Thursday, 31 January 2013

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


"No living thing survived and the spectre of death hovered in waiting for her next victim."

  -'The Gorgon,' (1964)

It's only natural that when we think of the ladies of the classic Hammer Horror films, we think of the countless, beautiful women that will forever be as associated with the studio's name as that of Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. We think of names such as Ingrid Pitt or, First Lady of Hammer: Hazel Court. However, the first woman to become anything but beautiful for the studio, was the unknown, Prudence Hyman. Subsequently, it was after the release of The Gorgon,  that Hammer would begin a long legacy of these dangerous females. And all of it began with an ex-ballerina and ENSA performer named, Prudence Hyman.

Long before she would become Hammer's Gorgon, 'Megaera,' Prudence Hythe was born in London, England on February 2, 1914. She was a classically trained ballerina who studied in England and  Paris and made her dancing debut at the age of seventeen in 'Twelfth Night.'  Between 1934-1935, she toured with various ballet companies, and during the second World War, she was a member of  ENSA; a traveling group of artists whose purpose was to entertain the troops. It was while she was a member of the ENSA group, that Prudence and her fellow members were once flown to safety during a harrowing adventure through a horrible storm. The group's hero was a young, Royal Air Force Lieutenant that, interestingly, she would manage to meet-up with many years later: None other than Christopher Lee.

In 1960, Prudence played a small, uncredited role alongside the once brave pilot in Hammer's, The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll. She played the part of a tavern woman, while Paul Massie took on the dual role of the mad scientist. However, it would be four years later that Prudence Hyman would make horror history: She would be the first female monster in Hammer's long, Gothic-style film legacy.

The Gorgon was one of the last films to have been produced by Hammer during their six-year distribution deal with Columbia Pictures. Seeing as their last two films had been shelved by the distributor, the studio needed something new and exciting that would bring audiences back to the theater. To do so, they went straight to the public itself. An advertisement was placed in 'The Daily Cinema' magazine, in which the film company was soliciting stories from anyone with a good idea.The last line of the advertisement read as follows: "Because good, compulsive selling ideas with the right titles are what Hammer are looking for right now." Of the many submissions, a story by J. Llewellyn Divine was selected. It was a rather involved and lengthy story. But, after a bit of re-writing and initially naming the script, "Supernatural", the script was rewritten a second time and given the name, The Gorgon.

Shooting began in December of 1963 at Bray Studios,where The Evil of Frankenstein had just wrapped production. Due to budget and time constraints,as well as to give the set the look and feel of 1910, many of the same interior sets from The Evil of Frankenstein were redressed and used for The Gorgon. The film starred Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Hammer's most famous female star of the time.The "First Leading Lady of British Horror," Barbara Shelley. On board as director was, in my humble opinion, the man who made Hammer Horror what it is: The legendary Terence Fisher (February 23, 1904-June 18, 1980).

In the role of 'Carla Hoffman', Barbara Shelley had wanted to simultaneously play the role of the title character. As the film's possessed, amnesiac heroine, she felt that the dual role would make the storyline more sensible and fluid; that it should be she who "gorgonized" the film's victims. She also had a few ideas for producer Anthony Nelson Keys on how to make Megaera more frightening and realistic as well. Her idea consisted of using real garden snakes, and to find a way to humanely weave them into a special wig. However, due to the film's budget and short production schedule, Nelson rejected her idea, and chose instead to use another actress to play the part: Prudence Hyman. Nelson also felt that with a different actress playing the part, it would help to conceal the Gorgon's alternate, "human" identity. Although, after seeing The Gorgon herself on screen, the producer had regretted his decision about Shelley's wig idea. It's difficult to say if it was Hyman herself, or the costume which disappointed Nelson. Nonetheless, Christopher Lee's opinion of Megaera was also less-than-flattering: "The only thing wrong with The Gorgon, is The Gorgon!" Fortunately, fans today are less forgiving.

