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Hammer Films Ultimate Collection Main

Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Mill Creek Entertainment

Hammer Films Ultimate Collection Large

Written and directed by various
2020, 29 hours 18 minutes, Not Rated
Released on November 17th, 2020

Starring:
Peter Cushing as various
Christopher Lee as various
Andre Morell
Susan Strasberg
Oliver Reed
Tallulah Bankhead
Stephanie Powers

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Review:

From the late 1950s through the early 1970s, London-based Hammer Films experienced something of a golden age with a consistent run of horror movies that achieved global success with both audiences and critics alike. Their output crossed many genres and they frequently worked with many of the same members of the cast and crew, making the group something of a family. Their onscreen headliners were Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, who starred together in several pictures, starting with the wildly successful The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (aka The Horror of Dracula, 1958). Behind the scenes, names like producer Anthony Hinds, director Terence Fisher, production designer Bernard Robinson, cinematographer Jack Asher and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster were ever present. During this time period, Hammer enjoyed several international distribution deals with American studios including Warner Brothers, Universal, Fox and Columbia Pictures.

For its new box set Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection, Mill Creek Entertainment gathers twenty of the Columbia released titles (spread across ten discs), spanning the years 1957 – 1970, including:

The Camp on Blood Island (1957)
The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
The Snorkel (1958)
The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)
Yesterday's Enemy (1959)
Never Take Candy from a Stranger (1960)
Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)
Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)
Scream of Fear (1961)
Cash On Demand (1961)
The Pirates of Blood River (1961)
The Terror of the Tongs (1961)
These Are the Damned (1961)
The Old Dark House (1962)
Maniac (1963)
The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)
The Gorgon (1964)
Die! Die! My Darling (1965)
Creatures the World Forgot (1970)

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Some of these films have appeared on Blu-ray before, but never so many in one collection. The content is wide-ranging, including not only horror films, but also thrillers, war films, a pirate movie, a Robin Hood adventure, a prehistoric picture and even a dark comedy. Classic monsters like Frankenstein, the Mummy and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde make appearances along with some original villains. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star in eight titles in this set, though sadly only together once. That single pairing however is a doozy; The Gorgon is a terrifying tale of a creature whose gaze turns people to stone. One of the more high-profile titles on hand is The Revenge of Frankenstein that finds Cushing reprising one of his most iconic roles. Cushing also stars opposite Andre Morell (The Plague of the Zombies) as a fussy bank manager forced to assist a dangerous thief in a robbery in the tension-filled Cash on Demand. He also takes a dastardly turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Sword of Sherwood Forest. These performances offer but a sample of his dynamic range as an actor and for those unfamiliar with his work, make for a great introduction.

Christopher Lee gives a command performance opposite Susan Strasberg (The Manitou) in the suspenseful Scream of Fear (aka Taste of Fear) as the manipulative family doctor to a wheelchair-bound young woman who believes she has seen her absent father’s corpse. Paul Massie (Sapphire) stars in the title role in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, and Lee has a supporting role that elevates the material of a frequently plodding film, as he steals every scene in which he appears. He is unrecognizable in Terror of the Tongs, where he stars as the evil Asian leader of the Red Dragon Tong crime family. The Pirates of Blood River is something of an anomaly, as this is an entirely land-locked pirate movie without the benefits of either a large ship or the ocean to sail her on. Lee is imposing as the leader of the swashbucklers searching for gold – and longtime Hammer fans will be thrilled to see supporting player Michael Ripper (The Reptile) in a prominent role as Lee’s first mate. 

But Hammer wasn’t just all about Cushing and Lee. Other featured performers include Tallulah Bankhead (Lifeboat) and Stephanie Powers (Hart to Hart), who star together in Die! Die! My Darling! (aka Fanatic), written by Richard Matheson (The Devil Rides Out) about a young woman terrorized by her ex-fiancé’s mother, who blames her for her son’s death. Peter van Eyck (The Wages of Fear) delivers in spades as a cunning villain who murders his wife and has to deal with his suspicious stepdaughter in The Snorkel. Macdonald Carey (It’s Alive III), Viveca Lindfors (Creepshow) and Oliver Reed (The Curse of the Werewolf) star in These are the Damned (aka The Damned), in which an American tourist, a beautiful woman and her dangerous brother find themselves caught in a government facility that is conducting strange experiments on children.

