B&W, 1961, 78 mins. 42 sec.
Directed by John Gilling
Starring André Morell, Barbara Shelley, William Lucas, Freda Jackson, Conrad Phillips, Catherine Lacey
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Final Cut (DVD) (UK R2 PAL)

Color, 1962, 82 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Starring Peter Cushing, Yvonne Romain, Oliver Reed, Patrick Allen, Michael Ripper, Martin Benson
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Anolis (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Final Cut (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.00:1) (16:9)

Color, 1962, 84 mins. 12 secs.
Directed by Terence Fisher
Starring Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton, Ian Wilson
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1, 1.66:1) (16:9), Anolis (Blu-ray) (Germany RB HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.00:1) (16:9), Final Cut (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

B&W, 1964, 82 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Freddie Francis
Starring David Knight, Moira Redmond, Jennie Linden, Brenda Bruce, George A. Cooper, Clytie Jessop
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Universal (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Final Cut (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

After providing the definitive editions of the majority of Hammer Films' horror, thriller, and adventure films released by Columbia Pictures with multiple U.K. Blu-ray sets (and a handful from Studio Canal to boot), Indicator turns its sights to the Universal catalog with a limited edition (6,000 units) four-film box, Hammer Volume Six: Night Shadows, that bodes very well for Hammer fans going forward. Two of the films have received deluxe editions in the U.S. but get expanded even further here, while the other two get a major upgrade from the relatively paltry treatment they've gotten up to this point.

First up chronologically is 1961's The Shadow of the Cat, a bit of an oddity as it doesn't actually bear Hammer's name The Shadow of the Catanywhere on it. Shot at Bray Studios with a cast of familiar faces including Hammer vets André Morell The Shadow of the Cat(The Hound of the Baskervilles) and Barbara Shelley (Dracula, Prince of Darkness), it's a highly entertaining body count film as well as a key installment in the strain of genre films that try to paint cats as frightening even though they're actually being heroic. (See also, Eye of the Cat and The Uncanny.) This one was on people's wish lists for a long time, steadfastly refusing to turn up on home video in any form until a mediocre 2014 British DVD from Final Cut Entertainment (cropped on the sides to 1.33:1) with word circulating that existing elements would make a Blu-ray release highly unlikely. (At least that release featured a nice stills gallery, a trailer, a worthwhile "Shadow Play: Inside The Shadow of the Cat" 25m37s featurette with Alan Barnes, Marcus Hearn, Denis Merle, Jason Morell, and Jonathan Rigby, and a "Catastrophy" 3m49s audio interview with special effects assistant Ian Scoones.) That means the first Blu-ray edition out of the gate in 2020 from Scream Factory (as part of its Universal Horror Collection Volume Six set) was a pretty big deal, finally showing the film off in pristine condition in its intended 1.66:1 aspect ratio and allowing us to really appreciate its beautiful Gothic visuals for the first time in decades. It took another year, but the U.K. Blu-ray debut from Indicator equals it and sweetens the deal with some extra goodies of its own.

On a dark and spooky night at the turn of the 20th century, wealthy Ella (The Sorcerers' Lacey) falls victim to a murder plot engineered by her husband, Walter (Morrell), and executed by her butler, Andrew (Crawford), and maid, Clara (The Brides of Dracula's Jackson). The foul deed is witnessed by Ella's loyal cat, Tabitha, who becomes a persistent foil to the villains' plans to cash in on an illegitimate will. Several new arrivals including Ella's noble niece, Beth (Shelley) as well as the press, police, and more unethical relatives complicate things further as Tabitha's The Shadow of the Catpersistent presence drives the criminals to increasingly desperate and ultimately fatal The Shadow of the Catbehavior.

A wonderful little thriller, The Shadow of the Cat is a great viewing choice for a dark and stormy night thanks to the sure direction of John Gilling, who would go on to helm Hammer's The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, The Pirates of Blood River, and The Mummy's Shroud. Among the inventive visual flourishes is a distorted "cat's eye" trick (via an anamorphic lens) used to depict Tabitha's POV throughout the film, and it's a joy to see the cast of pros tackling the fun murder plot with Morrell in particular getting some fun moments skulking around the dark set saying "Here, kitty kitty."

As mentioned above, this presentation of The Shadow of the Cat is quite the eye opener and easily marks the best way to view this film in any format around right now. A big plus here is a very thorough, informative commentary by Bruce G. Hallenbeck, who address the whole Hammer controversy once and for all (spoiler: it's definitely a Hammer film), the impact of other films around the same time (particularly Curse of the Werewolf), the censor cuts demanded to the opening murder, and Shelley's thoughts on the original script, which was more ambiguous and potentially supernatural in nature. Speaking of the actress, "In the Shadow of Shelley" (24m29s) features the beloved Hammer star chatting warmly about her career all the way through covering a number of films and thoughts on her fellow actors, particularly Christopher Lee, and the disc rounds out with a TV spot and a thorough 3m41s image gallery including lots of great posed cast shots.

