IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964)

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Curse_of_the_Mummy's_tomb - poster

The following IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column originally appeared in the April 2012 edition of the HWA NEWSLETTER:

 

Like Universal before them, Hammer Films made a series of Mummy movies, four to be exact, none of them direct sequels, none of them all that exciting, but all of them in vivid color and at the very least entertaining.

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964) is the second Mummy movie Hammer made, and of the four, it’s my second favorite.  My favorite, of course, is their first Mummy movie, THE MUMMY (1959) starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  Again, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB is not a sequel to THE MUMMY but tells an entirely new story, completely separate from Hammer’s initial Mummy movie.

Egyptologists John Bray (Ronald Howard), Sir Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwillim), and Annette Dubois (Jeanne Roland) discover the mummified remains of the Egyptian prince Ra.  Like all good Mummy movies, there’s a curse that says anyone who messes with the mummy’s tomb will die.  The difference in this story, however, is that the curse is welcomed.  That’s because the expedition has been financed by an American showman Alexander King (Fred Clark) who wants to take the mummy and all the relics discovered along with it on the road for a sort of travelling road show, the sort of thing Carl Denham would have dreamed up after his adventures with King Kong.

Unfortunately, the show doesn’t last long because someone— the audience doesn’t know who— resurrects the Mummy, and so King can’t have his show without its star.  Soon afterwards, the Mummy goes on a murder spree, methodically attempting to kill everyone involved in the discovery of his tomb.  Will the Mummy kill everyone in the movie?  Or will our heroes figure out the identity of the Mummy’s secret benefactor and stop both him and the Mummy before it’s too late?  You’ll have to watch THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB to find out.

I’ve always found THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB to be a fairly entertaining movie, as it has some neat things going for it.

First off, director Michael Carreras cranks up the violence in this one, although admittedly by today’s standards, the movie is very tame.  The movie opens with a scene in which a man’s hand is chopped off.  In another scene, the Mummy uses a heavy statuette to smash in the head of his victim.  This occurs off camera, of course, but alone on the soundtrack— without any accompanying music— is the sickening thud of the statuette crushing the man’s skull.  In yet another scene, the Mummy uses its powerful foot to obliterate his victim’s head.  Nasty!

Director Carreras usually served Hammer in another capacity, as a producer.  He produced many of their early hits, including THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  As the director of THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, Carreras performs well.

The first time the Mummy makes his appearance, it’s an excellent scene as he steps from a thick fog onto the top of a creepy outdoor staircase ready to attack his first victim.  Later, the Mummy emerges from fog again, this time just before crashing through a window.

Another neat touch is the sound effect of the Mummy breathing.  Fourteen years later John Carpenter would use a similar effect with Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN (1978).

Carreras also penned the screenplay using the pseudonym “Henry Younger” which was an in-joke because fellow Hammer producer Anthony Hinds wrote the screenplays for a ton of Hammer movies [including THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) & DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968)] under the pen name “John Elder.”

Carreras’ screenplay tells the usual Mummy tale but does include an interesting plot twist.  While it won’t knock your socks off, it’s still an intriguing twist.

The actual Mummy make-up looks fine, but the same can’t be said for the Mummy’s body.    The Mummy was played by stunt man Dickie Owen, and he surprisingly sports a noticeable pot belly.  It’s sadly laughable.

Lon Chaney Jr. was criticized when he played Kharis the Mummy for Universal for looking too solid and heavy to be an Egyptian mummy, but Chaney looks like a trim Olympic athlete compared to the Mummy in this movie!

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB has a solid cast.  Ronald Howard, the son of famed actor Leslie Howard, is capable as lead Egyptologist John Bray.  I also really liked Fred Clark as the showman Alexander King.  The best part about the entire cast, which can be said for the majority of Hammer movies, is that they are thoroughly believable in their roles.  They make you believe in all the supernatural proceedings.

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB also has a good music score by Carlo Martelli.

On the other hand, one thing that doesn’t work so well is the ending, which is abrupt and is probably the weakest part of the movie.  Compared to the Mummy scenes that come before it, the ending is not very exciting.

Overall, though, THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a decent Mummy movie, competently executed by all involved, and it gets much better once the Mummy finally appears.  The final twenty minutes are the best part of the movie, except for the ending, which mummy-wraps things up too quickly.

So, this spring, if you’re pining for pleasant sunshine and warmer temperatures, but the weather isn’t cooperating, take a trip to the desert sands of Egypt in search of Mummies and monsters.  And like Alexander King in the movie, don’t fear THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB, but embrace it!

That’s right.  Hug your Mummy today!

—END—

 

 

 

 

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LEADING LADIES: BARBARA SHELLEY

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barbara shelley - dracula prince of darkness

Barbara Shelley in DRACULA – PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in horror movies.

