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Hammer Vol Six:Night Shadows - Hammer Vol Six( Blu Ray Boxset) [Powerhouse - 2021]

Here we have the sixth volume in Powerhouses' wonderful Hammer blu ray boxsets. The four-disc set brings together four of the lesser-seen 1960’s films produced by Hammer, and as with the other releases in this series we get a good selection of genre films.  Featured here are The Shadow Of The Cat- a murder mystery/ animal horror film, Captain Clegg- a period adventure with light terror touches, The Phantom Of The Opera- Hammers' more gothic romantic take on this horror classic, and Nightmare- one of the studios moody black and white psychological thrillers. As always Powerhouse has really pulled out all the stops with this boxset, with great new prints for each film, a bumper selection of extras for each film, and around forty-page inlay booklet for each of the four pictures presented here.

First up we have The Shadow Of The Cat- this appeared in 1961, and was jointly released by Hammer and BHP. The film is a wonderful blend of murder mystery and animal terror focused horror- with the whole thing filmed in moody black and white.  It was directed by London born John Gilling- who had thirty-six features to his name, including a good share of Hammer films, such as The Pirates Of Blood River, The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile- all from 1966, and The Mummy's Shroud from 1967. The Shadow Of The Cat is a wonderful well-scoped and elegant film, with a great gothic set.

The film opens in prime creepy manner- as we find the lady of the house Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) sitting with her cat late at night, reading Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven aloud. We see a figure stalking through the house in a very proto-slasher manner, it climbs the stairs, opens the door where Ella sits with her cat, though we can’t see who it is- due to her not putting on her glasses. Fairly soon the figure knocks poor Ella around then, and strangles her with her scarf- then she taken outside and buried in the garden. As the film unfolds various members of the family gather to see if they are in  Ella's Will- though a few of the household are more than a little twitchy due to the cat, who is seemingly tracking down and killing those who killed its mistress. 

The film features a good cast taking in the likes of Barbara Shelley as Beth Ella’s caring & try to solve the mystery niece, André Morell As Ella’s shifty and cantankerous husband Walter, and Andrew Crawford as the families loyal-yet-devious butler. The film features moments of moody cat POV, and a selection of fairly neat-if-largely gore-less murders- taking in a heart attack in a rat bound and cobwebbed basement, drowning in quick mud, falling off a building,  and suffocation. The films one hour and eighteen minutes fly by, with lots of entertaining banter/ double crossings, unfolding mystery, lightly creepy atmospherics, well-filmed kills,  and some nicely tense/ thrilling moments. All making for one of the great lesser-seen early 60’s Hammer films.

Moving onto the picture/ extras on this disc- the new 2k scan looks largely good and balanced, though in places maybe still a little dark. On the new extras front, we get a commentary track from film historian Bruce G Hallenbeck- and this is a nicely shifting and fact-filled track. He opens by talking about the confusion as to whether it was a Hammer film or not, going in-depth to certainly answer it was. He moves onto discuss actors bios, the various backs and forths the film had with the BBFC, the films set which had just been used for Curse Of The Werewolf. He discusses the changes in the original story and script, the films soundtrack, its promotion, and much more. All in all, a most well researched and interesting track, that could well be played a few times. Next, we get In the Shadow of Shelley- this is an in-depth interview with Ms Shelley, who does look very elderly and frail now- but is still full of charm, humour and great memories from her time working on Hammer productions. She goes from talking about working with and her love for animals, onto ticking Christopher Lee on the set of Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Hammer directors she liked, and the wonderful food at Bray studios canteen. Next, we have a ten-minute intro to the film by Kim Newman- and as always this is most worthy. There’s Catmotifs- an eighteen-minute featurette with  David Huckvale, author of Hammer Film Scores and the Musical Avant-Garde, discussing the films soundtrack and the other work of its composer Mikis Theodorakis. Hammer’s Women: Freda Jackson- which finds academic Lucy Bolton discussing the actress who played the films, welsh housekeeper. Cat People-a five minute interview with assistant costume designer Yvonne Blake and Peter Allchorne, of the property department who worked on the film. Moving onto the archive extras- we get Shadow Play: Inside ‘The Shadow of the Cat’- a twenty-six-minute doc about the film from 2014. Special FX Catastrophe-a four-minute audio interview with assistant special effects artist Ian Scoones from 2014. TV Spots, and image gallery.

