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The Hammer Horror Series (2 Discs) (S) (The Franchise Collection)

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This stylish thriller is a solid if not entirely satisfying entry in the wave of Psycho-inspired thrillers produced by England's Hammer Studios during the early- to mid-'60s. Interestingly, Paranoiac's plot line owes more to Gaslight than it does to Psycho. Jimmy Sangster's script is a bit lightweight on characterization but it makes up for this problem with a tightly constructed narrative that piles on twist after twist and keeps the viewer constantly guessing about each character's motives. The cast wisely plays the material straight, with the most impressive work coming from a young Oliver Reed; his melodramatic excesses may seem a little campy by modern standards but the visceral intensity of his work fits the film's tone perfectly. The film also benefits from inspired direction by Freddie Francis, who gives the film a unique visual style: Highlights of his work include a beautifully staged opening sequence that introduces all of the characters during a church service and the impressive and unexpected underwater shot that caps a suspense scene set near a pond. Unfortunately, Paranoiac loses steam during its third act and is capped with an abrupt ending that leaves too many loose ends untied. Despite these flaws, Paranoiac remains a worthwhile thriller with enough chills and atmosphere to please fans of old-fashioned horror. Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

This non-Dracula entry in Hammer Films' collection of vampire films is a prototypical example of the studio's trademark approach to the horror genre. The Anthony Hinds script delivers a solid, traditional take on the vampire mythos that delivers plenty of scares as it gradually builds toward an impressive climax. Don Sharp directs the tale in a confident style, playing up its gothic atmosphere and consistently ratcheting up tension to draw the viewer in. He also pleases genre fans by turning in a number of effective setpieces throughout the film: highlights include the opening, in which a funeral goes horrifically wrong, and a masked ball that slowly shifts from elegant to unnerving as the sequence progresses. Performances are all strong across the board: Edward De Souza makes a charming protagonist but the attention-getting work comes from Clifford Evans as the obsessive vampire hunter and Noel Willman, who offers a quietly creepy turn as the vampiric Count. Also worthy of note is Barry Warren, who manages to be menacing in a subtle manner as the Count's son. The resulting film doesn't break new ground for the genre but it is a skillful programmer that offers the kind of moody style and chills that genre fans will enjoy. As a result, Kiss Of The Vampire is worth a look to anyone who enjoys the Hammer take on the genre. Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

The Curse of the Werewolf is the Hammer studio's lone excursion into Wolfman territory, which is a shame. Werewolf is not a perfect film -- or even a perfect horror film -- and some genre purists won't find it to their liking, but many other will find it among the very finest werewolf films. One of the things that will divide people into pro or con camps is that Werewolf posits that lycanthropy is a disease of the soul, rather than the result of a random encounter with evil. Indeed, Werewolf is very much a morality play, albeit a bleak one in which the possibility of redemption is practically non-existent. Those who like their horror straight may find this rather heavy going, and not without justification, for Werewolf's questions of morality are used strictly in a manipulative sense, not as a means of seriously exploring the questions of good and evil. There's also a problem with changes in tone between the first and second half, a rushed feeling in the final third, and a constantly-changing cast of characters that causes some dramatic problems. That said, there's a haunting beauty in Werewolf; if all the moralism is superficial, it still imbues the tale with something poetic. In addition, the visuals are striking; while Hammer's trademark brilliant burgundy is in evidence, there's a more muted look to the proceedings that is quite effective. Most importantly, Werewolf is blessed with a very good cast. Oliver Reed is ferocious, tormented, sulky and brutal -- yet he also makes the character enormously sympathetic, so that the audience is forever on his side. It's an exceptional performance. Yvonne Romain is incredibly gorgeous, Clifford Evans and Hira Talfrey appropriately generous, and Anthony Dawson tremendously vile. Terence Fisher directs with his usual style and flair; if his pacing is off at times, he still creates great atmosphere and tension when required. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

