Bucket of Halloween Horror Fest

The Gorgon (1964)

There have been several murders in the village of Vandorf in Central Europe, where the victims bodies are turned to stone. Following the death of his son Bruno, Professor Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) suspects all is not as it seems, and decides to investigate what the locals are hiding – and what they are so afraid of.

The Professor believes something hideous from ancient Greek mythology stalks the area, and seeks the help of Doctor Namaroff (Peter Cushing). Namaroff will not cooperate and the Professor meets his end when he sees the terrible face of Megeara, the Gorgon. Heitz manages to write a letter to his son Paul (Richard Pasco), before he is turned to stone.

Paul Heitz arrives in Vandorf to pick up the investigation, where he finds Namaroff similarly unhelpful. Carla, Namaroff’s assistant, played by Barbara Shelley, promises to assist Paul. But is there any truth to the myth of the Gorgon, and will there be time to solve the mystery before any more deaths occur?

I was sceptical at first, but The Gorgon successfully manages to transplant Greek myth to the more typical Gothic Hammer style. Christopher Lee turns up as Paul’s mentor, Professor Meister, in a great role – and Barbara Shelley is captivating in every scene. The film looks gorgeous, the lighting and shadows creating a stylish atmosphere – you’ll find it hard to look away, even when the Gorgon is on screen! A slightly different, but very fulfilling horror from Hammer.

8.5/10

Halloween Horror Fest: Prince of Darkness

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

I couldn’t have another Halloween Horror Fest without honouring the wonderful Sir Christopher Lee, who sadly died earlier this year.  So it’s time for another Hammer horror classic with Dracula: Prince of Darkness!

This was the first time that Lee reprised the role of the Count since his performance in the legendary Dracula (or Horror of Dracula in the US) in 1958.  Bizarrely, this time Dracula is silent throughout – not uttering a single word – as Lee claimed he refused to speak the atrocious dialogue.

Following on from the previous film some years later, we encounter four British travellers who wind up at Castle Dracula, despite warnings against going there.  The travellers face some strange goings on, leading ultimately to the true purpose of their welcome at the castle – being used as sacrifice to resurrect the Count.

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It takes a while to get to the key scene of murder and resurrection, though there are several creepy elements in the lead up to it.  This revival of Dracula is quite a blood thirsty and shocking scene, even now.

The rest of the movie sees our heroes trying to evade the vampire whilst finding refuge at a monastery, where Father Sandor (a superb Andrew Keir) steadfastly defends against the Count.

Lee’s Dracula still manages to menace despite the lack of speech, exuding power and malevolence.  Barbara Shelley also gives a fine performance, switching from peevish Helen to deadly yet alluring vampiress.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is not without it’s faults, but it does posses some witty ideas and a few sly winks to the original source novel.  Add in some terrific performances and the result is Hammer horror defined; it’s worth seeing to witness these traits before they became a cliché.  All the great elements of the famous studio are here – including the greatest Dracula of them all.

8/10

You can read my full tribute to Sir Christopher Lee here.

Hammer Glamour

Through out its illustrious career, the Hammer film studio became synonymous with two things: horror and sex.  The studio’s reputation encompassed both the lurid Technicolor gore; and the heaving cleavages of its female stars.

To say that’s all Hammer movies were does them a great disservice, yet the two key elements of horror and glamour have become the trademarks for which the company was known.  Alongside the great Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, numerous beauties also  graced these fine films. raquel-welch-one-million-years-de

There’s a great book, “Hammer Glamour” by Marcus Hearn (Titan Books, 2009).  If this topic is of interest to you, I recommend you pick it up.  I’ve been lucky to meet some of the female stars of classic Hammer movies at fan events, and they’ve been kind enough to autograph my copy of the book for me.

It’s no easy task, but here are my favourite ten Hammer actresses.  It’s been a pain-staking process analysing the contribution of each of these ladies, but my selection is below.

10. Martine Beswicke

Appearing in three Hammer movies (One Million Years BC, Prehistoric Women and Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde), Martine Beswicke’s career with Hammer covered both gothic horror and dinosaur movies.  Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde is her greatest contribution, where in a novel twist on the traditional tale, she plays the evil “sister” transformed from Dr Jekyll (Ralph Bates).  She also appeared in two Bond movies – From Russia with Love and Thunderball. I’ve met Martine and she happily signed my copy of “Hammer Glamour”.

