Archive | September, 2012

The Mummy’s Shroud (1967) or livewithfilm revels in Hammer’s bandaged nightmare…

29 Sep

From the studio that dripped blood come the bandages to mop it up. Following the far more Hollywood inflected The Mummy (1959), Hammer’s second foray into Egyptian mythology remains a thrillingly gruesome and enjoyable slasher-romp. Never as diabolically dark as The Devil Rides Out (1968) and relatively restrained in comparison with the head-lopping frenzy of Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), John Gilling’s The Mummy’s Shroud finds its own niche to furrow. With an ensemble cast waiting in the wings for their inevitable bandage fuelled demise, ingenious deaths and splatters of gore remain the order of the day in 1920s Egypt.

Discovering the lost tomb of an Egyptian prince, an archaeological team led by the esteemed Sir Basil Walden (André Morell) return the cadaver to a museum in nearby city Mezzera. Reuniting the bandaged royal with his ever-loyal – yet long dead – servant Prem, the group unwittingly awaken a long forgotten curse. Roused by the calls of a soothsayer, Prem’s bandaged form enacts vengeance upon those who disturbed his master. With moneyed bore Stanley Preston (John Philips) fearing for his life, it falls to quick witted Paul Preston (David Buck) and psychic Claire de Sangre (Maggie Kimberly) to confront the walking fiend.

Transitioning from a relatively measured opening into a corpse-rich second act, The Mummy’s Shroud uses this dichotomy to shock and surprise. Perhaps as a result of its early twentieth century setting, the film’s preliminary archaeological scenes recall a prim and proper vision of adventure: more Five Go Wild in the Desert than the debauchery many have come to expect from Hammer. Yet once Prem the mummy begins to enact his bloody curse, the film kicks into an entirely different gear. Using the vital build up to establish characters and themes, The Mummy’s Shroud contrasts control with brutality, heightening the wanton violence of its second half. Deaths become increasingly creative and drive the film to a wild climax, with individuals being hurled from windows and melted beneath acid.

Slowly culled by this wild streak, the ensemble cast shine. While Philips’ villain remains so hammy that boos and hisses would not be amiss as he tears across the screen, Michael Ripper’s performance as long-suffering butler Longbarrow utterly steals the show. Simpering and withered, Ripper similarly juxtaposes against the film’s powerful feminine influences. With Catherine Lacy contributing her own drool to clairvoyant Haiti and heroine Claire de Sangre holding power over the film’s finale, women are given an unprecedented level of authority in this Hammer production. Truly unsettling and shocking, The Mummy’s Shroud builds on the mummy theme to the great glee of all concerned

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Hell is a City (1960) or livewithfilm gets down and dirty in Manchester…

15 Sep

With factory chimneys emerging through an oppressive fog, Hell is a City creates an unashamedly grim vision of existence in the metropolis. Through a post-murder man hunt, Manchester, and by extension 1960s urban life as a whole, is shown to be a corrupting influence that brings misery into the home. With the angry young men of the British New Wave casting the camera onto the kitchen sink in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in the very same year, Val Guest’s film similarly seeks out the banal and ordinary. Yet combined with a dark streak of expressionist noir, Hell is a City remains an intriguing crime flick.

Expecting that recently escaped robber Don Starling (John Crawford) will return for the unclaimed treasure of a forgotten heist, weary police inspector Harry Matineau (Stanley Baker) dedicates his days to hunting him down in the Manchester streets. Once Starling and a gang of thieves steal money from bookmaker Gus Hawkins (Halloween’sDonald Pleasence, here hunting down cash rather than psychopaths) and kill his assistant, Matineau is hot on his heels.

While noir crime films could never be called glamorous, Hell is a City is a remarkably unsentimental vision of life. Surrounding an intriguing but rarely ground-breaking crime caper, the glimpses of life remain a powerful image of a population at odds with itself and, namely, the police establishment. Martineau’s embittered wife laments the lonely existence she faces while her obsessive husband hunts down murderers; depressed divorcees flirt longingly with married men; workers gaze despairingly into the bottom of their pint glasses; police are despised for their corruption and brutality; and criminals viciously assault the public and, in one moment, a disabled youngster. Even though this doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, ultimately this context remains Hell is a City’s most compelling element and is neatly diluted with occasional, if clichéd, thrills from the criminal underworld.

Uniting the themes of the film, the final act is undoubtedly the most successful. Earlier sections at times sag under excessive plot exposition or a slightly bizarre, if necessary, moorland gambling set-piece. The closing sequence remains visually striking and fast paced, combining a rooftop gun battle with a soul searching lament. In a superb move that suits the banal beauty of the preceding 90 minutes, this is enacted as a marital argument in a living room and avoids all possible conceit. Hardly a celebration of the ordinary, the film wallows in this gritty normality. Following Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Hell is a City is the hardworking, fast talking Monday afternoon.