Hammer Volume Four: Faces of Fear – Blu-Ray Review

This is the fourth Hammer box set Indicator has released: four different Hammer films, mostly from the early ‘60s. The only ‘50s entrant is The Revenge of Frankenstein, which was the sequel to Curse of Frankenstein (unfortunately owned by Icon, so Indicator can’t license it). The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (a.k.a. House of Fright), Taste of Fear and The Damned (a.k.a. These Are the Damned) are the other three.

The Revenge of Frankenstein continues where Curse of Frankenstein left off: Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is sentenced to death by guillotine, but manages to escape his fate. It picks up three years later, where Victor is a physician in Carlsbruck, Germany and facing blackmail. He continues his experiments, and you can guess what happens next. All the usual, slightly campy Hammer stuff is here. It’s actually not super-gory, but The Daily Telegraph was horrified by it and urged the BBFC to create a new category, “For sadists only!”. Now it’s rated UK 12…

There isn’t a proper “Frankenstein’s monster” in it, which is kind of annoying, but of course Dr. Frankenstein is the real monster. And this sets it aside from the Universal films, which I guess is a good thing. It was directed by Terence Fisher, the director most associated with Hammer and one who directed the most iconic movies for the company. Fisher also directed the famous Hammer version of Dracula the same year as this film.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll is, I think, one of only two Jekyll-themed films that Hammer made. Also directed by Fisher, it’s actually a really weird version of the story: originally Dr. Jekyll (here played by Canadian actor Paul Massie) is this sickly, bland doctor, and instead of him transforming into a monster, he becomes the suave, handsome villain Mr. Hyde; in this version, Jekyll’s wife becomes increasingly attracted to Mr. Hyde. In other words, she’s cheating on her husband with her husband. I believe this was Oliver Reed’s first Hammer movie, playing a brutish nightclub bouncer, such a huge stretch. Massie is best known for his role in Tony Hancock‘s The Rebel, although he did a lot of TV (The Avengers, The Doctors, etc.) but didn’t have much of a film career.

Taste of Fear is Hammer trying to do Hitchcock, and it’s one of their more interesting films. It stars Susan Strasburg (famous acting coach Lee Strasburg’s daughter) as wheelchair-bound heiress Penny Appleby, who returns to her father’s estate on the French Riviera (actually Elstree) while he is supposedly away. But she keeps having visions of him dead… The plot becomes stranger, as her best friend has committed suicide, and no one believes Penny when she tells them about her visions. It’s a decent movie, though not as good as what Christopher Lee (who had a bit part) said about it—he claimed Taste of Fear was the best Hammer film he was ever in. It was really well shot by Douglas Slocombe, a notable cinematographer who also shot a lot of Ealing films as well as The Servant, The Italian Job, Rollerball and the first three Indiana Jones films, among others.

Finally, there is The Damned, which is a very bizarre science-fiction movie, something Hammer was known to do occasionally. In the US it was called These Are the Damned and sold as a kind of Village of the Damned knock-off, and there are some links, as it’s about kids with weird special powers. It was directed by Joseph Losey, an American director who had some small success early on in his career. He did a bunch of film noirs, including the American remake of M, but then HUAC happened—and as he was a pretty committed Communist, Losey left. The FBI’s dossier on Losey even claimed he was a Stalinist agent. He worked mainly in the UK but also made some European films. He tried to go back to the US later on, but found out that he was unemployable.

Losey was supposed to make a film for Hammer called X the Unknown, but the star, Dean Jagger, refused to work with a “Communist sympathiser”. While not a Quartermass film, it fit into the same cycle, as did The Damned, which ended up being his only Hammer movie. There are various cuts of the film, and Losey’s version wasn’t released til years later. Later on, Losey became a really prominent director in the 60s and 70s with films like The Go-Between and my personal favourite The Servant.

It’s set in some kind of near-future Britain that looks suspiciously like 1962. An American tourist, a young gang leader (Oliver Reed again), his Droogs-like gang and his sister end up together in a top-secret lab where experiments are being done on radioactive kids who are meant to keep the human race going after the Bomb. It’s certainly the best film in this set, just because it’s so bizarre. It has a very haunting climax as well.

This limited-edition box set includes restored or remastered versions of all four films, plus a load of special features for each of them. There is a series of profiles of the Hammer heroines who appear in these movies, plus audio commentaries, making-of featurettes, video essays, trailers, outtakes, and a massive amount of other interesting items. Each film is also accompanied by a separate 36-page booklet with essays and archival material.

Ian Schultz

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