Today: February 29, 2024

Hammer Classics

Three cracking films from the Hammer stable

Devil Rides Out. The Mummy’s Shroud. Rasputin: The Mad Monk
Three cracking films from the Hammer
– all fully restored and out on DVD and Blu-ray this month. It’s
enough to make any self respecting film fan swoon. However the sixty-four
million dollar question has to be: are they worth putting on your Christmas
wants list? Absolutely.

The least inspiring title of the three releases
is undoubtedly Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) which marked something of a change
in direction for Hammer and for its lead, Christopher
. The film isn’t one of Hammer’s greats but Lee and fellow Hammer
stalwart, Barbara Shelley, throw
themselves into it with relish. Don’t expect any historical accuracy (even the
Russian peasants have Cockney accents) but it’s an undemanding romp with a
luridly bloody payoff.

The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) is an entirely
different beast and, once you’re past the oddly rambling Ancient Egyptian flash
back scene which opens the film, then it’s Old School Hammer Horror shenanigans
all the way. The time is 1920. The place Mezzare, Egypt, where a routine expedition
falls foul of a deadly Mummy’s curse. John
is superb as the self -absorbed Stanley Preston who hopes to
exploit the expedition’s finds for his own benefit. Elizabeth Sellars plays Barbara Preston and manages to steal every
scene with a beautifully buttoned-up performance as the wife whose hatred for
her vain, bullying husband screams out through every pointed silence.

The best of the bunch, though, is undoubtedly
The Devil Rides Out (1968). In fact it’s arguably Hammer’s best Horror –
period. Christopher Lee once again proves that he’s more than Mr Vampire with a
restrained turn as the debonair aristo-turned White Wizard, Duc de Richleau. Charles Gray, as the Satanist Mocata,
oozes unsavoury intentions from every pore. But the real star of The Devil
Rides Out is the script. Adapted by Richard
from Dennis Wheatley’s
novel, every phrase, every scene is laden with meaning and menace.

Of course, most Hammer fans will be very
familiar with all three films, and it can be hard to justify replacing existing
DVDs with more of the same. Fortunately, StudioCanal have done a superb job and
the extras, which include brand new documentaries, along with (for Devil and
Rasputin) audio commentaries by Christopher Lee which make for an impressive

However, the real selling point here is the
‘fully restored’ label. Many of the ‘remastered’ DVDs currently on the market
are aimed at flat screen TVs which, because liquid crystal display screens
handle colour differently from traditional cathode ray tube TVs, means changing
the colour balance. On cheap re-releases, the results are often overwhelming –
orange faced actors and reds which are so bright they positively vibrate. These
latest releases have no such problems with colours that are vibrant while
remaining true to the original releases. But, when it comes to The Devil Rides
Out, the restoration team have excelled themselves.

Hammer always had limited budgets and, in the
case of The Devil Rides Out, they simply ran out of time and money before the
some of the special effects were complete. The scene where the Angel of Death
attempts to break into the magic circle is one of the most dramatic in the film
but, remarkably, it was never finished. In the original cinema release, the
close up of Death’s skull appeared with its bluescreen background – and that’s how it’s remained for 40
odd years. Now, finally, fans can see the scene exactly as the filmmaker’s
intended. Some aficionados may hate the idea of tampering, but the results are
superb. And this is just one of around a million ‘fixes’. Making these Hammer
re-releases a very tempting trio.

Devil Rides Out, Certificate 15, The Mummy’s Shroud, Certificate PG, and
Rasputin: The Mad Monk, Certificate 15, are available individually on DVD and
Blu-ray double play on October 22nd from StudioCanal.

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