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Hammer’s “Mummy” Series – Review

19 Jul

Many moons ago, I did a two part review on Hammer Film’s Dracula movies starring the late, great Christopher Lee as the title character. Hammer didn’t stop it’s remakes of Universal monster movies there, however, with a long running series of Frankenstein films and also a series of Mummy movies. This four film long series ran from Hammer’s hay day in 1959 to 1971, when the company was in its decline. While there are certainly aspects of these movies that have that genuine Hammer horror feel, a few of the outings feel like complete rehashes of what’s already been done, and one even seemed completely devoid of any and all types of thrills.

Like I said the series started in 1959 with The Mummy and continued after quite a few years in 1964 with The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.

 

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The series continued in 1967 with The Mummy’s Shroud and finally ended in 1971 with Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb.

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At the risk of sound repetitive, I really only need to give one basic summary for the first three films in this series. Pretty much throughout these movies, archaeologists discover ancient tombs containing mummies and priceless artifacts, which they use to try to make a profit at a museums or as sideshow attractions. The mummies in the tomb awaken because of a curse and then begin to kill members of each expedition one by one. Now, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb changed the pace up a little bit with an expedition team finding a perfectly preserved Egyptian princess buried in a sacred tomb. This princess has been reincarnated as a professor’s daughter and is soon tricked into working to bring the evil princess back to life… by killing members of the expedition, so the basic formula is pretty much still there.

The Mummy starts the series off with a bang, and it unfortunately never quite achieves the thrills and fun that are packed into this movie. Part of that may be because this is the only film in the series to feature Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. These two Hammer titans clash just as good as they always do in this film. There’s one excellent scene in particular where the mummy, played by Lee, unexpectedly crashes through Cushing’s glass door and lunges at him with a vengeance that has been boiling up for a thousand years. There’s also a memorable flashback sequence that shows how Lee’s character, Kharis, became the mummy. The Mummy is a wonderfully creepy Hammer classic that shouldn’t be missed.

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So, like I said before, the first film of this series is unfortunately the peak of all the excitement. The next two sequels can be best described as incredibly lackluster. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb has almost no redeeming qualities. The actual mummy in this movie has very little screen time, and pretty much just lumbers around. The scenes all have the appropriate atmosphere, but no actual climax that is worth watching. Terence Morgan’s character is really the only interesting part of this movie, so honestly, just skip this one.

The Mummy’s Shroud thankfully steps things up a little bit, but not by all that much. Take the atmosphere away and replace it with a much cooler mummy and some really awesome death scenes, and you have this movie. Being released in 1967, this starts the period when Hammer began its fall into obscurity. People just weren’t interested in what they were making, and when films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were released, people REALLY weren’t interested. Like I said though, this movie has some redeeming qualities. The death scenes are over the top and memorable, and they also give the mummy something to do. There’s also a great climactic scene in which the mummy appears to disintegrate before our very eyes. I don’t really have too much to say about this one other than it showed where Hammer was at at the time, and it has some wonderfully eerie scenes that make it worth at least one watch.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb Dickie Owen

 

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Finally, it seemed like Hammer saw that they couldn’t just have another movie where a guy wrapped in cloth terrorized upper class British men who accidentally resurrected it. Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb is actually based off of a novel by Bram Stoker called The Jewel of the Seven Stars, which is a story about archaeologists working to revive an Egyptian queen. That’s more or less the story of this last movie, but it steps up the “Hammer Factor” big time. There’s plenty of blood, eerie scenes, and…well… let’s just say there’s plenty of Valerie Leon to go around… It was also nice to see a different sort of story than the other movies. This makes Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb the best in the series after the original 1959 movie, but also an underrated Hammer classic.

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This Hammer series is ultimately pretty uneven. There’s really only one awful movie in the bunch, and that’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Just a step above that we have The Mummy’s Shroud, which has some really memorable scenes. Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy are the real stand out film in this series, since they have the most style and are all around just better made movies. Any fans of Hammer films have probably already been exposed to these movies, but if you’re new to their works, stick with the first and the last films. Those ones just scream Hammer and rank as some of their best work.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Review

30 Dec

Well, this is it, ladies and gentlemen. Since 2001, I’ve enjoyed taking my theatrical trips to Middle Earth and seeing some of the most amazing fantasy adventures ever brought to life onscreen. That may seem cheesy, but it’s true. Now we have the last film of the entire saga of Middle Earth, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. This is the big one. This is what everything in the last two movies has been leading up to, and this is also the bridge that takes us into the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so this movie has some pretty big boots to fill, Hobbit feet sizes to be exact.

