THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (John Gilling, 1961)
CAPTAIN CLEGG (Peter Graham Scott, 1962)
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Terence Fisher, 1962)
NIGHTMARE (Freddie Francis, 1964)
As Indicator continue to tidy up the disparate strands of Hammer’s eclectic filmography for another of their impressive blu-ray box sets, I imagine it will get increasingly difficult for them to dream up appropriate catch-all titles. Volume 6 (limited to 6,000 units) goes out under the handle “Night Shadows”, not bad for a collection comprising b/w efforts Shadow Of The Cat and Nightmare, plus the lushly colourful brace Captain Clegg (which you get the option of playing as “Night Creatures”, its US release title) and Phantom Of The Opera (the title character of which, I guess, spends a lot of time lurking in the shadows before whipping off that mask to reveal his problem complexion).
John Gilling’s Shadow Of The Cat is yet another twist on Edgar Allan Poe’s much adapted The Black Cat, albeit a more traditional one than a title recently reviewed in these pages, David Lowell Rich’s Eye Of The Cat (1969). In contrast to that one’s “Les Diaboliques goes swinging ‘60s” approach, Gilling’s film proceeds along more traditional “Old Dark House” gothique lines, with the eponymous feline witnessing its rich mistress, Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) being bumped off by her acquisitive and irascible husband Walter (Andre Morell), in cahoots with a couple of their servants. Those guys are immediately installed on Tabitha’s death list and soon joined there by various other grasping relatives that Walter calls in to kill it off and locate any embarrassing wills that Ella might have secreted around the property. Also arriving is Ella’s blameless and beloved niece Beth (Barbara Shelley), true beneficiary of the old lady’s estate. Beth gets on just fine with Tabitha, and wonders what grudge it could possibly hold against the house’s other occupants…
One of the points I pondered in that Eye Of The Cat review was the impossibility of making cats look scary onscreen. Special visual FX ace Les Bowie contributes some effective feline POVs here but Tabitha mostly spares us the “menacing prowl” schtick and just cracks on with killing people, generally luring them into pursuits that conclude with heart attacks, immersion in swamps, tumbles down the stairs, falls from battlements, etc… suffice to say that everybody in this picture, including Beth, gets everything that’s coming to them. When all that’s been resolved, stay tuned for a blackly comic coda. The film is as compellingly directed as you’d expect from the veteran Gilling, with a screenplay by George Baxt, who had written additional (uncredited) dialogue for Hammer’s Revenge Of Frankenstein (1958) and also scripted Circus Of Horrors and City Of The Dead (both 1960). He subsequently wrote the 1962 brace Night Of The Eagle and Tower Of Evil. Ten years later he was also contributing (though once again uncredited by Hammer) to the screenplay of Vampire Circus. Hammer didn’t even see fit to credit themselves on Shadow Of The Cat, which went out as a BHP Production. There’s much discussion among the bonus materials here as to why this might be.
1961 proved to be something of a watershed year for Hammer with the release of two Jimmy Sangster scripted productions, Seth Holt’s Taste Of Fear following Anthony Bushell’s Terror Of The Tongs and signalling Sangster’s desire to move away from graphic physical horror and into psychological thriller territory, an approach that yielded the subsequent likes of Freddie Francis’s Paranoiac, Michael Carreras’s Maniac (both 1963) and by 1964, Francis’s Nightmare. Killer cats are out for this one but the spectre of Les Diaboliques is back and looming pretty large. Jennie Linden (who substituted for a Billy Liar-bound Julie Christie at the last minute, filling her shoes admirably) plays disturbed schoolgirl Janet, haunted by the legacy of her insane mother and tormented by nightmares of joining her at the funny farm. Things go from bad to worse when she’s returned to the bosom of her loving (?) family and starts to hallucinate terrifying apparitions involving a mysterious scar faced woman (Clytie Jessop). Already half out of her mind, when Janet is introduced by kindly guardian Henry Baxter (David Knight) to his wife, who turns out to be a dead ringer for the scar faced phantom, she totally loses it and stabs the unfortunate woman to death. Two major twists follow. Think Mission Impossible. Think gaslighters gaslit. It’s engaging stuff for thriller fans, though 25 year old Linden playing a schoolgirl is among the easier things to swallow in one of the most credulity-stretching plots ever derived from Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955). Thankfully, Hammer would go on to make much more feasibly plotted, kitchen sink dramas involving alien insect invasions, pitting cavemen and women against dinosaurs and portraying Reg Varney and Bob Grant as irresistible babe magnets.
Perhaps you enjoy having your credulity stretched (they can’t touch you for it, Missus)… but how do you feel about a protagonist who goes round slitting people’s ears and cutting out their tongues? How far can an anti-hero go before he becomes and out-and-out villain? Peter Cushing’s unassuming country parson Reverend Blyss was, in an earlier life, the eponymous Captain Clegg, another of Hammer’s patented, budget-cutting shipless pirates. Yeah, I know the script plays this as a surprise reveal but really, you’d have to be irredeemably dense not to spot it coming a nautical mile off. Having seen the light, the Rev has renounced his wicked ways (a tad too late for the benefit of the guy whose face he mutilated) and now mostly concerns himself with the souls of his parishioners, though as a sideline he does run a nice little earner smuggling spirits, his gang discouraging nosey intruders by dressing themselves and their horses in luminous skeleton suits… and they would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for meddling Revenue Man Captain Collier (Patrick Allen, backing up that official End Of The World voice with real beefy presence)! Meanwhile Michael Ripper chews the scenery as a rum running funeral director and Oliver Reed woos Yvonne Romain (who played his Mum in Terence Fisher’s Curse Of The Werewolf, 1961). Director Peter Graham Scott never made it onto the upper perch of the Hammer Pantheon alongside Fisher, Francis and Gilling (his subsequent successes were mostly in TV Land) but buckles some serious swash here with the gleeful assistance of Cushing, memorably dropping his hymnal, when required, to swing from a chandelier.
