The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

A Collection of Writings

New!!

Anecdotes

Archaeology

Aviation

Battle of Britain

Biography

Books

Computers

Cricket

Films

Ghosts

Hammer

History

Horror

Motor Racing

Murder

Mystery

Pitt of Horror

RAF

Sci Fi

Travel

Vampires

Winston Churchill

World War 2

Ingrid's Obituary


The Hammer Films Story - Part Four

Part 4 of the Hammer Story takes it right up until the final film, THE LADY VANISHES. After this it was all television and broken promises. But watch this space. HAMMER is back in production.
Hammer Beauties in The Vampire Lovers

Hammer Beauties in The Vampire Lovers

If you listen to the experts they take a delight in saying that by the mid sixties the halcyon days for Hammer were in the past. How could they be? I hadn't arrived on the scene by then. And there were to be a number of films to come which would deny that Hammer had hit the anvil for the last time.

Jimmy Sangster admits he lost the way a little in the third of his psycho thrillers HYSTERIA (1964). He also admits to not being a fan of the horror genre. Which is curious for a man who practically rewrote the horror genre. THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB. (1965) was uninspired and now looks dated. It was written by Michael Carreras under his pseudonym of Henry Younger.

Barbara Shelley found her way into the male dominated THE SECRET OF BLOOD ISLAND (1965). An action packed film which returned to the area pioneered by Camp on Blood Island. H. Rider Haggard's SHE gave the eponymous character to 'the world's most beautiful woman' - Ursula Andress, It was a good try but some of the effects were decidedly off base. The eternal flame - as a 'for instance'. Tallulah Bankhead! There's a name to conjure with. FANATIC (1965) had a 'mix and match' cast ranging from Tallulah via Stefanie Powers to comedienne Yootha Joyce. It was Tallulah's last film and she went out like a star - tantrums and all. The last Hammer film for Oliver Reed was THE BRIGAND OF KANDAHAR (1965). OK - but never quite got into gear. Which can't be said for THE NANNY (1965) with the inimitable Bette Davis. Again a Sangster movie that did the business. He not only wrote the script but produced as well. It was one of Hammer's most financial and critical successes.

It took eight years to get Lee, Hammer and Dracula back together, Was the wait worth it? A qualified 'yes'. Sangster took his name off the film so I guess he wasn't too happy. Lee didn't think much of the dialogue and is a mute Dracula. One of the few occasions when the Rep company didn't gel. RASPUTIN - THE MAD MONK was more to Lee's liking and he relished the scenery chewing potential of the Russian charlatan. It was another historical subject which Hammer had learned to do so well. THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966), in spite of its catch-penny title , was one of Hammer's better films. And certainly the best that Anthony Hinds, under his pseudonym of John Elder, wrote. A lot of the plaudits must go to Andre Morrell who breezes through a difficult role.

Raquel Welch - One Million Years BC

Raquel Welch - One Million Years BC

Bray Studios created its very own monster with THE REPTILE (1966). It was a valiant try but every ones attention was now on the Raquel Welch fur bikini in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966). It was the most expensive film the company had ever taken on. And had special effects genius Ray Harryhausen supplying the monsters. It made the top ten at the box office and launched Raquel on her career. SLAVE GIRLS (1966) was a shot at latching onto the publicity of Million Years and should be forgotten. THE WITCHES (1966) with Joan Fontaine tries hard but just doesn't make it out of the cauldron. Which is about the same as could be said for THE VIKING QUEEN (1967). Cushing is back on his search for a perfect body and finds it in Susan Denberg in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1966). It's a trip to ancient Egypt for THE MUMMY'S SHROUD (1967) Not one to redress Hammer's run of lack lustre films.

Andrew Keir takes over the role of Professor Quatermass in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967) and brings new lustre to the name. Nigel Neale, the creator of Quatermass was given the script to write to stop him complaining about what was done to his books. It stood up well to the others in the series - and is the most watchable today. A CHALLENGE FOR ROBIN HOOD (1967) is best described as an honest film. It had a small budget and no 'star' stars. Bette Davies came back for a second appearance at Hammer for THE ANNIVERSARY (1968). Davis was in bitching mode, sacked the director and took on Roy Ward Baker. It was a tantrum strewn movie, not at all a happy atmosphere. It did good business and the grand diva has been forgiven - I think, THE VENGEANCE OF SHE (1968) wouldn't have worked even if Andress had reprised the role. She would have been better left in the Eternal Flame.

