Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Have yourself a Hammer Horror Christmas

I wrote back here that my first encounter with Hammer Horror came at Christmas 1984, thanks to a BBC2 season of some of the earliest classic titles, and for this reason I usually endeavour to reacquaint myself with them on the relevant nights.
(I do the same with The Marx Brothers.)
So here's how my Christmas schedule's looking - why not join me and feel that rosy glow of being part of something big and almost unbelievably pointless.
Here's the dates and times for your diary:
22nd December, 12 am: Blood From the Mummy's Tomb
The odd one out of the season. The only non-original, non-Fisher, semi-sequel. I sometimes wonder if my love for this film is in fact attributable to the accident of it having been in such company at such a time of year at such a formative moment in my cinema education. But every time I rewatch it I am more convinced that no: it really is by a mile the best of the post-sixties Hammer films, and a remarkably spooky, suspenseful and clever film. And every time I watch that bit where Valerie Leon bounds towards the camera in slow motion I realise that its appeal has very little to do with Christmas either.
28th December, 10.05 pm: The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula
A six day wait, in which Christmas itself passed in a blur of irrelevance, before the big one:the double-bill to end all double-bills; the main course to which Blood was the appetiser. I watched these the following morning, partly because we now at last had a video recorder, partly because my mother insisted on watching Dracula first to check it wasn't too horrible for me to watch. My access to horror films at this time hinged somewhat bizarrely on what my mother happened to find frightening herself. Frankenstein and the Mummy, she seemed certain, were not frightening at all. But Dracula - apparently for no more scientific reason than that he bit people and the Mummy didn't - was. So she had to pass this one as fit for juvenile consumption. But the extremely gory Blood From the Mummy's Tomb I enjoyed without mediation.
29th December, 11.45 pm: The Mummy
Missed the start of this one because my sister wanted to record Duran Duran on ITV. My tape began at the point where Felix Aylmer is muttering "the mummy... the mummy..." in his padded cell. Basically loved it, though I remember feeling somewhat cheated when they simply shoot him at the end, after seeing bullets thwack into him so many times with so little effect before. Now I am struck by the insane colours on that studio bog set, and by the fact that Yvonne Furneaux is not a reincarnation of the Princess Ananka, merely enough of a lookalike to fool the Mummy. This makes him, when you think about it, a bit of a silly.
4th January, 11.15 pm: Curse of the Werewolf
Strictly speaking, this one's optional. My mother spake again: if Dracula is horrid because he bites; how much more so the werewolf, who not only nips and laps but basically rips bits off of you. It mattered not - even if we knew it at the time - that this is actually one of the most genteel of the early Hammers. I never got to see it. When I did, it didn't impress me all that much. It struck me that the film is basically three films stuck together, with all the werewolfery crammed into the somewhat pedestrian third, and that the first, most irrelevant and most impatiently sat through bit turns out to be by far the best. Still, I must wonder if my cool reaction is in some way influenced by the fact that I didn't see it as part of that seminal first batch, just as my adoration of Blood From the Mummy's Tomb may have something to do with the fact that I did...
Whatever, here are some of my first, most vivid and truly wonderful Hammer Horror memories...
Thanks to everyone who has visited the Abbey this year, and a Merry Christmas to you all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cherry Fallen

The news that Brittany Murphy has died at the age of 32 sent me with curiosity back to her filmography, and thence to the surprising realisation that I have seen far more of her films than I realised. Most I would never dream of watching again - but however little I remember of some of them, in every case I remember her contribution, and I remember being impressed by her every time. A talented, sparky, unusual, likeable soul.
And one that I certainly will watch again, at least once every couple of years until they take me out the door feet first, is Cherry Falls (2000) one of my favourites of the post-Scream, postmodern slasher wave, (which I discuss here). She is, and looks, great in this film, investing a pretty straightforward slasher heroine character with unwritten dimensions all her own, adding immeasurably to the off-kilter flavour of the film itself.
Sad news.