The Icons of Suspense Collection: Hammer Films (Stop Me Before I Kill! / Cash on Demand / The Snorkel / Maniac / Never Take Candy from a Stranger / These Are the Damned)
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Hammer Films made their name with monsters and vampires, but this third complication from Columbia Pictures – all new to DVD – proves they could frighten you without them. Topping the set is the uncut version of the futuristic classic THESE ARE THE DAMNED, directed by the legendary Joseph Losey. Peter Cushing and Andre Morell match wits in CASH ON DEMAND. Oscar®-winning cinematographer Guy Green (1947, Great Expectations) directed THE SNORKEL, about a young girl who can’t convince anyone her stepfather’s a murderer. The renowned Val Guest co-wrote and directed the startling psychodrama STOP ME BEFORE I KILL! Kerwin Matthews finds himself in the middle of a strange mother/daughter threesome in the Jimmy Sangster-written MANIAC. Plus, this ultimate rarity: Cyril Frankel’s astounding NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER, a serious, and still horrifyingly timely, chiller about a small town terrorized by an elderly child molester. You won’t do better than this impeccable collection from the darkest corners of the Hammer imagination.
Though England's Hammer Films is perhaps best known for its horror titles like Curse of Frankenstein, the studio released numerous pictures in other genres, among these features science fiction, comedies, historical epics, and more than a few thrillers, six of which make their Region 1 DVD debut in this intriguing set. Interestingly, the best-known, and, arguably, best film in the collection is Joseph Losey's These Are the Damned (1963), which hews closer to science fiction in its story of American tourist MacDonald Carey's encounter with a group of children at the center of a secret and chilling government experiment. Though suspenseful and well cast (a young Oliver Reed gets a fine showcase as a vicious Teddy boy unwittingly caught in the experiment), the film surpasses the limits of the genre in its character-driven depiction of lonely individuals at the mercy of unfeeling authority figures. Manhandled by distributors during its initial release, the version featured here is the original 96-minute edit.
The rest of the Hammer Icons of Suspense collection follows traditional lines of thriller plot structure, though there are a few interesting variations. Never Take Candy from a Stranger is a fairly chilling drama about child molestation--a taboo topic today, much less in 1960, when the movie was released--handled with an equal mix of stark suspense and courtroom fireworks, and all beautifully lensed by Oscar-winner Freddie Francis. Maniac (1963), directed by Hammer producer and exec Michael Carreras, is one of the studio's more effective and unsettling nods to Psycho, with American artist Kerwin Mathews falling afoul of a psychologically troubled mother-daughter pair, while a blowtorch-wielding lunatic roams the French countryside. Hammer vet Jimmy Sangster's script is typically top-notch, and the grislier aspects of the story get plenty of airtime. Sangster also co-penned 1958's The Snorkel (with Italian genre jack-of-all-trades Antonio Margheriti, using his Anglicized pen name, Anthony Dawson), an agreeable B mystery with Peter van Eyck as a widower suspected by his stepdaughter of killing her mother with the title device. Oscar-winning cinematographer Guy Green directed the latter, while Val Guest, who helmed some of Hammer's best early science-fiction efforts (The Quatermass Xperiment), cowrote and directed Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960), a juicy pulp exercise about racecar driver Ronald Lewis, whose head injury compels him to try to kill his wife (Diane Cilento). Matters are made worse with the introduction of a sinister psychiatrist (Claude Dauphin) whose interest in the case exceeds professional standards. And while Hammer icon Sir Christopher Lee is nowhere to be found in this set, his frequent onscreen foil, Peter Cushing, is front and center for Cash on Demand (1961), a terrifically taut programmer about a by-the-books bank manager (Cushing) who is blackmailed into robbing his own bank by a cunning thief (Andre Morell, who played Watson to Cushing's Holmes in Hammer's Hound of the Baskervilles). For those who associate Hammer Films only with horror, the six pictures included in the set will be an eye opener; for longtime fans of the studio's output, or those looking for vintage thrills, the set is a must-have. However, extras are relegated to original trailers for each film, despite the fact that many of the key players are still alive. --Paul Gaita
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Top Customer Reviews
All of the films were made and released between 1958 and 1963 after Hammer had made it big with their Gothic horror films. They also made a number of so called "psychological thrillers" in the vein of PSYCHO although some were made before it. Disk 1 has STOP ME BEFORE I KILL which dates from 1958 and shows the dark side of psychiatry. CASH ON DEMAND, from 1961, features a taut script and one of Peter Cushing's best non-horror performances. Disk 2 has THE SNORKEL (1958) and MANIAC (1963), about a perfect crime and a twisted killer, are the least of the set but still worthwhile. Disk 3 is worth the whole package for it contains beautiful uncut versions of two 1960 classics NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER about pedophilia and THESE ARE THE DAMNED, a multi-layerd offering from Joseph Losey (THE SERVANT). If you enjoy quality cinema on a meager budget then check out what the Hammer team did with these 6 titles. CASH ON DEMAND and Disk 3 are so good, I could watch them over and over again.
