While other pictures in the Hammer Film Productions canon have contended with the nexus of sex and horror that seems a necessary element of the vampire movie, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS wastes little time on refinement and goes straight for the jugular. This 1970 outing is based on the Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu novella CARMILLA, which precedes the Bram Stoker novel and introduces the vampire as a woman capable of exploiting social mores.
After an introduction that involves Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) and the decapitation of a beautiful vampire, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS swings to the manor of General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing). He is having a big party and winds up taking care of Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt), the daughter of a new neighbour. Marcilla takes a liking to the General’s niece Laura (Pippa Steel) and their relationship turns deadly. Some time later, Marcilla resurfaces as Carmilla and takes her act onward to the Morton family.
While some mystery wafts through the events of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, the flesh is laid bare. Marcilla/Carmilla is a huntress of sorts and she targets her quarry with every weapon in her toolkit, exploiting emotions and loneliness where she sees fit. She is sexual, introducing a world of pleasure to her innocent victims. And she seems capable of blending dreams with reality, which causes dizzying confusion for Laura and Emma Morton (Madeline Smith). It is only when bitemarks are revealed that the sinking feeling sets in.
Marcilla/Carmilla is a member of the Karnstein clan, which includes a maternal figure (Dawn Addams) and a man in black (John Forbes-Robertson) who appears on horseback at all the right moments. There is an attempt at crafting a modest mythology, especially when the General retrieves the Baron to take care of business in the final act. What’s more interesting is the procedure of the Karnsteins, which involves exposing young women to the charms of the gorgeous Marcilla/Carmilla. There is little left to the imagination and Hammer’s approach is thankfully without shame.
SCARS OF DRACULA is among the most visceral of the outings in Hammer Film Productions’ DRACULA series and that leaves it with its own distinction, even as the deeper narrative is rather threadbare. There are some neat tricks in this 1970 picture, which is directed by Roy Ward Baker and features a screenplay by Anthony Hinds, and the title character is less a loiterer and more a palpitating but civil thing of the damned.
Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) is once more brought back to life. Inhabitants of the surrounding area are troubled by his crimes and attempt to burn down his stronghold, only to find their women and children butchered by bats. When Paul (Christopher Matthews) finds himself in the Count’s castle, he too is set upon by its dweller. That sends Paul’s brother Simon (Dennis Waterman) to find out what happened. Simon’s fiancé (Jenny Hanley) is in tow, which only gives Dracula more insidious incentive.
SCARS OF DRACULA takes some time to get its motor running, with Paul’s story cruising through a few bendy sidetracks before reaching the main event. There is an untrue and disappointingly comic allegation of rape, which ostensibly establishes Paul as a bed-hopping libertine. This, in turn, seemingly founds his justification for bonking Dracula’s mistress (Anouska Hempel) and afterward serves to contrast Paul with his more lucid and moral brother.
Whether or not that sets up some sort of reason for the violence that follows is in the eye of the beholder, but the Count is magnetic. SCARS OF DRACULA finally lets us into his castle and we see what goes on behind bolted doors. His servants are explored in frightening detail and Klove (Patrick Troughton) is tortured for disloyalty. This insight is welcome, but the collaged plot is less absorbing than previous entries and the heroes are as milquetoast as the law allows. In the end, SCARS OF DRACULA is mostly notable for its graphic, lavish approach and its giant quaking bats.
Peter Sasdy’s slushy TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA picks up where DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE left off, with the titular Count (Christopher Lee) a veritable puddle of essence. The 1970 picture from Hammer Film Productions tackles another side of the series’ sweltering sex, with a theme familiar to anyone with a mind on how the most sanctimonious among us often carry the murkiest of secrets. The screenplay by Anthony Hinds features plenty of cruelty at the hands of rich, jaded men.
After Weller (Roy Kinnear) comes across a fading Dracula (Lee), he takes a keepsake for himself. A while later, a trio of English gentlemen seek thrills in the underbelly of society. They meet Weller through a sinister young lord (Ralph Bates) and buy some of Dracula’s desiccated blood with intentions on performing a shady ritual. Something goes wrong and the men kill the young man. They flee back to their lives, but the ritual has turned up Dracula and he’s got revenge on his mind.