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Picking up right where The Desolation of Smaug left off, the movie begins with the evil dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) attacking Lake-town, but upon his defeat the kingdom under the mountain, Erebor, and all of its riches are up for grabs. Thorin (Richard Armitage) claims it, and commands the dwarves and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to obsessively search for the Arkenstone that he and Smaug so coveted. Meanwhile, Bard (Luke Evans) and the elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) begins moving on Erebor to get their share of the treasure, while Azog (Manu Bennet) and his army of goblins, orcs, and trolls get ever closer to attacking the mountain, themselves, and ending Thorin’s bloodline once and for all.

What’s great about the title of this movie is that it really is one of the more accurate titles to a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s called The Battle of the Five Armies, and that’s pretty much exactly what the movie is: one enormous battle. You can kind of see similarities with The Return of the King, that movie also pretty much being one huge battle, but that one did it far better. There are a lot of small problems that find their way into The Battle of the Five Armies that don’t quite ruin the experience, but they really stand out when I think about the movie. Still, this is a superb fantasy film that was a satisfying last trip into Middle Earth.

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Here’s the thing. This movie is almost non stop and at times, that began to wear on me. At a point it is just a battle with scene after scene after scene of fighting. Now, don’t get me wrong, this movie is epic and the battle scenes are great, but there seems to be so much going on that the special effects go completely haywire. There’s one character in particular who looks like Jackson grabbed him from The Polar Express, put dwarf armor on him and just threw him into the movie. It was distracting as all hell and pulled me out of the movie on more than one occasion. Another issue is that this movie feels like a log flume with no splash. The entire movie, hell the entire trilogy, is building up to that big splash at the end, and it just isn’t as impactful as it should have been. Now, I’m sick of being negative here. Let’s look at the positives.

As always, everyone in this movie is great. Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage (playing an almost Shakespearean character), and Benedict Cumberbatch all knock it out of the park. They’re characters we love, or characters we love to hate so it’s always a blast seeing them all again. I said before that the fighting started to wear on me, sure, but it is an epic battle nonetheless. Seeing dwarves and elves working together against orcs is just breathtaking to see, but add a hobbit with a ring of power and a wizard with amazing abilities, and it all equals exactly what I want to see when the lights in the theater go down and I’m transported to Middle Earth.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies may not be the best in the entire saga, but after some thought, I think it might be my favorite of the Hobbit trilogy, with The Desolation of Smaug giving it a run for its money. Hell, they might even be tied. There are flaws with the special effects, a boring love triangle, and some odd pacing (and I don’t mean Lee Pace and his elk), but that’s not to say that this isn’t a great experience. To see how these movies and the Lord of the Rings movies come together and all of the battles that went on before the real Battle for Middle Earth began is just awesome. These movies, this one included, will never be as recognized or appreciated as Jackson’s previous Middle Earth films, but this is still a really great movie, nonetheless.

Hugo – Review

6 Jun

Martin Scorsese has become one of the key names of American film making, and throughout his career which has spanned over 40 years, he has created some of the most well loved films in modern film history. Of course, most of these films’ content are not too appropriate for people under a certain age or with weak hearts, so it came as a surprise that he would be directing Hugo, a film based off of Brian Selznick’s kid’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Well it turns out that my surprise was completely unfounded as the film went on to receive 11 Academy Award nominations and win 5. I’ve finally gotten around to seeing this movie and it has not only reminded me why I love movies so much in the first place, it touched me to the core with a story that went a lot deeper than I ever expected.

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Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy who lives in the walls and clock tower of the Gare Montparnasse railway station in Paris. Before this, he was a clockmaker with his father (Jude Law), but tragedy takes his father away and forces him to work with his uncle (Ray Winstone) at the train station. His uncle soon disappears leaving him alone to collect different tools and gears to finish fixing an automaton that his father found soon before he was killed. Hugo is caught stealing pieces from a bitter toy maker named Georges (Ben Kingsley) who threatens to turn him over to the station inspector Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen), who prides himself in rounding up stray kids and sending them to the orphanage. Hugo enlists the help of Georges’ god daughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), and the two kids not only discover the secrets of the mysterious automaton, but also uncover the past of Georges, a past he tried to bury and forget.