Up today it’s Barbara Shelley, a woman whose talent and beauty adorned some of Hammer Films’ best shockers.  Of course, Shelley starred in more than just Hammer horror movies, appearing in all sorts of movies and TV shows as well.  Here’s a partial look at her long and successful career, focusing mostly on her horror films:

MAN IN HIDING (1953) – Barbara Shelley’s first screen credit, under her real name, as Barbara Kowin, in this British whodunit murder mystery starring Paul Henreid and Lois Maxwell.

BALLATA TRAGICA (1954) – Betty Mason- Shelley’s first credit as Barbara Shelley in this Italian crime drama.

CAT GIRL (1957) – Leonora Johnson- Shelley’s first horror movie, a variation of the more famous CAT PEOPLE (1942), where she plays a young woman affected by a family curse that warns she will turn into a murderous leopard when angered.  Some girls have all the fun.

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE (1958) – Madeleine –  One of my favorite Barbara Shelley movies, this atmospheric horror movie about a mad scientist named Dr. Callistratus (Donald Wolfit) conducting strange blood experiments in a creepy prison is a subtle exercise in “thinking man’s horror.”  It looks and plays like a Hammer Film, but it’s not, but it was written by Jimmy Sangster, who wrote some of Hammer’s best shockers.

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) – Anthea Zellaby – Probably my favorite Barbara Shelley movie, this science fiction classic about the strange children with the glowing eyes is one of the best science fiction horror movies ever made.  Also stars George Sanders, Michael Gwynn, and Laurence Naismith.

THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (1961) – Beth Venable – Shelley’s first Hammer Film, another cat tale involving murder and the supernatural. Also starring Andre Morrell and Freda Jackson.

THE SAINT (1962) – Valerie North – appeared in the episode “The Covetous Headsman” of this classic TV show starring Roger Moore.

THE GORGON (1964) – Carla Hoffman- co-stars with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in this Hammer shocker that is topnotch throughout except for an ending that exposes some very weak special effects when the titlular monster is finally shown on screen. Major role for Shelley, as her character is integral to the plot. Directed by Hammer’s best director, Terence Fisher.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (1965) – Bryn Watson – starred in the episode “The Odd Man Affair” of this classic secret agent TV show starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

DRACULA- PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Helen Kent – Becomes Dracula’s victim in this excellent Hammer Dracula movie, the first direct sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958) with Christopher Lee reprising his role as Dracula once again. Also starring Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Thorley Walters, and Philip Latham. Directed by Terence Fisher.

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Sonia – Reunited with DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS co-stars Christopher Lee, Francis Matthews, and Suzan Farmer in this Hammer Film which also used the same sets from that DRACULA sequel.

THE AVENGERS (1961-1967) – Venus/Susan Summers – “From Venus With Love” (1967)/ “Dragonsfield” (1961)- Two appearances on the spy TV series starring Patrick Macnee.

FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967)- Barbara Judd – Classic Hammer science fiction movie, part of their Quatermass series, originally titled QUATERMASS AND THE PIT. Stars Andrew Keir as Professor Quatermass.  This one’s got an impressive mystery and tells a neat story.  Also starring James Donald and Julian Glover.

GHOST STORY (1974) – Matron – Haunted house tale not to be confused with Peter Straub’s novel or the 1981 film based on Straub’s novel. Shelley’s final performance in a theatrical release.

DOCTOR WHO (1984) – Sorasta – appeared in the four part episode “Planet of Fire” of this classic science fiction TV show.  Peter Davison played the Doctor.

UNCLE SILAS (1989) – Cousin Monica – Barbara Shelley’s final screen credit to date in this horror TV mini-series starring Peter O’Toole as the mysterioius Uncle Silas.

Barbara Shelley was born on February 13, 1932.  She is currently retired from acting.

 

I hope you enjoyed this partial look at the career of actress Barbara Shelley, one of the more influential actresses from 1950s-1960s British horror cinema.

Join me again next time when we look at the career of another actress in horror cinema in the next edition of LEADING LADIES.

Thanks for reading!

—-Michael

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the April 2016 edition of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.  It’s on the Hammer Film THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960).  Enjoy!

—Michael

Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll poster

When Hammer Films struck gold with their horror hits THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), remakes of the iconic classics FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and DRACULA (1931) it was for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them was each film made changes to the original versions that blew audiences away.

In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Peter Cushing shocked  audiences with his villainous portrayal of Baron Frankenstein, and in HORROR OF DRACULA, Christopher Lee terrified viewers with his explosively violent portrayal of Count Dracula.  For some reason, in their subsequent remakes, Hammer wasn’t able to duplicate these impressive improvements, and so, while their handsome productions would continue to look good and genuinely entertain, they never seemed to regain that edge which their first two remakes possessed.

Take THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960) for example.  This is yet another very good looking Hammer Film, directed by their top director Terence Fisher, and it even features Christopher Lee in a supporting role, but at the end of the day, while modestly entertaining, THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL remains vastly inferior to the versions which came before it, the 1932 version DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, in which Fredric March won an Oscar for his performance in the lead dual role, and the 1941 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE starring Spencer Tracy.