 

Moving onto disc number two, and we have Captain Clegg( aka Night Creatures) from 1962. This saw Hammer very much in period adventure mode with light touches of horror, set in 18th-century England in the Romney marshes it's a tale smuggling and skulduggery with Peter Cushing playing the town's priest, who has a thing or two to hide. The film was directed by, Surrey born Peter Graham Scott, who had sixty-three directing credits to his name, as well thirty two producer credits- with many of these been UK TV shows, though he did a few feature lengths. These went from English road-to-ruin melodrama Bitter Harvest(1963), Leslie Phillips and Stanley Baxter fronted comedy Father Came Too! ( 1964), and low key Spy Thriller Subterfuge (1968). The film had a screenplay by Anthony Hinds- who of course had connections with a lot of Hammer fare, be it as producer or writer.  Captain Clegg is certainly a well shot and well dressed period film from the ’60s, but it’s more of an adventure film, though there are a few creepy moments here and there.
The film kicks off in a good and nasty fashion as we see balky and bald pirate Mulatto been abandoned on a desert island by his unseen ship's captain- he’s tied to a tree on the beach, his ears slit, and tongue removed. Fast forward ten or so years to the small village of Dymchurch, which is set in the middle of the  Romney marshes- these are meant to be haunted by a group of skeleton ghost figures riding skeleton horses. Early on, in one of the films more wholly creepy/ effective horror moments, we see an old raggy bearded man chased down by said riding ghouls, we also see the appearance of a sifting eye scarecrow. As the film goes on it opens up into adventure/ drama- where the royal crown sends in Captain Collier (Patrick Allen), and his men to investigate smuggling going on in the Village. Incharge of the village is Rev. Dr Blyss( Cushing), and backed up by Harry Cobtree( Oliver Reed) son of the villages local lord, and Coffinmaker Jeremiah Mipps(Michael Ripper). 

Cushing looks most distinctive with his grey stripped bob haircut, and his acting, as usual, is great here. Old Hammer regular Ripper is on fine form too, as the creepy-up to no good coffin-maker. Reed, well is Reed- not really one of his more memorable roles. On the whole, I’d say how much you enjoy Captain Clegg is down to what your expecting- if you go in expecting a dramatic at points fairly action bound period piece, then you’ll enjoy this. Though if your after more prolonged/ effective horror/ chilling content, you’ll feel somewhat let down. To be honest, I always found it to be one of the more underwhelming Hammer films, and I’m afraid re-watching the film for this review- I still feel much the same, it just lacks enough punch/ edge to be a really effective adventure film, and the horror elements- are neat/ rewarding when they appear, but only really takes up 20% of the film runtime.

Moving onto the disc and the presentation of the film, and first, off we get high definition remaster on the print- this is wonderful in it's bold blend of colours, clarity of picture, and all-around lovely looking scan. Moving onto the extras on this first disc- so first up we have the new stuff. We get a commentary track film historian and filmmaker Constantine Nasr- this is a very well researched, detailed and far-reaching track. As he rapidly shifts between discussing shot set-up, locations, crew interview quotes. He talks about the real historical facts behind the royal crown men, discusses the Russell Thorndike’s Doctor Syn series novel the film was based on, he talks about key actors and their careers, comments on onscreen action, and much more. All in all, a very dense and detailed track that one could easily played a few times. Next Kim Newman returns to do a fourteen-minute introduction to the film- he talks about how Hammer hoped to make Captain Clegg the first in a series, but this didn’t happen due to Disney buying the rights to film the Doctor Syn’s series. He talks about Cushing passion for the role, and more- once again another well worth a play intro. We have Peter Cushing: Perspectives – a twenty-nine-minute doc about Cushing- it brings together interview snippets with the great man from 1986, memories of actors/ actresses who worked with him, and a few other talking heads. It’s a really lovely and moving doc,  highlighting how much of a great actor and true gentleman he was.  There’s Smugglers’ Gothic- which runs twenty-two minutes and finds David Huckvale talking about Don Banks’ score and the influence of the head of Hammer Films’ music department, Philip Martell.  There is Hammer’s Women: Molly Arbuthnot and Rosemary Burrows- a fourteen-minute featurette from Josephine Botting talking about the prolific Hammer wardrobe mistresses.  Moving onto the archive stuff- we have a  two hundred minute audio-only interview with director Peter Graham Scott from 2004, Making of ‘Captain Clegg’ – a thirty-two-minute doc about the making of the film from 2014. The Mossman Legacy- a seven-minute featurette from 2014 talking about the contributions of transport historian and collector George Mossman to Hammer productions. There’s a theatrical trailer, and an image/ promotional gallery. 