To create the look of The Gorgon and her snakes, makeup man Roy Ashton applied the hideous skin and makeup to Hyman, while special effects engineer, Syd Pearson, had a bit more of a challenge by creating the snakes themselves. Pearson had twelve plaster moulds made, and from each mould he cast latex rubber snakes. Cables were then placed through each of the snakes' bodies for movement, and were then woven through the actress' wig. Each snake was then individually attached to cables which ran down Hyman's back. The cables trailed approximately twenty-five feet behind her where they were controlled by a large contraption which contained pegs. As the pegs were turned, the tension gave the effect of each snake moving individually. 

The Gorgon finished production in January, 1964, and was double-billed with Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb. Although we only see The Gorgon herself for less than twenty minutes throughout the entire film, each shot of Prudence Hyman's 'Megaera' is a treat, to say the least. The cinematography of Michael Reed is simply superb and, in true Hammer form, the sets are gorgeous. Hyman herself moves with a grace and elegance that one would expect from a former ballerina. Incredibly, she went back to playing uncredited roles for the studio. She was given small parts in Rasputin: The Mad Monk, and The Witches, which were both were released in 1966.

It is truly interesting to know that an unknown actress with no starring roles, or major parts, made horror film history as one of it's first female monsters; and the first for Hammer. Sadly, the name Prudence Hyman remains rather unknown, and The Gorgon has only recently become appreciated as one of Hammer's lesser known and hidden gems. Very little has been written about Prudence Hyman, or her incredible contribution to the horror genre. As is normally the case with so many important people throughout history, it is not in their lifetimes that they are appreciated, or even understand what they have accomplished while they're alive: such was the case with Prudence Hyman. She died at the age of 81 on June 1, 1995 and was put to rest in her birthplace of London, England.

Friday, 18 January 2013







Peter Cushing (Dr Victor Frankenstein/Stein), Francis Matthews (Hans Kleve), Michael Gwynn (Karl), Eunice Gayson (Margaret Conrad), Oscar Quitak (Dwarf Karl) 

Director – Terence Fisher, Screenplay – Jimmy Sangster, Additional Dialogue – H. Hurford Janes, Producer – Anthony Hinds, Photography – Jack Asher, Music – Leonard Salzedo, Makeup – Phil Leakey, Production Design – Bernard Robinson. Production Company – Hammer.  UK. 1958. 

With the help of Karl, the crippled dwarf hangman, whom he promises a new body, Frankenstein escapes the gallows and they hang the officiating priest instead. Under the name Stein, Frankenstein sets up practice in the town of Karlsbruck, alternating between volunteer work at the poor hospital, which is a goldmine of parts to build up Karl’s new body, and private practice where his courtly charms draw him the devotion of the upper-classes. He is recognised by eager young Hans Kleve who forces Frankenstein to take him on as an assistant. Together they transplant Karl’s brain into the new patchwork body. The operation is successful but soon the body’s limbs return to their old crippled positions. Karl escapes and brings shame down on Frankenstein when he bursts in on a society function, crying “Frankenstein help me.”

Hammer Films had huge success with their remake of the Frankenstein story, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Curse’s revitalization of the Frankenstein story, its plush sets and colour photography and its no-holds-barred shock value for the time made the Hammer horror legend, not to mention the careers of director Terence Fisher, screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. All four collaborated on Hammer’s Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958) the following year, which was an even bigger success that consolidated the Hammer name beyond a doubt. 

The Revenge of Frankenstein was quickly made on the tails of Dracula and was the first of six Frankenstein sequels that Hammer would produce. The Revenge of Frankenstein is one of the rare occasions when a sequel proves equally as inventive as the original. Indeed, in the generally creatively impoverished world of the sequels, The Revenge of Frankenstein may well be one sequel that finds the most ingeniously creative way of continuing on from its predecessor. The Curse of Frankenstein closed with Frankenstein about to be taken off to the gallows – the opening of The Revenge of Frankenstein segues in flawlessly by revealing that Frankenstein and the dwarf hangman conspired to hang the officiating priest instead. Eventually, Jimmy Sangster’s script reaches a positively ingenious twist ending, one that becomes a black joke in the face of the frequent public confusion of Frankenstein and his creation, with Sangster cleverly allowing the two to in effect become one and the same.

Hammer eventually made as many Frankenstein films as Universal did with their Frankenstein series in the 1930s and 40s. Whereas Universal’s series quickly ran to tired formulaic repetition with the monster being revived by some Frankenstein descendant and rampaging through the township before being destroyed in a laboratory explosion, Hammer maintained their Frankenstein series at a much higher degree of creativity. The most noticeable difference is that for Universal the lop-topped, bolt-necked monster became the continuing character, while here it is Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein who is at the centre of the series with the monster remaining a supporting character with different faces and played by different actors. The reasons become clear – for Universal the monster was the continuing character because the underlying anxiety for their series was the horror of science defying divine provenance, represented by the socially cataclysmic effects of the monster unleashed; whereas for Hammer horror was the placidity of upper-class decency being disrupted by repressive forces from beneath such as Frankenstein’s ruthlessly amoral quest for knowledge or Dracula’s ravening animal lust. 

Nowhere is the dichotomy that Frankenstein represents for Hammer more evident than here in The Revenge of Frankenstein. Whereas in Curse, Frankenstein represented a cold ruthlessness beneath the mask of upper-class decency and propriety, in The Revenge of Frankenstein the metaphor is expanded to take in the entirety of the divide between upper and working classes. Frankenstein is wittily shown as a Janus-faced figure straddling both sides of the class divide with an equal measure of hypocrisy – on one hand courting the upper-classes with barely disguised contempt, while on the other pillaging the working classes for their limbs while professing the outward manifestations of charity.   

The Hammer production crew are on top form with luxuriant photography, a rich and lavish score and exquisitely dressed sets. Terence Fisher is on excellent form too. Especially memorable is the scene where Karl bursts into the ballroom crying “Frankenstein, help me”, which Fisher directs and edits, bringing all the separate elements together with an explosive precision that is quite masterful. 

The other Hammer Frankenstein films are:– The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973). 

Terence Fisher’s other genre films are:– the sf films The Four-Sided Triangle (1953) and Spaceways (1953), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Stranglers of Bombay (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Gorgon (1964), Dracula – Prince of Darkness (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), The Devil Rides Out/The Devil’s Bride (1968), Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1973), all for Hammer. Outside of Hammer, Fisher has made the Old Dark House comedy The Horror of It All (1964) and the alien invasion films The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Island of Terror (1966) and Night of the Big Heat (1967). 

REVIEW:  Richard Scheib 
IMAGES: Marcus Brooks     

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Friday, 11 January 2013


PETER CUSHING, Christopher Lee, Veronica Carlson and Barbara Ewing: May 29th 1968, Hammer was awarded the Queen's Award to Industry in recognition of their contribution to the British economy. Here are some images from that event!


Peter Cushing, John Hurt and Gwen Watford, THE GHOUL. Another year rolls in and still we're no closer to an official release of this little gem.


Director Freddie Francis, Christopher Lee and Producer Milton Subotsky on the set of Amicus Films 'DR TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS' (1965) Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


ONE MORE CANDID AT BRAY STUDIOS: Contemplating a flower! Peter in Frankenstein costume in the grounds of Bray studios beside the Thames river, whilst making FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)


On The Back Lot At Bray Studios: Peter Cushing studying his script, in his Baron Frankenstein costume during the making of Hammer Films 'FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN' 1967. starring Susan Denberg and Thorley Walters

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Thursday, 3 January 2013


Christopher Lee and Melissa Stribling: DRACULA Hammer Films. 1958


Hammer takes on another old school horror classic, and this is their best effort.
Christopher Lee’s turn under the bandages is simply brilliant. As is Peter Cushing’s in normal clothes; did you expect anything less? The flashback scenes are marvelously executed. This is the best mummy flick ever made; any classic horror fan should see The Mummy.

In 1957, Hammer Studios revitalized the old school gothic horror genre by tapping into creature library made famous by Universal Studios in the 1930s, rewriting the stories, and putting the results up in brilliant color.  By 1959, Hammer had finally come to a formal arrangement with Universal, allowing them to work with a little more ease and not have to go to great lengths in order to avoid being sued.  The first result out of the gates was The Mummy, and it is some of the best stuff that Hammer ever produced; arguably, it may be the best.