Peter Lom’s Professor Petrie also gets in a spot of chandelier swinging (which he combines with the mandatory and iconic mask dropping scene) during his titular turn in Fisher’s Phantom Of The Opera. This character emerges from Tony Hinds’ screenplay as a much more ambiguous figure than in previous screen adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, if not exactly a milquetoast kind of guy. Hinds adds a vertically challenged sidekick (played by Ian Wilson) to bump off the Phantom’s enemies for him and although the latter doesn’t seem overly concerned with stopping this kill spree, he’s significantly more focussed on coaching deputy diva Christine Charles (Heather Sears) into perfecting her performance in the opera that larcenous Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (a supremely slimy Michael Gough) has stolen from him. Legend has it (a legend examined and assessed in various extras on this disc) that Cary Grant himself was keen to appear as The Phantom (prompting some of the liberties Hinds took with Leroux’s text, the better to suit Grant’s Star persona), only for his agent to talk him out of it and the role to devolve to Lom. Director Fisher had little control over this kind of stuff (and had far more disagreeable studio demands to contend with in e.g. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969), making it difficult to sustain the once popular argument for him being some kind of auteur. What he is, is a supreme craftsman, guiding his crew (notably DP Arthur Grant, makeup master Roy Ashton, production designer Bernard Robinson and composer Edwin Astley) through a rattling gothic romp, highlights of which include the aforementioned chandelier swinging mask drop and a hanged stage hand bursting through the scenery to alarm Liane Aukin in mid recitative.
These spanky restorations are ably supported by a stirring chorus line of extras, as follows…
THE SHADOW OF THE CAT (UK BD premiere).
Kim Newman’s introduction to the film. Audio commentary by Bruce G Hallenbeck. In-depth interview with Barbara Shelley, filmed shortly before the legendary and charming genre icon’s death. Assistant costume designer Yvonne Blake and Peter Allchorne from the property department reminisce. Short audio interview with assistant special effects artist Ian Scoones. Lucy Bolton profiles actress Freda Jackson. David Huckvale appraises Mikis Theodorakis’ score. An overview of the film by Hammer buffs lan Barnes, Marcus Hearn, Denis Meikle, Jason Morell and Jonathan Rigby. Double-bill TV spot (with Curse Of The Werewolf). Image galleries of promotional and publicity material. Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Craig Ian Mann, excerpts from original press material, an archival interview with Shelley, overview of contemporary critical responses and complete film credits.
Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentary from Constantine Nasr. The BEHP Interview with Peter Graham Scott. Josephine Botting profiles prolific Hammer wardrobe mistresses Molly Arbuthnot and Rosemary Burrows. In the featurette Peter Cushing: Perspectives, Derek Fowlds, Judy Matheson and Madeline Smith look back on their experiences acting alongside the great man. David Huckvale on Don Banks’ score and the influence of Hammer’s music honcho, Philip Martell. Actor John Carson and film historian Wayne Kinsey look back on the making of Captain Clegg. Kinsey discusses the contributions of transport historian and collector George Mossman to Hammer productions. Trailer and image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with new essays by Frank Collins and Kieran Foster, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
Optional 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 presentations of the original theatrical version (85 mins). Alternative TV cut (99 mins)… extended version with unique scenes, presented open matte in Standard Definition. Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentaries by Steve Haberman / Constantine Nasr and Troy Howarth / Nathaniel Thompson. Special effects artist Brian Johnson’s memories of the production. Rachel Knightley profiles Liane Aukin. Richard Klemensen, editor and publisher of Little Shoppe of Horrors, revisits the career of Hammer giant Tony Hinds. David Huckvale on Edwin Astley’s score. C Courtney Joyner shares personal memories of time spent with Herbert Lom. Romantic lead Edward de Souza presents a featurette on the making of POTO, including interviews with film historian Richard Golen and sound recordist Alan Lavender. Original theatrical trailer with optional commentary by Brian Trenchard-Smith. Image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Adam Scovell, Terence Fisher on The Phantom Of The Opera, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.
Kim Newman introduction. Audio commentary by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons. The BEHP (audio) Interview with Freddie Francis. Jennie Linden interview. Pamela Hutchinson on Moira Redmond. David Huckvale on Don Banks’ score. Alan Barnes, John J Johnston, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby revisit the production. Wayne Kinsey’s “Making Of” featurette includes interviews with Jennie Linden, Jimmy Sangster and art director Don Mingaye. Trailer and image galleries. Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Emma Westwood, extracts from original press materials, an overview of contemporary critical responses and complete film credits.