|The Golden Age of British
Horror: 1955 - 1975
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Although there was an occasional horror thriller hailing from
British shores pre-1955 (such as DEAD OF NIGHT), it wasnt really until 1956 that
Great Britain, initially represented by Hammer studios, took the bull by the horns. As the
story goes, esteemed writer Nigel Kneales crackerjack sci-fi TV mini-series, THE
QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT, was so popular, Hammer secured the rights to turn it into a
film. They hired American character actor Brian Donlevy to play the no-nonsense scientist
Quatermass, veteran filmmaker Val Guest to direct and lopped off the first E
in the films title (as in XPERIMENT) to play up the pictures
British X rating. The result was immensely successful, especially considering the
movies budget. It was a stunning achievement a sci-fi thriller edited at a
rollercoaster pace with a wellspring of nearly gothic horror imagery. Hammer deduced that
the gruesome tone gripped audiences most, as well as for its sequel QUATERMASS II.
For their next efforts, they decided to go all the way with the macabre, gothic slant.
Before you knew it, superb in-period chillers CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORROR OF
DRACULA were hitting cinemas worldwide and raking in returns at the box office. The
rest, as they say, is history. Sequels (REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDES OF DRACULA,
et. al.) and other spinetingling, gorgeously-shot one-offs (TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL,
THE GORGON, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, et. al.) followed from Hammer. Other small UK
studios, most predominantly Anglo-Amalgamated (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM), Amicus (TORTURE
GARDEN, THE SKULL, et. al), Independent Artists (BURN, WITCH, BURN) and Tigon (CORRUPTION,
BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW), as well as indie producers like Robert Baker &
Monty Berman (THE CRAWLING EYE, JACK THE RIPPER, et. al.), Robert Lippert (WITCHCRAFT)
and Harry Alan Towers (FACE OF FU MANCHU) followed suit.
Please join us for this spectacular, three week retrospective of
some of the most chilling pictures from this classic era, including new prints of such
films as REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA, THE GORGON, TWO FACES OF DR.
JEKYLL, WITCHCRAFT and THE NANNY (one of Bette Davis best later films) as
well as ultra-rare screenings of FACE OF FU MANCHU, CORRUPTION, THE SKULL, QUATERMASS
II and I START COUNTING (featuring one of Jenny Agutters first leading
roles). Note: If you dont spot some of your favorite vintage British horror films
listed, its either because we have shown them fairly recently or because decent
prints were just not available!
Thursday, June 8 - 7:30 PM
Peter Cushing/Terence Fisher Double Feature:
New 35mm Print! REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 1958, Sony
Repertory, 94 min. Director Terence Fishers sequel to the first film, CURSE
OF FRANKENSTEIN, is the high point of the series, and one of Hammer studios most
satisfyng gothics. Working incognito in a hospital for the poor, "Dr. Stein" (Peter
Cushing) transfers the brain of his deformed assistant into the body of the
"perfect man" (Michael Gwynne), but fails to account for the transplanted
brains nasty image of itself. With Francis Matthews.
IB Technicolor Print! FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, 1969,
Warner Bros., 101 min. One more came afterwards (FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL),
but director Terence Fishers last major gothic was really the end of the
Hammer FRANKENSTEIN cycle as he had originally envisioned it. Shot through with images of
dementia and decay drug trafficking, rape, etc. this remains the most grimly
realistic of the series. Peter Cushings performance is murderously monstrous
his Dr. Frankenstein is a demon in human form; the equivalent of a concentration
camp doctor. With Simon Ward, Freddie Jones, Veronica Carlson.
Friday, June 9 - 7:30 PM
Christopher Lee Double Feature:
HORROR OF DRACULA, 1958,
Warner Bros., 82 min. Director Terence Fisher and screenwriter Jimmy
Sangsters stripped-to-the basics, expertly-paced take on Bram Stokers popular
bloodsucker remains one of the most satisfying, just plain exciting gothic horror films
ever made. From Christopher Lees revelatory, broodingly romantic performance
as Dracula (introducing a sexual frisson to the proceedings) to Fishers masterful
direction, from Peter Cushings Professor Van Helsing to Jack Ashers
atmosphere-drenched cinematography and James Bernards superb score, this is
perfection. One of Hammer studios most enduring masterpieces!
