Blu-ray Review: ‘Hands of the Ripper’ (1971)

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I didn’t know much of anything about Hammer’s Hands of the Ripper when sitting down to watch it. I knew it was Hammer’s stab at a Jack the Ripper story, but that was it, and honestly? Going in blind is probably part of the reason I got so absorbed in the film. I didn’t realize it wasn’t really a Jack the Ripper movie at all, but an unusual blend of Hammer period horror and slice-and-dice slasher with the historical Ripper only showing up briefly in a pre-credits sequence.

From there, the film follows a little girl who witnessed the murder of her mother at the hands of the Ripper, now grown (Angharad Rees), and under the care of a charlatan fortune teller. She seems sweet enough, but goes catatonic with the sight of a specific visual cue and is compelled to kill in gruesome Ripper fashion. The girl can’t help it. Eric Porter plays a psychiatrist who takes the troubled woman in, fascinated by her urges and whether or not the girl is truly evil or just broken.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Twins of Evil’ (1971)

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I can imagine in the context of the time, with Hammer Films entering its final creaky decade and with the stunt casting of twin Playboy Playmates, that Twins of Evil would’ve been received as one of Hammer’s lesser efforts. No matter; time and distance have been kind to Twins of Evil. The Collinson Twins carry none of the baggage of their time, having faded from the public eye, and Hammer’s old-fashioned gothic approach feels appropriately classic now, not as dusty as it did in the wake of eye-opening contemporaries like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.

Synapse has brought the film to Blu-ray (in a Blu/DVD combo pack), the first time the movie has been available since the days of VHS (Synapse also did the same for Hammer’s Vampire Circus, which is a great disc, even if the feature isn’t as strong as Twins of Evil). For Hammer fans, Twins of Evil is a must-own. The HD transfer is vivid with sharp contrast and lively, organic film grain. It’s not that Twins of Evil has never looked better — it’s that no Hammer film I’ve seen has ever looked better. Synapse ups the game in the special features department by including a feature length documentary (also in anamorphic HD) that specializes on Hammer’s three-film approach to J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla story.

THE ART OF HAMMER Book Review [A Movie Poster Must-Have]

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It’s a bittersweet day to review THE ART OF HAMMER. Right now, as I write this, Hammer’s COUNTESS DRACULA plays in the background, a reminder of the actress Ingrid Pitt, who passed away this November 23 at age 73.  It’s one of my favorite Hammers, starring Pitt as an elderly Elizabeth Bathory-inspired murderess who keeps herself young by bathing in the blood of virgins.  COUNTESS DRACULA features gorgeous period Hungarian costumes, a brisk pace, and a good amount of Pitt nudity when the German actress was in her prime.

I’m thankful for movies like this (and actresses like Pitt).  As a horror fan, they feel like comfort food —  fog-ridden tales of evil with exploitative bursts of sex and violence that satisfy the time in which they were made.  Hammer horror manages to feel both old-fashioned and shocking at the same time.  They deserve to be celebrated, especially in the last days of Hammer’s old guard.  The studio lot has been sold off for redevelopment and the truth is that Hammer’s main players are, sadly, not going to be with us much longer.  Rest in peace, Ingrid Pitt.

PARANOIAC Review. [Hammer Time!]

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While British studio Hammer Films reinvented the Universal Monsters for a new generation, they also produced a handful of psychological thrillers, encouraged by the box office success of Les Diaboliques and the films of Alfred Hitchcock.  One such film was 1963’s Paranoiac, starring professional drunkard Oliver Reed as Grade-A douchebag Simon Ashby, a reckless, hostile party boy determined to paint his loving sister Eleanor (Janette Scott) as insane.

Money is the motive for Simon’s manipulation.  The Ashby parents are long dead, along with their youngest child Tony, who threw himself off a cliff as a boy when he couldn’t cope his the loss of his parents.  Simon and Eleanor are the only heirs to the Ashby fortune, under the care of their Aunt Harriet (Sheila Burrell), and if Simon can prove that Eleanor is not of sound mind, he becomes sole executor of their estate.  To that end, Simon hires a morally questionable nurse for Eleanor and carries out a simple plan to convince his sister that she might be hallucinating visions of the departed Tony.

Simon’s plan goes completely haywire when Tony actually shows up, alive and well (played with an almost comical stiffness by Alexander Davion).  Suddenly, it’s Eleanor who seems to be the sane one, while Simon quickly unravels, unable to covince himself that this man is the child they once knew.

HAMMER GLAMOUR Review. [Hammer Time!]

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Written by Marcus Hearn
Published by Titan Books.

Hammer Studios doesn’t really get the credit they deserve for creating the modern scream queen.  Our recent horror beauties like Julianna Guill and Betsy Rue owe a debt of gratitude to the British studio, who pioneered the inclusion of gratuitous cheesecake forevermore into horror films, for better or worse.  Hammer’s leading ladies, often fashion models making a detour into acting, became an integral part of Hammer’s marketing and are some of the best remembered visuals from Hammer’s body of film.

Titan Books’ HAMMER GLAMOUR serves as a companion book to author Marcus Hearn’s terrific THE HAMMER STORY, but it’s also of interest to any movie fan who appreciates the bygone sensuality of vintage glamour models.  This exhaustive hardback “coffee table” book boasts hundreds of full-color photographs–casual shots, set photos, and publicity stills–of pretty much every actress to ever work for the studio.  The book is categorized in alphabetical order, from Ursula Andress (SHE) to Raquel Welch (ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.), the greatest pair of bookends you could ever asked to be sandwiched between, providing informative biographies and “where are they now” information for even Hammer’s most obscure starlets.

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