The main thrust of the tale involves William Hargood (Geoffrey Keen). He hates the fact that his daughter Alice (Linda Hayden) is in love with Paul (Anthony Corlan), who happens to be the son of one of his friends. William prohibits his daughter from seeing her beau, but she’s intent on marriage. There is a multitude of issues at play, the most compelling of which is William’s pretence. He seeks the company of whores, yet considers his own daughter a harlot because she grins at Paul in church.
TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA contends with duplicity, the way the men coil under weight of social norms while hiding their base cravings. They are distressed at Count Dracula’s imposition, upset at the blood on their hands. They like the darkness sustained, even if they’ve become bored by conventional sin, and the vampire’s robust overtures impend the oblique social order. Lee’s Dracula defies their worldview, a façade marked by muffled religiosity and suppressed by drink and domestic violence. But when the shade falls and love’s full beam is allowed, the darkness dies once more.
Terence Fisher takes on the Baron once more with FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, the most self-destructive picture in the Hammer Film Productions series. It is the fifth of Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN movies and it features a screenplay by Bert Batt, with cinematography by Arthur Grant. The 1969 outing is among the most overt in the series, with influences from Italian crime cinema and the depths of Gothic tragedy in play.
Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is once again at work. He disturbs a thief who stumbles on his experiments and has to relocate once more. This leads him to a boarding house run by Anna (Veronica Carlson), who has an intended named Karl (Simon Ward). It turns out that Karl works at the local asylum, where a former associate of the Baron resides. Frankenstein extorts the young couple into helping him, which naturally sets off a chain of awful events.
FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED pushes the obsession of Frankenstein to a boiling point. There is a singular scene in the picture that was opposed by the stars and director – and for good reason. In it, the Baron forces himself on Anna in a fit of sexual violence that seems only incited by the sight of her. This burst of appalling vigour from a precise but ethically-challenged figure is odd. His treatment of women has always raised eyebrows (see THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN), but it’s the loss of control that makes an unnecessary mark.
And the scene may have otherwise ruined the production if not for the excellence found in the balance. The attack on Anna infuses the rest of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED with an odd energy, as no character approaches the subject again and the subtext is left in the mind of the viewer. But the element of the Baron pushing the bar further from civility does have rewards, especially as he blackmails the young couple into doing his will and grows more comfortable with murder and death in the fashioning of his latest offering. His distorted progress is worthy of carnage, so the real monster must be thus destroyed.
The magic is black and Baphomet is grinning in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, a 1968 horror movie from the mighty Hammer Film Productions. Terence Fisher is the director and Richard Matheson is the screenwriter for this outing, so the pieces are in place for a thrilling bit of wicked business. Based on Dennis Wheatley’s novel of the same name, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT pits good against evil in no uncertain terms. Satanism is on the menu and the poor goat is just the appetizer.
In England circa 1929, the Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee) is looking into the activities of Simon (Patrick Mower) on behalf of a friend. It turns out that Simon is hanging out with some pretty bad people, namely a group of Satanists led by Mocata (Charles Gray). Simon is set to be an initiate along with Tanith (Niké Arrighi), but the Duc ain’t having it. Together with his pal Rex (Leon Greene), he aims to stop Mocata and his immoral doings before the devil takes his due.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT doesn’t beat around the bush: the Duc is going to take on the devil himself. And it lays its intentions further bare when the fiend himself shows up to sit on a rock at a wild-ass bacchanal. All hell is literally breaking loose and the Duc is trying his best to sew it all up. He contends with Rex’s stuffy disbelief and the brain-snatching ways of Mocata, who has a psychic connection with his pledges and gets Tanith to do his malevolent bidding.
In Fisher’s hands, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is never grave. It is oiled with plenty of humour and light, especially as Rex’s incredulity is lifted and his affection for Tanith is apparent. And late scenes at the manor of the Eaton family make for top entertainment, especially as the good guys form a circle and fend off everything from a giant spider to the angel of death on horseback. There’s some neat material involving illusions and the ways evil presents its trickery. Things are a bit broad from a philosophical standpoint, but the rewards are vast and Lee’s stellar hero kicks the devil right square in the teeth.
