Hammer Horror Icons | Susan Denberg

Susan Denberg | Frankenstein Created Woman | Hammer Studios | 1967
“Born Dietlinde Ortrun Zechner on 02 August 1944, model/actress Denberg was brought up in the Austrian resort of Klagenfurt. At eighteen, she left for London, where she worked briefly as an au pair before auditioning for the renowned Bluebell Girls troupe. Touring in America, she signed with Warner Bros. to play a randy German chambermaid in the film An American Dream, and featured in an early Star Trek episode, Mudd’s Women. Playboy magazine selected her as its centrefold of August 1966 and soon after she was chosen as Hammer’s Christina [Frankenstein Created Woman]. Post-Frankenstein, however, she became plagued by mental health problems elicited by drug abuse. Recovered, she sold her story to the News of the World in November 1969, apparently in anticipation of a comeback that wasn’t to be.” — The Hammer Story, Marcus Hearn & Alan Barnes, Titan Books, 1997

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Hammer Horror Icons | Ingrid Pitt


“Ingrid Pitt was offered the starring role in The Vampire Lovers soon after meeting [film producer] James Carreras at the premiere party for Alfred the Great in 1969. The full-frontal nudity demanded by the script bothered her little. ‘I remember my first nude scene with Maddy Smith was coming up and, although neither of us particularly minded, at that time it wasn’t an everyday event. Jimmy Carreras was okay about it, but I was told the other producers, Harry Fine and Michael Style, were a bit po-faced. I was walking to the stage when I met Fine and Style, looking very dejected, walking in the opposite direction. I felt so sorry for them. As I drew near, I stopped and ripped open my dressing gown with all the brio of an experienced flasher on Hampstead Heath.’” – The Hammer Story: The Authorized History of Hammer Films, Marcus Hearns & Alan Barnes, Titan Books, 2007.

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The Naked Witch


The Naked Witch
Starring Jo Maryman | Robert Short | Libby Hall | Directed by Larry Buchanan | 1961 | 59 minutes

After a patience-testing voiceover on the history of witchcraft, with accompanying images of Hieronymus Bosch paintings, the story finally begins with an unnamed college student (Robert Short) arriving in a small Texas town. Immediately launching into another pseudo-historical voiceover narration, the student details the history of the isolated German immigrant community he has come to study. Interested in the folklore of witchcraft and the occult in the town, the student discovers that local residents are unwilling to talk about their superstitious beliefs.

Breaking the communal silence, Kirska (Joy Maryman), the coquettish innkeeper’s daughter, gives the student a one-hundred-year-old book about the Luckenbach Witch, a local widow who was accused of witchcraft by an adulterous husband. Before being staked to death for her alleged crimes, the widow places a curse on all the descendants of her accusers. Drawn to the (remarkably shallow) grave of the witch in the story, the student removes the fatal stake and inadvertently resurrects the slumbering witch (Libby Hall).

Taking time out for the occasional skinny dip in the vegetation-laden local pond, the witch pursues her century-old revenge against the townspeople. Splashing about in the water, hair and make-up continuity errors arguably outnumber the awkward teases of nude flesh. Guilty about his role in the witch’s return, the student pursues her (with the help of the local librarian), to a nearby series of caves. Falling under the witch’s seductive spell, the student must struggle to save her final victim—Kirska!

A low-budget titillation for its time, The Naked Witch possesses a certain charm with its artless framing, sporadic organ score, and poorly synced dialogue. However, today’s viewers may want to save the full 59-minute running time (which seems much longer), and derive a greater and more immediate reward by simply Googling “naked+witch”.


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Hammer Horror Icons | Valerie Leon


Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)
Hammer Films | Starring Valerie Leon | Andrew Kier | Directed by Seth Holt

“Margaret (Valerie Leon) suffers a recurring nightmare in which she sees an ancient Egyptian queen, to whom she bears an uncanny resemblance, sealed up in a sarcophagus. The priests who entomb her first chop off her hand, but, after throwing the member to the jackals, are killed by a mysterious and powerful force that lacerates their throats. The day before her birthday, Margaret’s father, archaeologist Professor Fuchs (Andrew Kier), gives her a ruby ring. It transpires that the ring was discovered when, twenty years before, Fuchs…broke into the tomb of Queen Tera and found the ring on her disembodied hand. Her perfectly preserved body lay in a golden coffin beside it, with the stump of her arm leaking blood. At that moment, thousands of miles away, Margaret’s mother died giving birth to her. Margaret, it seems, is a vessel for Tera’s magic. Soon, when a certain celestial conjunction is complete and three artifacts assembled beside Tera’s corpse, this evil sorceress will be born anew…” – The Hammer Story: The Authorized History of Hammer Films, Marcus Hearns & Alan Barnes, Titan Books, 2oo7.

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Turkish Star Wars (The Man Who Saved the World)


Turkish Star Wars (The Man Who Saved the World)
Cüneyt Arkin | Aytekin Akkaya | Directed by Çetin Inanç | 1982 | 91 minutes

A blaster-hot mess of random edits, recycled musical cues from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and intellectual-property-be-damned scenes stolen directly from the original Star WarsThe Man Who Saved the World delivers a trampoline-jump laden delirium of “bad cinema” delights (depending upon your love of cinema cheese, or, if applicable, your level of intoxication).

After a rambling, nonsensical introduction–with repeated use of stock footage–detailing the destruction of Earth, our two Turkish heroes, Murat (Cüneyt Arkin) and Ali (Aytekin Akkaya), engage in a dogfight against a literal backdrop of projected scenes from Star Wars. Seemingly shot down (perhaps by Rebel fighters, Imperial fighters, or maybe even the Millennium Falcon), the pair instead find themselves on a vaguely Tatooine-like planet. An evil overlord called the the Magician takes responsibility for their teleportation, boasting of his immortal powers and detailing his plans to harness the power of their brains to take over the Earth–wait, wasn’t that already destroyed in the prologue?

Beyond a requisite cantina scene featuring some chop-socky action against actors wearing fur suits, the story eventually drifts away from the Star Wars source material. Murat and Ali jump and kick their way through a host of other rubber- and fur-suited enemies, but only after a long training session jumping and kicking boulders, some of which inexplicably explode upon impact. In a pocket of preserved ancient Earth religious artifacts, Murat discovers a tiny, discolored brain and magic sword (cardboard lightsaber, if you prefer) that grant him the power to ultimately defeat the Magician.

Preferring to melt down the sword into a powerful pair of bronze-colored gloves, Murat punches his way through another series of masked and suited enemies, frequently using his newfound powers to tear off their furry arms and use their severed limbs as fatal weapons. The fate of the Earth (will it be destroyed, again?) hangs in the balance as he finally confronts the Magician (who unfortunately never delivers the line, “Murat, I am your father.”), with scenes of the Death Star and random X-wing fighters projected in the background.

In the epilogue, Murat blasts off in the Millennium Falcon, perfectly summing up the nature of the human condition:

“There wouldn’t be humans without the World, and a World without humans…because humanity is the most important thing in the Universe.”
















Hammer Horror Icons: Twins of Evil


Madeleine and Mary Collinson, real-life twins and Playboy centerfolds (“Misses October”, 1970), play good and evil twin sisters Frieda and Maria Gellhorn in Hammer’s Gothic vampire tale, Twins of Evil (1971). Staying with their uncle Gustav (Peter Cushing), a witch-hunting religious zealot, the orphaned twins fall victim to the seductive spell of vampiric libertine, Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas).

Born in Malta in 1952, the Collinson sisters’ thick accents were dubbed over by voice actors in the film.

Gustav Weil: “The devil has sent me twins of evil!”












1973 | 91 minutes
Starring Jonathan Frid, Martine Beswick, Joe Sirola, Christina Pickles, Anne Meacham, Mary Woronov, Henry Judd Baker, Herve Villechaize, Roger De Koven
Directed by Oliver Stone


Horror writer Edmund Blackstone (Jonathan Frid) suffers from recurring nightmares while struggling to finish the ending of his current book. In his dream, friends and family are terrorized during a weekend retreat—a retreat now underway, with guests already beginning to arrive. The invited guests, and future victims, include the obnoxious loud mouth Charlie Hughes (Joe Sirola), his wife Mikki (Mary Woronov), and her ne’er-do-well lover (Troy Donahue).


The character of Charlie has a memorable introduction as he attempts to gas up his car at a local filling station on the way to Edmunds’ country house. He humorously fails at bullying the attendant with his own inflated sense of self-importance. “Mr. Hughes, SCREW YOU!”


As a harbinger to the events of the upcoming weekend, Edmund confesses to his young son of being scared of “something inside” him—but a greater terror manifests itself in the form of a hairless, orange-skinned Charlie cavorting in his swimming trunks.


After dinner that evening, a bizarre trio of intruders forcibly breaks into the house, confronting the group of assembled guests. Edmund somehow recognizes them–the Queen of Evil (Martine Beswick), the Spider (Herve Villechaize), and Jackal the Executioner (Henry Judd Baker)—as products of his own imagination. The Queen announces that only one member of the party will survive until morning, launching an evening of murderous games with the rapidly diminishing houseguests pitted against each other for survival.





Although not reaching the delirious pop-culture heights of the epic battle between Kirk and Gorn on the Arena episode of Star Trek, the staged knife fight between Edmund and Mikki—with Jonathan Frid and Mary Woronov eventually rolling around on the floor—easily provides the highpoint of the sadistic contests. After spurning the amorous advances of the Queen, Edmund returns to his wife, only to be rejected by her. She seems to realize Edmund’s role in the mayhem, and begs him to save their son. Edmund also pauses for a philosophical discussion of his dreams with professorial houseguest Serge (Roger De Koven), underscoring the fact that their situation is not an ordinary home invasion.


Seizure! stalls its potential for exploitation to ramble philosophically on the nature of dreams and reality, before ultimately heading to a completely expected conclusion. Part exploitation, part philosophical meditation on art and life, and part Twilight Zone episode, the film doesn’t succeed in any of its individual elements. Seeming to understand his role in bloating the story with unwanted psychological underpinnings, Edmund’s sounding board Serge acceptingly walks off to his beheading by the Jackal—taking his punishment for the film’s artistic pretensions.




The Mephisto Waltz


The Mephisto Waltz
1971 | 108 minutes
Starring Alan Alda, Jacqueline Bisset | Directed by Fred Mustard Stewart

Alan Alda stars as Myles Clarkson, a Juilliard-trained musician turned music writer, who is unexpectedly given the opportunity to interview master pianist Duncan Ely (Curt Jurgens). However, Duncan has an agenda of his own; he is dying, and has made a pact with Satan to “body-swap” his soul into another body upon his death, allowing him to continue his musical career beyond a single lifetime. “Mr. Clarkson, I want my daughter to see your hands. Roxanne, he has great hands. Rachmaninoff hands. Hands like yours are one in a hundred thousand.”

With Roxanne’s (Barbara Parkins) help, Myles is seduced into Duncan’s world of fame and fortune, much to the dismay of his wife Paula (Jacqueline Bisset). After the ritual preparations are complete (a pentagram drawn on the floor and a greasy daub of blue substance thumbed on Myles’ forehead), Duncan is able to flee the confines of his dying body and enter into the unsuspecting Myles. Although Duncan has generously provided for Myles in his will and Roxanne arranged for him to replace her late father on his extended concert tour, Paula soon suspects that all is not right with her husband.

Alan Alda plays Myles as something of a blank-slate—perhaps appropriately for an empty vessel in an infernal body-swap. After the change, however, he disappears from the screen for much of the film’s running time, never having much of an opportunity to fully inhabit the role of a newly possessed man. This screen absence also undercuts the sense of menace, having Paula piece together the mystery with Myles at a distance, removed from the frame rather than looming close at hand.

A grotesque costume ball, complete with an eerily masked dog, and a few gauzily effective dream sequences add enough atmosphere to help elevate a story that could have been just another episode in an anthology television series. The ending provides an unexpected turn, but Paula’s invocation will divide viewers; some will find it a brilliant bit of reductive filmmaking, leaving the scene to play out in the imagination, others a total cop-out.