Quatermass and The Pit

Quatermass and The Pit

Return to production value is the term which springs to mind for THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968). It and THE LOST CONTINENT filmed in the same year were both picked from the Dennis Wheatley menu. DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968) introduced luscious Veronica Carlson to the company and had Oscar winner Freddie Francis directing. Like Sangster, Francis confesses to not liking horror films. The film did good business at the box office. Lee is another of the horror Dons who is not happy with his association.

Special effects stole the show in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1968) . Ray Harryhausen was off on another film and Jim Danworth took over his armature and earned the only Oscar nomination the company ever received. It did excellent business and even the critics seemed to like it. FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) was a mini breakaway. It had practically none of the front line technical crew working on it and is remembered for the appalling rape scene with Peter Cushing and Veronica Carlson. Neither of the stars wanted to do it but were cajoled into it by Jimmy Carreras. This apart Peter gave one of his best performances. MOON ZERO TWO (1969) never got off the ground. And the same goes for CRESCENDO (1969)

Hungarian director Peter Sasdy was brought in for TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1969). Protesting mightily, Chris Lee once again shouldered the cloak and fangs. Most of the time it looks as if they had a hard time finding a space to insert the Dracula character. It was a different 'take' on the Stoker original and earned good money. And the music by Jimmy Barnard was superb.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

J. Sheridan Le Fanu was taken off the shelf and his Carmilla was written up as VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) by Tudor Gates. It was the film Jimmy Carreras proposed to me as 'three roles'. I don't know about anyone else but I had a great time working on it. Like everyone else I was bowled over by the Cushing charm and generosity. It made a lot of money and although it is often dismissed as a 'skin flick' or a 'lesbian' oeuvre I still think it is a good story, excellently told by the master, Roy Ward Baker. But then, to paraphrase my old mate Mandy Rice Davies, 'I would wouldn't I?'

Ralph Bates, the Cushing/Lee in waiting, became Dr. Frankenstein in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970). Sangster produced, directed and wrote the script. Ex-Green Cross Code Man and body builder Dave - soon to be Darth Vader - Prowse, had an outing as the monster and Veronica Carlson had little to do but scream a lot. Sangster readily admits that the three disciplines he had to master were a problem. 'The idea was a mistake.' he admits. As was the next film on the call sheet, SCARS OF DRACULA.

And it would be wise to never use the word 'forget' in a script. The crits love it and it gives them a hook to hang a negative criticism on. Not that CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT needed to hang out any hostages to fortune. Norwegian beauty queen, Julie Ege, won the leading role role in a competition.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

The Karnstein reunion for LUST FOR A VAMPIRE went ahead without me. I was lined up for COUNTESS DRACULA and after seeing the script for Lust with the Carmilla character little more than a means for titillation I was glad of the excuse to get out of it. Cushing dropped out because his wife Helen was ill and Alan Bates took over as a favour to director Jimmy Sangster and Yutte Stensgaard did for Carmilla. Up the road at Pinewood I was spending the wee small hours in prosthetics for the Old Countess Dracula. Now I could do it without the makeup. Sets for COUNTESS DRACULA (1970) were pinched from Anne of a Thousand Days and the costumes were sumptuous. Peter Sasdy was brought in to direct and the gorgeous Nigel Greene played my lover Captain Dobi. It did good business but suffered from a lack of unity. Everybody with anything to say seemed to be making a different film.

BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1971) was not the happiest film to work on. Cushing's wife, Helen, died after a long illness and Seth Holt died before the film was in the can. Michael Carreras took over. The trade ads tried to work the 'Mummy's curse' theme but it didn't go over too well. It did bring Hai Karate girl Valerie Leon to the fore and Andrew Keir was well suited to the Cushing role. HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1971) was Aida Young's last film for Hammer. It was an interesting variation on the Ripper theme with the Whitechapel Slasher's daughter, Anna, played by Angharad Rees, doing the murdering. Reviews were mixed but box office takings brisk.

One of my favourite Hammer films is DR, JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971). This brought together Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick as the two sides of the monster. I thought both of them were brilliant and there was enough novelty in the idea of a man-cum-woman to keep the interest in a story that has had more than its fair share of exploitation, alive.