The Indicator disc comes from the same nice scan and squeaks ahead very slightly in terms of black levels and compression, though you'll have to look closely to notice much difference; as with the other discs in the set, the PCM 2.0 mono track sounds The Shadow of the Catpristine and comes with improved English SDH subtitles. The Hallenbeck commentary, TV spot, and The Shadow of the CatShelley interview are both ported over here, plus the earlier "Shadow Play" documentary from the DVD. Kim Newman provides a fun new video intro (10m37s) about the film's odd place in the Hammer pantheon, the aborted project it sprang from, and Gilling's traits as a filmmaker, while "Cat People" (4m34s) has memories from assistant costume designer Yvonne Blake and the property department's Peter Allchorne about some of the more challenging aspects of the production, including Gilling's strict nature as a boss. Allchorne remembers a lot more than Blake, but both are certainly welcome here. (It can't be said enough how valuable these retrospective pieces with below-the-line personnel are!) "Special FX Catastrophe" (3m58s) features a quick audio interview (from a windy phone connection) with assistant special effects artist Ian Scoones about his own tenure on the film and the advice he got about tripping over cables, while Jackson gets here due in a new installment of "Hammer's Women" (9m5s) with Lucy Bolton offering an informative and charming appraisal of the Nottingham-born actress' multiple Hammer contributions as well as her other work including Shakespearean theater. David Huckvale provides another of his terrific film score breakdowns in "Catmotifs" (17m21s) diving into the work of composer Mikis Theodorakis, plus his role in the Greek music scene, his politic, and his absolutely insane life story ("He was buried alive... twice"). The image gallery section is divided into production stills (23 of 'em) and promotional material (42 stills, lobby cards, posters, etc.). The disc also comes with a 36-page booklet featuring an essay by Craig Ian Mann, original press material highlights, an archival interview with Shelley, and sample critical reactions.

With disc two we move on to the one indisputably non-horror entry in the set, Captain Clegg (a.k.a. Night Creatures), has been released standalone several times and is covered in depth here.

The third and final (to date) Universal-released version of the popular Gaston Leroux novel about a disfigured mystery man haunting the Paris Opera House, 1962's The Phantom of the Opera occupies a strange place in the history of Hammer Films. Originally tailored as a vehicle for Cary Grant, the film marked a temporary parting of the ways between Hammer and its most important director, Terence Fisher, who wouldn't return again until The Gorgon. Like the earlier Lon Chaney silent classic and the 1943 Claude Rains version, this one takes major liberties The Phantom of the Operawith the source novel and its title character, usually called Erik but deprived of a first name here. The film was also the splashiest entry in a string of Hammer titles for Universal, a prime period that also included such The Phantom of the Operafavorites as The Kiss of the Vampire, The Curse of the Werewolf, and Paranoiac, which meant it also went into TV circulation for decades where it left a stronger impression on younger horror fans.

Several plot elements from the Rains version have been retained here, notably with the Phantom (Lom) being motivated by the theft of his musical masterwork). Here the action is relocated to London, where the basic setup is the same with young understudy Christine (Sears) attracting the attention of the "Opera Ghost" who claims possession of an empty box seat in the opera house. This arrangement chafes the extremely nasty Lord Ambrose d'Arcy (Gough, sneering like crazy), composer of the new opera going into production, but things get even worse when a dead body disrupts the first performance and sends the main diva packing. Producer Harry Hunter (The Kiss of the Vampire's de Souza) protects Christine from Ambrose's advances as she looks likely to step into the leading role, while the Phantom seems to have his own plans in his subterranean lair. Meanwhile the Phantom's mute henchman (Wilson), lurks in the shadows and seems to have a much more violent and unpredictable side than his master.

Fisher really pulls out all the stops in this outing with an extravagant fantasia filled with vast underwater moats, inspired deep-focus The Phantom of the Operacolor compositions, and far more pathos than you’d expect with Lom The Phantom of the Operaas perhaps the most sympathetic and passive Phantom of them all. It's an odd switch that threw fans of the earlier versions as the real villain duties here go to Gough, who strangely doesn't really get the comeuppance you would normally expect. The perverse subversion of what audiences wanted turned out to be a problem of course; the usual elements are all here like the falling chandelier, the Phantom's organ playing in his cave (later parodied by Lom in the brilliant The Pink Panther Strikes Again), and the opera house managers grappling with the crisis. However, it's all been scrambled around a bit to create a markedly different story by the end with a climax that's quite different from any other version. It's still an extremely rich, fast-paced entertainment if you take it on its own terms, and it certainly deserves a more esteemed place in the Hammer rankings than it usually enjoys. Like two other Universal Hammer films (The Kiss of the Vampire and The Evil of Frankenstein), the film was heavily edited for television and padded out with new scenes showing Scotland Yard at work trying to unravel the mystery; however, this edition rarely turned up on the air after its initial appearance.