The screenplay borrows much from the plots of several of the old Universal flicks.  Here, our story begins in Egypt in 1895.  Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer, Becket) and Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley; Meet Mr. Lucifer) are two old English archaeologists. Together with Stephen’s son John (Peter Cushing, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed), they have found the entrance to an Ancient Egyptian tomb located far off the beaten track.  It is the tomb of Princess Ananka, High Priestess of the God Karnak.  As Stephen is about to enter, he is warned by an Egyptian named Mehmet Bey (George Pastell, From Russia With Love) to turn back before it is too late, but Stephen of course pays him no heed. Instead, he unhesitatingly steps inside, and discovers exactly the wonderful tomb he had been hoping for.  But then, something goes wrong. A scream is heard while Stephen is alone in the tomb, and when Joseph comes to see what’s wrong, he finds Stephen draped over the sarcophagus a gibbering wreck.

A year later, John has taken over the dig, and the audience watches as he re-seals the entrance to the tomb, though not before taking its treasures out for display at the British museum.  As John and Joseph leave, Mehmet Bey steps forth, and vows to get back into the tomb to recover the sacred instrument by which the long-buried Princess Ananka can be avenged for having her rest disturbed, regardless of how long it may take him to do so.  Once he has recovered that instrument, he further promises, he will go to the ends of the Earth to use it.

Flash forward to England, 1898.  Anyone care to guess where that instrument is going to end up being used, or what it might be?  You’ve read the title of the movie, haven’t you? Hammer’s take on The Mummy may borrow heavily from its Universal predecessors, but there can be no question that this film is superior to all of those that came before in every way.  Well told, tightly directed, and superbly acted, this movie comes as close to being perfect as one is ever going to find in mid-century horror.

It all starts with the reliable pen of Hammer favorite Jimmy Sangster.  Yes, the story he writes if a familiar one that any mummy movie fan has seen before, but he weaves its elements together so well that the audience doesn’t necessarily notice, and even if they do, what they notice is that be taking only the best of the old pieces and adding in a few of his own, he’s written a superior story.  Things are further helped along by Hammer’s other “old reliable,” Director Terence Fisher, here doing what may indeed be his finest work.  The pacing of The Mummy is constant: always in motion even when the action is at a break.  Thanks to the atmosphere that Fisher’s direction generates, even conversations held over a desk carry tension, and action sequences that could easily have gone wrong given that they involve a lumbering mummy and a man with a bum leg (very nice touch, that) instead carry a high level of thrill and excitement.  Fisher also has an excellent sense of when to pull that action trigger, knowing exactly how long to hold the anticipatory suspense before letting the audience have it for maximum effect.  Directorially speaking, The Mummy truly is flawless.

A particular treat comes during the film’s flashback sequences.  Normally, such sequences kill pacing for the greater good of telling the story, but here, no such pacing sacrifice is made; it all just flows.  They’re also quite gorgeous to look at, as the production design for The Mummy is first rate. Ananka’s tomb is wonderfully realized and appropriately filled with the treasures of a Princess (this absolutely does not look like some cheap, dusty old set), and as we see it during the flashback, exquisitely painted.  Also standing out is the view we have of Ananka as she lies freshly placed in her sarcophagus: she looks elegant, her death mask masterfully designed, and – most impressive to me as a detail – she is completely surrounded by flowers when many would have been happy just to have her lie in an empty box and be done with it.  It’s these little things that help to make good movies great.  When we see the tomb in “present” day, it is also wonderfully aged, maintaining all of its majesty while still clearly showing the ravages of time.  There’s just no such thing as sloppy work here.

