UPDATE August 11: (THIS IS THE ACTUAL REVIEW)
Just reposting to avoid a parasitic scraper bot. The full review is here, just moved up one entry. See next udate to get backstory on Parasite that Eat The Mummy, Enjoy!
I just saw two Hammer Films. One is worthy of note, and the other is worthy of ridicule. Full Disclosure, I love a lot of Hammer Films, I love good Horror films, and I am big fan of British Cinema. But some timea a good team lays an egg, while the new guys make their bones. It happens when you crank out 80 films a year, most of which were great entertainment with red blood.
WORTHY OF NOTE
Doctor Jekyll, Sister Hyde.
This film is by a later Hammer team, 1971 but set at in the time of Jack the Ripper. My favorites are mostly done by the same people (Fisher, Sangster, Lee, Cushing), but Doctor Jekyll Sister Hyde is a different team that came later, the second generation. Roy Ward Baker directs, Brian Clemens writes the script, Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick play the role of the Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, passing him/herself off as brother and sister. As you can see from the photographs, Bate and Beswick really do look like the male and female versions of the same person. They also incorporate the historical Jack the Ripper, as well as the famous body snatchers, Burke and Hare. The plot is tight and there are some very funny, deftly played moments. It’s British and witty, not loud and camp. The moments of horror and human carnage are honestly scary, with plenty of suspense leading up to sudden explosions of violence. The best Hammer films did this very well.
The horror is real and not fantastic, as its essentially a serial killer story. Bates as Jekyll is understated and submerged – he seems like a nice man, but…. Martine Beswick, Sister Hyde, does not get enough screentime, but when she does, she eats up the scenery. She has a wonderfully strong walk.
As womanhood is under the microscope, we have many differerent examples in the story – the harsh moral mother of propriety, the sweet young thing next door, the laughing hooker, the saintly street woman that sings ballads in the bars – they really stacked in the female archetypes, but like the rest of the film it works on the subconscious. The whole movie is full of those wonderfully subtle, deft touches keeping everything very mysterious in that way that Hammer and British films do best. These are a definite break from the American style of spelling out everything in a movie.
SO IS HE A SHE, OR IS SHE A HE?
My favorite thing is that the film never really answers the questions most people will have – Is Hyde the killer, or is it Jekyll? Is it because she’s a man, or because he’s a woman? Was he a killer before becoming female, or did the transformation do it? To really make you guess hard, they keep throwing things at you that fudge up what is really going on. Both Jekyll and Hyde have moments when they suddenly start acting out the other. The stuff with Jekyll and dresses is hilarious, because they avoided dumb, loud stereotypes that would have disturbed the tone and pace of the film. When you look at it, its really a small film taking place on only six or seven sets, but you don’t notice because the acting, writing and directing focus you squarely on the poeple in front of the lense, not the size of the set.
WAIT, IS THIS A “TRANS” THING? WHAT IS THIS?
If you asked the transgender community, what would they say? I think half would love it, and the other half would want to burn it. It’s really open to interpretation, and horror movies could be a little heady in 1971, as that was what young people wanted back then. B Movies were in a very experimental stage. They needed gimmicks to fill seats, but the sophistication level of the audience at the time was quite high. The artists were also creatures of their time, and could not resist taking their B Movie High Concept Advertising Strategy, and turning it into a rather thoughtful vehicle.
The actors, director, and script all conspire to make it feel normal, if not somewhat off, and … warped? Not warped? Just the downstairs neighbor over for tea? The transformation scenes are inspired and wonderfully low tech. terrific use of mirrors and colored glass – broken images talking to each other. Great stuff and proof that a low budget should not hold anyone back from making a awesome film. I love that so much of the film is open to interpretation by the audience with plenty of mysterious goings on to hook you in. You know what happened, and yet… you’re still not sure….. a little bit like people, and a lot like gender.
Check it out! Worth a Look! I found it on Netflix DVDs (not online). These are getting hard to find. This one is a definite B+ verging on an A.
WORTHY OF RIDICULE
THE MUMMY (1959) reviewed as a joke.
I’ve been saying for a while that Hammer always made solid B+ efforts. They never wanted that transcendental A, they just wanted to make an entertaining, fun film, and then 80 more just as good the same year. The Mummy (1959) must have been the 80th that year, because it sure does feel real tired. It’s the Dream Team – Director Fisher, Writer Sangster, Hammer Production Design, Chritopher Lee and Peter Cushing, all falling down, for not even the curse of the mummy’s tomb can rescue this turkey. There is also the sense that the Hammer dream team bit off a bit too much with this one. A Mummy Epic! “I love the idea! Shoot the works!!” (gobble gobble). Even in the tomb, you feel the lack of Hammer’s trademark claustophobia, and that cramped, confined feeling was always their strongest quality. The boring camera work also suggests that Fisher was worn out on this one as well. This was also early in their run, just one year after their first Dracula and Frankenstein films. But I still get to make fun of it. Hah!