9. Barbara Shelley

The lovely Barbara Shelley appeared in more Hammer movies than anyone else on this list.  Her films include The Gorgon, Rasputin the Mad Monk and Quatermass & the Pit.  Barbara’s best role, however, was in Dracula Prince of Darkness, where she is transformed from Victorian lady to vampiric creature of the night.  She also appeared in the great Village of the Damned.  Again, Ms Shelley has signed the book, I’m very happy to say – she was extremely nice, for a vampire.

8. Stephanie Beacham

I remember Stephanie Beacham from numerous television appearances growing up, notably Dynasty.  She appears in Dracula AD 1972 as Jessica Van Helsing, granddaughter of Peter Cushing’s Professor.  A great camp classic, this is one of my favourites, and Stephanie looks ravishing.  I’ve yet to meet Stephanie to ask her to sign the book, I’ve got my fingers crossed.

7. Veronica Carlson

Starring in three Hammer horror films, Veronica holds the distinction of having starred alongside two different Baron Frankensteins: Peter Cushing (in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed) and Ralph Bates (The Horror of Frankenstein).  She also appeared in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave – all great films.  Ms Carlson was lovely when I met her not too long ago. proxy

6. Valerie Leon

Although she appeared in just one Hammer film, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb, Valerie Leon makes a fantastic impression in it.  A great film and a beautiful actress.  She also appeared in Carry On and Bond movies, making her a true 70’s film sensation.  You can read more here.  Very charming and another welcome signature for the book. Countess-Dracula

5. Ingrid Pitt

No-one encapsulates Hammer Glamour more than Ingrid Pitt.  She seems synonymous with horror movies.  Classic films she starred in include the brilliant The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula, alluring as the evil Countess.  She also starred in genre classics for other studios, such as The House That Dripped Blood and The Wicker Man.  Sadly, Ingrid passed away in 2010.  A true legend. HAMMER GLAMOUR CARLSON OMARA 10

4. Kate O’Mara

Gorgeous Kate O’Mara appeared in The Vampire Lovers and Horror of Frankenstein.  Prim in the former and sexy in the latter, Kate’s contribution to Hammer is excellent.  Her exotic looks have been a regular on-screen ever since, I remember her well in Dynasty.  I’ve not met Kate, but would love her to sign my Hammer Glamour book.

3. Madeline Smith

madeline-smith-hammer-horrorAppearing very briefly in Taste the Blood of Dracula, Madeline Smith looks absolutely dazzling in The Vampire Lovers and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.  She also appeared briefly in Theatre of Blood and was a Bond girl in Live and Let Die, as well as numerous other film and TV credits.  Ms Smith has signed the book and was very nice too.

2. Raquel Welch

Possibly the most beautiful woman to ever walk the planet, Raquel Welch became a screen icon when she appeared in One Million Years BC.  Unfortunately, she never appeared in any more Hammer movies (hence she only reaches number two in this list).  Raquel has made many other great films in a pretty fabulous career, since her debut in that “silly dinosaur movie” (her words, not mine!). caroline-munro-dracula-a-d-1972-publicity-shot

1. Caroline Munro

The stunning Caroline Munro appeared in two of my favourite Hammer films, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Dracula AD 1972.  She’s also appeared in many other cult classics – try At the Earth’s Core and Starcrash, for starters.  Ms Munro is probably most famous for her role as Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me.  With her beautiful, long brunette hair, I’ve been smitten with Caroline for a long time.  She’s also a very lovely person with plenty of time for her fans, as I found out when I met her.  Caroline Munro is a Queen of classic cult cinema, and top of the Hammer Glamour list!

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Meeting Caroline Munro at NEC Memorabilia

A special mention should be made to some of the lovely ladies who didn’t make the top ten, including Joanna Lumley (Satanic Rites of Dracula); Catherina Von Schell (Moon Zero Two); Julie Ege (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires) and Ursula Andress (She).  There are many more, of course.

If you’d like to buy a copy of “Hammer Glamour”, you can find it here.

www.hammerfilms.com