The Return of Captain Clegg

inham6Quite how a film like Captain Clegg becomes subject of a double-dip is rather bizarre- its a wonderful little gem of a Hammer film but two copies on Blu-ray seems as financially irresponsible as NHS spending on PPE during the heights (depths?) of a pandemic. But who could have guessed back in 2014 when I bought the disc from Final Cut Entertainment that it would be part of a sixth Hammer boxset in 2021? Crikey, Indicator wasn’t a even a thing back then, and here it is rivalling Criterion in the boutique label arms race (if there was such a thing).

So anyhow, this is the fourth and last film in this sixth Hammer boxset that I’ve watched- last only because its the one that I’d seen before. Have to confess, re-watching the film after several years, I was surprised to realise just how good a film it is: certainly its a ravishing-looking film by Hammer standards, with some fine location photography boasting lovely golden light in some landscape shots that suggests considerable care and attention was made and the sets etc are really good too. Best of all, Peter Cushing is clearly relishing his role here and the result is one of his best performances in any Hammer- and he’s not alone, even Michael Ripper, a frequent Hammer veteran who can irritate sometimes, is possibly never any better than he is in this.

cleggI have often remarked that Peter Cushing would have been the perfect actor to play Robert E Howard’s puritanical anti-hero Solomon Kane, and its never clearer than here, when he was possibly the right age and eminently looks the part with his character’s own puritanical stylings (he plays village priest Reverend Blyss). There are moments that are uncanny; that jawline, those steely eyes… how ironic that Cushing himself probably never even heard of the character during his lifetime, totally ignorant of a role he seems born to have played. A trick of fate and  unfair timing, I guess, and certainly our loss- another one of those movie ‘what-ifs’ to haunt us film fans.

Captain Clegg (‘Night Creatures’ in the US) really is the little Hammer film that surpasses expectations, and clearly deserves the extra attention re: supplements that it gets in this Indicator release (which also ports across the extras from the earlier Final Cut edition). They even fixed the colour-timing issues that plagued the day-for-night shooting that  troubled that earlier release. Its a whole lot of fun and its such a pleasure to witness Peter Cushing in such fine form. I don’t think I’ll be waiting seven years for my next re-watch…

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

Say what you like about Tom Cruise, he knows how to fashion an audience-friendly blockbuster. Rogue Nation is a great summer movie, delivering everything anybody could possibly want from a Mission Impossible film. Even more remarkably, for a series nearly twenty years old now and into its fifth outing, it all somehow still seems fresh and exciting with some remarkable action sequences and a welcome return to spycraft and espionage. No small part of this is the presence of rising star Rebecca Ferguson as British Intelligence agent Ilsa Faust. Ferguson damn near steals the film from Cruise with a warm and affecting performance with a surprising physicality (I’ve seen her on tv before and this performance is a big surprise). No doubt many viewers will marvel at her performance and wonder where this new female action star has come from (it’s been a great summer for female action roles, with this, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow). Cruise has hinted at launching a sixth Mission Impossible film as early as next year and I hope thats an indication that it will be a follow-up to this one with Ferguson returning.

A follow-up would also be a welcome opportunity to bring back the Syndicate and its leader Solomon Lane (the name a riff on REH’s Solomon Kane, perhaps, or am I looking too far?) cooly played with real menace by Sean Harris. If Rogue Nation has any possible fault its the nagging feeling of anti-climax that hangs over a final confrontation that dispenses with the high-flying stunts and explosions, but that would be ably solved by it only being, in hindsight, a prelude to the next film. Who knows, as it is the finale might be considered a pleasant change from the usual OTT blockbuster theatrics, but I was left with a feeling there is more to be seen of Solomon Lane, in just the same way as the last few James Bond movies have had a more serial feel than the more individual Bond films of old.

rogue2So a great summer movie then, and one that has demonstrated the viability of its franchise just as much as Fury Road revitalised the Mad Max series (Fury Road is still my favourite film of the summer though). I’m not a great fan of endless sequels but I have to say, looking at the Mission Impossible series as a whole, its a pretty damn fine series of movies that delivers what its audience expects. Certainly it has been far more consistent than the Die Hard series. Tom Cruise seems to know what he’s doing with these Mission Impossible films, and I’m quite excited to see what he comes up with next.

Oh, and while I’m in gushing mode, the score by Joe Kraemer is fantastic action stuff too and no small part of the film’s success. Great film; roll on the blu-ray- that release may be the ideal time to get a Mission Impossible boxset to while away the Winter Blues.

Twins of Evil (1971)

Twins Of Evil is the third of a series of films loosely inspired by the vampire novella ‘Carmilla’ by J.Sheridan LeFanu. It’s your typical Hammer ‘heaving breasts’ movie, demonstrative of the continuing falling fortunes  for the studio as it tried to maintain relevance in changing times by injecting more sex into its films. It is indeed interesting to see how relaxing censorship rules and public tastes reflected on Hammer films from the classics Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula to later fodder such as this.

