Wednesday, August 22, 2018

My Least Favorite Hammer Films

This post was inspired by my friend, author and prolific audio commentator Troy Howarth. Troy has been sharing a number of lists lately on Facebook concerning his opinions on the Hammer Films catalog. I know some of my regular readers (if there are any) might be thinking, "More stuff on Hammer Films???" This time I'm doing something different--a least favorite Hammer list. Yes, I will actually admit that I don't absolutely adore every single film the company ever made. It didn't take me long to make these selections--this list was fairly easy to put together. There's a number of mediocre Hammer titles, but most of them have something to hold the viewer's interest. The ones on this list are in my opinion without much interest, or their goofiness is so beyond belief it becomes notable...and not in a good way.

I must point out that I didn't go out of my way to consider the Hammer movies made before THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT....the majority of them were nondescript "B" films, and I've seen very few of them. I also haven't seen the Hammer "comedies" such as THE UGLY DUCKLING and ON THE BUSES (very few Americans have), so they are not involved in this list either. But....Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are involved in the list!

The list is in order of my idea of futility, so my pick for the worst Hammer film is.....

I like to call this film CREATURES THEY FORGOT TO PUT INTO THE MOVIE...because there are no creatures in it! Unlike Hammer's earlier ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, there's no dinosaurs here--just a group of prehistoric people wandering around some listless African locations. Don Chaffey's direction is listless as well--but in all fairness he didn't have much to work with. The only adventure you get from this is trying to stay awake as long as you can during it. Truly terrible.

SHATTER (1974)
This picture is supposed to be an action-packed thriller, but there's no action and no thrills. Stuart Whitman plays a gloomy gun-for-hire named Shatter, and he spends most of the story meandering around some rather depressing-looking Hong Kong locations. Peter Cushing and Anton Diffring have very small roles here, but it's not enough--any episode from an average 1970s TV cop show would have far more excitement than this. Monte Hellman was the original director, but he was replaced during the shoot by Hammer head Michael Carreras. This sad attempt at Kung Fu Cinema was one of Hammer's last official films, and it's quite simple to figure out why.

This is the second film of Hammer's Karnstein trilogy. The first, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, is a favorite of mine...but LUST tries to top it in the schoolboy fantasy department with ludicrous results. Yutte Stensgaard takes over from Ingrid Pitt as the undead seductress Carmilla. Like Ingrid, Yutte was a fine looking woman...but she couldn't come near her when it came to on-screen charisma. Yutte's Carmilla seems more like a mannequin instead of a vampire queen. This film contains what I consider Hammer's all-time worst moment--Carmilla makes love to the leading man while a cheesy pop song called "Strange Love" blares away on the soundtrack. With this movie and HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN, Jimmy Sangster proved he was a better writer than a director. Terence Fisher and Peter Cushing were both originally supposed to be part of this production, but I doubt that even the involvement of those great men could have made this tale much better. The carefully cultivated English Gothic atmosphere of Hammer's earlier vampire entries is totally absent here.

At least you can enjoy still photos of Yutte Stensgaard...

Like CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT and SHATTER, this film's main sin is that it's dreadfully boring. A sequel to Hammer's want-to-be epic SHE, it also calls to mind LUST FOR A VAMPIRE in that a gorgeous but emotionally empty woman takes over the lead role from a bigger star--here's it Olinka Berova replacing Ursula Andress. The thing is, the story never makes clear what Berova's character actually is--is she a reincarnation of the immortal queen Ayesha? Or is she possessed by Ayesha? Or is she just mentally unstable? Or, after trying to sit through this slog of a film, does anyone care? Much of the story has Berova and leading man Edward Judd stumbling endlessly over rocky terrain...and when they finally do get to the lost city of Kuma, nothing much happens there either, except they meet up with a bored looking John Richardson. Some have complained that Hammer's SHE wasn't big enough in scope, but it feels like GONE WITH THE WIND in comparison to this.

Many non-fans refer to Hammer's output as silly--the truth is, very few of them are. But this one....yeah. If Producer/Director/Writer Michael Carreras was trying to follow up the success of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., he must have gotten lost along the way. A white hunter in Africa winds up stuck in a prehistoric valley where attractive dark-haired women rule over attractive blonde-haired women. A decently creative person can imagine all sorts of possibilities coming to fruition from this scenario. but the film takes advantage of none of them. Martine Beswicke makes a fantastic impression as the Queen of this world, but she doesn't get to do anything. (The publicity photos of Martine are far more entertaining than anything that goes on in the story.) Martine is also dubbed, which certainly doesn't help matters. This one doesn't have any dinosaurs either, and instead of exotic locations, the entire production seems to have been filmed on leftover jungle sets from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. There's a lot of dance sequences in this movie--even Martine gets to participate in one. I'm surprised that someone hasn't tried to adapt this into a stage musical (are you reading this, Joshua Kennedy?). There's a theory that PREHISTORIC WOMEN was meant to be a campy spoof, but no one in the film performs in that manner. If it wasn't for Martine, this might rank as the worst Hammer ever.

For me this is definitely the most disappointing Hammer film ever, when you take into account that it is one of Christopher Lee's appearances as Dracula, and it was directed by the very capable Roy Ward Baker. Despite those supposed attributes the resultant film comes off as cheap and ugly, with a nasty tone to it. The difference between the preceding entry in the Hammer/Lee/Dracula series, the underrated TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, and this one is like night and day. Lee gets to do a bit more than usual as the Count, but the things he does make very little sense--such as viciously stabbing a woman to death and branding his servant with a red-hot sword. Apparently screenwriter Anthony Hinds felt that it wasn't enough for Dracula to be the King of the Vampires--he had to be shown as a really bad guy. Hinds must have been in a particularly foul mood when he wrote this, because the script is filled with all sorts of gory brutality that unfortunately the sub-par special effects do not live up to. At one point a rubbery-looking bat attacks Michael Gwynn's village priest...and the attack goes on, and on...and on, to the point where you wonder if you are watching a Monty Python skit. What brings SCARS OF DRACULA down the most is that the physical aspects of the production--the photography, the sets, the art direction, etc...appear flat & dull, and that's about the worst thing that can be said about any Hammer film.

By the way...I own every one of these films on home video!! (tosses microphone over shoulder, walks off stage)

1 comment:

  1. Taking into account I have seen very little of Hammer's early output and I haven't seen too many of their comedies (none of the TV show adaptations), we definitely share some of our least favourite Hammer films in common! In particular, I think Lust for a Vampire might be Hamme's worst horror entry (although Scars of Dracula comes close).