On Disc three we have Hammer’s version of The Phantom Of The Opera- this appeared in 1962, and it’s an enjoyable blend of mystery, romantic drama, and low key gothic horror touches. It was directed by Terence Fisher- who of course had helmed more than a few other classic Hammer productions- such as The Curse Of Frankenstein(1957), The Mummy(1959), The Gorgon(1964), Dracula: Prince Of Darkness(1966), and The Devil Rides Out(1968).  The Phantom Of The Opera is a nicely pacy and dramatic take on Leroux’s original story- with a good selection of sets/ locations- like the opera house interior/ stage, the Phantoms underground river fed lair, grand officers, a restaurant, a print shop, and London rain-lashed streets. Playing the Phantom part we have Herbert Lom- who mangers a good blend of creepy shadowy-ness and low key pathos. For the romantic leads we have up and coming young singer Christine Charles(Heather Sears) and the operas producer Harry Hunter(Edward de Souza)- who come off believable enough, with their relationship developing convincingly. Other worthy mentions come in the form of Michael Gough who plays the wonderful devious and sleazy Lord Ambrose D'Arcy. Iain Wilson as the Phantom's hunchback helper. With smaller/ slight roles worth a mention been Patrick Troughton as the sleazy and creepy catcher, and a group of four old hags who clean up the theatre at night. 
The Phantoms mask and his reveal are both done well enough- the mask is a one-eyed grey fabric affair, and we first hearing him talking from the shadows, peering through holes, and briefly appearing- with some neat creepy moments coming from these. All in all, this is a  decidedly rewarding and well-paced telling of this classic story.

Moving onto this disc it’s self-and we get a really nice 2k scan of the film, which is full of crisp and bold colourings. We get three different versions of the film to chose from-  1.66:1 and 1.85:1  both running eight-five minutes and an alternative TV cut that has extra scenes and runs ninety-nine minutes.  Moving onto the new extras- and we get two commentary tracks- the first is with author Steve Haberman and film historian Constantine Nasr . This opens with the pair talking about how this is very much a gothic romance- with the story deviating from the normal phantom and singer obsession, and how the film had a different Faustian tone.  They talk about the film shock-cuts and how they were scripted. They chat about the locations/ sets, comment on-screen action.  Talk about the original English cut, which removed most of the horror elements. They discuss the actors and how they carry their roles, compare the different filmed versions of the story, and much more. 
The second track is from film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. They start by discussing the Hammer/ Universal connection, and how this was Universal last version of The Phantom.  They talk about the real version of the Joan Of Ark opera which is featured in the film, they discuss the film's soundtrack and its composer Edwin Astley. They move onto chat about this being one of the larger budgeted Hammer films, how Cary Grant was initially connected to the film.  They discuss the toned-down violence in the film, Terence Fisher films with Hammer and his other work. They talk about the opera sequences, and the films ending. Both tracks are well worth a play, sure there are a few repeated facts/ observations- but mostly each covers different ground/ points.
Otherwise, on the new extras, we get a good selection of stuff- there’s The Men Who Made Hammer: Anthony Hinds- this runs twenty-seven minutes, and finds Richard Klemensen, editor and publisher of Little Shoppe of Horrors journal discussing the career of Hammers producer/ writer. This is certainly most in-depth with lots of insightful information and many pictures of  Hinds, clearly, Klemensen knew Hinds as well as any journalists- as he interviewed him, and got many letters from him over the years. But sadly he comes across as a little dry/ monotone in his presentation of the featurette. Next, we have Herbert Lom: The Soul Behind the Mask- this runs sixteen minutes, and it finds film historian and screenwriter C Courtney Joyner shares personal memories of time spent with the legendary actor.  There’s Phantom Triumphant: Edwin Astley and Hammer’s Horror Opera- this runs sixteen minutes and sees David Huckvale discussing the film's score. Kim Newman returns for a twelve-minute introduction to the film, and once again this is most interesting. Down in the Sewers- a six-minute on-screen interview of Brian Johnson who did the effects on the film. Moving on to the archive extras we have a thirty-one-minute making of from 2014, three-minute trailer commentary from 2013, original trailer, and a gallery of promotional/ publicity material. 

