Powerhouse Indicator continues its series of exotic attractions from the house of Hammer with four more titles, three of which are front-rank winners. Once again, the company’s extras make all the difference. We’re’ given alternate versions, censor comparisons, and for one reel, an entire roll of outtakes and stage waits featuring Peter Cushing.
Hammer Volume Four Faces of Fear
Region Free Blu-ray
The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Taste of Fear, The Damned (These Are the Damned)
1958-1962 / Color & B&W / 1:66, 2:35 widescreen / / Street Date November 25, 2019 / available from Powerhouse Films UK / £42.99
Directed by Terence Fisher (2), Seth Holt, Joseph Losey
Powerhouse Indicator’s fourth collection of Hammer attractions shows no sign of compromise — three out of four titles here are superb tales of fright and science fiction. Thanks to the company policy of leaving no gravestone unturned, the exclusive special extras never stop. We have alternate title sequences for two films, a gallery of censor alterations for another, and an entire second release version for yet another. Plus, Powerhouse premieres a new remastered copy of a prime Hammer classic, one that until now hasn’t been looking so well.
The extras stick mainly to the established experts for commentary and interview lecturing. The label continues with its policy of reversing the ‘sexy Hammer babe’ trend, offering instead biographical pieces on key genre actresses, hosted by woman critics.
The Revenge of Frankenstein
1958 / Color / 1:66 widescreen / 84 min.
Starring: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Lionel Jeffries, Oscar Quitak, Charles Lloyd Pack, Richard Wordsworth, George Woodbridge.
Cinematography: Jack Asher
Film Editor: Alfred Cox
Original Music: Leonard Salzedo
Written by Jimmy Sangster
Produced by Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds
Directed by Terence Fisher
This exciting mix of mad surgery and tragic disfigurement was the first follow-up to Hammer’s smash color debut feature, and is one of the best Frankenstein films ever. Peter Cushing alters his interpretation of the rash vivisectionist and Jimmy Sangster’s intriguing script pulls in several fresh ideas.
The story sees the bad doctor hiding out in a credible bourgeois environment, Germany in 1860. After only three years in Carlsberg, ‘Dr. Victor Stein’ (Peter Cushing) maintains a flourishing private practice and tends to a busy ward of charity patients. The jealous local medical council is upset that Stein is monopolizing the wealthiest patients. One council member, young Dr. Hans Kleve (Francis Matthews), recognizes Stein as the Baron Victor Frankenstein, the fiend that everybody assumes was guillotined for a series of blasphemous murders. Instead of exposing the brilliant scientist, Hans joins him in his latest venture. Using ‘spare parts’ from the charity ward, the Baron has fashioned a new, handsome body (Michael Gwynne) for his misshapen assistant, Karl (Oscar Quitak). Hans helps his brilliant mentor to install Karl’s brain into the ‘new’ corpse and bring it to life.
This time around Frankenstein is on a basically good mission. The ‘new’ Karl’s recovery is spoiled by a scheming ward orderly (Richard Wordsworth) and a meddling socialite charity volunteer, the beautiful Margaret Conrad (Eunice Gayson). Karl rebels at the idea of being exhibited as a scientific freak. He escapes, risking the healing process. His new life may be doomed anyway: Dr. Stein’s previous chimpanzee brain transplantees have a bad habit of turning cannibalistic.
This second Frankenstein outing has a marked de-emphasis on gore, although we’re still granted some graphic views of socket-less eyes, crumbly-looking brains and butcher-table limbs. Frankenstein has the same egotistic desire to vindicate his radical research but he’s no longer an outright murderer. A stray arm or two finds its way into his freezer, but he’s sworn off murdering kindly old professors and compromising the household help. Hans Kleve joins Dr. Stein in a mutual comradeship that for a while seems like a winning combination.
The Baron grew colder and less tolerant in future outings. In the next-best installment Frankenstein Must be Destroyed he’s become an irredeemable villain. The putative ‘monster’ in that show is just another pathetic brain transplantee; Frankenstein does all of the killing, and is back to raping women again, just to put them in their place.
But the kinder, gentler Baron Frankenstein of Revenge has dropped his libidinous criminalities. He shrewdly fends off a matronly countess’s attempts to use her daughter as marriage bait. He also has no interest in ward candy striper Margaret Conrad, played by Eunice Gayson, the voluptuous Sylvia Trench of the first two James Bond movies. Instead of skulking about, Dr. Stein carefully places a flower in his lapel and serves the poor. He takes his meals alone in his clinic office.
The Revenge of Frankenstein earns high marks despite adhering to the frustratingly unchanging format for mad surgery films: no matter what the doctors may do, their creations become monsters and all hell breaks loose. This time out there’s no blather about transgressing in God’s domain. The Baron has learned a few public relations lessons. He and Dr. Kleve make no medical mistakes whatsoever, and the synthetic Karl gets an optimistic new lease on life. The desired ending would have Karl marry Margaret (she has a thing for scars, you know) and live happily ever after. No such luck.
Having dispensed with old-fashioned moralizing, Sangster posits no reason for the doctor’s failure except regrettable staffing decisions and plain bad luck. At the halfway point Revenge becomes almost bittersweet in its pathos. Audiences sincerely want the gentle, deserving Karl to get his second chance. The emotional effect is the same as in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, an upscale Hammer horror freed from the need to be a monster movie. The two films share a lot of ground. Each doctor is by and large benevolent. Both seek fame and acceptance through their discoveries. The monster in each case is hidden away in a secret room in a clinic, only to find misfortune through the interference of foolish hospital staff and corrupt interlopers.
But the 1958 market demanded a standard hulking menace, so Jimmy Sangster complied. Karl becomes a creeping killer for the last reel.
Matinee kids that cheered Chris Lee getting his head shot-gunned here identified with Michael Gwynn’s Karl and suffered along with his each and every trauma. Gwynn twists and distorts himself to suggest regression to savagery, succeeding where the script stumbles. Even some mainstream reviewers gave Revenge high marks based on Gywnn’s sympathetic performance, often overlooking Cushing to praise the gaunt actor. Gwynn can be also seen in Village of the Damned, Barabbas and as Hermes in Jason and the Argonauts.
Frankly, Sangster isn’t the best screenwriter in horror film history. Not all the characters are fully integrated into the storyline, and his third act throws logic for a loop. That Karl’s damaged brain begins to deform his new body into the likeness of his old one makes fairytale sense, so we grudgingly accept it. Then Sangster has Karl revert to cannibalism as well. After liberating Frankenstein from religious fundamentalism, Sangster invents a new reactionary notion – that messing with Mother Nature will turn us all into savages again.
Or, perhaps the cannibalism is an ugly equating of class differences and evolutionary stages: the dirty poor, by ‘rejecting’ the civilized ways of the clean society people, are becoming animal-like. The ward orderly even makes a verbal case for behaving like an animal. Karl’s plunge into savagery is simply more extreme. I have a nagging feeling that I’ve expended more thought on this idea than writer Sangster ever did.
While Stein and Kleves work harmoniously, Sangster makes the gorgeous Margaret Conrad a ditzy, decorative idiot. Her only real function is to set up Karl for tragedy. More unmotivated meddling comes from Richard Wordsworth’s sleazy orderly. The gaunt Wordsworth is well known for playing emaciated prisoners in the Blood Islandwar movies and for his famous part as spaceman Carroon in Hammer’s first big hit The Quatermass Xperiment. Here, Wordsworth establishes the grimy presence of the underclass and adds a note of comedy relief.
The great Lionel Jeffries and Michael Ripper form a grave-robbing team, the best scene of its kind in the Hammer filmography. Francis Matthews is fine as Kleves, a civilized and progressive soul who’s probably quite an anachronism for 1860 Germany. As is usual, the Hammer Germany is populated with Cockneys in Bavarian togs, spouting inappropriate Anglicisms. In the examining room, the Countess asks Stein to ‘give her daughter an overhaul,‘ as if Vera were a leaky exhaust manifold.
The simple scene where the snarling but traumatized surgical failure crashes the Contessa’s recital party is one of Hammer’s best. Instead of the usual violence, we get a key image previously unseen in Frankenstein movies — the monster stumbles at his creator’s feet, tearfully begging for help.
The Revenge of Frankenstein is the Hammer restoration story of the year. The disc transfers of recent years have not looked very good, with soft focus, bad contrast and other flaws. A Mill Creek disc from 2016 begins with an unsteady, ding-ed up Columbia logo and becomes a swamp of grain and crushed colors. The new encoding is far sharper and smoother, rock solid in the frame. Colors look accurate again. Jack Asher’s fine work is properly represented.
Powerhouse goes all out for the first Frankenstein sequel, and its expert pundits Alan Barnes, Kevin Lyons, Jonathan Rigby, Stephen Jones, Kim Newman, Pamela Jones, Kat Ellinger and Dima Ballin rush to sing the praises of Peter Cushing and company.
The rarest item in the set is an outtake reel, essentially 11 minutes of unused takes and stage waits assembled long ago, probably as the B-negative for Revenge was being junked. Instead of being tossed, several reels’ worth of outtakes and clapper-board snaps were spliced together to test a film preservative. We saw this reel projected at a Hollywood lab in the year 2000; I wrote enthusiastically about it the next day at my old DVD Savant page. The reel coated a patch of scenes and then left some uncoated; I remember mainly that some scenes looked more yellow, but that’s it. Powerhouse’s transfer facility has color corrected the whole thing — which may have faded more in the last 20 years. But how could the chemists prove anything, if the only way to find out if it worked was to wait 30 years? What if it ruined the negative after a period of time? Would you soak the OCN for The Godfather in this stuff?
Anyway, the value of the outtake reel is that it gives us a peek at the practical reality of filmmaking at Bray near the start of the horror boom. There’s no joking around — camera negative and processing are so expensive that we see no clowning or cut-ups. In Peter Cushing’s scenes, he waits with a pleased smile during each slate, and then gets instantly into character. Terence Fisher has him combine two shots in one, filming his entrance and exit all in the same take, to further save film. The level of professionalism is high: the couple of Hammer shooting scripts I’ve seen leave no room for improvisation — the scripts read like post-editorial continuities.