Twins of Evil‘s titular characters were played by Madeleine and Mary Collinson, who had earlier received the distinction of being Playboys first centerfold twins. Hardly averse from baring their flesh, the girls would take every opportunity to lean forward displaying their proud bosoms to the movie audience. That’s not to denigrate the quality of their performances; each of them do quite well in the film, but its nevertheless clear they knew what they were being hired for and its clear they relished the opportunity to have fun with it.

toe_poster_02But while on the surface its certainly a dumb, lesser-Hammer movie, dating from the era of its remorseless decline,  it does have much going for it. The film looks impressive, indeed remarkably atmospheric with some rich photography and framing by Dick Bush- some shots are quite arresting, moodily and exquisitely lit. Even on a poor tv transmission quality image on the Horror channel, some shots looked quite amazing.

Twins of Evil also has a story more layered and interesting than you might expect. Certainly there’s plenty of subtext here for ‘readings’ of the film beyond its generally-accepted reputation for being a Hammer Cleavage Potboiler. Somewhere in Eastern Europe, a group of puritan zealots called ‘The Brotherhood’, led by the fanatical Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) terrorises the area by seizing any young woman that takes their fancy and promptly burning her for witchcraft. The men evidently equate sexuality with the Devil, and anyone who questions them is believed to be in league with Satan.  Into Gustav’s home arrive two orphaned nieces, Frieda and Maria Gellhorn who Gustav greets with  stern disapproval- they are young, wanton spirits,  provocatively dressed and to him clearly corrupted by the  ‘outside’ world.toe2 As it turns out, Gustav isn’t far wrong- Maria is an innocent virginal ‘good’ girl, but Frieda is clearly all too willing to be corrupted by any man game enough- and fortunately there is just such a guy up in the Castle yonder.

Local aristocrat Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), who lives in a foreboding Castle overlooking the village, is a satanic acolyte looking for darker and darker thrills as he despoils local girls,  finally culminating in a human sacrifice, which summons his evil ancestor Mircalla from the dead. Karnstein cements the loss of his soul to Satan by bedding the wraith, who in return grants him the powers of the  undead by vampirizing him. The Count intends to continue the Devil’s work with gusto, turning his attention to seducing  Frieda. Excited by the Count’s attention, this ‘bad’ twin willingly becomes his vampire bride. Sex again equals death. Or, as it is here, undeath.

It’s inevitable that the best thing about the film itoe1s the magnificent performance of Peter Cushing as the twisted puritan Gustav. But I’m likely biased, as I’d pay to watch a film of Cushing playing Scrabble, I think he was that good an actor. Regards this film in particular though, I’ve always thought that Cushing was the perfect actor to play Bob Howard’s hero Solomon Kane,  and never has that been more clearly evident than in this movie- its as if Cushing is channelling the icy coldness of Howard’s Kane here, particularly when he becomes conflicted and doubts his actions.   Alas, if only the world had been different, that Hammer might have shot a Solomon Kane movie back in the mid-sixties (of course, I doubt anyone at Hammer had even heard of the Texan’s fantasy series back then). Cushing is note-perfect here, his performance as usual very complex yet looking effortless. As an actor he deserved films leagues beyond the quality of this one.  One further note- I read with interest that this film was the first part he took following the death of his beloved wife Helen, the loss of whom is well-known to have devastated the actor. How much is that grief and loss in those agonised eyes and haunted character?

There are some genuinely shocking moments in this movie, particularly one where Gustav leaps upon his evil vampire niece and decapitates her without warning as she attempts to flee the castle at film’s end. It’s a reminder of how good Hammer could be when suddenly shifting gears into moments of savage horror.  Of course its restrained compared to all the gore and graphic detail horror films have now, but the power of it is how sudden, untelegraphed it is, how it is suddenly cut (sic) into the film. Gustav seems to come out of nowhere like a vicious force of nature. And of course, he’s the nominal ‘good-guy’ even though he has burnt several innocent girls at the stake.

Not that the film is anything near perfect- despite its finer moments, much of it is unintentionally  hilarious, reminding me somehow of stuff like Lifeforce as the horror slips into self-parody and comedy. Gustav and his band of merry zealots ride around all night to  bizarre Western Music From Some Other Movie as they round up poor girls for burning. Maria’s love-interest is a music teacher who writes as agonisedly bad a lovesong as you will ever hear. Near the film’s end when Karnstein’s black mute servant spots the villagers about to attack the castle,  he attempts to warn his master through some strange game of  ‘Give Us A Clue’ that has to be seen to be believed.

But on the whole this is a pretty good Hammer movie- certainly better than I had expected.  As I have noted, I watched this on tv on the Horror Channel, so can only imagine how good it would be to see it on blu-ray. Unfortunately the only HD release I am aware of is a Region A-locked edition in the US. Perhaps someone will have the wisdom to release it over here someday. It deserves to be.