IB Techinicolor Print!
TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, 1970,
Warner Bros., 91 min. Young director Peter Sasdys fourth film in
the Dracula series (along with Fishers DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS) is
commonly-acknowledged as one of the most satisfying Christopher Lee-starring
sequels to the groundbreaking original. Three Victorian "gentlemen" (Geoffrey
Keen, John Carson, Peter Sallis) with a habit of looking for new experiences, (i.e.,
decadent thrills) to "broaden their horizons," make a pact with black magician Ralph
Bates, who promptly reanimates the undead count (Lee) from his dried blood and cape.
Dracula then proceeds to destroy the men through their vampirized teen-age children
(including nubile Linda Hayden), surely one of the most subversive subtexts ever in a
Hammer film. Handsomely shot, this was one of the last Hammer pictures to truly look as
gorgeous as their earlier efforts.
Saturday, June 10 - 6:00 PM
Giant Monsters Double Feature!
X, THE UNKNOWN, 1956, Warner
Bros., 80 min. Director Joseph Losey (!) was originally scheduled to helm this
surprisingly persuasive sci-fi chiller, but because of the impact of the HUAC blacklist
(usually not felt in the UK), he had to drop out. Leslie Norman directs this
Quatermass-style knock-off with atomic scientist, Dean Jagger, going up against a
blob of intelligent (!), radioactive lava ravenous for any nearby nuclear material. A
serious crisis looms as it grows more voracious, threatening a brand new nuclear power
plant. The film combines nocturnal gothic imagery with a sober sense of scientific
inquiry, bearing all the earmarks of Nigel Kneales style (although in fact this was
Jimmy Sangsters first feature-length screenplay).
THE CRAWLING EYE (aka THE
TROLLENBERG TERROR), 1958, Wade Williams, 85 min. Dir. Quentin Lawrence. U.N.
investigator Forrest Tucker travels to the Alps to check out a radioactive cloud
and soon discovers a herd of one-eyed, octupus-like aliens using the cumulous mist to hide
their presence! Also starring the haunting Janet Munro as a girl with psychic links
to the invaders. With Jennifer Jayne, Laurence Payne.
Saturday, June 10 - 9:30 PM
Horror Exotica Double Bill:
IB Technicolor Print! FACE OF FU MANCHU, 1965, Warner Bros., 89 min. Maverick
producer Harry Alan Towers inaugurated his long-planned-for string of films based on pulp
master, Sax Rohmers master criminal with this slambang thriller from director, Don
Sharp (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE). Easily the best in the Fu Manchu series, its
Hammeresque in look and tone, with Christopher Lee perfectly cast as the supremely
evil mastermind. The underrated Nigel Green is ideal as Inspector Nayland Smith,
the arch-villains nemesis. Shot in and around Dublin (substituting for 1920s
London), with a great sense of period atmosphere. Co-starring Joachim Fuchsberger, Karin
Dor, Howard Marion Crawford and Tsai Chin. NOT ON DVD.
STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY,
1960, Sony Repertory, 80 min. Director Terence Fisher works
wonders on a meager budget with this ultra-rare, underrated shocker. Intelligent British
officer, Guy Rolfe, runs into bureaucratic stupidity as well as cultural snobbery
from his superiors as he investigates the mushrooming number of strangling murders
afflicting merchant caravans in India. When he gets too close, the Thuggee cult
responsible ("Kill! Kill for the love of Kali!"), marks him for death.
James Bernard embellishes this sadian saga with one of his most frenetic, over-the-top
scores. Merchant-Ivory Productions and director Nicholas Meyer (SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION)
remade it in 1988 as THE DECIEVERS starring Pierce Brosnan in the Rolfe role. NOT ON DVD.
Sunday, June 11 - 7:30 PM
Black Magic Double Feature:
CURSE OF THE DEMON (aka NIGHT
OF THE DEMON), 1957, Sony Repertory, 95 min. Jacques Tourneurs
masterful chiller about a mysterious string of deaths caused by a black magician (Nial
MacGinnis in a great performance inspired by necromancer Alastair Crowley) is one of
the most highly-regarded shockers of the 50s, even in its original 83 minute US
release. Although prints of the unedited version have circulated for years, they were from
umpteenth-generation dupe material and looked pretty awful; this new restoration vividly
brings back all the details of Ted Scaifes photography and Ken Adams sets. Dana
Andrews stars, with support from Peggy Cummins (GUN CRAZY) and Maurice
BURN, WITCH, BURN (aka NIGHT
OF THE EAGLE), 1962, Sony Repertory, 90 min. Dir. Sidney Hayers. Professor Peter
Wyngarde, a fervent debunker of all things supernatural, discovers that his scholastic
success is due to voodoo spells cast by wife, Janet Blair. When he forces her to
give up her talismans and spells, the demonic forces of darkness descend, in this
much-underrated horror classic that rivals THE INNOCENTS and CURSE OF THE DEMON in
intelligent, hair-raising chills. Adapted by screenwriters Charles Beaumont and Richard
Matheson from Fritz Leibers novel Conjure Wife. NOT ON DVD.
Wednesday, June 14 - 7:30 PM
Black Magic Double Feature:
New 35mm Print! WITCHCRAFT, 1964, 20th Century Fox, 79 min.
Director Don Sharps ultra-rare occult scarefest has been one of the most
difficult-to-see of all British horror films from the era until now. Twentieth
Century Fox just struck this splendid, brand new black & white 35mm print, and
were delighted to reintroduce audiences to it. Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as
Albert Whitlock, scion of an ancient family of witches and warlocks, who doesnt take
it kindly when his family graveyard is bulldozed by developer, Bill Lanier (Jack Hedley)
and his callous partner. Long-suppressed resentments erupt the Lanier family had
persecuted the Whitlocks for witchcraft in the 17th century and before you know it,
age-old witch, Vanessa (Yvette Rees) is back from the dead. Director Sharp, per usual,
evokes great atmosphere from limited resources and keeps things moving at a fast clip.
Comparable to HORROR HOTEL and BURN, WITCH, BURN for stark shivers, with a great Barbara
Steele-ish turn by Rees as the vindictive sorceress. NOT ON DVD.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (aka
THE DEVILS BRIDE), 1968, 20th Century Fox, 95 min. Director Terence
Fisher brings Dennis Wheatleys novel to life, with the Duc de Richleau (Christopher
Lee) unearthing a satanic plot to steal the souls of young man, Simon (Patrick Mower)
and the mysteriously beautiful Tanith (Nike Arrighi). Charles Gray is suavely
sinsiter as Mocata, the occult high priest wholl stop at nothing to get his way.
Among master director, Fishers most intelligent, accomplished achievements, with a
briskly fluid camera, a suspenseful patchwork of escalating nightmare setpieces and a
perfect evocation of the 1920s. Exciting from beginning to end. (Print is slightly
Friday, June 16 - 7:30 PM
Christopher Lee/Terence Fisher Double
New 35mm Print! THE GORGON, 1964, Sony Repertory, 83 min. One of
director Terence Fishers most eerie and underrated masterworks focuses on a
German village haunted by Megara, the still potent spirit of the gorgon of Greek
mythology, bent on transforming all those who gaze upon her into figures of stone. Local
doctor, Peter Cushing, is engineering a cover-up to protect someone (perhaps his
beautiful assistant, Barbara Shelley?). Returning Richard Pasco, whose brother and
father were petrified-to-death, wants to get to the bottom of the mystery, but gets
sidetracked when he falls for Shelley. Soon, desperate Pasco sends for his prickly,
sarcastic mentor (Christopher Lee) who proceeds to track down the monster. Filled
with a chilling ambience, it remains one of the most dreamlike of Hammer films. NOT ON DVD.