It’s hard to give the plot synopsis of Hugo because I’m just so excited about it, but I don’t want to ruin anything for people who haven’t seen it yet. What I can say is that this was not what I expected from this movie. I knew that I was going to really like it and give it a good review, but I wasn’t expecting on completely falling in love with it. This movie could never have worked the way it did if it had any other name attached to it besides Martin Scorsese, and if you really think about it, this makes perfect sense. Martin Scorsese has made it his life’s work to not only make great movies, but also to restore and save movies that have been lost or damaged. This is a man who loves cinema, and Hugo is a movie about his personal love and admiration for the cinematic art and magic.

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Out of the 11 Academy Awards this film was nominated for, it took away 5. While I feel like it could’ve won any of the awards it was nominated for, the ones it did win were for it’s sound, art direction, and cinematography. The visual and auditory aesthetics of this movie are out of this world. The first scene alone which starts in the Parisian sky then travels through the train station took an entire year to design, animate, and render all of the thousands of frames just in that opening seconds of the film. Particles of dust wander throughout the frames and light shines through the windows of the train station making it all seem like a wonderful dream you never want to wake up from. This is a beautiful movie to look at and listen to.

Why this movie is so special to me, however, is because it is an ode to films that helped lay the foundation for films that would lay the foundation for movies we see today. There are clips of Harold Lloyd hanging high above the crowded city streets in Safety Last!, haunting images of the silent horror masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and constant references to a science fiction film that seemed way ahead of its time in 1902, A Trip to the Moon. Even Sacha Baron Cohen’s character is a tribute to the slapstick comedy of Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton. There is so much a film buff can find in this movie and wonder at.

Hugo very well may be Martin Scorsese’s most personal film to date, but also a film that many years from now will be regarded as a classic. There’s so much to love about this movie, from the references to old movies to the relationships formed between all of the characters. You don’t have to be a complete cinephile (like me) to enjoy and appreciate this movie, although if you are you may get a little something extra out of it. To summarize exactly how I feel about this movie, Hugo is a film about the magic of cinema and the feelings you experience when you are completely lost in one. It is a reminder that movies aren’t just cheap entertainment, but to some very lucky people, a way to immerse yourself in a world unknown and experience imagination that you may never find in normal life. Hugo is that magic.

Hammer’s Dracula Films – Series Review Part 2

15 Nov

After Taste the Blood of Dracula, the films in this Hammer series took a wrong turn and left them in a really weird place. From this point on, all of the movies had easy to follow continuity and I never felt confused about where the story was going. Let’s be honest, these movies aren’t very difficult. Then Scars of Dracula was released in 1970 with the intention of being a reboot, but at the same time it wasn’t a reboot. This causes a great deal of confusion and sort of sours the movie experience.

 

After being reanimated by blood dripping from the fangs of a bat, Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) is back to his bloody business with the help of the bat and his servant Klove (Patrick Troughton). Soon Dracula preys on a passerby, Paul (Christopher Matthews), leaving his more responsible brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) to go to Castle Dracula himself and have his revenge on the undead Count.

If you’re looking for gore in this franchise, then this is the film to look at. It’s pretty over the top for the time period and the beginning is especially shocking. Christopher Lee also has a lot of great dialogue and delivers his lines in such a way that I thought I would overdose on the menace. Those are really the only two redeeming qualities of this movie leaving the bad outweighing the good.

 

Scars of Dracula is such a disjointed mess. The beginning scene with the vampire bat was tacked on at the last minute so I can’t really tell for sure if this is a reboot or a sequel. Klove is in it, but wait… didn’t Klove die in Prince of Darkness? But wait, according to the prologue, this is a sequel and not a reboot. What is this movie supposed to be? The characters are so uninteresting that anytime Dracula wasn’t onscreen, my interest flew right out the window. I don’t even want to get started on the ending. It’s preposterous. Watch this movie only for some awesome Dracula scenes and gore, but prepared to be confused and bored for a good portion of the film.

In 1972 the series really went off the rails with the release of Dracula A.D. 1972.

