Shatter (1974)

shatter_1Shatter [奪命刺客] (1974)
AKA Call Him Mr. Shatter

Starring Stuart Whitman, Ti Lung, Lily Li Li-Li, Peter Cushing, Anton Diffring, Yemi Goodman Ajibade, Ko Hung, Keung Hon, James Ma Chim-Si, Lee Hoi-Sang, Lau Nga-Ying, Huang Pei-Chih, Lau Kar-Wing

Directed by Michael Carreras (who took over from Monte Hellman), with some help from Chang Cheh

Expectations: Low, but it has Ti Lung so…

onehalfstar


If you’ve ever wondered why the great Ti Lung never really made it big outside of Asia, look no further than the Shaw Brothers/Hammer Films co-production Shatter! I went into this movie assuming that Ti Lung played a character named Shatter, and that he was so named because his fists were so powerful they shattered the bones of his opponents. But no! Shatter is just some boring white dude (Stuart Whitman) who doesn’t really do anything to justify naming a movie after him. The filmmakers do their best in the editing to make Whitman look like Ti Lung’s equal in the fist fights, but the illusion was not convincing. The film flopped hard at the box office, as well, cutting the three-film contract between Shaw and Hammer short at two.

Shatter begins the film in East Africa, where he assassinates a top general with a gun concealed inside a camera (and fired by taking a picture). Shatter flees to Hong Kong to receive his payment for the job, but when he meets with his contact, Hans Leber (Anton Diffring), Hans gives him the runaround and refuses to pay him. This is where the plot kind of lost me. Chinese assassins are trying to kill Shatter, but I don’t know how they fit it exactly. Peter Cushing (in his final appearance for Hammer) and some goons show up to intimidate/beat up Shatter for some reason, and this is where Ti Lung and Lily Li enter the story. They take Shatter in to help him recuperate, and then magically Lily Li is deeply in love with him and Ti Lung is ready to risk his life for Shatter’s cause (which as far as I could tell was just to get paid). I don’t really understand why any of that happens, but it does.

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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

legendof7goldenvampires_1The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires [七金屍] (1974)
AKA The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, Dracula and the 7 Golden Vampires

Starring Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, Shih Szu, Chan Shen, Lau Kar-Wing, Huang Pei-Chih, John Forbes-Robertson, Tino Wong Cheung, James Ma Chim-Si, Wynn Lau Chun-Fai, Ho Kei-Cheong, Wang Han-Chen, Lau Wai-Ling, Robert Hanna

Directed by Roy Ward Baker (with an uncredited assist from Chang Cheh)

Expectations: Been looking forward to revisiting this for a while now.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


What a difference a few years makes. When I first reviewed The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Silver Emulsion was only six months old, I had never seen a Hammer horror or a David Chiang film, I had no idea who Shih Szu or Chan Shen was, and I definitely couldn’t recognize Lau Kar-Wing on sight. If I remember right, my main takeaway was that it was OK, but nothing special, and that I wanted to watch some actual Hammer films. This initial reaction is a great example of why I set out about reviewing the Shaw films chronologically.

Taken as a single film, it’s true, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires isn’t anything all that special. It is a watered-down Shaw film, mixed with watered-down Hammer elements, and I can understand it not resonating with staunch fans of either studio. But within the context of the Shaw output of the time, along with an understanding and appreciation of the Gothic Hammer feeling, the mixture adds up to one very fun, fast-paced film filled with thrills. I only see my love for this film growing with each successive viewing.

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The Brides of Dracula (1960)

Starring Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson, David Peel, Miles Malleson, Henry Oscar, Mona Washbourne, Andree Melly

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: Moderate, I’ve heard this one was weak.


I can’t believe it, but it’s been a whole year since last October! I know, right, who woulda thought? What I’m getting at is that last October I watched my first Hammer Horror films, loved them and hoped to check out more during the following year. The DVD of The Curse of the Werewolf also came with The Brides of Dracula, so I thought I was well on my way to attaining that goal. I decided to wait a bit after October, but weeks turned to months, and while I got dangerously close to watching this a number of times during the past few months, I instead decided to just wait until October and go for the whole full circle thing. Watching The Brides of Dracula has reminded me of something I had somewhat forgotten in the wake of my first Hammer films: that Hammer films are incredible! Oh man, I have no idea how I survived for so long without ever seeing one, as these would have been instant classics with me during my horror-starved adolescence.

The Brides of Dracula is an interesting Dracula movie in that there’s no Dracula! Spoiler alert for the first film in this series, but Dracula got plumb fucked up! The sun streamed down as he lay on that lovely zodiac wheel on his tile floor, and Dracula turned to ash. So I’m not totally surprised that in the sequel he’s still dead; there’s not really a way to come back from that, is there? OK, OK, there must be, because Hammer brought Christopher Lee back for the next film, and honestly I’m quite interested to see how exactly he does come back from that. But anyway, The Brides of Dracula! Don’t be fooled by the title, this isn’t specifically about Dracula’s brides, although the Dracula stand-in does eventually have a little harem going on.

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The Mummy (1959)

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley, George Pastell, George Woodbridge, Harold Goodwin, Denis Shaw, Willoughby Gray, Michael Ripper

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. The Mummy was my favorite Universal horror film as a kid.


For the final film of my four film Hammer series, I decided to go with the hallowed tale of The Mummy, a standby favorite monster of my childhood via the 1932 Universal film starring Boris Karloff. What was always interesting to me about that film was Karloff’s vulnerability and the fact that while he was killing people and generally doing wrong, he had a reason to do so that was understandable. He was a sympathetic monster and coupled with the copious Egyptian motifs, I was powerless to the power of the mummy.

So going into Hammer’s take on the tale, there was a pretty high hill to climb. Unfortunately, I can’t say what I’ve said in all the previous Hammer reviews, that “This one is even better than the Universal version!” I stand firmly by the original, and while I did greatly enjoy Hammer’s film, I thought it was slower than it needed to be. When your monster is a shambling corpse wrapped in ancient bandages and caked with thick swamp mud, you do get something of a pass, but I can’t excuse away all of the film’s crawling pace.

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Dracula (1958)

Dracula (1958)
AKA Horror of Dracula

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, Olga Dickie, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt, Janina Faye, Barbara Archer

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. Love Dracula, loved the first Hammer movie I saw.


Based on the success of The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer decided to make more movies in a similar vein and Dracula was next in line. It seems like a natural fit for the studio, with intense characters and gothic visuals bursting forth from the source material. While I don’t think it’s as good of a film as The Curse of Frankenstein was, Hammer’s Dracula (Horror of Dracula in America) is an engrossing, enjoyable slice of celluloid cake. As with all of these standard horror monsters, the stories are all part of our culture. From a young age, we teach our children about vampires and their weakness to garlic and sunlight. All of these vampire bullet points show themselves here, but what makes Dracula interesting is the slightly varied take on the events of Bram Stoker’s classic novel and the wonderful performances from the entire cast, just like in The Curse of Frankenstein.

Peter Cushing is absolutely phenomenal as Dr. Van Helsing, playing the cool, collected vampire hunter with an ease rarely seen on-screen. He’s all hero here, tracking Dracula’s movements and staking vampire hearts. The difference in the character from Baron Frankenstein, and Cushing’s ability to make Van Helsing his own, shows just how good of an actor he is. Perhaps this shouldn’t be worth mentioning, but in this day and age when we have people like Tom Cruise and Will Smith that literally bring the exact same style and cadence to nearly every role they are given, I think it warrants a quick aside. And let’s not forget Christopher Lee as Dracula! Lee played Frankenstein’s monster as well, and his ability to inhabit both characters so flawlessly is impressive. After seeing Dracula, it’s clear to me that the success of Hammer Studios wasn’t simply due to the filmmaking or the enhanced violence for the time. It is thanks in large part to the wonderful work of their cast, of which Cushing and Lee were the stalwart anchors.

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The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Starring Peter Cushing, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Valerie Gaunt, Noel Hood, Melvyn Hayes, Paul Hardtmuth, Fred Johnson

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: Moderate. I’m excited to finally watch a Hammer movie after years of buildup, but I’m trying to remain grounded.


For my first Hammer Horror movie experience, I figured I’d begin at the film that started it all, The Curse of Frankenstein. Would you expect me to do anything else? Hammer had done some similar productions prior to this, but The Curse of Frankenstein was their first horror film in color and the one that kicked off their very successful series of revisionist horror films featuring the classic monsters. As such, it is a very impressive, competent movie, exhibiting quality filmmaking from every corner.

At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve seen enough Frankenstein movies. They are all relatively similar, and what is different usually isn’t different enough to care about. This is a big reason why I never actively pursued these Hammer Horror movies, because at some level I felt they’d just be simple retellings of the classic Universal movies, albeit in color with more daring gore. This is where The Curse of Frankenstein sets itself apart though, because in spite of all the odds stacked against it in my head, the film has such an interesting take on the story that it is not only worth watching, this is quite possibly my favorite Frankenstein of all. It definitely blows the 30s Universal movie out of the water for me, no disrespect to that movie intended. It is iconic and all that, but it can’t hang with this version of the tale in my eyes.

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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
AKA “The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula” & “Dracula and the 7 Golden Vampires”

Starring Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, John Forbes-Robertson, Shih Szu, Chan Shen, Lau Kar Wing, Robert Hanna, Lau Wai Ling

Directed by Roy Ward Baker & Chang Cheh (uncredited)

Expectations: Low. It’s a team-up, I’m not expecting much.


 

For my first foray into Shaw Bros. horror, I picked the film poised to unite the two renowned cult studios of Hammer and Shaw in one great grab at the money from both studio’s fans. Honestly, I don’t know how the film’s production came about, who asked who and all that, but I do know this. The Hammer studio was a giant at the time, primarily making lavish Gothic Horror productions on small budgets with great actors. The Shaw studio was also a giant at the time, primarily making lavish Kung Fu epics on small budgets with great actors. Wait a minute… Yes, I’ve always viewed the two studios as brothers from another mother, banging out their brand of films for the huddled masses. The idea of both studios producing one movie may be too much for celluloid to contain. Realistically, the film could never live up to these kinds of expectations though, so I tried to go in with the mentality that team-ups are always less than the sum of their parts.

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