New 35mm Print! TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL, 1960, Sony
Repertory, 88 min. Hammer producers decided to bring in well-regarded writer, Wolf
Mankowitz, to pen this revisionist version of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, switching
around some elements (such as making good Jekyll homely and evil Hyde a handsome rogue). Terence
Fisher directs Paul Massie in the dual role, with Dawn Addams as
Jekylls promiscuous wife dallying with Jekylls best friend, wastrel, Christopher
Lee. Neither Massies Jekyll or Hyde are whole persons the
"good" doctor is bent on scientific pioneering at the expense of his marriage
while seductive, sadistic sociopath, Hyde is obsessed with indulging his senses as well as
every egotistical impulse. Fisher, cinematographer Jack Asher and Hammers production
designers conjure up a gaslit, Victorian London, a place where all manner of debauched,
amoral characters cavort right below the surface. NOT ON DVD.
Saturday, June 17 - 7:30 PM
Memorial Tribute - Director Val Guest Double
QUATERMASS II (aka ENEMY FROM
SPACE), 1957, Hammer Films, 84 min. Director Val Guest collaborates with writer,
Nigel Kneale, adapting Kneales QUATERMASS XPERIMENT sequel and turns out possibly
the finest of the 1950s alien invasion pictures. Not available on the big screen in
the USA for over fifty years, weve brought over a 35mm print especially from the UK
to rectify the situation. It easily remains the nerve-shredding British equivalent to Don
Siegels INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, with a furiously relentless pace and no
wasted moments. Space expert, Quatermass (Brian Donlevy in a no-nonsense
performance) investigates a strange shower of meteorites. Like a ball of string
unraveling, he first unearths a plot to take over the British government, then discovers a
swarm of protoplasmic creatures living inside pressurized domes at a mysterious industrial
plant. With another spine-tingling James Bernard score.
THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT
(aka THE CREEPING UNKNOWN), 1956, Sony Repertory, 82 min. Along with its sequel QUATERMASS
II and Siegel's BODY SNATCHERS, one of the scariest science-fiction films from the
1950s. Brian Donlevy stars as writer Nigel Kneale's brusque rocket scientist
Quatermass, bent on unlocking the mysteries of space, even if it means his only surviving
astronaut (Richard Wordsworth in an amazing performance) slowly mutates into an
amoeba-like blob monster! Directed by master, Val Guest, the film hurtles along at
breakneck tempo, and served as storm warning of more Hammer horrors just over the horizon.
NOT ON DVD.
Sunday, June 18 - 7:30 PM
New 35mm Print! THE NANNY, 1965, 20th Century Fox, 93
min. Director Seth Holt, who had previously worked as an editor and producer
at Ealing studios, directed barely a handful of films, and, two of the best were done at
Hammer shortly before his premature death at the age of 47. This is arguably his
masterpiece and surely one of Bette Davis greatest later
pictures, a brisk, shuddery psychological suspenser, masterfully orchestrated to its
nailbiting climax. Devoted nanny, Davis, long in the Fane family household, is beset by
rancorous persecution from her young charge, Joey (William Dix) when he returns from an
institution. Joeys parents (James Villiers, Wendy Craig) are beside themselves
because bratty Joey wont give up the idea that Davis was responsible for his little
sisters bathtub drowning years before. Teenager Pamela Franklin is the only
one wondering if maybe hes right. Watch for the scene between Joeys aunt (Jill
Bennett) and Davis near the end, surely one of the most disturbing in any 1960s
shocker. NOT ON DVD.
I START COUNTING, 1969, Sony Repertory,
105 min. An underrated, unusual, low-key mix of coming-of-age story and serial killer
thriller that never saw release here in America. Jenny Agutter gives arguably her
finest performance as a teenager who develops an obsessive infatuation for her older,
foster brother (Bryan Maxwell). Complications multiply as she starts to wonder if perhaps
hes the homicidal maniac loose in their suburban neighborhood. But is he really?
