The Ultimate Hammer Collection Box Set

Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Bette Davies
Optimum Classic
RRP: 149.99
Certificate: 18
Available 30 October 2006

From the vaults of the legendary Hammer production house come these twenty-one classic films, the cream of Hammer's Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy productions, featuring iconic performances from Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee among a host of others. This box-set also includes The Nanny, a Hammer classic starring the legendary Bette Davies...

From Optimum Classic comes this 21-disc collection of British made Hammer horror films, starring such luminaries as Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Ralph Bates, among many others. Here's a few words on each title:

She: A colourful fantasy which was Hammer's most expensive film up to that time. Ursula Andress from Dr. No was drafted in to play the immortal She, the world's most beautiful woman. It was an immediate success with cinema-goers.

The Nanny: Bette Davis gives a powerful performance, reminiscent of that in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, in this psychological chiller. The Nanny was Hammer's final black and white film. The disc contains a commentary by director Jimmy Sangster.

Dracula Prince of Darkness: Christopher Lee is commanding as everyone's favourite vampire, in Hammer's second outing to Transylvannia. Although a solid and enjoyable venture, which has Terence Fisher return to the director's chair, it's not the classic that it's predecessor was (1958's Horror of Dracula, starring Lee and Cushing). This disc also includes the thoroughly captivating documentary from 1995, The Many Faces of Christopher Lee.

The Plague of the Zombies: If you can avoid seeing the corny publicity picture for this film's original release, you'll find Hammer's only zombie feature to be well worth a look. Planned as a support, Plague knocks spots off several main features. The potential for silliness is avoided by careful use of dialogue. This disc contains a trailer.

Rasputin the Mad Monk: Those used to seeing a certain calm but chilling performance from Christopher Lee will be staggered by his amazingly convincing portrayal of the intelligent but loud and violent Rasputin. He reportedly researched heavily for the role and it reflects his presence. I've only ever seen one other solid representation of the character, and that was from Tom Baker in Nicholas and Alexandra. This is another favourite, and a bit of a departure for Hammer.

The Reptile: This was originally released as a support to Rasputin The Mad Monk. It's mediocre at best and more than a little long-winded. The snake make-up proved problematical and unconvincing. Although acted pretty well the film ends itself with no ultimate confrontation between the characters and the creature - just people escaping from a convenient fire.

The Witches: Hammer had trouble getting the required adult rating for this one, and that tells its own tale. Joan Fontaine was the star (mainly because she owned the screen rights for the book!), and the script was written by Quatermass writer Nigel Kneale. The disc contains a trailer.

One Million Years B.C.: Most people will have heard of this one, even if they haven't actually seen it. Rachel Welch in a fur bikini (it works for me!) is an enduring film image, much like Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in Dr. No. Unusually for Hammer, it was filmed on location, taking in the Canary Islands before returning to Elstree studios. Famous stop motion wizard Ray Harryhausen handled the dinosaur effects. This was Hammer's biggest commercial success, and one of its best remembered pictures. Also on this disc are interviews with Rachel Welch and Ray Harryhausen.

The Viking Queen: This is an historical piece telling the story of Queen Salina, reportedly based on the Iceni Warrior Boudica. Even the good looks of Finnish model Carita Jarvinen couldn't help save this. Let's just pretend it didn't happen. The disc contains a film trailer.

Frankenstein Created Woman: This one plays second fiddle to The Curse of Frankenstein (not included in this set). Even the great Peter Cushing fails to lift the movie from the average pile. Inconsistencies in plot and character further mar what could have been a new twist on the monster.

Quatermass and the Pit: From the story and script by Nigel Kneale. Many people have very fond memories of this one, but I have to say that, although it's very well acted it's also extremely overrated. It's full of ideas, without anything of significance really happening for the entire plot. The disc contains a trailer.

The Vengeance of She: Ursula Andress couldn't be tempted back for this one, and she wasn't a bad judge. Vengeance is a pretty awful sequel which treads the same plot-lines as the original, but with considerably less finesse. Nothing in this film convinces, and the music drives you to distraction. The disc contains a trailer.

The Devil Rides Out: Based on Dennis Wheatley's best-selling black magic book, this movie was scripted by one of the best in the business: Richard Matheson. So what we get is a highly-polished and exciting plot about a demonic cult attempting to re-baptise a man as a disciple of the devil. Christopher Lee is cast against type as the good guy and Charles Gray plays the evil bad egg. It works wonderfully. This is one of the best Hammer films you will see. The disc includes a trailer.

Prehistoric Women: Also known as Slave Girls or Slave Girls of the White Rhino, the sole purpose of this film seems to have been to reuse the sets and costumes from One Million Years B.C. They shouldn't have bothered, because the audiences, quite wisely, didn't. A trailer is included on the disc.

Scars of Dracula: This is perhaps the bloodiest of the Christopher Lee Dracula films, but not necessarily the best. Still, it has some nice ideas such as Dracula's coffin being in a walled-up room which can only be accessed via the outside sheer wall. There's some great names in Scars: Patrick Troughton as Dracula's manservant, Dennis Waterman, Jenny Hanley, and a very beautiful young Kate O'Mara. An enjoyable film. This disc contains a commentary with Director Roy Ward Baker and Christopher Lee, a stills gallery and trailer.

The Horror of Frankenstein: This film is sometimes referred to as a departure into comedy horror. I would venture to disagree. The only quirkiness comes from the loveable rogue character of the young Frankenstein. All of the characters are well-defined; particularly the grave robber and his wife, and the scheming maid (another excellent appearance by the lovely young Kate O'Mara). This is a horror gem. Ralph Bates plays Frankenstein (he flopped horribly playing Dracula) and Dave Prowse (of Darth Vader and Green Cross Code fame) plays a rather humanised creature who becomes a monster through its actions. Extras include a commentary with Jimmy Sangster, an interview with Veronica Carlson, and a poster and stills gallery.

Blood From the Mummy's Tomb: Lots of running around but not too much excitement describes the structure of this mummy movie, which follows the attempt to resurrect an Egyptian queen using the body of a present day woman. Not one of the best examples of Hammer's output. In fact, the production was plagued with misfortune. Peter Cushing withdrew to care for his dying wife, and then director Seth Holt died before the film was in the can. This disc includes interviews with Valerie Leon and Christopher Wicking, a stills gallery and radio spots.

Straight on Till Morning: This one and Fear in the Night are low-budget thrillers which were originally planned as TV movies. It's perhaps significant for having been directed by The Italian Job's Peter Collinson, but is nothing special. Novelty value only.

Fear in the Night: This suspense thriller had been on the cards for several years with Hammer, and ended up being the last contribution for them from director Jimmy Sangster. This one is definitely worth a look, being considerably better than its reputation. The disc includes a commentary by Jimmy Sangster and a trailer.

Demons of the Mind: They say we live in enlightened times, but I can't believe that even a film made in 1971 and set in the 1830s can have such a simple and corny plot as this. It's billed as a psychological thriller and I suppose it is in the loosest sense. It all boils down to a man's new wife bleeding during first time sex. The shock makes him impotent, and his inability to have sex sends her mad. See what I mean? A couple of promising moments, but not a good lesson in scriptwriting. There's a commentary on the disc by director Peter Sykes, writer (!) Christopher Wicking, and actress Virginia Weatherall, and also a trailer.

To the Devil a Daughter: Christopher Lee plays the excommunicated Father Michael who seeks to create a living devil using the innocent seventeen year old Catherine. John Verney, a novelist on the occult, is charged with keeping her safe. Richard Widmark (who was apparently a pain on set) stars alongside Lee, Denholm Elliot, Anthony Valentine, Francis De La Tour, and Nastassja Kinski among many more. This is a well structured film until the final scene, which seems rather disjointed. Dennis Wheatley, on whose book this was loosely based, was reportedly appalled by the film. Nevertheless, it stands as one of Hammer's strongest, and was commercially successful. There are some nice extras on this disc: To The Devil... The Death of Hammer documentary, an interview with stunt man Eddie Powell, and a film trailer.

It was easy for the uninitiated to brand the company Hammy House of Horror, but the truth is that Hammer Productions turned out very few turkeys and a great many classics. I must admit that I'm confused by the choice of films in this set. Where is the first and best Hammer Dracula film, Horror of Dracula? Where is The Mummy, The Curse of Frankenstein, and indeed Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed?

Nevertheless, there are some fine films here to be savoured. This a welcome - if expensive - release. Hammer stalwarts will already possess at least half of these films on single-release DVD, and are perhaps unlikely to fork out 150 for a few films which are not in their collection. Completists or anyone else with a nostalgic nose for horror but new to these films will be pleasantly surprised.

Having only received check discs for review I can't comment on the packaging, but I believe the discs are presented in a black and red box displaying a cross, and includes a colour booklet. This set might have gained another point or two had the picture and sound been remastered for each disc. A couple are particularly grainy.

Ty Power

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