Along with the look and the direction, another element that makes the flashbacks so compelling is that they get their supporting narration from Peter Cushing, who easily has one of the greatest voices in all of motion picture history.  As anyone at all familiar with the man’s work can expect, Cushing put in a marvelous performance throughout the entire film, not only carrying the audience to the past with his voice, but hold our attention in the present with his action.  Cushing is at his best here, breathing into his character the intellectual joy of an academic as well as the strength of purpose that all film heroes require.  (A particularly superb scene for showing off Cushing’s skills involves a rapid fire conversation between his character and Mehmet Bey about, among other things, the nature of archaeology, which actually sounds quite at home amidst modern academic debates on the subject.)  It’s also interesting to see how an actor famous for always being in motion handles the script challenge of a permanently injured leg, and the answer is: wonderfully.  He never forgets the injury and always plays it, but he doesn’t overplay it as so many others might, and if you’ve ever had an injured leg for any amount of time, you’ll also see that he makes his adaptations accurately.  He compels one’s attention every moment that he is on the screen.

Given how much power is conveyed by Christopher Lee’s voice and again by his facial features, one might wonder how much is sacrificed by the fact that in this role, he’s wrapped up almost entirely in bandages and unable to speak (his tongue is actually removed in one of the flashbacks, the prior to that, one does get to see and hear Lee unmummified), especially if one has already seen how things ended up when he took a turn as Frankenstein’s monster.  The answer is that nothing at all is sacrificed, and that indeed, this film’s mummy may be the finest of all of Christopher Lee’s Hammer monster performances, even rivaling his most famous role as Count Dracula.  This is a mummy with range, and Lee is able to convey that through both body language and the only part of his face left for the audience to see: his eyes.  When Kharis is wrapped in flashback and about to be entombed, Lee’s eyes convey not just fear, but absolute terror.  (And how often do you see a scared mummy?)  When Mehmet Bey pushes Kharis too far, Lee through his eyes alone expresses a face exploding with rage, and when Kharis sees Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux, Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie) and sees in her the features of Ananka, the love there is unmistakable.  What’s most remarkable about all of this is that Lee is able to switch these expressions in a mere instant, which again without the benefit of a visible face is simply amazing.

Our mummy, though, is expressive with more than just his eyes; this mummy is violent.  Our first introduction to Kharis as a killer involves him having to get through three different layers of a sanatorium window, first bending back bars, then shattered glass, and then shoving free an interior grate.  The violence of this moment can only be described as explosive, and that’s before he comes in and actually gets down to the business of murder.  All in all, my reaction to this scene comes down to a single word: WOW.  This may be one of the most effective color-era classic horror monster moments ever, and incredibly, it’s followed up by another one later on when Kharis literally crashes through a door to reach his next victim.  [It is also a testament to Christopher Lee’s remarkable strength that this door was really bolted shut when he crashed through it.  That’s the take you really see on the screen.  It resulted in one of several injuries Lee suffered on the set, and yet, professional that he is, he acted through all of them.]  No mummy filmed before or since has been so effective as this one, and here, even Christopher Lee’s real-life next door neighbor, the great Boris Karloff, must bow to a superior performance.  This truly is a monster to be reckoned with.

One must also take a moment to recognize the look given to Lee’s mummy.  For many, a mummy is just bandages and go, but the costume department here recognized the costume as more than that.  The wrappings are wonderfully done, and the effects of age and being drenched in a bog are also gorgeously realized, which is especially challenging in the age of color.  Just enough strips are left hanging to give a notion of wear, and even though only the actor’s eyes are left exposed for him the express with, the facial bandages are wrapped in such a way that during a close up shot, it’s still possible to recognize that there is a real face beneath.  You won’t see an expression, but there’s just enough of a hint of real humanity there to give Kharis that much more life, and oh how that pays off.

After watching this movie again, it floors me to think that Hammer’s rendition of The Mummy doesn’t get nearly the same attention as its more prolific Dracula and Frankenstein films do.  This is easily the best of their original classic horror titles, and indeed may be their best horror film, period.  Wonderfully scripted, tightly directed, and amazingly acted, at the end of the day, The Mummy really is as close to perfect as one is ever likely to get on a Hammer budget.

Bottom line, Hammer’s The Mummy is arguably the finest film the studio ever produced; if it isn’t, it’s definitely top three.  It is also beyond doubt the finest mummy movie any studio has ever produced up through the present day, and for any fan of the genre, this movie is one that simply needs to be owned.  It’s just too good to stay in the tomb, and absolutely deserves to be rediscovered by the masses and given props as one of the true greats of classic horror.

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