The Hammer DVD collection is a box set that consists of 21 movies many of which are arguably the best of Hammer films during their highly productive period from the late 1950,s through to the mid 1970,s. The set is split into volumes or books, of which there are four. Book one opens with SHE which was based upon H.Rider Haggards novel from the 19th Century, the movie which starred Ursula Andress, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and also Bernard Cribbins was one of Hammer’s most lavish and attractive looking productions the interior shots being carried out at Elstree studios in England but the exterior filming was done on location in Israel which was something of a departure for Hammer. The result was an epic production which although popular at the box office did not result in a repeat performance of Andress in the sequel. The music was by Hammer’s almost resident composer James Bernard who wrote a magnificently epic score and also provided the film with a haunting and lush sounding theme that was filled with romantic and emotive content.
Disc two in book one is the Bette Davies movie THE NANNY, which was released in the October of 1965, the film which was to be Hammer’s final black and white movie, was certainly a chilling and disturbing one, with an excellent performance by Miss Davies and also wonderful performances by child actors Pamela Franklin and William Dix the movie was directed by Seth Holt who brought the adaptation of Evelyn Pipers novel to the screen giving it life and realism. Disc number three in the first volume of films is the 1966 production DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS, Christopher Lee returned as the infamous Vampire Count for the first time after making the role his own some seven years previous in the studios adaptation of DRACULA. Filmed at Hammer’s Bray studios with Terence Fisher helming the production, however the films storyline replaced Van Helsing who had been portrayed so convincingly in the previous movie and substituted his character with Father Sandor played by stalwart British actor Andrew Keir. In fact the only reference to Van Helsing as played by Cushing is seen in the opening footage of the movie where we see him engaged in a life or death fight with Dracula which was in fact the end scene of the previous movie. Music is courtesy of James Bernard who re-invented his famous and foreboding three note motif DRA-CU-LA within the score.
Disc number four is from the 1966 production THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, this was screened as a double bill with DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS and in later years was considered as being the better of the two productions, it was Hammer’s one and only foray into the mysterious and evil world of the Zombie but is a superior production which is considered by many fans and critics alike as one of the house of horror’s finest moments. Music again was by James Bernard who produced a driving and highly percussive score.
Disc number five, RASTPUTIN THE MAD MONK, was released in the March of 1966, although a historical epic the movie was filmed on a meagre budget but Christopher Lee’s performance as the central character shone through the actor researching his part extensively to ensure he got it right, this research certainly paid off as Lee is more than convincing in the role. The movie contained a vibrant score by Australian born composer Don Banks who also wrote the music for THE REPTILE which is disc number one in book two of the set, THE REPTILE was filmed just after THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and the studio utilised many of the sets that had appeared in Plague, THE REPTILE proved to be one of Hammer’s most difficult productions, they had various problems with the reptile make up and in the end had to rely on dim lit sets and shady scenes to disguise these. The film was shown as a support feature for RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK.
Also released in 1966 was THE WITCHES, The film was an adaptation of the novel THE DEVILS OWN by Peter Curtis and starred Joan Fontaine who also owned the rights to the book. Directed by Cyril Frankel with a screenplay by Nigel Kneale the movie although totally convincing and entertaining failed to achieve success at the box office and has only in more recent years established itself as a classic. Disc number three in this second volume was promoted as Hammer’s 100th movie, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. was filmed on location in the Canary Islands, with Don Chaffey directing, it catapulted its female lead Rachel Welch into the public gaze and gave us the iconic of her in an animal skin bikini. The film contained some convincing stop go action in the form of Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs; and an atmospheric score by Italian Maestro Mario Nascimbene, it was Hammer’s biggest box office earner.
Because of the success of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. Don Chaffey was given Hammer’s next historical project, THE VIKING QUEEN was released in 1967, and starred the Finish actress/model Carita Jarvinen in the central role of Queen Salina who was apparently based upon the Queen of the Iceni Boadicea who led her people in a revolt against the Romans in the first century AD. Both the leading lady in the film and her co-star Don Murray were unconvincing in their roles and the critics were also sceptical about the films historical accuracy, thus the film failed to gain much attention at the box office. The musical score was by Gary Hughes, who also wrote the music for Hammer’s English civil war drama THE CRIMSON BLADE as well as providing rousing soundtracks to THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, DEVIL SHIP PIRATES and A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD. Hughes who died in 1978 is sadly under represented on recordings of film music.