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Though known primarily for their Gothic horror features, Hammer Films’ released a number of high-quality dramas and psychological thrillers. Never Take Candy from a Stranger is a dark tale involving a young girl’s accusations of pedophilia involving a respected town elder. The story examines the lengths to which lawyers will go to discredit a child and protect the wealthy, no matter their guilt. The subject matter is uncomfortable and the ending is devastating, which lends this picture a haunting quality. The anti-war drama Yesterday’s Enemies spotlights the brutality of war through the actions of a depleted company of British soldiers in conflict with the Japanese army in a Burmese village and their struggle to maintain the moral high ground. This is a gripping tale full of tension and suspense. Taking a break from all of the doom and gloom, legendary director William Castle (The Tingler) contributes a lighthearted haunted house movie, The Old Dark House, starring comedian Tom Poston (Newhart).

Hammer Films helped define an era of genre films with its steady output of high quality, thought-provoking content. The studio was not averse to taking risks and frequently pushed the envelope of what was acceptable to the British board of censors. In later years they would increase the level of onscreen violence and nudity to keep up with the times, but did so with panache. Hammer will be forever linked to Dracula and Frankenstein movies, but in addition to those great pictures, they produced an impressive lineup of material worth checking out. The Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection is sure to please newcomers and die-hard fans alike with its wide array of titles including some lesser-known selections that will certainly pique your curiosity. With its shelf-sparing slim case design and modest price tag, this set comes highly recommended and should have a place in your collection today.

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Video and Audio:

Spanning thirteen years and twenty different productions, aspect ratios vary from film to film. The following titles are presented in the original 1.66:1: The Revenge of Frankenstein, Cash on Demand, The Snorkel, Scream of Fear and Terror of the Tongs. The Gorgon is in its 1.78:1 ratio. In 1.85:1 we get The Old Dark House, Die! Die! My Darling! and Creatures the World Forgot and the majority of titles including The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, These Are the Damned, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Maniac, Stop Me Before I Kill!, Never Take Candy from a Stranger, The Stranglers of Bombay, The Pirates of Blood River, Sword of Sherwood Forest, The Camp on Blood Island and Yesterday’s Enemy appear in their native 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Nearly all of these transfers are respectable, offering either rich black-and-white photography on some pictures and bold colors in others, featuring deep blacks and plenty of small-object detail. The one disappointment is the picture quality on The Revenge of Frankenstein, which stems from an older transfer instead of the gorgeous 4K remaster that premiered elsewhere in 2019.

Mill Creek previously released some of the titles in this collection with disappointing lossy 2.0 Dolby Digital audio. For this edition, each film receives an uncompressed DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. This is a real upgrade in quality that generates a refreshing clarity to dialogue and music cues.

Optional English subtitles are included on each film for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Six of the films come with newly recorded audio commentaries from scholars and historians eager to share insight into the productions and their lasting impact. Each of these discussions is thoughtful and entertaining, highly informative and definitely worth checking out.

The Revenge of Frankenstein
Commentary with filmmaker/film historian Constantine Nasr and author/film historian Steve Haberman.

The Old Dark House
Commentary with “The Monster Party” podcast featuring James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan, Larry Strothe, and Matt Weinhold.

The Gorgon
Commentary with writer/director Joshua Kennedy (House of the Gorgon).

The Snorkel
Commentary with writer/producer Phoef Sutton, writer/film historian Mark Jordan Legan, and screenwriter/film historian C. Courtney Joyner.

Never Take Candy from a Stranger
Commentary with filmmaker/historian Constantine Nasr.

Scream of Fear
Commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman.

In Hammer at Columbia Pictures (11 minutes), C. Courtney Joyner talks about the unique relationship Hammer enjoyed with numerous studios in the States, particularly Columbia, who released the most diverse output of titles.

The Actors of Hammer Film (8 minutes) is a short segment with film historian David Del Valle in which he shares interesting trivia about several performers in these pictures.

The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb Retrospective (8 minutes) features an audio essay with Hammer historian Richard Klemense discussing the production of the film.

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll Retrospective (10 minutes) finds Klemense sharing details on the history of this Hammer film in a thoughtful audio essay.

 A 12-page booklet with color poster art and credits for each film has been included.

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Grades:

Movie: Threeandahalfstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Threeandahalfstars
Audio: Threeandahalfstars
Features: Twoandahalfstars
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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