 

 

After a fatal duel between Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) in 1872, Dracula’s ashes are buried by one of his servants by the church where Van Helsing was buried. Cut to 100 years later where a group of bored partiers led by Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame) conduct a black mass at the very same church where Dracula’s ashes are buried in order to resurrect him. Soon the group is started to be hunted by Dracula with only  the descendent of Van Helsing (also Cushing) to stop him and save his grand daughter.

Well, what do I have to say about this? The major plus is the retro vibe that radiates from the screen. What’s not to love about watching Dracula chase Van Helsing through an old gothic church to funk music? It’s also great to see Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee together and at each other’s throats once again. Saying that this is a quality movie on the other hand would be a flat out lie.

 

A lot of stuff happens really quickly in the middle without a lot of Dracula screen time, which is a little disappointing after the massive amount of time he had in Scars of Dracula. There are also a few characters in the young group of friends that just disappear without any explanation, which is a little weird considering they’re main characters. Why even have them in the story at all? There’s not a lot of specific things I can call out to critique. The movie is just not solid whatsoever, and the retro vibe almost turns it into an unintentional comedy. I would classify this in the category of so bad it’s good. For the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee finale and the silliness in between, it may be worth a watch.

1973 brought a whole new layer of awful, however, with what I and most people consider the last of the Dracula series, The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

 

When a British secret service agent discovers a group of societal elites engaging in black mass rituals, the police once again bring in Lorrimer Van Helsing to help with the investigation. He ultimately discovers that these rituals were performed for Count Dracula, who is back and planning to release a new strand of the bubonic plague with the goal of painfully wiping out the human race.

Wow. Really?

Yes, really. Dracula can now be compared to a Bond villain. I have no idea what Hammer Studios were thinking when they passed this movie to be shot and released. I almost don’t even consider it a Dracula movie since he’s only in it for like 7 minutes, and the rest of the time is spent talking about espionage and science. I was shocked when I saw this out of the sheer audacity of it all. You think Dracula A.D. 1972 was strange? Well believe it or not, there were times during this movie that I wished I was watching Dracula A.D. 1972.

 

The only time this ever felt like a Dracula movie was at the end when Van Helsing and Dracula have their show down. Thank goodness Peter Cushing is in most of the scenes, and Dracula’s monologue at the end is great, but the rest of the movie is absolutely terrible. It’s not scary, unintentionally funny, or even that rewarding. It is, without a doubt, the worst entry in this series, and quite possibly one of the worst Hammer films.

Well that’s Hammer’s Dracula series. All in all, it’s a mostly positive series with an excellent beginning, shaky middle, and an unfortunate tragedy of a movie as its finale. For any horror fans, this is a great series to watch for Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and also the emphasis on blood and gore that was never really in any Dracula fins up until then. If you haven’t seen any of these films, give them a watchband enjoy the gothic horror that is Dracula.

Hammer’s Dracula Films – Series Review

13 Nov

Arguably, the most popular version of Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire is Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula in the 1931 Universal film. For modern audiences, there’s Gary Oldman as the title character in Francis Ford Coppola’s rendition. For me, the best version of Dracula was produced by a British company, Hammer Studios, and featured Christopher Lee as Dracula. This will be the first of two parts for the review of Hammer’s Dracula films, the first being Horror of Dracula, or just Dracula for European audiences, which was released in 1958.

Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) is supposedly Count Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) new librarian, but is soon revealed to have ulterior motives. Those being to destroy Dracula. Harker is soon killed leaving the mission to be completed by his ally, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Dracula is closer than he thinks and begins terrorizing those closest to Harker and himself. As the clues to Dracula’s location begin to pile up, Van Helsing prepares himself for a showdown with the Count, hopefully bringing an end to the evil once and for all.

I am absolutely in love with every aspect of this movie from the sets, to the performances, to the story. This is also the first Dracula film to really showcase blood, and showcase it it does. Terrance Fisher, the director of this film, really can’t get enough of the red stuff. It looks pretty fake, but I still enjoyed seeing the early use of “gore”, and I’m sure audiences were shocked. The final showdown is even so intense, that there is footage that had to be cut out. Apparently, this footage has been found in Asia. Hopefully we’ll be seeing that at some point.

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing’s chemistry is what really drives the movie. Paradoxically, they aren’t onscreen much together, but it plays off this kind of overt chemistry that culminates in an epic finale. This is a beautiful looking film with outstanding performances and memorable scenes. To me, it is the perfect Dracula movie. Check this movie out. It’s awesome.