STOP ME BEFORE I KILL! stars Ronald Lewis (TASTE OF FEAR, MR. SARDONICUS) as a man convinced he's being driven to kill his wife. The film was directed by Hammer veteran Val Guest, which means it has some interesting details, but with a running time of 108 minutes, the story is a bit overlong.
CASH ON DEMAND This film has about three or four sets, a small cast, and not much action--yet it may be the best picture in this set. Peter Cushing stars as an anal bank manager, and Andre Morell opposes him as the mysterious and somewhat charming bank robber, "The Colonel". Cushing and Morell spend most of the movie verbally sparring with one another, but the actors are so good, and the tension so high, you'll forget you're just watching two guys talking. Peter Cushing is my idol, but I have to admit, Andre Morell steals the show.
THE SNORKEL Peter Van Eyck (who starred in a number of German Edgar Wallace thrillers) stars as a man who thinks he's committed the perfect crime. This picture has a great opening, and it also features Betta St. John (CORRIDORS OF BLOOD, HORROR HOTEL).
MANIAC This is one of several "mini-Hitchcocks" that were written by Hammer's Jimmy Sangster in the early 60's to capitalize on the success of PSYCHO. If you've seen the other Sangster Hammer thrillers (TASTE OF FEAR, PARANOIAC, NIGHTMARE) you'll know pretty much what to expect and you'll probably be able to guess the plot twists. Film buffs will note that the leading man is Kerwin Mathews, who may have been the best Sinbad ever.
NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER This is a drama about, believe it or not, child molestation. One would think right off the bat that because it is a Hammer film, it's pure exploitation, but this is actually a well-crafted, serious, and gripping story. Out of all the movies in this set, this one surprised me the most. It stars Hammer favorite Patrick Allen.
THESE ARE THE DAMNED This well-renowned, cult science-fiction film is making it's DVD debut in the longest version of the movie available. While watching this, I was constantly reminded of THE BIRDS (the coastal setting, the slow build-up, the camera looking down on the characters and the action from far away). I won't give away the story, but here's a few items of note: in the beginning of the film, Shirley Anne Field wears some of the tightest pants in entertainment history (at least until Robert Conrad in "The Wild, Wild West" came along), and the soundtrack has a rock & roll song, "Black Leather Rock". The song's lyrics are so over the top that it almost ruins the story's mood.
This was directed by Joseph Losey, a man beloved by critics. The movie is excellent, but I wonder how much of a reputation THE DAMNED would have if it had been helmed by one of Hammer's regulars. Oliver Reed plays the crazed gang leader King, and like most of the Hammer roles Reed played, he makes a bigger impression than the leading cast.
Overall, if you are a Hammer fan, or someone who appreciates classic suspense movies, this is a must buy. This set doesn't contain any of the cheesy Hammer monster movies beloved by fans, but it will pleasantly surprise those who have never seen or heard of the films included in this set. All the films here are black & white, but they are all in widescreen and the picture and sound quality is superb for product that is almost all fifty years old. Once again, Sony hits it out of the park.
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