Beautiful But Deadly

Beautiful But Deadly

Returning to the small screen for inspiration Michael Carreras, now in charge of the company after his father bowed out, decided to make TV series ON THE BUSES into a film. A sort of Royle family with wheels on. It was an undoubted hit and made the company a lot of money in spite of never getting a US release. Michael thought of getting serious about comedy. But he already had several horror films on his blotter. TWINS OF EVIL (1971) had real life twins Madeline and Mary Collinson. And Damien Thomas.. It's a case of which twin is the bitch with the fangs and which is the goody two shoes with the faith. It seems that even Peter Cushing as their nasty Uncle is not sure who's who and comes to a sticky end. Director Robert Young was given VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1971). He wanted to bring a more European look to the film. The idea was certainly a cut above other, worn out, vampire themes that had been mooted in recent years. The end product, unfortunately, was not as good as its component parts. Due mainly to the fact that Young was not prepared to work at the Hammer double time pace. Several scenes were never shot and this was death for an admittedly complicated film.

Hammer chiefs were now urgently trying to plan the way ahead. So far they had managed to, more or less, go with the flow. But times they were a changing and it was getting harder to predict public taste. DEMONS OF THE MIND was a frenzied attempt to satisfy all sorts of quirks and obsessions but just finishes up muddled by its own ambition. Main stay Jimmy Sangster had hied off to America and there was a void that was becoming increasingly hard to fill. DRACULA AD 1972 (1971) was just a mistake. And another film where Lee railed against his character - but accepted the job. STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING (1971) is the sort of film that if you are contemplating suicide it is as well to do so before seeing it. In spite of the incomparable Rita Tushingham it has little to recommend it.

Although Sangster heart was in America FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1971) gave him a passable parting shot. Like many of the later Hammer films it had an over complicated and not particularly original plot. Cushing again was great and Judy Gleeson screamed wonderfully but it is not enough to jet it to the height of its ambition. So it was back to the Buses for a welcome injection of capital. MUTINY ON THE BUSES (1972) did make a profit but failed to make the tills ring like its predecessor. KRONOS (1972) was a brave attempt by Brian Clemens to find a new angle on the vampire. Unfortunately he didn't have the backing of boss man Carreras and it failed to be what he wanted. So it was comedy again for a dip in the honey pot. First there was THAT'S YOUR FUNERAL. In the cast was Raymond Huntley from whom all modern Draculas flow. Not much else to say about this film. NEAREST AND DEAREST (1973) was a little better.But not much. It was now patently obvious that Hammer had lost its way. Michael Carreras decided to give the spare parts man another whirl with FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL . It was a bit sad but gave a little style to the last of the Frankensteins. If Frankenstein limped out in style it is more than can be said for Dracula. THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA was produced with Lee's customary complaints about being too good for the part. This time his complaint was well founded. I suppose it was a suitably gruesome end for the man of gruesome ends.

It's a Monster!

It's a Monster!

Money was getting short. The public's seemingly unquenchable appetite for horror was being sated by more and more graphic unmentionables pouring out of America. LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR (1973) adjusted the ledgers but did nothing to embellish the Queen's Award to Industry that the company had won a decade before. Now the once unstoppable company was running on empty. Michael Carreras was heir to a different audience than his father. He tried, in desperation, to point Hammer in a new direction. Nothing seemed to work. Films dribbled off the screen and squelched in the auditorium. MAN AT THE TOP (1973) started well but was cut off at the ankles, HOLIDAY ON THE BUSES (1973) made money but nobody was impressed. In spite of Peter Cushing and a great score by James Bernard the mix of Kung Fu and vampirism in THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA (1973) wasn't a success. Peter Cushing's last film for the company, SHATTER (1973), was a sad song for a curtain call. But even teamed with Anton Diffring he wasn't able to save a dire film. 1974 saw just one production. Another desperate lunge at the seam of gold they had unearthed with previous comedies. MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE was another rip off from television with nowhere to go.

Dennis Wheatley had been on standby for years and TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1975) should have at least done enough to paint over the gaping cracks in Hammer's continued dive towards annihilation. Although this one was a dud, it's a pity Hammer didn't extend the series. Wheatley wrote some great horror / thriller / espionage drama. Maybe it is something for the new Hammer to think about? Michael Carreras made a last stand reminiscent of The Alamo. THE LADY VANISHES had been made in Hollywood in 1938 by the great Alfred Hitchcock. It was a mistake to take the Maestro on at that time. The film industry in Britain was in a parlous state, and the Americans were dominant. Carreras got a good cast together and prayed. His prayers were in vain. The critics were generally good, but the bums on seats did not materialise. It is doubtful if Hammer could have been saved by The Lady Vanishes, but at least it was a reasonable shot at finding a new way. It was the last film that Hammer made. The rest is television.

(First published in MODEL & COLLECTORS MART).

THE HAMMER STORY

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt