Hammer Films Double Feature, Vols. 3 & 4 Blu-ray Reviews: How Iconic

Mill Creek pounds out a few more nail-biters from Britain's famed house of horror.
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Precisely a year-and-a-half to the day since their first two double feature releases, Mill Creek has returned to the House of Hammer once more for another hefty dose of classic '60s thrills and chills, Britannia-style. This time around, there's a heavy focus on some of the less-remembered (but nevertheless, good) titles from the famed studio, many of which were previously seen on DVD by Sony under various Icons of... sets.

The first double feature offering from Mill Creek opens with 1963's Maniac. Back in the glorious analog days, trying to find a copy of this one usually resulted in a great bit of confusion, as there were about three other "horror" movies readily available at the time from different decades, all of which sported the same name. But this is neither the Dwain Esper exploitation shocker from 1934, that re-titled 1977 Oliver Reed/James Mitchum flick, or the infamous cult 1980 gore film with Joe Spinell. Rather, this is a charming little British/French psychological thriller featuring former Sinbad and The Pirates of Blood River star Kerwin Mathews.

Set in France, Michael Carreras' film (the title of which sometimes contains a definite article) finds Mr. Mathews as an American artist who winds up stranded in a tiny village pub following the quick demise of a brief relationship with a spoiled bratling. Fortunately for our hero, there is no shortage of ladies at the pub, as he soon discovers when he meets the mature Nadia Gray and her on-screen step-daughter, Liliane Brousse ‒ both of whom he fancies like the dirty swingin' dog he is. What Kerwin doesn't know, however, is that Liliane's now-incarcerated father took a welding torch to the man who raped her four years earlier (making for an atmospheric opening scene).

But that doesn't stop him from forming an unhealthy relationship with each woman, one which results in him wading in far over his head as Nadia talks him into helping break her husband out of prison ‒ which, unsurprisingly, leads to more murders! Plot twists abound in this fun Hammer flick, as filmed in and around the breathtaking ruins of Les Baux-de-Provence. George Pastell (The Mummy), Arnold Diamond, Norman Bird co-stars as a local police officer (whose is dubbed by André Maranne, for some reason), Justine Lord, and Jerold Wells also star in this nifty little title from writer/producer Jimmy Sangster. Columbia Pictures released the film in the US.

Next up is Die! Die! My Darling! ‒ Hammer's contribution to the various cinematic phenomenons which burst onto the scene in the wake of Psycho and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?: that of the slasher film and the hagsploitation genre. The final feature film of former Hollywood bad girl Tallulah Bankhead finds the aged screen queen in an ultimate role of reversals: a self-righteous puritanical religious quack. Tucked away in a quiet rural English village, Bankhead's saintly Mrs. Trefoile comes to an unnervingly convincing light in this cult favorite written by prolific American author/screenwriter Richard Matheson.

Beckoning her dead son's former fiancée to her creepy old country estate, the elderly Mrs. Trefoile welcomes young Patricia Carroll (as played by April Dancer herself, Stefanie Powers ‒ giving this British production two American female leads) into her home. Granted, she has a few peculiar rules, all of which seem to focus on a rather fanatical devotion to her religion. But as the hours turn to days, poor Patricia discovers she is unable to leave the batty ol' broad is even more bonkers than she originally thought! Peter Vaughan and Yootha Joyce play two of Bankhead's devoted followers/servants; a third ‒ that of a mentally-handicapped one ‒ is portrayed by a young, pre-fame Donald Sutherland.

Undoubtedly the most popular title out of these two Mill Creek double features, this Anthony Hinds production was directed by the briefly active Canadian filmmaker Silvio Narizzano (Georgy Girl). Originally released in the UK under the less-lurid title of Fanatic, Die! Die! My Darling! was based off of the novel Nightmare by prolific American author Elizabeth Linington (under her Anne Blaisdell pseudonym). Maurice Kaufmann (as Powers' current betrothed, who seems fairly unconcerned about his missing bride-to-be's whereabouts for the most part), Gwendolyn Watts and Robert Dorning are among the few bit players.

The second Hammer Films Double Feature release from Mill Creek ‒ informally known as Hammer Films Double Feature, Vol. 4 ‒ opens with one of the most believable horror movies the studio ever produced. Set in Canada (but filmed in England), Cyril Frankel's 1960 thriller Never Take Candy from a Stranger is just as terrifying as its name implies. Here, Patrick Allen and Gwen Watford star as Mr. and Mrs. Carter ‒ a perfectly average married couple with a young girl (Janina Faye, Horror of Dracula, The Day of the Triffids) who move to a remote Canadian community, where Mr. Carter is to become school principal.

What the otherwise welcoming locals neglect to tell the Carters, however, is to watch out for one of the area's now-reclusive founding fathers, Mr. Olderberry (a menacingly silent Felix Aylmer). It isn't until the Carter clan's daughter comes home one night and nonchalantly reveals what creepy old Olderberry asked in exchange for some candy that they learn the horrific truth. Alas, even though the entire town knows full well the old man is a pedophile, nobody chooses to believe the Carter's story due to the decaying degenerate's family standing: his high-profile son (Bill Nagy) is a powerful force in the community, which he exploits accordingly.

Originally released in its native Great Britain as Never Take Sweets from a Stranger was not well-received upon its release, owing to the taboo nature of the film's subject matter at the time, and was all-but shelved thereafter. Viewed today, however, the film is a mini-masterpiece that bravely tackled something no one else dared do in 1960. Anthony Hinds produced this adaptation of Roger Garis' The Pony Trap as written for the screen by John Hunter. Released in the US by Columbia Pictures, the tale of sexual assault and corruption also stars Niall MacGinnis, Michael Gwynn, Alison Leggatt, MacDonald Parke, and Estelle Brody.

Lastly here is Hammer's 1961 Scream of Fear, starring the unbeatable pairing of Susan Strasberg and Christopher Lee. Another in a long-line of black-and-white psychological thrillers set in contemporary times, Scream of Fear (also known as Taste of Fear in its native UK) is a superbly made suspense drama sporting its fair share of excellent noir photography. The story for this one finds wheelchair-bound Penny Appleby (Strasberg) venturing off to the Riviera to live with her slightly estranged father. But upon arriving, she learns dear old dad is more distant than ever, as he has mysteriously gone away on a "business trip".

Rather than catching up with the man she has not seen in ten years, Penny instead gets to know her stepmother (Ann Todd) and a local doctor, the latter of whom is played by Hammer icon Christopher Lee. But when Penny starts to see her father’s corpse appearing in darkened corners of the lonely estate, she and chauffeur Ronald Lewis team up to uncover the truth. Alas, when you're in a psychological thriller by stalwart Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, the only thing you can bank on is that you can't bank on anything being as it seems. Director Seth Holt is best known for directing the 1965 Hammer Bette Davis classic, The Nanny.

Each title in Mill Creek's new Hammer Films Double Feature sets were previously released to DVD. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, most were released by Sony in Icons of… sets in the late 2000s, while cult favorite Die! Die! My Darling! received a standalone release. For these Blu-ray double-bills, the existing High-Definition masters used for earlier DVD issues appear to have been utilized once again, which is my very nice way of saying these are unrestored. Nevertheless, these are the best the neglected titles have looked on the American home video market, and the unbeatable $8.99 MSRP is ideal for both collectors and the curious alike.

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