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
1960 / Color / 2:35 widescreen / 88 min.
Starring: Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher Lee, David Kossoff, Norma Marla, Francis De Wolff, Joy Webster, Walter Gotell, Oliver Reed.
Cinematography: Jack Asher
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins
Original Music: David Heneker, Monty Norman
Written by Wolf Mankowitz
Produced by Michael Carreras
Directed by Terence Fisher
Even when uncut and uncensored, The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll is still one of Hammer’s major misfires, despite its high-powered writing talent and prestige leading actor. Perhaps it needed a blast of absurdity, like using the Lou Christie song under its main titles. Top writer Wolf Mankowitz (Expresso Bongo, The Day the Earth Caught Fire) plays fast and loose with Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous story but hasn’t come up with an interesting variation. His bearded, dour researcher Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) wants to liberate mankind from the restraints of conscience and morality, which mostly leads to an 1890’s view of debauchery and corruption. Jekyll is unaware that plenty of people are already liberated. His wife Kitty (Dawn Addams of The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse) is having an affair with the wastrel gambler Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), on Henry’s money.
Jekyll uses a potion to split his personality, but the Hyde that emerges is not a traditional monster. Audiences in 1960 may have tuned out right then and there. Hyde is instead a handsome and amoral cad eager for sensation. (Curiously, Hammer had used a roughly similar concept just one year earlier in their Jekyll/Hyde comedy The Ugly Duckling, which basically sets the pattern for Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor.) Faster than you can say Julius Kelp, Hyde beds Maria (Norma Marla), a snake dancer at a bawdy men’s club/bordello. Hyde becomes furious when he fails to seduce ‘Jekyll’s’ wife Kitty, and instead discovers that Kitty actually loves Paul. The remainder of the narrative uses tragic mistaken identity-and-coincidence situations more suitable for a bedroom farce. Mankowitz’s mean-spirited series of machinations and twists are lacking in irony or character identification: bad Stuff happens and that’s about it. Paul has a fateful date with Maria’s snake, while Hyde maneuvers Kitty and Maria into each other’s bedrooms. As they sang in The Band Wagon, everyone ends in mincemeat.
Director Terence Fisher’s pace is slack — a fairly dull shot of Jekyll injecting himself lingers seemingly forever, with the music working hard to maintain our interest. The almost uniformly bright lighting enforces a rather artificial, theatrical atmosphere. Ace editor Eric Boyd-Perkins enlivens several decorative dance scenes in the London fleshpots, and adds a couple of jarringly inappropriate wipe transitions. Let’s assume they were somebody else’s idea.
Dawn Addams’ voice may well be dubbed but she gives an effective performance as a woman leading a double life. In her own way Kitty is working on the same identity split as her husband — playing an upright society missus nabbing some thrills on the side. For once given a character role with some meat on it, Christopher Lee proves that he can play a wholly convincing cad. Paul Massie is a Gloomy Gus as Jekyll, with some really bad makeup and hair. To me Jekyll looks like a college student on amateur night, with a beard pasted on and made up to resemble one of Paul Muni’s period characters.
Massie’s blonde, clean-shaven Hyde is never more than a twitch away from breaking into a crazed grin. Jekyll insists that his theories have nothing to do with good and evil, but Mr. Hyde’s deeds are almost uniformly reprehensible. When Hyde’s chemical transformations get out of control, we don’t sympathize. There’s nobody to root for in this clutch of selfish people.
It’s likely that Wolf Mankowitz was stymied by what the censors would allow; as a great writer of contemporary dialogue, he may have felt hemmed in by the period setting. The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll is short on actual horror content, but its cruel sexuality is even more censorable, just when the British censors were coming down hard on the company and its imitators. Some of the snake dancing by Norma Marla (or her double; she wears a mask) is pretty vulgar, including a shot of her plunging the head of a large boa constrictor into her mouth. The club harlots talk a bawdy streak, with the word ‘bitch’ used at least twice. The film teases some near-nudity into the Hyde-Maria seduction scene. Columbia pawned the film off on A.I.P., but it can’t have been appropriate kiddie matinee material, even when cut.
We’re given a nice bit from Oliver Reed as an irate pimp (!) and a too-brief couple of moments with the talented child actress Janina Faye (Horror of Dracula). When the plot requires a London detective, we’re not surprised to see stalwart Francis De Wolff enter the scene. David Kossoff (The Mouse that Roared) is Henry’s moralizing friend. He has a welcome moment at the finish, even if rejecting the Coroner’s facile conclusion that Henry Jekyll ‘ventured too far into God’s domain’ explains exactly nothing.
The Two Faces Of Dr. Jekyll has not been newly remastered but is in fine shape. Jack Asher’s high-key lighting for most interiors is always attractive, but it doesn’t say ‘horror,’ and the soundstage exterior of the children’s school has an artificial look. Fisher gives Paul Massie some jarring, fiendish close-ups, while Dawn Addams and Norma Marla are bathed in glamorous light.
The genuine Hammer experts rounded up to talk about Two Faces do their best to increase our interest in the film, even when they conclude that it just doesn’t come together. Compensating is a long archival interview with Wolf Mankowitz, and Laura Mayne’s look at the career of Dawn Addams. Was Mankowitz brought the idea to Hammer, but his main contribution seems to have been to toughen up the dialogue. A somewhat depressing versions comparison shows a lot of mainly unnecessary words (‘bitch’ ‘whore’ ‘damn’) being replaced with overdubs like ‘witch’ and ‘darn.’ If the censors have the filmmakers checkmated on such petty things, maybe we should celebrate every time we see something outrageous evade their blue pencils.
I’m always interested when these Hammer experts come forth with more informed perspectives on the films; I mention a few later on with These Are the Damned. The first two pictures in this set were directed by Terence Fisher, but I have yet to hear a single word that connects his directorial style to the ‘house style’ of the studio where he apprenticed in the 1940s, Gainsborough. I recommend an Eclipse boxed set of DVDs from 2012 called Eclipse 36: Three Wicked Melodramas from Gainsborough Pictures. Michael Koresky’s liner notes for that release are a revelation. Fisher worked on several Gainsborough pictures and was the editor for Madonna of the Seven Moons, which often looks exactly like an early Hammer film, with the same dynamic framing, economy of character movement, and dramatic close-ups used for shock cuts. I even saw ‘original’ versions of scene blocking in Madonna that were re-used later. At one point Stewart Granger backs Phyllis Calvert into a room and slams the door in the camera’s face, just as Christopher Lee does in in Horror of Dracula. Gainsborough’s ‘daring’ melodramas even share a salacious interest in low necklines for the leading actresses.
Taste of Fear
1961 / B&W / 1:66 widescreen / 81 min.
Starring: Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee, John Serret, Leonard Sachs, Anne Blake.
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins
Original Music: Clifton Parker
Written and produced by Jimmy Sangster
Directed by Seth Holt
Taste of Fear (In America, Scream of Fear) is one those thrillers that’s completely gripping the first time through, if the viewer hasn’t been tipped off to details of character and storyline. It’s considered one of the best psychological thrillers immediately post- Psycho, even though its writer-producer Jimmy Sangster lifts some of his thriller ideas from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques. Sangster later wrote that he basically ‘remade’ Clouzot’s film eight or nine times.
The charming Susan Strasberg gives the thriller a solid boost. Wheelchair-bound Penny Appleby (Strasberg) returns to her home after years at boarding school. Her school companion has drowned herself, and Penny’s father has just died. The cliff-side Appleby estate is now being run by Penny’s stepmother Jane (Ann Todd), who assures Penny that she’ll always have a home. But the schoolgirl’s unstable nerves are getting the better of her — she keeps seeing her father’s body turning up in odd places, like the storeroom behind the pool. Family chauffeur Bob (Ronald Lewis) tries to console Penny, while Doctor Pierre Gerrard (Christopher Lee) drops by almost every night for dinner and to keep Jane company. Gerrard suggests that Penny may have a stress-related nervous disorder, making the girl feel even more unstable.
Taste of Fear is a contemporary story given fine direction by Seth Holt, a former editor and producer who would make only four more movies before his death in 1971. Holt and his cameraman Douglas Slocombe generate an excellent mystery atmosphere in the elaborately designed Appleby manor house. The completely vulnerable Penny rolls her wheelchair cautiously to and fro. Bob the chauffeur risks his job to give Penny some comfort, and we suspect that the stepmother Ann is jealous of her. What Dr. Gerrard has in mind is anybody’s guess. As if channeling Hamlet, Penny and Bob join forces to find evidence to prove that Ann killed Penny’s father, but it looks like someone has discovered their plan.
The success of this project launched Hammer on a series of modest B&W murder mysteries with a psychological edge. Writer-producer Jimmy Sangster concocted more blood-soaked murder mysteries, most with with similar family settings and almost all relying on shaggy plot gimmicks derived from other, better thrillers. But thanks to Seth Holt, Douglas Slocombe and especially Susan Strasberg, Taste of Fear keeps its promise and delivers major shocks. Columbia repeated Hitchcock’s recommendation that viewers see the show from the beginning, and a minimalist ad campaign added to the aura of a ‘special, forbidden’ mystery.
Ann Todd and Ronald Lewis play excellent support; we viewers are of course looking for evidence that one of them is a murderer. Christopher Lee’s doctor, on the other hand, seems a red herring from the first, thanks to the actor’s horror associations. So we have to wonder if Dr. Gerrard is a red herring, or if he’s just flying the red herring flag to mask some dastardly murder scheme.
The talented Susan Strasberg had played Anne Frank onstage, and made a big splash in 1955’s Picnic. She was always in demand and respected, but top roles seldom came her way — this may be her best movie overall. Ms. Strasberg has one of those faces that commands both sympathy and attention, and shows inner strength. In a normal thriller we’d wait for the handsome boyfriend or lover to arrive and save the day, but the fact that it’s a Hammer film leaves Penny’s fate in serious doubt. What we remember most is Penny’s relationship to water — the Swiss lake, the murky, Diabolique– like swimming pond, the crashing waves that seem so mysterious behind Slocombe’s misty lens diffusion.
