In today’s Shocktober column, I would like to shine a light on four terrific horror films from merry ol’ England. Three of these, as might be expected, hail from Hammer Studios, the foremost English purveyor of shuddery films in the 1960s, while one is a product of the rival studio Amicus Productions. But all four of these, as might well be expected, will provide the requisite thrills and chills one dark and stormy October night…

THE SKULL (1965) Horror movie reviewsTHE SKULL Horror movie reviewsTHE SKULL (1965)

On paper, the 1965 Amicus Productions film The Skull would seem to be a surefire winner. Based on a story by RobertPsychoBloch, directed by horror veteran Freddie Francis, starring British horror icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and featuring such sterling character actors as Michael Gough, Nigel Green, Patrick Wymark and Jill Bennett, it would seem like a can’t-miss proposition. While the film is undeniably fun, however, it somehow falls short of greatness. In it, Cushing plays an occult investigator who comes into possession of the 150-year-old, particularly nasty-looking skull of the notorious libertine the Marquis de Sade, and comes under the influence of its baleful and hypnotic powers. (Indeed, it’s more like the skull has come into possession of him!) The film features strikingly handsome sets, a justly celebrated and Kafkaesque dream sequence, stylish direction from Francis (dig those skull’s head POV shots!), and, near the picture’s end, a very interesting and suspenseful 20-minute segment largely devoid of dialogue. While some viewers have complained of visible strings attached to the levitating skull, that really didn’t bother me (a single wire is barely visible for perhaps two seconds); what did vex me is that we never learn of the skull’s evil doings between the time of its disinterment and its modern-day shenanigans. It MUST have been up to something during those 150 years, right? The film also seems a bit tentative in that it never lets Cushing become truly possessed and crazed; how much better the picture would have been if ol’ Pete really went on a tear! Still, watching Cushing and Lee together has long been one of the supreme pleasures of horror cinema, and this little movie does have its winning ways. It’s no Creeping Flesh or Horror Express, but still most enjoyable.

BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971) Horror movie reviewsBLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971) Horror movie reviewsBLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971)

It’s been many years since I read Bram Stoker‘s 1903 novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, but what I mainly recollect is a feeling of great disappointment; the book is all buildup, with very little in the way of payoff. The 1971 Hammer filmization, renamed Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb and codirected by Seth Holt and Michael Carreras, can be accused of the same unfortunate misdemeanor, but still has much to offer. It tells the tale of Tera, an ancient Egyptian sorceress who had been executed back when, had her hand dismembered and her body encased in a tomb. Centuries later, that tomb is discovered by a researcher named Fuchs, whose daughter is the very image of the priestess. It would seem that Tera is about to be finally reincarnated… Taking place in an indeterminate year (the clothing and furnishings are modern, yet the automobiles are vintage), Blood From… boasts some mild gross-out FX (that severed hand, and Tera’s many throat rippings), an interesting enough story, adequate sets and – typical for a Hammer film – fine acting from its second-tier cast. In her dual role as the “slumbering” Tera and Fuchs’ possessed daughter, Margaret, actress Valerie Leon literally stands out in this cast. A stunning-looking woman even today, her, um, mUmmarian protuberances are amply brought to the fore here in any number of negligees and low-cut gowns. As Tera, she is found completely unswathed; I suppose even the ancient Egyptian priests felt that her body was too impressive to be kept under wraps! In any event, Valerie’s presence is reason enough to give this film a recommendation. The film’s story line presents some unanswered questions (Just how does the Corbeck character plan to control Tera once she “awakens,” for instance? And that ambiguous ending is anybody’s guess!), but I must say that I enjoyed this film more on a repeat viewing, with lowered expectations. It’s a fun latter-day Hammer flick, shown to good advantage on the great-looking Anchor Bay DVD that I watched it on.


Not to be confused with Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde (1995) or Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957), Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a wonderful entertainment that was written and coproduced by Brian Clemens. Clemens, perhaps best known for his work on TV’s cult series The Avengers, as well as for writing and directing Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (his only other film for Hammer Studios, in ’74; see below), also wrote a song for DJaSH; needless to say, he is a man of many talents. In this film, he not only conflates the Whitechapel murders of Jack the Ripper in 1888, the notorious body snatcher/serial killers Burke and Hare (who both died many years before that, but no matter), and Robert Louis Stevenson‘s oft-told Jekyll and Hyde story, but gives it all a novel spin by having Jekyll transform into a woman. Also interesting is the fact that Jekyll, well played by Ralph Bates, is almost as monstrous as the Hyde creaturette that he becomes: Jekyll is willing to murder street trollops in order to obtain the female hormones needed for his experiments. Martine Beswick, it must be said, is perfect as Bates’ “feminine side.” She really does look like his female counterpart, and manages to appear both beautiful and scary looking at the same time. The film, directed by Roy Ward Baker, is very nice to look at, too; almost like an episode of Masterpiece Theatre, but with more blood and mayhem. All in all, this is still another winner from the House of Hammer!


Fans of the hit 1960s TV series The Avengers will not be surprised to learn of what a marvelous movie Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter turns out to be. Not, that is, after hearing that Brian Clemens, the producer and oftentimes writer for that cult TV favorite, was also the producer/writer/director of this film, and that Laurie Johnson, who wrote so many musical scores for The Avengers, provided his great skills to this film, as well. But wait … Captain Kronos has a lot more going for it than these two formidable talents. It concerns a swashbuckling swordsman, late of the Infantry Guard, who – with the help of a hunchbacked professor, an ex-Army doctor friend, and a gypsy girl that he meets on the highway (played by yummy cult actress Caroline Munro) – journeys around what looks to be late 18th century England, hunting and slaying vampires. But the vampires here are NOT your average sanguineous necksuckers; rather, they drain the very youth and spirit from their victims, leaving them withered husks. Captain Kronos turns out to be another wonderful entertainment from the House of Hammer, with extremely handsome sets, lush outdoor photography, and one of the most interesting sword fights this side of Scaramouche. It is remarkably imaginative throughout, and directed by Clemens with great style and panache. What a remarkable series this could have made! As an extra, the Paramount DVD features extensive commentary from Clemens and Munro that should be of great interest to all fans of films of this genre. This DVD is a real winner indeed!

Anyway, folks, I sure do hope that you get to enjoy one or all of these fine Brit flicks this Halloween season. My advice: Pour yourself a nice pint of Theakston Old Peculier, Newcastle Brown Ale or Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, get comfortable, and prepare to be royally entertained…



  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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