Hammer’s QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (aka 5 MILLION YEARS TO EARTH) is a big screen adaptation of the BBC series of the same name. It is well-acted by Andrew Kier, James Donald, Barbara Shelley, Bryan Marshall, Julian Glover and Duncan Lamont, it is also genuinely creepy and full of great ideas.
I like how writer Nigel Kneale managed to merge the story of a delayed alien invasion with concepts involving the evolution of man, possession, ghost sightings, the horned imagery of the devil, telekinesis, and so on.
There are lots of great touches: the renaming of the street Hobb’s Lane, the policeman getting spooked in the abandoned house, the ‘living’ spacecraft, Duncan Lamont’s ‘possession’, the finale featuring people psychically killing anyone who is ‘different’ to them and the horned spectre of a martian rearing over London.
The film also has one of my favourite end credits sequences, where the exhausted protagonists just stand/sit, not talking, as the credits roll past.
One of Hammer’s best movies, I think. I love it!
Here are some of the posters that have been created for the film…
Some lobby cards…
Some DVD & Blu-ray covers…
Here’s a book cover…
And finally, here’s a shot from John Carpenter’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1994): John Trent (Sam Neill) looks at a poster for a fictional horror book called ‘The Hobb’s End Horror’, which is a nod to the name of the subway station in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT.
I first saw it aged 5 in the cinema and again when it was rereleased in a double bill with Hammer’s SHE. I have vivid memories of being in the big Palace Cinema (now long gone) in Tamworth, being sucked into this prehistoric world via the intro sequence (created by Les Bowie.) As a dinosaur-mad kid this was (and remains) my favourite movie.
John Richardson and Raquel Welch are perfect for their roles – and Martine Beswick, Percy Herbert and Robert Brown are also good. The music by Mario Nascimbene is very memorable and distinctive, the location photography evokes a prehistoric vibe and, of course, Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures add thrills and action to the proceedings.
Director Don Chaffey handles the film (which pretty much has no dialogue) well, adding nice little touches, such as holding on a shot of Beswick’s smile as she watches Welch, her love rival, being taken away by a Pteranodon.
I’ve already mentioned the music, but I’ll mention it again: it really adds immeasurably to this film.
This prehistoric fantasy adventure really cemented my love for dinosaurs, creature features, the work of Ray Harryhausen and movies in general.
There have been many posters produced for this wonderful movie. Here are just some of them – feast your eyes!
Some lobby cards…
Here are some fotobustas (which are the Italian version of lobby cards)…
Some home movie box art…
A fun promo piece that was produced for the film…
A nice montage…
An amusing take from 2019, satirising the ‘This is the way it was’ slogan, by Jamie Chase
Here’s a bunch of interesting pre-production artwork that was produced by Tom Chantrell for materials used by Hammer to pre-sell the movie…
Finally, here’s a sketch that Ray Harryhausen produced, exploring what he thought the poster could’ve looked like…
Prem, the mummified manservant of Pharaoh Kah-To-Bey, is brought back to life in the Cairo Museum by the Bedouin Hasmid (Roger Delgado, who’d go on to play ‘The Master’ in many series of DOCTOR WHO), who chants a sacred oath on a shroud. The mummy then goes on a rampage, killing the members of the team of archaeologists who had discovered the lost tomb of Kah-To-Bey.
The third Hammer mummy-out-for-vengeance movie is passable, with regular character actor Michael Ripper given a decent supporting role as the obsequious Longbarrow. This was the last of Hammer’s mummy films to actually feature a bandaged mummy (the next movie would focus on the shapely form of Valerie Leon) – though it’s certainly the least effective mummy costume of the lot, with wicker-like wrappings around its forearms and an especially cheap-looking face mask.
However, what this mummy lacks in looks it makes up with brutality: murdering victims via strangulation, head-crushing, tossing them from windows, bashing a head into a wall and even throwing photographic acid into a character’s face. Nasty!
André (THE GIANT BEHEMOTH) Morell delivers a decent performance, as he always does, and the finale features the axe-wielding mummy finally crumbling to dust, but this cheap production dwells too long on a lengthy prologue set in Ancient Egypt and fails to reach the stylish heights of Hammer’s original THE MUMMY (1959).
John Gilling, who directed and co-wrote THE MUMMY’S SHROUD, also made the far better Hammer movies THE REPTILE and THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES.
After the mummy of Ra-Antef is discovered in 1900 by three Egyptologists (Ronald Howard, Jack Gwillim and Bernard Rebel), all the mummy’s artefacts are taken to London by the expedition’s backer – brash American showman Alexander King (Fred Clark) – who intends to exploit the discovery as a travelling road show.
The mummy, of course, comes back to life and starts killing off various members of the expedition. Meanwhile, Annette, the daughter of one of the Egyptologists, finally discovers the mysterious origin of rich arts patron Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan)…
THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB was directed by Michael Carreras, who also wrote it under the pseudonym ‘Henry Younger’, and was originally released in a double bill with THE GORGON. It was the second of Hammer’s four Mummy movies.
This Hammer yarn features a rather chunky mummy (played by stunt man Dickie Owen) that comes back to life fairly late in the movie. I prefer the lithe, mud-caked look of Christopher Lee’s mummy in 1959’s THE MUMMY, but this is a colourful, watchable production with Michael Ripper as Achmed, a cool scene where a bunch of coppers with a net take on the mummy, a plot twist concerning an immortal character and a finale set in the sewers.
The film has a preoccupation with hand-severing, featuring three different scenes of hands getting cut off. At one point there’s a flashback where we see the Egyptian prince (who will become the mummy) getting his hand chopped off. Now, surely this would mean that the roaming mummy in this movie should have a stump? Or was the hand reattached to Ra-Antef when he was mummified, perhaps?
Definitely not a classic Hammer film, this production passes the time, however, and does boast a lively performance by Fred Clark as the showy, profit-obsessed Alexander King.
SATANIC RITES was the eighth film in Hammer’s Dracula series and it was the seventh (and final) one to feature Christopher Lee as the undead Count. The film was the fourth one to star Peter Cushing as Van Helsing: he played the original Van Helsing twice and a descendent of Van Helsing twice in the Dracula series (and he played the original Van Helsing in 1974’s THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES too, which wasn’t part of the Lee series).
This film takes place two years after the events featured in DRACULA A.D. 1972 and deals with Van Helsing helping the Secret Service to discover why a group of elite members of the British establishment are performing satanic rituals at a large mansion. The trail leads to the mysterious property developer D. D. Denham, who turns out to be Dracula…
As with DRACULA A.D 1972, I think this Dracula-in-contemporary-times flick is a fun viewing experience!
Let’s face it – THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA is an outlandish, pulpy yarn. It involves biker henchmen, the Secret Service, blood squib gunplay, a secret cabal of senior UK figures taking part in occult ceremonies, Scotland Yard, female vampires chained in a basement, death by fire sprinkler and Dracula planning to wipe out all of mankind with a weaponised strain of bubonic plague!
Many Hammer fans dislike this eccentric mix of disparate elements, but I like this bizarre brew! Dracula’s demise is usually the butt of jokes because he ‘just falls into a thorn bush’, but I think the way the Count ends up with his own ‘crown’ of thorns (in this story the thorn bush is disliked by vampires due to its link with Christ’s crown of thorns) is effective visually and, anyway, it is actually Van Helsing who offs Dracula with a handy fence post.
With Joanna Lumley replacing Stephanie Beacham as Van Helsing’s granddaughter Jessica, Michael Coles returns as Scotland Yard’s Inspector Murray, seen previously in DRACULA A.D. 1972. Freddie (FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED) Jones plays a mentally unstable scientist, Valerie Van Ost is a Secret Service secretary who falls victim to Dracula and William Franklyn, famous in the UK for his lighthearted commercial voice-over work, is quite effective as Secret Service agent Torrence.
About this movie’s copyright issues: Warner Brothers released the film under its original title in the UK, but they didn’t distribute it in the U.S. The film was eventually released in America years later as COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE. In the 1980s the film was falsely believed to be in the public domain in America and released on video tape by several companies, using a transfer culled from a worn 35mm print. The rights reverted back to Hammer Films in the 1990s, however, and Anchor Bay acquired the video rights. THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA was then released officially on VHS and DVD.
One thing I can say is that I’m really pleased Hammer didn’t go with its original title for the movie: DRACULA IS DEAD AND WELL AND LIVING IN LONDON (!)
Professor Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) travels to Vandorf to prove that his bohemian artist son, who has committed suicide, is being used as a scapegoat to cover up the fact there is an ancient evil prowling the area, turning people to stone. Unfortunately, the professor himself falls victim to this creature but, before he becomes a stone corpse, he manages to send a message to his other son, Paul (Richard Pasco), asking him to look into this mystery.
The local police (led by Patrick Troughton), along with Dr Namaroff (Peter Cushing) of the Vandorf Medical Institution, try to obstruct Paul as he attempts to solve the mystery. Paul has a narrow escape when he catches sight of the prowling gorgon’s reflection, which physically ages him and makes him ill, but he is aided by his tutor Professor Meister (Christopher Lee), who also travels to Vandorf to help out his pupil. Matters become more complicated when Paul falls in love with Namaroff’s beautiful assistant, Carla (Barbara Shelley)…
Some of my favourite Hammer movies are their standalone films like THE REPTILE, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE GORGON. The latter is a production that I will go back to enjoy again and again because it is such a wonderful, tragic concoction.
The film has an interesting plot structure, introducing a succession of characters, who arrive at the town of Vandorf looking for answers: first Professor Heitz, then Paul and then Professor Meister. This could have given it a repetitive feel, but it doesn’t, and the story moves along nicely, with Dr Namaroff acting as a constant obstruction to the enquiries made by the various visitors.
Peter Cushing is very good in this: as Namaroff he remains impeccably well-mannered throughout, as he covers up the facts behind the deaths, never admitting to outsiders that each victim has become a corpse-statue. His love for Carla adds extra depth to the character, as he becomes jealous of Paul’s burgeoning relationship with Carla, whilst also wrestling with the knowledge of just who is transforming into the gorgon.
The identity of the possessed person isn’t too hard to fathom, but this doesn’t harm the film because Carla’s predicament adds to the tragic nature of the story. With Paul and Namaroff trying to do what’s best for Carla (even if Namaroff’s solution ultimately involves killing her), the stage is set for a final clash between two men besotted with the same woman.
James Bernard’s score has its usual bombastic elements, as heard in many Hammer productions, but it also features haunting female vocals that add immeasurably to the atmosphere. The tattered Borski Castle interior set, by Bernard Robinson, also adds to the mood of the film, as does the ultimately sad resolution to the story.
The whole cast, including Richard Pasco and Barbara Shelley, inhabit their doomed roles well, with Christopher Lee providing somewhat lighter relief as the brusque, no-nonsense, says-it-as-it-is Professor Meister.
Memorable moments include Professor Heitz struggling to write a letter as he slowly turns to stone, Paul’s encounter with the gorgon that results in him suffering badly from glimpsing her reflection in a pool, and the finale in Borski Castle.
The depiction of Megaera the Gorgon in the film is, admittedly, a distinctly low tech affair, but Terence Fisher’s direction compensates for this by keeping the snake-haired woman in shadows, in the background, behind pillars and glimpsed in reflections. As portrayed by Prudence Hyman, the gorgon is still a memorable Hammer creation, lurking menacingly in her green robes, awaiting her next victim.
With its tragic ending, sombre fatalism and fine acting from the whole cast, THE GORGON is a top-notch Hammer production.
Local villagers fight and kill Count Mitterhaus (Robert Tayman): a vampire who has been preying on the village’s children. As he ‘dies’, the Count curses the village, saying that the surviving children of those who attacked him will all die.
Fifteen years later the village is suffering from an outbreak of a plague-like illness, resulting in the place being quarantined from the surrounding area – if anyone tries to leave they are likely to be shot. But this doesn’t prevent a travelling circus from visiting the village, where it sets up camp to entertain the locals for the next few nights.
Emil (Anthony Higgins), one of the circus performers, is actually the cousin of Count Mitterhaus, and it soon becomes apparent that the circus folk are out to kill those who were cursed by the Count and intend to resurrect his still-preserved body…
The actors playing the vampires in this Hammer production, directed by Robert Young, seem to all really overact when doing their fangs-out, neck-biting scenes and, amongst the various townsfolk, it is hard to see who actually is meant to be the film’s main protagonist.