It’s best that first-time viewers stay away from more detailed synopses, and watch carefully from the beginning. At first viewing Taste of Fear packs a number of satisfying surprises.
Taste of Fear is another Hammer title that never saw a bad transfer. Mastered here in a balanced widescreen, with an HD image to delineate every shadowy corner in Douglas Slocombe’s B&W images, it’s a winner. Some of the show was actually filmed in France, and when those scenes are combined with the sleek interior sets and Seth Holt’s assured direction, we know we’re watching quality good.
The unique extras on the Taste of Fear disc are longform audio recordings, two of them with Jimmy Sangster and one with Douglas Slocombe. They range much further than this individual film and represent a key research resource. Alan Barnes, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby give forth with the 23-minute feature overview; by this time we wish their interview material was not all in close-up, from an unchanging camera angle. In HD, a shoulder-up CU is sometimes just too close.
The Damned (These Are the Damned)
1961 / B&W / 2:35 widescreen / 96, 87 min.
Starring: Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Viveca Lindfors, Alexander Knox, Oliver Reed, Walter Gotell, James Villiers, Tom Kempinski, Kenneth Cope, Brian Oulton, Rachel Clay, Caroline Sheldon, Rebecca Dignam, Siobhan Taylor, Nicholas Clay.
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Reginald Mills
Sculptor: Elisabeth Frink
Original Music: James Bernard
Written by Evan Jones, Ben Barzman (uncredited) from a novel by H. L Lawrence
Produced by Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds, Anthony Nelson Keys
Directed by Joseph Losey
I’ve written up review coverage for These Are the Damned at CineSavant, for a German release earlier this year. Rather than repeat that review, I’ll direct curious readers to check it out, and use this new space to elaborate on more thoughts prompted by Powerhouse Indicator’s fine presentation.
These Are The Damned remains core Brit Sci-Fi, which in the 1950s and early 1960s surpassed Hollywood for thoughtful and politically relevant content. The Quatermass Xperiment, Quatermass 2, this picture, The Day the Earth Caught Fire and, a little later, Quatermass and the Pit are the crown jewels of English science fiction film. All are now available in good Blu-ray presentations, although not all are on Region-Free discs.
This show is perhaps the most cinematically original and brilliant of the bunch. Expatriate director Joseph Losey’s work shows none of Hammer’s typical budgetary restraints; he somehow secured access to the seaside town of Weymouth, and his ‘found’ location of a quarry house atop the cliffs of Portland Bill is inspired. The plotting is original, relying neither on alien invasion ‘givens’ from earlier Sci-fi pictures, nor on the kind of disaster-related fantasies analyzed by Susan Sontag. The menace concocted by Joseph Losey and Evan Jones is more politically insidious.
Naysayers could call the storyline a perversion of ‘Ban the Bomb’ hysteria — if one believes that the anti-Nuke movement is bad for society. The basic concept of ‘radioactive children’ is impossible, which means that Losey is reaching deeper into allegorical fantasy, supported by a pulp-fantasy political allegory, not scientific fact. Joseph Losey communicates the world as he sees it, and his personal knowledge of the political madness of the decade informs his view that reactionary governments are capable of terrible crimes. I carefully studied the views of the commentators on Powerhouse’s disc. Although some of the spokespeople touch on the subject of blacklisting, they don’t follow through with a deeper analysis — the plot of The Damned is a direct extension of earlier Losey films.
The Simon Wells character played by Macdonald Carey is a carbon copy of Larry Wilder, a character Carey played ten years before in Losey’s searing race-baiting noir The Lawless, aka The Dividing Line. Both men are successful Americans who ‘ran away’ from the rat race. Larry was a well-known reporter; disillusioned by corruption in New York, he has bought a tiny newspaper in a small town that will allow him a comfortable space in which to hide out. But American injustice permeates the local scene as well, and when lynch mobs target Mexican-Americans Larry is forced to take a position. The mob then turns on Larry’s newspaper, for telling the truth.
The Damned’s Simon Wells is an insurance executive who cashed out, bought a boat and is touring England and presumably the rest of Europe. The boat is named La Dolce Vita, indicating Simon’s intention to pursue sensual experiences. Simon is instead assaulted by the same ‘senseless violence’ that has infected the U.S.A.. Half an hour into the picture the only issue at hand is Simon’s rescue of the biker girl Joan (Shirley Anne Field) from her sexually screwed-up brother King (Oliver Reed). He is instead are plunged into a much bigger mystery about a group of radioactive tykes held prisoner in a cave-nursery, being raised for a morbid destiny.
