Last October, Columbia Pictures finally released four British film thrillers, originally produced during 1960-64 by the legendary Hammer Films , on DVD for the first time. The two-disc set, entitled Hammer Films: 4 Creepy Classics, features the following films:
The Two Faces of Dr, Jekyll (1960) offers an unusual take on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic. Here, Jekyll (Paul Massie) is a crippled, far-from-handsome medical researcher cuckolded by his wife (Dawn Addams) and best friend (Hammer regular Christopher Lee) in turn-of-the century London. As in the Stevenson story, Jekyll discovers a formula that changes his appearance and personality. The twist here is that Jekyll's alter ego, Mr. Hyde, is a handsome and charming, but amoral and homicidal, rotter (also played by Massie) who hangs out with various undesirables (including a thug played by a then-unknown Oliver Reed) as he plots his revenge against wife and pal. More a psychological thriller than horror film, with an emphasis on characterzation, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll is nonetheless compelling, thanks to solid direction by Terence Fisher.
Scream of Fear (1961), the only black and white film in this collection, features Susan Strasberg as a wheelchair-bound American heiress who comes to live on her late father's estate in the French countryside with her stepmother (Ann Todd) and chauffeur (Ronald Lewis), with the occasional drop-in visit by the local doctor (Christopher Lee). But why does her dead father's body keep popping up when she's alone? Moody suspenseful thrills with a great twist at the climax, courtesy of director Seth Holt and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster .
Terence Fisher returns to direct 1964's The Gorgon, another turn-of-the-century-set chiller, in which various citizens of an Eastern European village are turned literally to stone by the Medusa-like title character. A good cast (Christopher Lee; Peter Cushing; Barbara Shelley; Richard Pasco) combined with an eerie, downbeat atmosphere, make this film very difficult to shake off after one viewing. (Just don't look too closely at the Gorgon's make-up.)
Hammer Film producer Michael Carreras directed 1964's The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, a sequel-in-name-only to the studio's 1959 remake of The Mummy. This flick has some nasty but effective ghoulish moments, but muddled character motivations, the major miscasting of the two male leads (Ronald Howard; Terence Morgan), a Mummy who looks better in the dark, and an ending that gives off a "so what?" vibe, make Curse the one truly poor film in this collection. (The seemingly ubiquitous Christopher Lee, who did a memorable job as the title character in the 1959 Mummy film -yes, I'm a fan of Mr. Lee's work!- , doesn't make an appearance in this movie. But given how it turned out, Curse would've benefited greatly from Lee's presence, if only to liven up the pace. At least Curse co-star Jeanne Roland is pretty enough to distract the viewer from the goofy screenplay.)
BTW Veteran Hollywood comic foil Fred Clark shows up early in Curse as a crass promoter, and brings a welcome sense of fun in his scenes. When his character is abruptly taken off, all the fun goes with him.
Altogether, three out of four solid thrillers comprise this collection, and it's for them that fans of traditional horror cinema or Hammer Films (or both), should seek out this collection, which you can reserve from Greenwich Library here. And if you want to see a good Mummy film, go here and here.