Full details of the Ultimate Hammer Collection Box Set
4th Oct 06
Have you got a spare £150 lying around? No, neither do we, but we wish we did, because October 23rd sees the UK Region 2 release of the Ultimate Hammer Collection Box Set, featuring an incredible twenty one classic films from the vaults of the legendary Hammer horror production house, thanks to Optimum Releasing.
From She and The Nanny, all the way through to Demons of the Mind and To The Devil A Daughter, there are a whole heap of great films here, as well as audio commentaries, trailers, interviews and the full-length documentary To the Devil… the Death of Hammer.
Read on below the image for a full list and descriptions (plus details of any extras) of all twenty one titles. We'll be bringing you reviews of some of these titles in the next couple of weeks.
SHE This adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1887 novel was Hammer’s most lavish, and most expensive, film to date. The film was part-financed by Seven Arts, who paid for Dr No’s Ursula Andress to star as the character the poster proclaimed as ‘the world’s most beautiful woman!’. Interiors were filmed at Elstree Studios, while Hammer made a rare foreign excursion to film the exteriors in southern Israel. The glossy result gave Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee one of their most poignant scenes together and was a huge box-office hit. Despite this neither director Robert Day nor Ursula Andress returned for the sequel, or indeed any other film for Hammer.
THE NANNY Since her Oscar-nominated comeback in 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Bette Davis had embarked on a new career playing aged psychopaths. Seven Arts’ Kenneth Hyman had been the executive producer on Whatever Happened and his company paid Davis’s salary to star in this disturbing adaptation of Evelyn Piper’s novel. Expertly directed by Seth Holt, and featuring outstanding performances by child actors William Dix and Pamela Franklin, Hammer’s final black-and-white film is also one of its best.
Extras: Commentary with director Jimmy Sangster
DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS Filmed at Bray Studios, while The Nanny was in production at Elstree, Dracula Prince of Darkness marked Christopher Lee’s return to his most famous role for the first time since the original Dracula in 1958. Dracula director Terence Fisher was also back, although the role of the vampire hunter was now played by Andrew Keir as Father Sandor (Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing appears only in a flashback to the original Dracula). The film features some memorable set pieces, notably the shocking sacrifice of Alan Kent (Charles Tingwell), and ranks as one of the quintessential Hammer horrors.
Extras: The Many Faces of Christopher Lee (54 min doc)
THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES The support feature to Dracula Prince of Darkness may have been a B movie with no star names, but it is widely regarded to be a superior film. Hammer’s sole excursion into zombie territory attracted the scrutiny of the British Board of Film Censors, who expressed concerns over the fire at the end and the scene where a lumbering corpse (Jacqueline Pearce) is decapitated with a spade. In a memo written after the film was completed, producer Anthony Hinds modestly described it as ‘not at all bad.’
RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK Filmed back-to-back with Dracula Prince of Darkness, and sharing three members of that film’s leading cast, Rasputin the Mad Monk was an historical epic on a tight budget. Christopher Lee’s research for the role was diligent and he dominates the film with a mesmerising performance. Scriptwriter Anthony Hinds also conducted his research carefully, wary of misrepresenting Rasputin’s assassin Prince Felix Yousoupoff. The Prince had already sued MGM over a previous film, and signed every copy of Hammer’s script as an indemnity against a lawsuit.
THE REPTILE Filmed back-to-back with The Plague of the Zombies, and also set in Cornwall, The Reptile was a problematic film from the outset. The budget was tight, even by Hammer’s standards, and director John Gilling was so dismayed by Anthony Hinds’s script that he rewrote it more or less as he went along. The reptile make-up worn by Jacqueline Pearce and applied by Roy Ashton was also difficult to perfect, and Pearce was recalled for a number of reshoots. Subdued lighting and sharp editing saved the day, and the film was released as the support feature to Rasputin the Mad Monk.