The children only make complete sense when we realize that they’re extension of a political-poetic conceit in Losey’s first film, The Boy with Green Hair. Images of traumatized war orphans on aid relief posters come to life in a child’s fantasy. They beg for help, for an end to terror on the personal and global scale. Little Dean Stockwell is threatened by juvenile thugs, and learns the lesson that humanist activism is something to pursue and be proud of. Twelve years later, Simon Wells is similarly roughed up by hoodlums, but his outcomes isn’t nearly as hopeful. The children he wants to rescue have poisoned him, and the militarist bureaucrats in charge of the obscene cold-war project will make sure that nobody will hear the truth that Simon has uncovered. I don’t think there’s much difference between the ‘fantasy orphans’ in Green Hair and the sci-fi fantasy orphans in Damned — it’s a marvelous genre transposition that few critics picked up on.
On many levels These are the Damned plays like a masterpiece; to me it’s directed far better than Losey’s earlier ’50s efforts, like Time Without Pity. The symbolism that Losey jams into his film feels wholly appropriate — the grim sculptures of artist Freya (Viveca Lindfors) point toward the same nuclear obliteration that the cold war bureaucrat Bernard (Alexander Knox) declares is inevitable. Much of western society’s anxiety in the 1950s stemmed directly from the nuclear threat; even Madmagazine pegged the ‘who cares?’ aspect of juvenile delinquency to the looming threat of total extermination. Bernard’s response is a horrible experiment far more villainous than the petty crimes of King, the Teddy Boy. Freya is moved to make contemplative sculptures of charred people and birds. And Joseph Losey’s vision is to make a fantasy allegory about a militarist society committing crimes against humanity.
But is The Damned a masterpiece? Losey’s direction can’t do much to animate the limited talent of Shirley Anne Field, in the scenes where she’s supposed to be a tough biker girl. Losey and Oliver Reed muff the character of King, who seethes and threatens but never seems a good fit for the story. The incestuous theme between Joan and King seems one wrinkle too many, taking up time without paying off in a satisfying way. King is already borderline unbelievable, and giving him more psycho qualities doesn’t help.
Losey almost loses the Simon Wells character too, when the America is alone on the boat with Joan. The scene doesn’t address their age difference, but audiences felt the false notes; if walkouts occurred, this is where they happened. The traveling matte work in this scene always felt false as well — was the scene a re-shoot? Joan seems all wrong here, but her character suddenly becomes more convincing when they climb to Freya’s cliff house.
Macdonald Carey’s Simon is all aces in the final confrontation. The accusations that he and Viveca Lindfors’ Freya shout at the impassive Bernard are golden, beautiful oratory that transcends the genre: “I know YOU — you’re the man with all the answers.” The words have theatrical power but do not seem pretentious, even when Freya spills a long sentence about “… freeing nine ice-cold children in the ashes of the universe.” Remember, Losey and Charles Laughton had defied the blacklist by defiantly presenting the play Galileo in the middle of the HUAC witch hunt.
Otherwise it’s difficult to fault Losey’s direction — every scene is visually riveting, better than we would expect in 1961. Losey invents the concept of the ‘science fiction helicopter,’ as a futuristic extension of nameless & faceless power. In Vietnam, against an enemy with no air force at all, armed helicopters might as well have been Martian war machines, technology from the future. Losey’s feel for the Weymouth landscape compels in a way that never happens in his ineffective (but consistently titled) Figures in a Landscape.
Losey pulls off an incredible pair of stunt shots, that seem ridiculously risky. Running at top speed, Joan jumps into a moving boat from the side of a wharf, a do-or-die leap that only the craziest stuntman would try. It’s shown in a no-tricks wide shot, and is followed by a second jump by a biker kid, that adds to the effect. In her interview Shirley Anne Field claims that she did the jump herself, something I wouldn’t believe anyone would allow. A frame by frame look at the shot shows that the jumper-stuntperson has different hair, and legs and hands that don’t match.
Even scarier is King’s death plunge off a Weymouth bridge into the water. It’s a stunt person, of course, but this kind of stunt is almost never done with a real driver, but covered in cutaways. We see it in two perfect reverse shots. The driver snakes his Jaguar onto the bridge at high speed — he’s really there doing it. We see no special safety rigging — it’s just him in an ordinary car — there’s nothing to keep him from smashing into the steering wheel and windshield when the car hits the water. The reverse angle is taken from a helicopter that we see harassing King in the first shot — we can make out the camera sticking out its side door. The car drops 25 feet and sinks immediately. Even if the driver were not smashed to a pulp, one would think he’d be so stunned that he’d drown, with or without frogmen to pull him out. I’ve seen no stunt like this before or since — both are so irresponsible, if I were in charge I’d try to prevent them!
Powerhouse’s encoding of These Are the Damned is the same as what appeared on the German disc earlier this year, but the new extras are irresistible. The B&W image always looked fine, with a hazy grayscale for the Portland Bill exteriors that feels very real. When the doomed kids break out of the bunker, we feel the glare of the sun just as they do. James Bernard’s terrific music score, alternating an eerie ‘children’ theme with the stomping rock song, is playable on an isolated music track. ‘Black Leather Rock’ mixes into the orchestral music in interesting ways.