Robert Tayman, as the Count, lacks the forbidding presence of Christopher Lee and certain plot points aren’t explained: how, for instance, is the female acolyte Anna Müller able to appear in the form of the circus gypsy woman (Adrienne Corri)?
Having said all that, there’s a lot to enjoy…
Typical of Hammer films from this period, VAMPIRE CIRCUS mixes classic elements like a gothic castle, a Bürgermeister (played by Thorley Walters) and a bat-filled crypt with 1970s elements like nudity and some extra gore, such as the scene with the mangled corpses of the Schilt family (ripped up by a vampire panther) that Dora (Lynne Frederick) stumbles upon.
The circus setting is what gives this film its own distinctive feel. We get acrobats, a strongman (Dave Prowse), a dwarf who acts as the master of ceremonies, big cats, a gypsy woman and dancers.
Some of the circus acts involve Emil transforming into a black panther, acrobatic twins seemingly switching from bats to human form, and a sensuous dance routine involving a woman in tiger-stripe body paint. The transformations are conveyed by simply cutting between the actor and the panther (or bats), but the effect is fine, adding a ‘circus trick’ feel of the scenes.
Another interesting element is the small hall of mirrors that houses a ‘Mirror of Life’, which shows people visions of a leering Count Mitterhaus or other vampiric tableaus. At one point the vampire acrobat twins are able to pass through this mirror, taking Dora with them.
There are two entertaining villagers-against-the-vampire fights (one at the start, one at the end), a death-by-falling-giant-crucifix scene, plus a novel end to the newly-revived Count: the vampire’s neck is jammed between a crossbow’s bow and stock and then the trigger is pulled, causing the bowstring to cut off the Counts head!
Oh yeah: the bats are generally handled well in this movie. Whereas earlier Hammer films featured puppet bats on wires, VAMPIRE CIRCUS uses real bats effectively, only using models for shots like a bat on fire (and there’s an animated cartoon bat used for the shot of the final bat flying away at the end).
Despite plot shortcomings and some fuzzy vampire lore, I think this is a watchable, colourful 70s slice of eccentric, quite gory Hammer horror fun.
The tramp steamer Corita sails towards a hurricane, which could prove more dangerous than usual because Captain Lansen (Eric Porter) is smuggling barrels of the explosive Phosphor B, which can detonate if mixed with water. His ship’s passengers, unaware of this explosive danger, are a varied bunch of characters who have their own reasons for sailing in this rust-heap of a ship.
After an accident causes a leak in the room that holds the explosives, some of the crew (including Hammer regular Michael Ripper) mutiny and leave in a lifeboat. Then, when it becomes apparent that a broken generator cannot be fixed, Captain Lansen decides the passengers and the remaining crew should also sail from the ship in a lifeboat.
After a death-by-flare-gun incident and a fatal shark attack, Lansen’s lifeboat becomes ensnared in a mass of killer seaweed, and the boat eventually drifts back to the still-afloat Corita, which is also surrounded by the almost sentient weed. Lansen and the others climb back aboard the tramp steamer as it floats towards a mysterious, seaweed-festooned ship’s graveyard littered with vessels from different time periods, including a Spanish galleon. In this mysterious, fog-shrouded zone of the Sargasso Sea, the protagonists will encounter weird monsters, the descendants of conquistadores & the Spanish Inquisition, fur-clad barbarian-types (working for the Spanish) and a young woman called Sarah (Dana Gillespie), who traverses the weed-scape using buoyancy balloons and snowshoe-type footwear!
As you can see by the above synopsis, THE LOST CONTINENT is a truly oddball, pulpy Hammer production. The film, directed by Michael Carreras, begins with an incongruously apt jazzy-lounge-pop theme tune by The Peddlers, then maybe spends too much time in the earlier part of the story delving into the melodramatic lives of the dubious passengers on board the tramp steamer. However, once the mutiny happens and the weed appears, this movie becomes luridly enjoyable!