THE WITCHES The Witches was adapted from Peter Curtis’s novel The Devil’s Own, and was another star vehicle suggested by Seven Arts. The star this time was Oscar-winner Joan Fontaine, who owned the screen rights to the book. The film was directed by Cyril Frankel, who had made Hammer’s 1960 child abuse drama Never Take Sweets From a Stranger, and the script was by Quatermass author Nigel Kneale. Their depiction of sinister undercurrents in a pastoral setting wasn’t sinister enough for the BBFC, however, who only granted the film an ‘A’ certificate. Hammer persuaded them to reconsider, but this accomplished film still failed to find an audience.
ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. This spectacular prehistoric adventure was promoted as Hammer’s 100th production and gave the world the iconic image of star Raquel Welch in a fur-lined bikini. Director Don Chaffey filmed on location in the Canary Islands, later conducting studio work at Elstree. The highlight of the movie was the stop-motion dinosaurs that were subsequently added by legendary special effects animator Ray Harryhausen. The result was Hammer’s biggest commercial success, and the most famous dinosaur epic until the release of Jurassic Park 26 years later.
Extras: Interview with Raquel Welch / Interview with Ray Harryhausen
THE VIKING QUEEN Don Chaffey was put in charge of Hammer’s next historical epic, which was filmed in and around Ireland’s Ardmore Studios in summer 1966. The film starred Finnish model Carita Järvinen as Queen Salina, a character supposedly inspired by Boadicea, the Iceni warrior who led a revolt against the Roman occupation of Britain in the first century AD. Both Carita and leading man Don Murray (who had starred opposite Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop) were under contract to the film’s American distributor, 20th Century-Fox. Critics were unconvinced by both Carita, and the film’s historical accuracy.
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN Frankenstein Created Woman was one of the last films to be completed by Hammer at Bray Studios, and reunited star Peter Cushing with director Terence Fisher. Although the title was a spoof of Brigitte Bardot’s And Got Created Woman the new film was essentially a revenge thriller with some surprisingly brutal scenes. Ill-fated Austrian actress Susan Denberg was the ‘Woman’ of the title, and Thorley Walters played Frankenstein’s bumbling assistant. In 1987 director Martin Scorsese selected Frankenstein Created Woman as part of a season of his favourite films at the National Film Theatre.
QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT Originally screened by BBC television in December 1958, Quatermass and the Pit was the final entry in the original trilogy of Quatermass stories by writer Nigel Kneale. Hammer optioned the story from Kneale in 1961, but finance and distribution problems delayed production for another six years. The film represented the Hammer debut of acclaimed director Roy Ward Baker (who had made A Night to Remember in 1958) and starred Andrew Keir as Professor Quatermass. Produced at MGM’s expansive Borehamwood studio, Quatermass and the Pit is one of Hammer’s most polished, and thought-provoking, films.
THE VENGEANCE OF SHE She had been a huge success, but Hammer was unable to persuade Ursula Andress to appear in the sequel, which was based on a script by Modesty Blaise writer Peter O’Donnell. John Richardson returned to play the now immortal Killikrates, who lures a present-day girl called Carol in the belief she is the reincarnation of his beloved Ayesha. Carol was played by 21-year-old Czech actress Olga Schoberova, whom Hammer renamed Olinka Berova. Locations in Monte Carlo and Almeria, Spain, failed to sway sceptical critics and uninterested audiences.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT In the late 1960s the world of exploitation cinema was changing fast, and by the time The Devil Rides Out appeared in 1968 its stiff upper-lip approach alienated American audiences. The film was directed by Terence Fisher in a traditional style, albeit with more explicit references to Satanism and black magic than would have been permissible in the late 1950s. A favourite of leading man Christopher Lee, The Devil Rides Out is now seen as a classic, compromised only by its unfinished special effects and some misjudged re-voicing.
PREHISTORIC WOMEN Produced under the title Slave Girls of the White Rhino, this film was hastily conceived as a means of recycling the sets and costumes from One Million Years B.C. Producer and director Michael Carreras wisely wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym. The name he chose, ‘Henry Younger’, was a joke at the expense of Anthony Hinds, who wrote under the name ‘John Elder’. In the UK the film was called Slave Girls and belatedly released as the support to The Devil Rides Out. In the US it was renamed Prehistoric Women and featured over 20 minutes of additional footage.