Agutters strict, Catholic school upbringing, her romantic fantasies and burgeoning
sexuality, her precocious best friend (Clare Sutcliffe), all conspire to pull the wool
over her eyes. When the veil of fantasy is brutally ripped aside and cold, hard reality
hits, watch out! Director David Greene skillfully puts Agutters teenage
concerns in the forefront, with the sex killer subplot simmering in the background, until
the harrowing, last twenty minutes akin to a glass of ice water in the face and
surely one of the creepiest, most-unnerving sequences ever from sixties cinema. With Simon
Ward in a small, but important, part as a bus conductor. NOT ON DVD.
Wednesday, June 21 - 7:30 PM
Peter Cushing Double Feature:
New 35mm Print! TORTURE GARDEN, 1967, Sony Repertory, 93 min. Director
Freddie Francis follows up Amicus studios initial omnibus horror film, DR.
TERRORS HOUSE OF HORRORS, with this expertly-handled compendium of four fright
tales, all strung together by the spiel of sideshow fortune teller, Dr. Diablo (Burgess
Meredith). Five carnival customers (Michael Bryant, Beverly Adams, Barbara Ewing,
Michael Ripper and Jack Palance) are offered a look into their possible futures,
with ghastly results. Especially macabre is the final entry with Poe fanatic, Palance,
paying a visit to the home of fellow collector and Poe-phile, Peter Cushing, something
that results in a disagreeably unexpected revelation.
HORROR EXPRESS, 1973, 90
min. Spanish Eugenio Martin (CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL) directs an international cast at
a breakneck pace in this splendid, turn-of-the-20th-century thriller.
Trans-Siberian Express passenger, Professor Saxton (Christopher Lee) is
transporting what he believes to be the remains of the missing link, much to the
disappointment of his rival, Professor Wells (Peter Cushing). What the two feuding
scholars dont realize is that the huge corpse is really a revived alien creature
from outer space. Before long, the monster is boiling the brains of its victims with its
red-eyed stare, absorbing their intellects and throwing the train into a panic. A
countess, a beautiful spy, a Rasputin-like monk and a cruel Cossack (Telly Savalas,
in fine form) are just a few of the characters making life difficult for our stalwart
English heroes as they try to thwart the devilish fiend. (Print is slightly faded.)
Sunday, June 25 7:30 PM
Peter Cushing Double Feature:
CORRUPTION, 1967, Sony Repertory, 91
min. Dir. Robert Hartford-Davis. You wont believe some of the things
that sedate surgeon Peter Cushing gets up to in this deliciously trashy, Mod
reworking of Franjus EYES WITHOUT A FACE. When his young model fiancee (Sue Lloyd)
has her face disfigured by a falling arc lamp, Cushing becomes convinced that the
pituitary gland from another woman will put her right. But hes chagrined when the
healing effect wears off. Soon Cushing descends into a hellish rampage of murder - usually
by decapitation - to obtain glands! When the couple decide to lower their profile, they
make a getaway to a seacoast cottage. However, a gang of violent hippie beatniks (is there
such a thing?) invade their haven, more deaths occur and Cushings laboratory laser
goes out of control. Great pulp mayhem. NOT
THE SKULL, 1965, Paramount, 90
min. Director Freddie Francis pours on the atmosphere in this fine adaptation of
the Robert Bloch short story, what amounts to the most blood-freezing of Hammer
studios rival, Amicus many horror efforts. Peter Cushing, a collector
of black magic antiquities, covets the skull of the Marquis De Sade, despite its lurid,
some say cursed, history. Once its in his ill-gotten possession, all manner of
things start to go terribly wrong, including vividly surreal nightmares and people dying
in horrible ways. The great cast includes Christopher Lee as a rival collector,
Patrick Wymark as a sleazy dealer, Jill Bennett as Cushings spouse, with a cameo by
Nigel Green as a police inspector. NOT ON DVD.