 

The final film in this boxset is Nightmare- this black and white scoped psychological thriller from the year 1964, it features some haunting and tense moments, as well as some fairly strong knife attacks. The film was directed by Islington London born Freddie Francis- who has twenty-six feature-length film credits to his name, and of these, he helmed a few other Hammer productions- taking in the likes of 1963’s Paranoiac- another psychological thriller that featured Oliver Reed,  and 1964’s The Evil Of Frankenstein,  as well as more than a few films for one of Hammers competitors Amicus Productions- so he certainly had a good grounding in both horror and psychological thriller genres. The film was written by Jimmy Sangster- who again had a fair few Hammer credits to his name, as well as a few psychological thriller’s for the company too- so there was a good team behind the film.  Nightmare is a fittingly atmospheric and well-scoped film, that features good performances, some nice tense moments, neat plot twists, and some rewardingly creepy/ shocking moments along the way.

The film focus on Janet (Jennie Linden) a nervy late teenage student who lives/ studies at a girl's private finishing school. The film opens with her having a nightmare about her mother, who is locked in an insane asylum. Fairly soon it’s decided, due to the continued nightmares, that Janet should return home- she makes her way back there with her teacher Miss Lewis( Brenda Bruce). When arriving back at the house she expects to see her guardian Henry Baxter(David Knight)- but he’s not there, instead, she left in the hands of John the Chauffer(George A. Cooper- who will be known to many brits of a certain age as the caretaker on Grange Hill),  housekeeper Mrs Gibbs(Irene Richmond), and Grace Maddox(Moira Redmond) a psychiatric nurse who has apparently been employed by Henry. The decidedly twitchy Janet starts seeing a white-shrouded woman(Clytie Jessop) walking the house at night, and finds bodies turning up with knives in their chest- but when others come to look for the woman, or the bodies nothing is found. So is Janet really turning as mad as her mother, who we find out killed Janet's father, or is someone playing games with her.

The film runs at a fairly tight eight two minutes, and it’s a largely engaging enough psychological thriller- with some nice twists and turns in the plot, some effective acting,  neat creepy snowbound locations, and rewarding moments of tension and dread. I wouldn’t say it’s the best of Hammers Thrillers, as once you’ve seen the twist I can’t see it been terrible re-watchable. But if you enjoy moody black and white horror tipped thrillers, then I think you’ll enjoy what we have here.  

Moving onto this final disc- and we find a high-definition print of the film, this features a wonderful crisp and clear scan of the picture, nicely bringing out the shadow/ depth in the black and white. Moving onto the extras- and on the new stuff side, we get a commentary track from film historians Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby- as always these two give a great, well researched, and most entertaining track. They start by discussing the effective opening scene- and it’s creepy is it/ is it not a dream vibe. They move onto discuss the locations, and that the film was shot in one of the worst snow winters of the ’60s, and the filming issues this caused. They talk about the actors, giving in-depth and interesting bios. They discuss the plot twists and turns, how the film compares with the other Hammer thrillers, on set stories, and much more- so another great track from these two. Next, we get Something Lurking in the Chords – which finds David Huckvale coming back for a thirty-minute featurette regarding the film's composer Don Banks. Hammer’s Women: Moira Redmond- a ten-minute featurette from critic and film historian Pamela Hutchinson regarding Mis Redmond . We get an eight-minute intro from Mr Newman.  On the archive side of things- we get an eighty-three-minute audio interview with Freddie Francis from 1994,  Madhouse: Inside Hammer’s ‘Nightmare’- a  2016 fifteen minute featurette finding Hammer historians Alan Barnes, John J Johnston, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby revisit the production. We get a twenty-eight-minute making-of doc, also from 2016. Jennie Linden: Memories- a fifteen-minute on-screen interview with actress Jennie Linden- from 2016. Original trailer, and promotional/ publicity material gallery.

 

Yet again Powerhouse has done an excellent and highly classy job on this boxset- with great new scans for each film, and hours upon hours of extras. Once again, another high watermark boxset from the company, which I’m sure will be featured in my best of the year list…unmissable really if you enjoy Hammer films or 60’s genre pictures.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Roger Batty
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