Full of sex, blood and religious zeal, DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE is a heavenly horror picture from Hammer Film Productions. This 1968 outing is directed by Freddie Francis and is the fourth entry in Hammer’s DRACULA series. It surges with Gothic inclinations and is surely the most iron-rich of all the DRACULA movies, which is saying something. Francis’ command of the aesthetic pares to the heart of the matter, pinpointing the intersection of the sacred and the deliciously profane.
DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE opens with Count Dracula (Christopher Lee) presumably destroyed by the events of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. The villagers are still terrified, however, so it falls to Monsignor Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies) to incite a faithless priest (Ewan Hooper). Dracula’s castle is exorcised, but there is trouble as an accident leads to the revival of the Count. The vampire sets his sights on Mueller’s niece Maria (Veronica Carlson) and it’s up to her beau Paul (Barry Andrews) to save the day.
Sex is everywhere in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE. The camera dawdles around a tavern, where Paul keeps a room and where women like Zena (Barbara Ewing) show a fair deal of flesh. The plunging necklines are just the thing for the ogling men, but they also denote the lifeforce sought by the Count. Arthur Grant’s lensing makes this clear later when he zeroes in on Maria’s jugular vein, a throbbing bit of business that sends Lee’s Dracula into a frenzy.
This world of churning desire is further explored with Francis’ bloodlust, which literally splashes the frame. He tinges his world crimson and seems to derive existential pleasure from the sight of a gigantic stake plunging into Dracula’s chest. This is the stuff of sacred awakening, especially as Paul’s feeble atheism has to go through its paces in order to appropriately destroy the villain. There is redemption of sorts and a return to the cross, but not before a cathartic act of violence turns the dark to dust.
It’s relatively easy to find redeeming qualities in even the gloomiest of horror outings from Hammer Film Productions, but THE MUMMY’S SHROUD presents unique challenges. This 1967 picture is directed by John Gilling, who helmed THE PLAGUE OF ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE. Those outings had flashes of inspiration and delight, but THE MUMMY’S SHROUD is as sluggish as its uninspired tagline. The caution to “beware the beat of cloth-wrapped feet” is as laughable as it is insipid.
The story begins with a flashback to ancient Egypt. The tale of Kah-To-Bey (Toolsie Persaud) is told and we learn that the boy king is buried after a coup. Flash-forward to 1920 and Sir Basil Walden (Andre Morell) and Stanley Preston (John Phillips) have found the grave. Ignoring a warning from the locals, as British archeologists tend to do, the duo hauls back home with their discovery. There’s a snake bite and some double-dealing from Preston, while the mummy of Kah-To-Bey’s manservant gets to the business of revenge.
The Hammer MUMMY movies kind of blend together and THE MUMMY’S SHROUD struggles to bring something new to the tomb. While the FRANKENSTEIN series expands into unique territory with its many entries, this swathed and marked set can’t quite get the job done. The repetition is evident as the Gilling and Anthony Hinds screenplay runs though its laborious paces, while Arthur Grant’s cinematography tries to do something with the dreary setup.
If there is a silver lining, it can be found in the fact that this mummy does some damage. There are some violent sequences as stuntman Eddie Powell bumbles around and the finale is showy, with a linguist (Maggie Kimberly) uttering the magic words. But really, THE MUMMY’S SHROUD is a monotonous bore. Notwithstanding some fine work from the effects artists and Don Mingaye’s sumptuous art direction, Gilling doesn’t put any muscle on his lumbering monster tale and the film just lurches into dust.
Terence Fisher’s FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is the fourth movie in Hammer Film Productions’ FRANKENSTEIN series and it is fascinating. Terence Fisher is the director, while John Elder is the screenwriter and Peter Cushing is the star. It comes on the heels of 1964’s THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, which contended once more with the juncture of science and religion. FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN pushes further along those lines and finds the soul.
Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein is thawed after an hour of so-called death. He discovers that his soul did not leave his body and celebrates the find with Hans (Robert Morris) and the esteemed Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters). When young Hans is sent out to procure champagne, he gets in a punch-up with a bunch of punks and defends his girlfriend (Susan Denberg) from their abuses. He takes the long road to the guillotine and is framed for murder, which aids the Baron in the next step of his discoveries.
FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN asks some compelling metaphysical questions, with the Baron concerned about the soul and its capacity for transmission. He houses the soul in a sort of apparatus and wonders if the body somehow traps the soul. He pushes Hans’ soul into the body of another after a cruel turn of fate and discovers that motives and morals may be contained within the agitated scrap of conscience and matter.
Now, there’s a decidedly silly bent to FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN if Fisher’s flick is taken at face value. And there are certain delights along such a path, especially when the recreated woman promised by the title takes hold and exacts her merited vengeance on a pile of patrician jerks. The closing scene is one for the books. But the deeper questions elbowing the heart are worth examining, specifically as they take the Baron’s quantifiable cool and allow it full access to the inscrutable dominion of the soul.
THE REPTILE has all the trappings of a Hammer Film Productions horror flick. There is a village with hushed citizens suffering a cruel turn of fate. There’s a couple arriving to check things out. There’s a doctor. There’s an ancient curse from a far-off culture. And there’s a decadent abode that contains all sorts of bizarre events. The picture is directed by John Gilling and is fresh on the heels of his THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, with many of the same sets used in the production.
The action takes place in Clagmoor Heath, a village in Cornwall. People are dying of something called the Black Death and Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) arrives after the passing of his brother. He brings his new bride Valerie (Jennifer Daniel) along and they move into the deceased’s bungalow with hopes of starting afresh. The locals are unfriendly and the neighbours aren’t any better, with the enigmatic Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman) keeping to himself. He has a daughter (Jacqueline Pearce) he doesn’t seem to like much and a servant (Marne Maitland) with some immoral secrets.
THE REPTILE is pretty overt stuff, at least when the secrets are revealed, but Gilling allows for a slow burn. The action is thoughtful and the plot unfolds with inaudible mystery. There is death in Clagmoor Heath and people are turning black and frothing at the mouth, but Gilling never quite gets to the heart of the matter until he’s good and bloody ready. That allows distinctive dread to settle over Cornwall like a fog, which in turn settles THE REPTILE to a careful, creeping sort of crawl.
Distilled to its essence, you could argue THE REPTILE becomes very much about a father and his daughter. Dr. Franklyn is destroyed by the affliction his daughter Anna suffers and he is beside himself, convicted to a curse from a foreign land. Willman does a great job revealing these sentiments, but Gilling’s direction keeps the rest of us at arm’s length. The villain(s) of the piece are contrasting in their allowances for empathy, with unusual beauty meeting dismaying fate in the comprehensive, odd heat.
John Gilling directs THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, a 1966 endeavour from Hammer Film Productions that manages to be one of the creepiest outings in the entire canon. Featuring a screenplay by Peter Bryan and cinematography by Arthur Grant, this picture features a horde of mindless, lumbering drones doing evil things for their evil masters. It also reminds of the 1932 horror WHITE ZOMBIE in its frantic depiction of voodoo and Haitian culture.
It is 1860 and the denizens of a Cornish village are dying. The doctor Peter Tompson (Brook Williams) can’t figure it out and his wife Alice (Jacqueline Pearce) seems to be suffering some sort of malaise. Help arrives in the form of Peter’s friend Sir James Forbes (André Morell), who attends to the problem with his daughter Sylvia (Diane Clare). The foot-dragging of the villagers to have any real investigation done piques Forbes’ curiosity, while the shadowy Squire Clive Hamilton (John Carson) is up to something.
THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES is a film ensconced in grave atmosphere and the chills are effective from the outset. Sir James and Sylvia arrive in the midst of a fox hunt and the sassy girl sends the hunters in the wrong direction, which sets off a chain of events that somehow ends with a funeral procession interrupted and the coffin toppled in a ditch. Whatever’s going on in the village betrays a sort of communal lunacy, which is why the movie’s men of reason struggle so.
