Hammer Horror Collection
By: Michael Helms on March 2, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
MRA (Australia). Region 4, PAL 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English 2.0 Mono. 251 minutes
The Movie

Vampire Circus

Director: Robert Young
Starring: Adrienne Corri, Anthony Corlan, John Moulder-Brown, Lynne Frederick, Robert Tayman, Lalla Ward, David Prowse
Screenplay: Judson Kinberg, Music, David Whitaker
Tagline: Hammer invite you to go through the mirror of life
and death
Country: UK
Year: 1971

Hands of the Ripper

Director: Peter Sasdy
Starring: Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, Jane Merrow, Keith Bell, Derek Godfrey, Dora Bryan
Screenplay: L.W.Davidson, from an original story by Edward Spencer Shew
Music: Christopher Gunning
Country: UK
Year: 1971

Twins of Evil

Director: John Hough
Starring:Peter Cushing, Madelaine Collinson, Mary Collinson, Luan Peters, Damien Thomas, Dennis Price, Katya Wyeth
Screenplay: Tudor Gates
Music:Harry Robinson
Year: 1971
Vampire Circus, Hands of the Ripper and Twins of Evil have all spent several years haunting late night time slots on the Australian government broadcaster, the ABC. All were shot in 1971 and all wear an R-rating despite all now falling nearer to the soft end of the classification spectrum. Still, all three bring together sex and violence in cleverly provocative and entertaining ways that allow them to stand tall within the famous Hammer Films cannon and more importantly within a contemporary film world that seems more intent on downplaying any such connection. In short, despite their lack of CG polish, all three films retain their bite, and that's saying something, even if only two of them belong to the cinema of the vampire.

Despite some narrative hiccups principally caused by first-time director Robert Young falling behind schedule and becoming unable to shoot several scenes, Vampire Circus confidently rises from it's production mire to present a coherent and idiosyncratic step away from all previous Hammer vampire formulations. You still get a pre-20th century European setting with a castle next to a village and much fang flashing and body staking but you also get a cinematic attitude that verges on the sexually aberrant. In the lengthy opening sequence a man observes a young girl playing in a field. Suddenly the young girl is led away by a woman (who turns out to be the man's wife) and installed behind the locked doors of a nearby castle. The man freaks out for good reason. Inside the girl has her hair tussled by an elegant male stranger who just appears beneath a painting of himself. The girl seems to be enjoying the personal attention just as she has her neck penetrated by the fangs of her new companion. The first man runs off to raise a lynch mob while the woman and the owner of the castle get naked to celebrate the killing. A stabbing and a (cheesy) neck slitting later, and the Count from the castle finds himself on the wrong end of a skewer. He lives long enough though to put a curse on the little town of Schtettel. His former lover is then subject to what intially appears to be a potential gang rape but instead becomes an enforced running of the town's leather belt gauntlet. The castle is then destroyed as the Count has stop-animated blood dripped on him and a bat crawls out of a skull's eye socket. Roll the opening credits and reveal that it's fifteen years later. The tiny town has become quarantined due to plague. Bring on The Vampire Circus or rather, the Circus of Nights, which rolls into town past the cordon to carry out the threat issued by the long undead Count. It's here that the fun really begins as shapeshifting and nude dancing in smudge-free tiger make-up eventually gives way to dwarf bashing, another lynch mob, poor flame effects, blood vomiting, an extremely messy panther attack, flying acrobats, a vampire with fillings, in the field arrow removal, crucifix staking, and the inevitable return of the Count who swiftly finds himself down for the count by losing his head. Besides the aforementioned abnormal focus on child death (look out for the two boys and the mirror) what also adds to the impact of Vampire Circus is it's use of real European circus performers in the largely faceless cast. Former (and later) Frankenstein's monster David Prowse appears as the circus strongman but it's hardly preparation for his later role of Darth Vader. Another feature of Vampire Circus is its near apocalyptic approach to the cast that sees very few of them walk away in any form.

