Blood and Terror is the latest boxset of obscure Hammer films to be released by Powerhouse, and as always with these films, it’s a mixed bag. The set consists of basically two double bills, if you like: two anti-war films and two horror-tinged historical films set in Asia. The films are The Camp on Blood Island, Yesterday’s Enemy, The Stranglers of Bombay and The Terror of the Tongs, which all came out quickly over four years during the late ’50s and early 60s.
The first film, The Camp on Blood Island, is probably the best of the lot. It’s certainly the most remembered, given its lurid title, which helped make it one of Hammer’s most successful films. It’s a pretty gnarly film about British Prisoners of War who were tortured by their Japanese guards. It came out of a string of books documenting the Japanese army’s shocking treatment of POWs, which were certainly true, but like some of the books it definitely revels in the brutality they were afflicted with. It’s directed by Val Guest, probably the best director Hammer ever hired—so much so that he was also hired for the next film, which you could say was a partial rebuttal to the depiction of the Japanese in The Camp on Blood Island.
Next up is Yesterday’s Enemy, which is a similar film because it’s about the treatment of POWs, but this time it’s Brits being monstrous. It’s set during the war campaign in Burma where the Brits were retreating from the Japanese. It’s an anti-war film but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth with its message, which is basically that sometimes during a war you have to commit war crimes for the greater good or for “Queen and Country.” However, it was one of Val Guest’s own favourites, and it’s easy to see why, especially given that it has a stand-out performance from Stanley Baker, who was hot off the heels of Hell Drivers and Sea Fury.
The Stranglers of Bombay is the first of the two horror-tinged historical films set in Asia, and it’s certainly the better of the pair. It’s about a real-life Kali cult that performs human sacrifices, not unlike a certain Indiana Jones film that came out in the ’80s. The action centres on the West India Trading company trying to deal with Thuggee, members of the Kali cult and were highway robbers, and who were known to strangle their victims; the term ‘thug’ comes from the Thuggee as well. Like all the films in the set, it’s fast-paced (the longest of the four is Yesterday’s Enemy at slightly over 90 minutes), and it probably would have benefitted from an extra 10 to 20 minutes to expand the storyline. Unlike the next film, The Terror of the Tongs, the actors pull off their brown-face roles fairly well.
The worst film in the set is most certainly The Terror of the Tongs, although it has some lush colour photography and a very committed performance by one of Hammer’s biggest stars, Christopher Lee. The film is pretty much the same set-up as The Stranglers of Bombay: a shadowy organization is committing heinous crimes and a Brit has to investigate, with this time a revenge angle. Of course, the film is full of some outrageous yellow-face acting, especially Christopher Lee, who wore eye makeup to get that stereotypical and racist Chinese “slanty eye” look, reportedly the most painful makeup he ever wore in his long career. Lee would perhaps most famously don yellow-face in a reboot series of Fu Manchu in the mid to late ’60s. The Terror of the Tongs was also the first Hammer film to give Lee top-billing, despite the fact that he had already been in many of the most famous Hammer films.
The set comes in a lavish hard cardboard box, with each disc getting its own case with a dedicated booklet. The discs are full of commentaries, documentaries, profiles of some of the Hammer leading ladies, interviews, appreciations, various cuts and much more.