HAMMER VOLUME FIVE: DEATH AND DECEIT / CERT: 12 / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 30TH
The fifth volume in Powerhouse Films’ series of Hammer Blu-ray boxsets takes us completely away from their most well-known successes in horror, suspense, and comedy. It presents us with four relatively unsung attempts from the 1960s of the studio, always keen to find hits wherever they could, trying to spread its wings into different genres. It’s also very nearly a John Gilling set, with him directing three films here and writing two of them as well.
First up is Visa to Canton (1961), a solid espionage thriller set in Hong Kong and China that follows travel agent (no, really) Don Benton as he tries to salvage a friend’s reputation, bringing him into contact with people from his shady past. Next is The Pirates of Blood River (1962), a swashbuckling tale of treasure-obsessed captain Christopher Lee and his ship of ne’er-do-wells, convinced there’s gold hiding in a small religious community. It’s a lot of fun, opening with bloody death-by-piranha and taking in brutal blindfolded-dueling along the way.
The Scarlet Blade (1963) is an action-adventure set during the English Civil War, telling of a rebellion against a group of brutal Roundheads as men loyal to the King try and rescue him from certain death. An entertaining and violent film, it has as its highlight a wonderfully rounded performance by Lionel Jeffries as the complicated, villainous Colonel Judd. Finishing the set is the adventure film The Brigand of Kandahar (1965), which follows mixed-race soldier Case as his loyalties to Britain are severely tested, first by the betrayal of his own commanding officer, and then by the charismatic warlord Eli Khan and his intoxicating and beautiful sister. It’s another violent film, and Gilling offers no easy answers for Case or the audience. The four films taken as a set offer compelling entertainment that is often remarkably relevant to the issues of today.
For extras, there’s a varied selection that covers commentaries, profiles by female critics and writers (including Kat Ellinger and Josephine Botting) of the key actresses of each film, interviews with the likes of Vic Pratt, David Huckvale, Kim Newman and others on various aspects of the films and introductions to most of the titles from author Stephen Laws. The Pirates of Blood River has the best of these, with an appreciation of Jimmy Sangster’s career by Jonathan Rigby being a joy. Each film also comes with a booklet including a new essay and promotional materials.
These films are fine examples of the varied and interesting output that Hammer was capable of. While none of them are as enduring as their classic horrors, there’s much to enjoy here and the comprehensive extras only add to their value. Highly recommended.