Hands of the Ripper can turn audience identification on it's head as it creates a sympathetic fiction based on the wild supposition that Jack the Ripper produced a child who inherited his murderous genes and then without consciously realising it carries on with her father's work. We first meet an almost grown Anna when a sceptical psychiatrist who favours the then radical work of a guy called Freud, steps on her foot after a seance to reveal the fakery of her guardian, a scam artist who pimps Anna when she's not ripping off suckers wanting to get in contact with the spirit world. Not long after, Anna flips out during the course of performing customer service duties and uses superhuman strength to literally pin her madam to a door. The Dr. sees a research possibility and takes Anna under his wing by moving her into his own home for some first hand study (including walking in on her as she takes a bath). The rest of the film follows the unravelling of the self-righteous psychiatrists theories at the hands of a psychotic Anna who's murderous rages are set off by lip contact and sparkles. While the frequency of the mayhem is not high it's pacing, sensational score, and excellent Victorian English settings do add to its impact. In fact, much of the violence seems to be cut to emphasise pain. This approach is brought to a climax when Anna sticks a sword through her mentor's side which he slowly removes from his body by hanging it off a door handle. Naturally, it all ends in tears and death inside a fantastic re-creation of a real-life location (St. Paul's cathedral).

Twins of Evil was the culmination of the sexy vampire series that began with Lust for a Vampire and The Vampire Lovers. The opening sequence introduces us to Peter Cushing in one of his best roles as the stoic, witchburning leader of a bunch of religious zealots known as the Brotherhood. Like Vincent Price's Witchfinder General Cushing's character has no problem meting out violent flaming punishment in the name of God on the slightest pretence. Enter into his care his two recently orphaned and nubile nieces Frieda and Maria, played by the first twin sisters to strip off for Playboy magazine, Madelaine and Mary Collinson. Despite the sexploitation elements played up in every column inch of associated print advertising there's a surprising lack of nudity in Twins of Evil compared to it's predecessors. However, Twins of Evil is hardly chaste but all the real action transpires in the nearby Castle Karnstein which overlooks Cushing's village and immediately fascinates Frieda. Here we meet Count Karnstein, a bored rich libertarian who has occult rituals staged for entertainment. The Count then accidentally revives dead relative Mircalla who introduces him to the wondrous world of the vampire which jumpstarts his own hunger for life but not before the film can deliver it's one true sickening scene as Mircalla masturbates a candle during sex with her younger family member. Soon the Count is causing headaches for Cushing as he sets out to turn on the whole village. Frieda gets her first taste of blood at the breast of a peasant girl and has a natural taste for it. Hero of the piece, local teacher and muso Anton (David Warbeck), fancies Frieda for her slutty approach to life. TWINS positively speeds towards it's inevitable storming of the castle but not before a few sublime moments such as Cushing's realisation that his niece is a vampire or the Count's mute black manservant miming what's coming for his master as the mob nears the front door. It all ends in a welter of facial disfigurment and hasty stop-animated death but as directed by John Hough (Legend of Hell House) from a script by Tudor Gates who wrote Barbarella, Twins of Evil stands out as one of Hammer's most satisfying vampire efforts of the 70s.
From the lurid purple title credits of Vampire Circus to the warm and inviting fleshtones of Twins of Evil, the reproduction of the three pristine prints here is first rate to the point where visual effects deficiencies do become highlighted. If that's a problem for some viewers just keep repeating, this is a film from pre CG times...
Each film sports lush and complex scores from different composers that more than ably supports each of the decidedly rich visuals. Christopher Gunning provides the most consistently emotional music from a standard orchestra but David Whitaker's almost-Afro motifs in the midst of the tiger dance sequence simply add to the heady atmosphere and make it all the more surprising and entertaining. The standard Dolby reproduction of the original mono mixes might force you to ride your remote more than usual but until some enterprising DVD company can create new mixes of new soundtrack recordings (such recordings do exist for parts of the Hands of the Ripper and Vampire Circus scores at least) the sounds on all three discs wiil more than suffice.
Extra Features
Except for the Vampire Circus trailer, none. Worse, the accompanying 12 page booklet has serious printing errors.
The Verdict
Despite the above lack of extras this particular collection of Hammer films has much to recommend it. All three of these films were produced at a time when Hammer was desperate to reassert itself in the marketplace after more than a decade of commanding it. Unlike productions later in the decade the desperation at work here was of the smart type which easily overpowers any and all of their (largely historical) shortcomings. Compared to the British releases of these films which are on two separate collections, Australians have struck it lucky with this three-disc digi-pack set from the same source (Carlton Entertainment) that jettisons the inferior films, expands the number of chapters (in the case of Vampire Circus) and presents them in a way that undoubtedly looks better than they did on the opening day of their Australian theatrical releases in the early 70s. The loss of a trailer for Hands of the Ripper is not even a minor quibble especially when this set is viewed alongside the other great MRA Hammer release of the FLESH AND BLOOD doco.
Movie Score
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