s aristocratic owners wanting to continue their bloodline by getting the young Countess (symbolising old Europe) to mate with the Major (aka the New World).

Castle Keep (1969)

Unlike M*A*S*H* however, Castle Keep was a flop on its release – probably on account of the film’s surreal, arthouse approach, and the dialogue – which comes off a little pretentious at times – penned by Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity) and Altman’s frequent collaborator David Rayfiel.

Thankfully, however, Powerhouse Films have dragged Castle Keep out the shadows to present a region-free Dual Format Edition as part of the Indicator series so that cult film fans can reappraise this underrated cinematic gem. Now, if only I can find that score….

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SPECIAL FEATURES:
• High Definition re-master
• Original mono audio
• Alternative 4.0 Surround sound track
• The John Player Lecture with Burt Lancaster (1972, 100 mins): audio recording of an interview conducted by Joan Bakewell at the National Film Theatre, London
• The Lullaby of War (2017, 18 mins): a new interview with actor Tony Bill, who played Lieutenant Amberjack, about his experiences making Castle Keep
• Eastlake at USD (1968, 29 mins): an archival, videotaped interview with author William Eastlake
• Original theatrical trailer
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, archival interviews with Sydney Pollack and Burt Lancaster, and original pressbook material

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