I think the make up changed for some reason halfway through the film…. that happens a lot in this movie. Plot points that just wander off, like a dumb mummy, stumble stumble…
I love this team’s work in so many films, all horror. But the Mummy feels like the work of an A student, who only had time to phone it in. Sangster in particular was known to turn out 79 wonderfully crafted scripts, then shoot a massive turkey out his ass. You get tired! Worn out! The pay is not that great, and it happens when you work on a deadline. Its the cost you bear for all the wonderful movies they made, and The Mummy puts paid to that idea. Poor Lee. Not his best moment. They gave him so little to work with!
“But what’s my motivation?”
“You may or may not be a conscious creature in love, or a mindless robot controlled by someone else. Just stumble around a lot! Act with your eyes!”
“You know, Terrence, at some point it would be nice to get a speaking part….”
AWKWARD TALL MUMMY
Christopher Lee stumbles around towering over everyone by about 6 inches, and unlike Lee’s Dracula, the mummy is every inch the awkward tall man in the room. Just look at the incredibly key scene when Kharis (Lee) is buried alive.
He’s about to be executed by being bricked up into the wall of a tomb, so he dutifly waits his turn with arms crossed (wtf moment), then very tall and modestly walks into the wall, turns to face outwards according to the obvious blocking, then waits to be shut up behind the wall. He is very calm about being buried alive. I know the Mummy is British, but give us just a bit more luv, a bit more! When I look at the picture, I think of a Boy Scout ceremony. The more you look at the picture (tall, arms crossed) the more you think of an old episode of the Batman TV show from the 60s.
THE MUMMY: EYES OF PAIN, LIKE A CONFUSED PUPPY
Lee can only act through his eyes, which seem to say, “How did I get talked into making this picture?” Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector talks with an unmistakable and BIG American accent, at great length all through the third act (It’s 1898!!). It’s a little distracting. OK, it’s A LOT distracting. He has a big voice. Scotland Yard! WTF, guys?!
Even Peter Cushing does his part. Of course he does.
He always does his part, nobly so, wouldn’t you say?
Peter Cushing smokes a lot – probably anxious that he’s making a bad film. They even slip in a line where he is offered a cigar and he declines, to puff on his favorite brand of machine rolled smokes in 1898. Watch Cushing in the TONS of movies he made for Hammer – his characters often grab exuses to smoke. Frequently. He was probably chain smoking through all the takes.
He limps around through most of the movie. In fact, everyone feels like they are limping, cast and crew. Twice in the beginning of the film they mention some accident unconnected to the rest of the story that makes Cushings “character” walk with a limp. Huh? He probably just fell down before shooting started, and what to do about the action scenes? Shoot around them!! An entire movie!! The script rambles badly, which is surprising as Sangster and Fisher were masters of simple, elegant but definite structure hidden under the surface, and a sense of the lurid that is multilayerd. The Mummy? They mimeographed HUGE chunks of the Universal films, just cut and paste by the numbers, and wrapped it in bandages. CUT! PRINT! NEXT SCENE!
This poster aptly demonstates the level of tension. Yeah, not much. There’s a lot of scenes like this. Wow. I love this team. When they do good movies.
Other slip-ups are even funnier but you have to pay attention (because the dialog is boring as hell). Apparently, ancient Egyptian architecture was the same as Victorian England . The Egyptian character that controls the Mummy has a victorian apartment that mimics the tomb in Egypt, complete with little utilitarian british cubbyhole for the sacred scrolls (in the tomb!!). For an ancient tomb, it sure is bright despite the complete lack of torches.The lighting makes it look like an indoor swimming pool. Oh those awful dining room wooden doors with THOSE handles!! (in the tomb!!!), what were they thinking? This in the first time I have seen the Hammer ™ color and produciton design not work, and I love that color design. They always did better with 19th century Britain. Egypt was a bridge too far…
How bad was The Mummy? It was even worse than The Satanic Rites of Dracula. Yes, that bad. So that’s that. So, Skip the Mummy. Just off the top of my head, other good, really good B+ Hammer Films include Dracula (58), Curse of Frankestein, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyerd (really good), Revenge of Frankenstein, Evil of Frankenstein, Curse of the Werewolf, Witchfinder General, and The Wickerman. That is the AWESOME list, still growing.