The last disc in book two is FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN, which was an interesting take on the original FRANKENSTEIN story. Released in 1967 the movie starred Peter Cushing and was to be one of the last to be filmed at Bray studios. Directed by the studios ace film maker Terence Fisher with Austrian born actress Susan Denberg taking the lead female role, the cast also included the inimitable Thorley Walters in the role of Frankenstein’s awkward assistant. The musical score which had at its centre a romantic and fragile theme was written by James Bernard whose subdued and melodic score lulled audiences into a false sense of security in a movie that contained a number of vicious and bloody scenes. Book number three opens with QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, which premiered in the November of 1967, the script which was the work of Nigel Kneale was commissioned by Hammer in 1961, but due to production problems and also financial difficulties the movie was postponed. Directed by Roy Ward Baker the film was shot at the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Borehamwood studio, the movie was well received and is still regarded as one of Hammers most accomplished productions. Composer Tristram Carey provided the film with a score that was partly symphonic and partly electronic which added greater atmosphere and depth to the story unfolding on screen. Up next is THE VENGEANCE OF SHE unfortunately this sequel to SHE never lived up to its predecessors success and was to be honest a major box office failure for Hammer. Disc number three in book three is a film that many regard as Hammer’s best production, and I have to say I agree with all who are of this opinion, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is a masterpiece of horror. At the time of its release the film was not well received by American audiences, it was thought to be too old fashioned in its approach with a typical British appearance including rather lack lustre special effects, directed by Terence Fisher, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is now seen as a classic and also a movie that actor Christopher Lee regards as his favourite Hammer movie. The powerful and malevolent musical score is by James Bernard his music simply oozing evil and foreboding.
Disc four in book three is PREHISTORIC WOMEN I think the less said about this movie the better, let us just say Hammer’s finest hour it certainly was not. Composer Carlo Martelli who wrote the score for the movie told me in interview that he was more or less tricked into writing the music and preferred not to be associated with it. Disc number five in book three is SCARS OF DRACULA. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, this was the fifth movie with Christopher Lee as the evil Count and took Hammer into the 1970,s and was shown alongside THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN in cinemas which was also released in 1970, and is disc number one in book four of this magnificent DVD collection.
Ralph Bates took over the role of Baron Frankenstein for this particular outing and the monster was portrayed by David Prowse who would come to be known as Darth Vader in later years. The music for THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN was written by Australian born composer Malcolm Williamson, who was at one time Master of the Queens music and had also worked on Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) and CRESCENDO (1970). Williamson thought that his use of tuba within the score made the monster seem clumsy and farcical at the time of the films release, but this was an opinion he altered in later years.
Book four also contains BLOOD FROM THE MUMMYS TOMB (1971), STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING (1972), FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972) and the underrated DEMONS OF THE MIND or BLOOD WILL HAVE BLOOD (1972) the final movie in book four is TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, which was a new breed of horror movie to be produced by Hammer and sadly the studios last. Loosely based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley this was far removed from previous productions such as THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and DRACULA it was an intensely more realistic production and owed much of its success to the performance given by Christopher Lee, directed by Peter Sykes this final horror movie from the Hammer studio’s now stands as a beacon in style and direction and inspired many productions that were to follow by other studios and film makers. Each disc in this set contains extras these are either in the form of trailers, stills galleries or interviews plus many of the discs have commentary by principal actors and directors/producers who were involved with the films, eg; Rachel Welch, Jimmy Sangster, Ray Harryhausen, Roy Ward Baker, Veronica Carlson, Valerie Leon, Rita Tushingham and Peter Sykes. DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS for example contains a 57 minute documentary THE MANY FACES OF CHRISTOPHER LEE. This is a highly desirable set and one that will delight Hammer aficionados. With informative notes by Hammer expert Marcus Hearne and a lavish booklet filled with info and stills. Highly recommended.