‘Uncharted Seas’, the original Dennis Wheatley novel that THE LOST CONTINENT is based on, is nowhere near as enjoyably madcap as the movie adaptation: in the book the villains are descendants of slaves, whilst the movie boasts marooned conquistadors and their boy leader who, under the influence of his Spanish Inquisition mentor, feeds people who fail him to a rubbery Lovecraftian weed-monster in the hold of his stranded galleon!
The movie is purely set-based (apart from some Canary Islands landscape stock footage taken from ONE MILLION YEARS BC used during the credits), which gives the production a heightened sense of pulpy artifice, the whole cast takes the production very seriously, with Eric Porter on fine form as the captain and, oh yes, as mentioned earlier, you also get Dana Gillespie trudging across the surface of the weeds with the help of her harness of helium balloons! Suzanna Leigh adds more Hammer glamour and gets attacked by a tentacled, cyclopean octo-thing that leaves her covered in slime. Weed-festooned madness!
As this blog is called Monster Zone, we’d better talk a little more about the monsters…
There are actually several types of weed in the film: the constricting seaweed that entraps vessels in the nicely-done, misty ship’s graveyard, there’s a more mobile weed-plant (with flowers) that gets into the ship via a porthole later in the story and, best of all, there’s the aforementioned plant-fungi thing that the Spanish Inquisition keeps in the hold of the galleon to gobble up people who displease them!
Robert Mattey’s creatures are criticised very often in reviews, and there’s no denying the glowing-eyed octo-creature is a bit iffy, though it does nicely exude green ooze from its severed foam tentacles.
The fight between a giant scorpion and a giant hermit crab on a small, rocky isle is pretty cool. These arthropod beasts are brought to life via full-scale mechanical models that I think look okay: I like the scorpion’s rapidly moving legs when it zips towards the crab to battle it. Though the full-scale hermit crab monster is less than mobile as a whole, it’s facial movements are really impressive: when you get a close-up of its rapidly chattering, beaky face I think it looks pretty good.
Though I admit the film would definitely have benefitted from stop-motion critters (as, say, featured in Hammer’s ONE MILLION YEARS BC), this fog-enshrouded production is a sweaty, colourful, bizarre, pulp adventure treat.
If you’ve not already seen this movie, please search it out, I’m sure you’ll have a fun time viewing it.
Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) moves into his late brother’s cottage in a village in Cornwall with his new wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel). The village’s inhabitants are all on edge due to the odd deaths that are plaguing the place and only the local pub owner (Michael Ripper) is friendly to the newly arrived couple.
The nearest place to the Spalding’s cottage is Well House, which is owned by Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman), who lives there with his daughter Anna (Jacqueline Pearce) and a moody Malay servant. As the deaths continue to occur the horrific truth is eventually revealed, involving curses and bodily transformation.
THE REPTILE was shot back to back with THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES by John Gilling, shares some of that film’s sets, and several actors appear in both of the films (Ripper & Pearce). It was released on a double bill with RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK.
Jacqueline Pearce is affecting as the tragic daughter in this Hammer horror tale about a woman cursed by a cult to become a murderous snake creature – and the look of the reptile woman that Pearce turns into is quite striking, I think, despite the low-tech techniques used to bring her to life. Roy Ashton created the makeup, which entirely covers Pearce’s head, and only the unblinking eyes detract somewhat from an otherwise memorable creation.
Ashton’s treatment of the faces of all the victims bitten by the creature involves turning them green/black and adding foam that dribbles from their mouths. One of these unfortunates is Mad Peter, played by John (DAD’S ARMY) Laurie.
Hammer regular Michael Ripper is likeable in his role as the helpful local publican and Noel (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE) Willman plays Dr. Franklyn, who tries to keep his daughter’s condition secret, as someone who is equal parts sinister and guilt-ridden. There’s an effective moment when Franklyn, full of revulsion and impotence, lashes out at his daughter’s shed snakeskin lying on her bed.
If there’s a problem with THE REPTILE it’s the fact the film treats its story as something of a mystery, despite the poster showing us what is causing all the deaths, resulting in the reptile woman attack scenes feeling a little too rushed in the latter parts of the movie.
But, hey, this is a Hammer film about a were-snake-woman and I will always be fond of it!
Devoted to every kind of movie and TV monster, from King Kong to Godzilla, from the Blob to Alien.