SCARS OF DRACULA Roy Ward Baker was commissioned to direct Christopher Lee’s fifth Dracula picture, which he determined to do in as gory a style as possible. The film’s greatest innovation, however, was to present a surprisingly verbose Count; Lee had been given very little dialogue in the previous Dracula movies, and in Dracula Prince of Darkness had been given none at all. Bereft of an American pre-sale, Scars of Dracula and its support feature, The Horror of Frankenstein, were both produced on relatively low budgets.
Extras: Commentary with Roy Ward Baker & Christopher Lee / Stills Gallery / Trailer
THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN This bold departure into comedy horror was the directorial debut of Jimmy Sangster, and bore numerous similarities to his original 1957 Hammer horror The Curse of Frankenstein. The script’s licentious Baron was obviously influenced by the so-called Permissive Society and required a young actor for the title role; Peter Cushing was photographed ‘handing over’ to his replacement Ralph Bates on the film’s Elstree set. Former champion weightlifter Dave Prowse played the Monster. Both he and Peter Cushing would return for the next, and final, film in the series: Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.
Extras: Commentary with director Jimmy Sangster / Interview with Veronica Carlson / Poster & Stills Gallery
BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB Director Seth Holt had only succeeded in completing one film since making The Nanny, but appeared to be in good health when he started shooting Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb. After the first day’s filming, leading man Peter Cushing pulled out to be with his wife, who was dying of emphysema. He was replaced by Andrew Keir and filming recommenced. And then, at the end of the fifth week of filming, Holt suffered a heart attack and died. Michael Carreras completed the film as best he could, and it was released as the support feature to Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde.
Extras: Interviews with Valerie Leon & Christopher Wicking / Stills Gallery / Radio Spots
STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING By the early 1970s Hammer was finding it increasingly difficult to compete without the support of major American distributors. The double-bill of Straight On Till Morning and Fear in the Night were originally planned as TV movies, but were ultimately produced as low budget thrillers and distributed by EMI. Straight On Till Morning took its title from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan and was the only Hammer assignment for Peter Collinson, who had previously directed Up the Junction and The Italian Job.
Extras: Commentary with Rita Tushingham / Trailer
FEAR IN THE NIGHT The other half of the ‘Women in Terror!’ double-bill was the last suspense thriller produced by Hammer, and the last film director Jimmy Sangster made for the company. Partly based on a script originally titled Brainstorm, and then The Claw, the project had been on and off Hammer’s pre-production schedule since 1963. Despite the story’s age, Fear in the Night was a modest and efficient thriller that pointed the way towards the television series Hammer would produce in the 1980s.
Extras: Commentary with Jimmy Sangster / Trailer
DEMONS OF THE MIND Produced under the Shakespearian title Blood Will Have Blood, Demons of the Mind is notable as the film debut of Shane Briant. The 25 year-old actor went on to star in three further Hammer films and, like Ralph Bates, was briefly groomed for stardom as a new Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee. Both Hammer and unhappy distributor EMI were confused by Blood Will Have Blood. The film was retitled Demons of the Mind and only briefly released as a support feature.
Extras: Commentary with director Peter Sykes, writer Christopher Wicking and co-star Virginia Weatherall / Trailer
TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER Loosely based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley, To the Devil a Daughter had little in common with the company’s previous Wheatley adaptations, The Devil Rides Out and The Lost Continent. In fact a generation of filmmaking sensibilities separated it from almost every Hammer film that had gone before. Tellingly, the poster for To the Devil promoted it as a successor to Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, while Hammer’s credit appeared in small type at the bottom. At the very least, To the Devil a Daughter was the only modern horror film Hammer had the chance to make, but it merits reappraisal on many other grounds. Its greatest asset is a performance of chilling intensity from Christopher Lee, but director Peter Sykes’ fragmented narrative is equally arresting right up to the surreal (anti)climax. Unfairly dismissed as a lost opportunity, Hammer’s final horror film was in fact a tantalising glimpse of an intriguing new direction.
Extras: To The Devil...The Death of Hammer documentary (24 mins) / Interview with Eddie Powell / Trailer