Night Creatures is one of the best Hammer Films productions. It also happens to be one of the most unique. The imaginative script mixes historical adventure, mystery and some light horror elements to impressive, genre-busting effect. Characterizations are colorful throughout and there is also a political angle to the story, with the plot allowing the film to critique how the heavy rule of royalty can work against instead of for a community. Peter Cushing delivers what some fans consider his best performance as Dr. Blyss, offsetting the character's wily and mysterious bent with a warm-hearted kindness and wisdom that allows Cushing to show off his rarely tapped ability to charm an audience. There is also ace support from Oliver Reed as a brave young townsman and Michael Ripper, who has a blast playing the town's dryly humorous coffin-maker. Most importantly, Night Creatures is directed with considerable flair by Peter Graham Scott. He balances the complex needs of the narrative with skill while giving it all an impressive sense of forward momentum. In terms of thrills, he handles the action scenes with visceral flair and also brings much atmosphere to the film's macabre elements: some of the film's best moments are the scenes with the ghostly "horsemen" riding through the marsh in the dead of night. All in all, Night Creatures is a grand, old-fashioned adventure film and a must for anyone interested in Hammer's classic productions. Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

Dracula fans should be warned that the good Count appears nowhere in The Brides of Dracula. But the legendary vampire's absence does not prevent Brides from being a crackling good horror yarn, a vintage Hammer scarefest that may not be a great film but nevertheless is great fun. The flaws are typical of the genre, namely that the screenplay often sacrifices credibility for expediency. Characters behave as they only do in horror films, neglecting basic rules of safety and common sense so that the plot can move along. But if one can accept these shortcomings, one can have a very fine time, as the screenplay is structured along well made lines and provides plenty of marvelous scenes. Director Terence Fisher plays to the script's strengths, making all of the "money" scenes pay off and downplaying the weaker segments so that they come across more as welcome respites than as "screen waits." True, Fisher's florid style may not please all who appreciate subtlety, but it's just what is called for in Brides. And he makes those key scenes -- Van Helsing's self-cure of a vampire bite, the Baroness' plea, the escape from the grave and the climactic sequence -- quite memorable. David Peel can't compare to Christopher Lee in the vampire department, but he's more than adequate, and Peter Cushing is very welcome as Van Helsing. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

This Hitchcock-inspired blend of mystery and thriller from Hammer Films is gimmicky in the extreme but that's also part of its charm. Nightmare hinges upon a rather flamboyant narrative from house scripter Jimmy Sangster: some logic loopholes become apparent if you look at his wild plot too closely but he attacks his storyline with great gusto and pulls off a clever, Psycho-derived plot switcheroo that will throw the audience for a loop. It also helps that Nightmare is directed with great panache by Freddie Francis, who uses John Maxwell's moody black-and-white photography to tremendously atmospheric effect. Francis creates a number of genuinely intense setpieces along the way, cleverly using his framing choices and editing to comment on the story's events. Finally, Nightmare benefits from committed performances by a solid cast: Jennie Linden offers an intense turn as the film's troubled young heroine and her work is supported nicely by strong turns from Brenda Bruce as a wise, sympathetic teacher and Moira Redmond as a mysterious nurse brought in to watch over Linden. To sum up, Nightmare is an effective little chiller that packs a surprising punch for a film of its age. Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

This Hammer-produced take on this iconic horror antihero was not a hit during its original release but time has been kind to it. The script takes liberties with the plot of Gaston Leroux's novel but the changes work: the addition of a strong villain and the retooling of the Phantom's backstory give the film its own, uniquely tragic tone, as does the emphasis on dramatic elements over horrific ones. Terence Fisher's direction is stylish, fully delivering the lush atmosphere expected from a Hammer film, but he also shows a confident touch with his actors, getting strong performances that drive the material as much as his visual flourishes. In terms of performances, Heather Sears offers a winning, sympathetic performance as the heroine and Edward De Souza makes for a charming, heroic love interest. However, the film truly belongs to Michael Gough and Herbert Lom: Gough is delightfully wicked as the music mogul whose sleazy machinations drive the plot and Lom is frightening and sympathetic by turns as the title character, a decent man driven to tragic extremes by the cruelty of Gough's character. On the critical side, Phantom Of The Opera does have some flaws: the tone shifts from scares to drama can be a bit abrupt at times and the rather rushed finale leaves a few plot threads dangling in a frustrating manner. That said, Hammer's Phantom Of The Opera is a solid addition to the screen treatments of this character and recommended to fans of the studio. Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide