It’s Hammer Time!: The Gorgon (1964)

The Gorgon

Obviously, with me and my love of Greek myth, it was only going to be a matter of time before ‘It’s Hammer Time!’ got round to The Gorgon, 1964’s divergence away from standard Hammer Horror fare into something even more eternal.

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Richard Pasco, and directed by Terence Fisher, is oddly set, given its subject matter, in 1910 in the German village of Vandorf, where seven murders have been committed within the previousfive years. Each victim has been petrified, but rather than investigate it, the local authorities have dismissed the murders for fear of a local legend having come true. When a local girl becomes the latest victim and her suicidal lover made the scapegoat, the father of the condemned man decides to investigate and discovers that the cause of the petrifying deaths is a phantom – the last of the snake-haired Gorgon sisters haunts the local castle and turns victims to stone during the full moon…

Okay, so not 100% faithful to myth since only Medusa was snake-haired and here the other Gorgons are called Tisiphone and Megaera, who were both Erinyes (Furies). But what the hell, it’s Hammer, it’s Greek myth and it’s Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, so enjoy!

It’s Hammer Time!: Stolen Face (1952)

Everyone who loves film – particularly dissecting film – loves Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 movie Vertigo. It’s inescapable, everywhere, a Freudian treasure trove that allows any film student with a modicum of psychological training to draw conclusion after conclusion about its meaning, its subtext, the director, man’s relationship with woman, the nature of death and obsession, and more.

Vertigo‘s plot concerns police officer James Stewart and his romance with the very blonde Kim Novak, whom he eventually sees fall to her death from a clock tower. When he sees a brunette a few months later who looks a whole lot like her, he woos this doppelgängerin and eventually begins to try to make her over to become his deceased lover.

I won’t spoil the rest of it for you, because this is It’s Hammer Time!, not Movies You Should Watch. But the reason I mention it is that six years before Vertigo was released, Hammer and director Terence Fisher came up with Stolen Face. In it, plastic surgeon Philip Ritter (Paul Henreid) falls in love with a gifted, beautiful and very blonde concert pianist Alice Brent (Lizabeth Scott). They meet and a romance soon develops. However, Alice is already engaged to be married and, afraid to tell Ritter, runs away.

She later calls him to tell him she is marrying David (André Morell). Meanwhile, Ritter has a new patient, Lily Conover (Mary Mackenzie), a female convict whose face is disfigured. Ritter believes he can change her criminal ways by making her look like Alice.

All very Vertigo-ish… and I won’t tell you how this one ends either. But’s it’s today’s movie, so enjoy!

It’s Hammer Time!: Man Bait (1952)

Time for some sleaze – it is Hammer Time, after all. And have I got some sleaze for you – Man Bait with Diana Dors. Look, here’s the poster!

Man Bait, with Diana Dors

Okay, that’s all a bit misleading. Man Bait – originally titled The Last Page in the UK – was one of Hammer’s first attempts to get into the US market and used the standard Hammer approach (hire a US actor as the lead) to do so. Here, George Brent is a married bookstore owner who’s blackmailed by Dors after he makes a pass at her, and only his secretary Marguerite Chapman can save him.

Despite the pulp fiction poster, it’s not very salacious at all, and Dors doesn’t get to do as much as you’d think. Originally intended as a way for her to become a star in the US market, her failure to stick by her contract – by divorcing her husband – meant that never happened. Ah well.

All the same, it’s a fun thriller and you don’t get many of those set in book shops. Enjoy!

It’s Hammer Time!: The Man In Black (1949)

Valentine Dyall as The Man in BlackAlthough it might not seem like it these days, BBC Radio was once a haven for horror. Back between 1943 and 1955, ‘The Man in Black’ introduced a series of horror tales to scare the nation, first in Appointment With Fear and then in his own show The Man In Black. Comprising plays originally written for American radio by John Dickson Carr, as well as adaptations of stories by the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allan Poe, the show ran for ten series in all, four on the Home Service, the rest on the Light Programme, with the Man In Black being played for nine of them by Valentine Dyall, the part being taken his the second series by his father Franklin Dyall when he was unavailable. Who’s Valentine Dyall? Well, if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you’ll know who Valentine Dyall was:

In the late 40s, Hammer was looking for radio properties to turn into movies and The Man in Black seemed a shoo-in. Starring Sid James, Anthony Forwood, Sheila Burrell, Hazel Penwarden, Betty Ann Davies and, of course, Valentine Dyall, the film sees a step-daughter return home following the death of her father, only to discover that someone is trying to drive her insane…

Here’s the whole movie for you to enjoy, and it’s introduced by Robert JE Simpson:

The Man in Black took an extended leave after the end of the radio series, but Radio 4 resurrected him in 1988 for Fear On Four, with Edward de Souza taking on the role. In 2009, Mark Gatiss took over for a series of BBC7 radio plays. The De Souza episodes are all on YouTube so turn the lights down and make an appointment with fear…