Carson’s Hamilton is a unique beast. At first, he comes to Sylvia’s rescue when she’s set upon by the fox hunters. But there’s something ominous about him and the black magic in his past may have come home to roost. He seeks Sylvia’s blood and likes to wear masks. This sets him in contrast to Sir James and Peter, who use intelligence and science to understand the world. And this sets off yet another famed Hammer collision of science and myth, with a scorching plague of zombies doing the heavy lifting.
As the third entry in Hammer Film Productions’ DRACULA series, DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS resuscitates the heat and blood of the legend and draws Christopher Lee back out of the coffin. This 1966 outing is directed by Terence Fisher and features a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. It returns the titular character to the throne, expanding through the cult of 1960’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and rendering its scoundrel out of the muck and mire of human essence.
The plot begins with the Kent family on a journey. They wish to visit Carlsbad despite the advice of Father Sandor (Andrew Keir) to go elsewhere. The clan is transported to a shadowy castle by a driverless coach and they take to their new surroundings with caution, at least at first. The butler Klove (Philip Latham) informs the group that the castle’s late owner left orders to open the doors of welcome, but there’s more to the place than meets the eye. Ultimately, one of the Kents winds up dead and another is transformed into a robust servant of the night by Count Dracula (Lee) himself.
It is encouraging to see Lee as Dracula once again. He does not speak in DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS and that forges a haunting aspect, especially as he prowls the corridors and emerges in waves of black cloth. It is up to the living, the unlucky Kents in particular, to do the talking. They wonder about their circumstances, with Charles (Francis Matthews) leading the way. He is confident before he knows what he’s into.
It is left to Helen (Barbara Shelley) to worry. She is the most apprehensive and perhaps the most careful, but she winds up the most susceptible as well. Her dread mirrors the dread of the faithful at the commencement of the picture, when Father Sandor confronts a group of local religious authorities prepared to stake a woman’s corpse. This fear – and its consequences – haunt DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS like vapour. And Lee’s Count waits, servants in tow, for the hastening leap of the blood and for the murky shroud to drape the land once more.
There is a knot of tragic romance at the core of THE GORGON, a unique entry in the Hammer Film Productions canon. This 1964 picture is directed by Terence Fisher and is the sort of melodrama the filmmaker always wanted to make, so it does carry a kind of adamant resolve. What it lacks in chills and explicit visuals it makes up for in prowling atmosphere, while the character interactions allow a slow burn through a series of all-too-human concerns.
The tortuous tale involves Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing), who’s been working in the village of Vandorf. He’s seen the victims of several murders wheeled into his facilities and he’s seen them turn to stone. The latest victim embroils him in deeper controversy, as the father (Michael Goodliffe) of the accused killer arrives with intentions on absolution. This sets off a chain of events that draws Paul (Richard Pasco) to Vandorf. He further investigates the legend of Megaera and why so many people are being turned to stone.
The plot of THE GORGON runs through some convoluted paces, but it does allow for some interesting scenarios. Christopher Lee shows up as Professor Karl Meister, who lends Paul assistance as he tries to crack the case. Everyone is somehow related to or associated with someone else and there are quite a few filler characters. Carla Hoffman (Barbara Shelley) is vital to the plot, though, and she’s caught in a love triangle of sorts, with Dr. Namaroff and Paul pining for her worthy affections.
The romance of THE GORGON nearly gets lost in the shuffle, but Fisher does find a way to punch things up toward the end. The finale is as catastrophic and hard as any Hammer production, even if a few delicate changes unnecessarily telegraph the conclusion. There is also some subtext about the concealing of truth with designs on preserving some sense of social order. Other Fisher features have done more with such matters, but it’s easy to lose one’s way when there’s a bag of snakes involved.
A little worn and rambling like Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN is nonetheless better than its critical reputation suggests. This 1964 work is often cited as a slighter outing for Hammer Film Productions, especially in the context of the top-tier FRANKENSTEIN movies, but there’s a lot to like about it. The director is Freddie Francis and his command is less intriguing than that of Terence Fisher, but the John Elder screenplay has sure delights.
The tale begins with Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) and his assistant Hans (Sandor Elès) snatching a body. The scientist wants to use it as part of his experiments, but he’s interrupted by a meddlesome priest and there is, sadly, no one to rid him of the nuisance. Frankenstein continually has his work halted, so he heads to his old stomping grounds to raise funds. He finds his effects pilfered by the cops, plus he encounters a deaf girl (Katy Wild) and a hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe). Meanwhile, his latest creation looms.
This film differs from its predecessor, THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN, in many ways. While the aforementioned was a direct sequel to THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN does away with much of the larger fable. The Baron is made bitter by the world around him and rightly so, as the ill-informed have demolished his version of progress at every turn. They use fire to kill, while Frankenstein is portrayed as a purveyor of life.
The collision of the religious and the scientific has always been the most compelling facet of the FRANKENSTEIN pictures and THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN holds the subject in special esteem. It even allows some cheeky moments, like when the monster staggers through the streets holding a cross. A man shouts “oh, my God” at the creature and the vision is clear, with Shelley’s Gothic survey of creation and rebirth brought full circle. Francis’ lack of cohesion and polish does sting a bit, but the fragments are assembled well enough to tell yet another fascinating tale.
THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is not part of Hammer Film Productions’ DRACULA pictures. It is its own animal, an ancestor to Bram Stoker’s character and a thick-blooded contrast. The movie is directed by Don Sharp from a John Elder screenplay and it seems to sprout from the mythology of THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, in which the darkness is a mood that cannot be easily escaped and vampirism is itself a foul social disease
The plot finds Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) as newlyweds on their honeymoon. They run out of petrol and take up at an empty inn run by Bruno (Peter Madden) and his wife Anna (Vera Cook). Gerald and Marianne are summoned to the castle of Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman), where they meet his adult children. The couple is eventually swept up into a vampiric cult, while Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) has his own concerns.
THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE is an gracefully mounted Gothic horror and it’s also a nasty little monster with some profound psychology. Gerald is ecstatic about starting his life with Marianne, but Dr. Ravna’s intrusion leads to a set of lurid circumstances. The poor lad is put through his paces and everyone around him – save Zimmer – participates in a dreadful farce. The truth is out there, probably up in Dr. Ravna’s haunting domicile.
The subtext is rich. From the latent defilement of marriage vows on the honeymoon to the collision of high society types and their underlings, THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE weaves a seductive tale with meat on its bones. We’re attached to Gerald as he unpacks his surroundings. Ravna and his clan are intoxicating, with their wealth and masquerade parties and sexy daughters. And Professor Zimmer doesn’t seem to pack much by way of moral character, even if he does paint a mean black cross on the devil’s door.
Terence Fisher’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA may deviate an awful lot from Gaston Leroux’s original work, but there’s something almost defiantly entertaining about this 1962 picture. Featuring a screenplay by John Elder, this outing is often cited as a misfire for Hammer Film Productions. But its inclusion of the humour from Leroux’s 1910 novel bears mention, as does its unpacking of the titular character (Herbert Lom) as a figure of misfortune.
It is London in the year 1900 and Lord Ambrose D’Arcy (Michael Gough) is trying to mount his new opera. Opening night is not entirely sold out on account of a haunted opera box, so D’Arcy takes out his anger on the manager (Thorley Walters). The opera’s producer Harry (Edward de Souza) is trying to hold things together, but there’s word of a ghost. After the leading lady flees, the lewd D’Arcy sets out to hire a new woman and settles on Christine (Heather Sears). Alas, a ghastly presence has other ideas.
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is a lively if scattered picture. It spends considerable time developing the romance between Harry and Christine, but this is mostly entertaining stuff. A carriage ride through the park is amusing thanks to the driver, while the appearance of the rat catcher (Patrick Troughton) is a treat for fans of the novel. Fisher uses some of these elements to hint at the class divide, with the affluent opera types contrasted against the coarse workers who rifle through the seats in search of diamonds.
Fisher’s horror likewise has a comic bent, with plenty of smash cuts altering the tempo. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is never truly frightening and even the eventual appearance of the title character is built with humour. He is every bit the choral director from hell, flapping water on Christine after she passes out and beating his chest to ensure the notes are sung right. In the end, the rogue is revealed and Fisher’s class concerns come together. And the chandelier falls, just like that awful mask.