The gimmick Hammer uses here in TWO FACES is that when Jekyll turns into Hyde, he doesn’t become a hideous looking monster but an extremely handsome gentleman.  Yet, in spite of his looks, Mr. Hyde is still a sinister being.  Now, this tweak to the story in itself is rather interesting, and I have no problem with it.  However, the problem here isn’t the tweak, but the fact the the evil Mr. Hyde in this movie, played by Paul Massie, pales in comparison to the previous dark interpretations by Fredric March and Spencer Tracy.

Both March’s and Tracy’s performance remain disturbing today.  While I like both performances and both versions a lot, I’ve always given the Tracy version a slight edge because Tracy instills such an abhorrent evil in his Hyde that I still find this movie difficult to watch, even today.  I always feel like I need to shower after watching it.  The way he torments Ingrid Bergman’s Ivy is horrifying and unpleasant.

Paul Massie doesn’t come close to matching the intensity of either March or Tracy with his performance as Mr. Hyde.  He’s even worse as Dr. Jekyll.  Spencer Tracy makes Dr. Jekyll such a heroic figure it’s almost impossible to believe that Mr. Hyde could emanate from him.  Massie’s Jekyll is a boring bearded scientist who speaks and looks like he’s spent the last several years living in a cave.

Paul Massie Mr. Hyde

Paul Massie as a handsome Mr. Hyde

The script by Wolf Mankowitz doesn’t help matters.  As Hammer Films often did, the story is simplified, and characters condensed.  Instead of having Jekyll and Hyde deal with both a wife and a mistress, in this version he only has a wife Kitty (Dawn Addams), who happens to be someone else’s mistress!  Yep, she’s having an affair with the unscrupulous Paul Allen (Christopher Lee).  Now, not only is Allen sleeping with Jekyll’s wife, but he’s also living off Jekyll’s money, as he keeps asking for handouts which he doesn’t pay back, and Jekyll is fool enough to keep paying him!

As you can see, Jekyll in this movie is sort of a clueless dolt, and he’s not particularly sympathetic. Worse yet, when Mr. Hyde comes along and decides he’s going to steal Kitty away from Allen, he’s a miserable failure at it!  Some evil villain!  Sure, eventually he exacts his revenge against these two, but compared to March’s and Tracy’s Hyde, this guy’s a pussycat.

Sadly, the story here is all rather boring, and the characters don’t help.  Both Kitty and Paul Allen are unlikable, Dr. Jekyll is a sad sack who deserves his fate, and Mr. Hyde is as ineffective a villain as Wile E. Coyote!  None of these folks have much to do.  The only thing on Hyde’s agenda here is disrupting the adulterous relationship between Kitty and Paul Allen, and he’s not terribly successful at it.

Director Terence Fisher who usually crafts at least one memorable scene in each of his films fires blanks with this one.  And the pacing is dreadfully slow.  For example, one of the first scenes is a long drawn out scene of exposition dialogue between Jekyll and one of his colleagues that seems to go on forever and really gets the film off to a molasses-like start.

Christopher Lee fares the best here with his supporting role as Paul Allen.  First of all, it’s a rare time that Lee isn’t playing the villain, the hero, or some pompous snobby type.  He’s a handsome cad here,  who prides himself on how much fun he can have at other people’s expense, and when he first meets Hyde, the two naturally become friends, until later when Hyde turns against him.

christopher lee two faces of dr jekyll

Christopher Lee in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

It’s also a chance to see just how handsome Christopher Lee was.  When we think of Lee we think of red bloodshot eyes and hissing fangs, but without his Dracula make-up, he was quite the handsome man.  He’s rarely looked as dashing as he does here in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

Lee also gives the character of Paul Allen some depth.  He gives the guy an undercurrent of conscience.  He doesn’t like Hyde the more he gets to know him, nor does he really treat Kitty all that badly.  He genuinely seems to have feelings for her.  In a strange way, Paul Allen may be the most likable character in the movie.

Another fun part about THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is a young Oliver Reed shows up in a pre-THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) performance in an unbilled bit as a bouncer.   He gets to confront both Hyde and Paul Allen before being promptly thrashed by the both of them.  It’s fun to see Lee and Reed in the same scene.

But other than Lee’s performance and Reed’s one scene, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about concerning THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.  The whole film plays like DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE LITE.  And that’s really the biggest problem with this movie.  It doesn’t come close to duplicating the effectiveness of the previous JEKYLL AND HYDE movies.  It doesn’t contain the powerhouse performances of Fredric March and Spencer Tracy, nor does it have the same disturbing story the previous versions tell.

THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is as good looking and well-produced a Hammer Film as any, but in this case, without anything extra special to lift it above the prior versions of this Robert Louis Stevenson tale, it’s simply not enough.

And that’s because in this movie the two faces of Dr. Jekyll are neither heroic nor monstrous, and as a result not at all memorable.

—END—