The film can be played with an original title sequence for The Damned as well, even though that film element is a bit scratched. ‘On the Brink” does sound like a better title, but maybe everyone was afraid of a backlash against the Ban the Bomb theme. Personally, I would have gone with “The Precipice” — which would tip off audiences to a more poetic (pretentious?) vibe.
An entire second Blu-ray is given over to the truncated 87-minute English release version, which eliminates good material in several scenes. The entire introduction to Bernard’s think-tank group, where soldiers and educators lock horns, is missing. I think a nice exchange between Freya and Sid, King’s most sensitive Droog biker cohort, has been dropped as well. I wish Powerhouse could have included a comparison extra, as they do on Two Faces of Dr.Jekyll; one pointed excision is the potentially risible moment where King turns to the camera and threatens, “You’re a dead man, Simple Simon.”
One additional thought that I can’t back up: I’m certain that the Columbia studio screening print that I showed in 1975 was even shorter than 87 minutes. I think it may have deleted much of the preamble to the cliff-top chase.
Everybody gets a chance to talk about The Damned, and almost of them repeat plot synopses for the basic premise: Alan Barnes, Kevin Lyons, Kat Ellinger, Samm Deighan, Nick Riddle, Jonathan Rigby, writer Evan Jones, Gavrik Losey, I Q Hunter. Alan Barnes says something I only suspected, that the Teddy Boy fad had already passed when the film was shot … it was certainly passé by the time the film was released, making Oliver Reed’s character seem even more awkward.
I’d first check in with Neil Sinyard’s video essay, only because I find his analysis and approach the most polished and his opinions the most insightful (read: we agree on most points). The must-view items also include Shirley Anne Field’s new interview — her memories of the shoot, Losey and Oliver Reed are eye-opening. Three of the child actors also come forward with memorable stories of their experience. One of them remembers being envious of the kid actor who got to escape from the quarry, and ride in the car with Oliver Reed.
We hear only a quick mention of Joseph Losey’s short subject for Hammer A Man on the Beach (1956); I guess we’ll have to catch up with that elusive film later.
Powerhouse Indicator’s Region Free Blu-ray of Hammer Volume Four Faces of Fear is a huge piece of work — the company surely wants its discs to be the final word on these Hammer thrillers for years to come.
Each film contains a trailer if available, an art and still gallery, and where applicable, a Trailers from Hell trailer commentary. Music expert David Huckvale talks about each score and demonstrates his points on a piano keyboard. And Pamela Hutchinson, Laura Mayne, Melanie Williams and Lindsay Hallam host looks at four separate Hammer’s Women.
Each disc comes in its own keep case decorated as shown above; each contains an insert booklet described below, that won’t necessarily be included with individual disc purchases in the future
Indicator is clearly after plenty of export sales, a plan aided by Region-Free encoding. When presentations are this good, I’m ready and eager to help promote them.
Note and correction, 11.05.19: Author Jonathan Rigby, on The Hammer Lovers Facebook Page, corrects me on my statement that ‘nobody has mentioned the relationship between Terence Fisher’s directing style and that of Gainsborough Studios.’ Jonathan is of course ‘more informed,’ and took the time to dig up his exact words from a 2013 audio commentary for Dracula (1958). They’re news to me and I happily repeat them here:
“It’s a really transgressive scene, and of course there’s a moment when Dracula slams the door — and he slams the door on the camera. The interesting thing about that little moment is that, of course, Terence Fisher and so many of the Hammer personnel, in particular Jack Asher the cinematographer, were veterans of Gainsborough Pictures from the ’40s. And Terence Fisher isn’t credited on this film, but there was a Gainsborough picture from 1945 called Madonna of the Seven Moons, which I’m sure Fisher must have remembered. Because there’s a very dynamic scene there where Stewart Granger rushes to meet Phyllis Calvert in her room, and they have a big embrace and a kiss, and then Stewart Granger gets hold of the door and slams it on the camera, to indicate that rude things are going to happen. And of course the scene doesn’t go beyond that point. Fisher reproduces it here with the slamming of the door, but he does go beyond that point and you see what happens on the bed. I think that’s a direct quote from Madonna of the Seven Moons. For any Gainsborough aficionados out there, I’ll just throw that in. Watch Madonna of the Seven Moons; it’s a very similar set-up.” — Jonathan Rigby
I shouldn’t have made such a big deal of Gainsborough — it’s a weakness of mine, in that I sometimes want movie experts to address my personal interests more. The same thing happens with this disc coverage of The Damned (These Are the Damned). I was hoping for a big discussion about the possible suppression of the movie, a thought that has floated about since original review notices. Rigby and others are likely correct when they say that the shelving of The Damned was due simply to marketing cold feet — Hammer just didn’t believe the show was a good commercial bet. After exhausting my political notions, I was ready to think The Damned was suppressed because it might hurt tourism! If Rigby and Marcus Hearn had come across Hammer documentation expressing any outside pressure, they’d surely have told us about it. I’m grateful to Mr. Rigby for his insightful commentaries, and for responding to my thoughts.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Hammer Volume Four Faces of Fear
Region Free Blu-ray rates:
Movies: Frankenstein: Excellent, Jekyll: Good, Fear: Excellent, Damned: Excellent.