Hammer released  Brides of Dracula in 1960, but there’s no Christopher Lee in it, so I can’t really call it a direct sequel. Audiences had to wait almost 10 years for the sequel. It wasn’t until 1966 that the second film was released, Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Was it worth it?

When the Kent’s carriage driver refuses to drive them any closer to Karlsbad, a mysterious carriage with no driver arrives to pick them up and bring them to the looming castle on top of the hill. They choose to go there despite a priests warnings earlier in the night. Turns out they are staying the night in Castle Dracula. Using the blood from one of the Kents, Dracula’s servant, Klove (Phillip Latham) brings his master back to “life” to terrorize the world once more.

Horror of Dracula is a tough act to follow, but Prince of Darkness holds its own. Much like in the previous film, Dracula doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but when he does, it’s awesome. Rumor has it that Christopher Lee HATED the dialogue he was given, and refused to speak it. This only makes his character more animalistic as his only drive seems to be blood and all the sophistication that comes with the character goes right out the window.

My gripe with this movie is that the pacing is just a tad slow. The first one isn’t a race at all, but this was bogged down with some over the top dialogue that tried too hard to be interesting. Once the film gets its footing, there’s no stopping it. I just wish we got there a little bit faster. The costumes still look great and the performances are still top notch, and there’s more blood than ever. I really liked this one, but can’t quite say I loved it as much as its predecessor.

In 1968, Hammer Studios released it’s third Dracula film, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

In an attempt to exorcise Castle Dracula from the evil that still possesses it, a priest (Ewan Hooper) inadvertently releases Dracula from his icy grave. Now Dracula and his priestly servant go to the nearby town for some blood hunting. Now it’s up to Monsignor Mueller and his atheist partner Paul (Barry Andrews) to save the beautiful Maria (Veronica Carlson) from becoming Dracula’s bride.

While this may not be the best entry in the series, it is arguably the most memorable. What I mean by that is that this film contains some of the best scenes, but overall doesn’t always feel to good. For instance, a major issue I have with this is filming in the forest during the day, but trying to make it seem like it is night time. Just film at night. It’s really distracting seeing Dracula walk around the forest with sun peering through the leaves. Sloppy film making with sloppy results. There’s also this weird orangish glow that shows up on the sides of the frames every now and again which can be cool at times, but also a bit overbearing when it isn’t necessary.

Still, this movie is iconic when it comes to vampire movies. The staking scene is surprisingly horrific and Dracula’s demise via impalement on a cross is excellent and will never get old. Christopher Lee is as good as ever, and he even speaks a little here and there in this one. I guess the dialogue improved a little bit. I’m even interested in the relationship between Paul and Maria. The film makers understand that these stories are about more than just Dracula killing people and sucking blood, it’s also about human relationships and the strengthening of them through the conquering of evil. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is a great entry in this series.

Moving on to 1970, Taste the Blood of Dracula was released.

After three Englishmen who are bored with their aristocratic lives decide to join the infamous Courtley for a black mass ceremony to summon his master, Dracula, they are faced not only with the possibility of murder charges, but also one very angry vampire who wants revenge. Yes, that’s right. Dracula is back with a thirst for blood and won’t stop until all responsible for the death of his servant are killed. That is unless Paul (Anthony Higgins) can stop him and save his girlfriend, Alice (Linda Hayden).

I don’t want to say that this is where the decline of the series began because this isn’t really a bad movie, but unfortunately I’d be lying. This is the beginning if the end. Much like the previous film, Taste the Blood of Dracula has plenty of good scenes, but isn’t too well constructed all around. The violence is certainly brought to the next level and there is of course much blood and gore to be had. The black mass scene is creepy and memorable, but that’s about it.

I have two major problems with this movie. For one thing, nothing new is brought to the table. The structure of the plot can be related to all of the other films in the series that has come before and the whole Paul/Alice relationship is exactly the same as the Paul/Maria relationship in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, which is a far superior movie. This is also one of the most anticlimactic movies I’ve ever seen. Right when the final showdown is getting good, it ends.

This review has covered films 1-4 in this series. My next review will cover films 5-7. Things only get weirder and weirder for Hammer’s Dracula series from this point on, so I’ll have  a lot of material to talk about. Stay tuned.