Supplements (from Indicator):
The Revenge of Frankenstein:
Audio commentary with Marcus Hearn & Jonathan Rigby (2019); Audio commentary with Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (2019); Featurettes: Back from the Dead: Inside ‘The Revenge of Frankenstein’ (2019, 22 mins): new overview featuring Alan Barnes, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby; Hammer’s Women: Eunice Gayson (2019, 8 mins) with Pamela Hutchinson; A Frankenstein for the 20th Century (2019, 27 mins): video essay by Kat Ellinger and Dima Ballin; Arpeggios of Melancholy (2019, 13 mins): appreciation of composer Leonard Salzedo’s score by David Huckvale; Outtakes reel (1958, 12 mins, mute): rare, unseen on-set footage; Super 8 version (8 mins, b&w, mute); Original trailer; Joe Dante Trailers from Hell commentary (2013, 2 mins); Image gallery. 36-page booklet with a new essay by Marcus Hearn, Kieran Foster on Hammer’s unrealised Tales of Frankenstein television series, Jimmy Sangster essay, promotional materials, and an overview of contemporary reviews.
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll:
Audio commentary with Josephine Botting and Jonathan Rigby (2019); Featurettes: Identity Crisis: Inside ‘The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll’ (2019, 19 mins): new overview featuring Alan Barnes, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby; Hammer’s Women: Dawn Addams (2019, 11 mins) with Laura Mayne; Archival audio Interview with Paul Massie (1967, 10 mins); Archival audio interview Now and Then: Wolf Mankowitz (1968, 28 mins): in conversation with Bernard Braden; Mauve Decadence (2019, 11 mins): appreciation of composer Monty Norman’s score by David Huckvale; The Many Faces of Dr. Jekyll (2019, 7 mins): censorship comparison piece; Original trailer; Sam Hamm Trailers from Hell commentary (2013, 3 mins); Image gallery, promotional and publicity materials. 36-page booklet with a new essay by Kat Ellinger, and an overview of contemporary reviews.
Taste of Fear:
Two presentations of the film: Taste of Fear, with the rarely seen original U.K. title sequence, and Scream of Fear, with the alternative U.S. titles; New audio commentary with Kevin Lyons; Featurettes: Body Horror: Inside ‘Taste of Fear’ (2019, 23 mins): new overview featuring Alan Barnes, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby; Hammer’s Women: Ann Todd (2019, 12 mins) by Melanie Williams; Archival audio recording The BFI Southbank Interview with Jimmy Sangster (2008, 68 mins) in conversation with Marcus Hearn; Archival audio recording The British Entertainment History Project Video Interview with Jimmy Sangster (2008, 117 mins) in conversation with Jonathan Rigby; Archival audio recording The BEHP Interview with Douglas Slocombe, Part Two: From Hammer to Spielberg (1988, 82 mins) in conversation with Sidney Cole; Fear Makers (2019, 9 mins) with camera operator Desmond Davis and assistant sound editor John Crome; Anxiety and Terror (2019, 25 mins): appreciation of Clifton Parker’s score by David Huckvale; Super 8 version (20 mins); Original U.S. Scream of Fear trailer; Sam Hamm Trailers from Hell commentary (2013, 2 mins); Image gallery. 36-page booklet with an essay by Marcus Hearn, Jimmy Sangster on Taste of Fear, an archival on-set report, and an overview of contemporary reviews.
The Damned (These Are the Damned):
Alternative presentations of the complete 96-minute version, playable as either The Damned or These Are the Damned; Box-set exclusive presentation of the rarely seen original 87-minute U.K. theatrical cut of The Damned; Audio commentary with Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan; Featurettes: On the Brink: Inside ‘The Damned’ (2019, 27 mins): new overview featuring Alan Barnes, Kevin Lyons, Nick Riddle and Jonathan Rigby; Hammer’s Women: Viveca Lindfors (2019, 15 mins) with Lindsay Hallam; Looking in the Right Place (2019, 10 mins): actor Shirley Anne Field recalls working with Oliver Reed and Joseph Losey; Children of ‘The Damned’ (2019, 24 mins): with former child actors David Palmer, Kit Williams and Christopher Witty; Something Out of Nothing (2019, 7 mins): with screenwriter Evan Jones; Smoke Screen (2019, 12 mins): interview with camera operator Anthony Heller; Beneath the Surface (2019, 26 mins): interview with filmmaker Gavrik Losey; Beyond Black Leather (2019, 15 mins): I Q Hunter discusses The Damned; No Future (2019, 26 mins): appreciation by film historian Neil Sinyard; The Lonely Shore (2019, 21 mins): appreciation of James Bernard’s score by David Huckvale; Isolated music & effects track; Original US trailer; Joe Dante Trailers from Hell commentary (2013, 4 mins); Image gallery. 36-page booklet with a new essay by Richard Combs, Joseph Losey on The Damned, a look at the US pressbook, an overview of contemporary reviews.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: Four keep cases in heavy card box
Reviewed: October 31, 2019
Text © Copyright 2018 Glenn Erickson