Universal kept this film off the home video market until fairly late in the game, eventually hitting VHS and laserdisc in 1995 in an okay but unremarkable full frame transfer. The 2.00:1 framing on the first DVD out of the gate in that Universal set mentioned above one didn't ignite as much controversy as The Brides of Dracula (which is disastrous with such heavy cropping), but it still looked a bit odd. The same transfer was later reissued separately as a DVD-R in the Universal Vault Series.

For such a marginalized film, it's a nice development that we've had four Blu-rays to choose from so far. The first and weakest came from Final Cut Entertainment in the UK in 2014, featuring a grainy, rough-looking but colorful transfer framed at 1.85:1 with severe cropping on all four sides of the frame. At least it was salvaged by one notable extra (along with a still gallery), "The Making of The Phantom of the Opera" (30m59s), with de Souza guiding a tour through the troubled creation of this The Phantom of the Operafilm and its place in the history of Leroux adaptations. The first U.S. Blu-ray in that Universal set The Phantom of the Operasported a much improved 2.00:1 transfer that added quite a bit more to the sides compared to the Final Cut and featured vastly superior color rendition and detail. Last and even better was the 2017 German edition from Anolis, whose great track record with Hammer titles offers a 1.78:1 presentation with more visual information on all four sides than its predecessors. The color scheme and detail level look comparable to the Universal release, and the English mono track is presented in DTS-HD MA along with the German dub and a German-only audio commentary by Dr. Rolf Giesen and Uwe Sommerlad. The Final Cut documentary is ported over here, and the theatrical trailer is included in far more pristine quality than anywhere else. Also included is a sample of the German main titles (which are very different), some German-shot signs of opera posters throughout the film, and the closing credits; also on hand are an image gallery, a U.S. radio spot, and samples of international pressbooks in English, German and French.

In the summer of 2020, Scream Factory gave Phantom a big U.S. upgrade with a Blu-ray special edition featuring two viewing options; the default one is 1.85:1, while the bonus features section has a more spacious 1.66:1 option. (In keeping with almost all of Scream Factory's Hammer releases with two aspect ratios, the 1.66:1 version gets the short end of the sonic stick with a lossy Dolby Digital track while the 1.85:1 has a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono one.) The Anolis one still splits the difference with a tad more on the sides than any other, while the 1.66:1 has more at the top and bottom; overall, the 1.66:1 wins out as the most aesthetically pleasing of the bunch. This is also a new scan with the best color and detail of them all, so it's a winner all around. Obviously not reviewable here are the two audio commentaries; the first has this writer and Troy Howarth over the 1.85:1 option, while Haberman and Nasr are present on the 1.66:1. In "The Men Who Made Hammer: Anthony Hinds" (27m44s), Little Shoppe of Horrors' editor and publisher Richard Klemensen covers the career of one of Hammer's most important figures who essentially steered the ship on many of its most beloved and influential productions (with his other family involved in other capacities). Huckvale tackles the very effective and unusual score by Edwin Astley in "Phantom Triumphant" (15m47s), while C. Courtney Joyner shares his memories of time spent with Lom as a "real fanboy" in "The Soul Behind the Mask" (15m28s). The archival DeSouza-hosted piece is also included along with the trailer and a still gallery, but the biggie here is easily the inclusion of the elusive TV cut (98m18s) pulled from an okay VHS copy and wonderful to finally see here with its awkward shoehorned-in police subplot intact.

The Indicator edition includes all of the video extras from the Scream Factory disc -- both commentaries, the TV cut, the making-of, the Joyner, Klemensen, and Huckvale pieces, and the old making-of doc. Image-wise the 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 versions presented here are very close to the U.S. release, but the 1.66:1 has been accorded equal stature here with a lossless track (and you can hear the commentaries for either version, too). In "Down in the Sewers" (5m59s), special effects artist Brian Johnson recalls his time working at Bray Studios, being astounded at the sewer set, and seeing some practical jokes pulled by Fisher during the enjoyable shoot. In this installment of "Hammer's Women" (6m18s), Rachel Knightley studies actor-writer-director (and musician and later psychotherapist) Aukin, who was well known for her TV work and had quite the eventful life far outside of the constraints of acting. A Kim Newman intro (12m18s) contextualizes this within the run of famous Gothic horrors turned out by Hammer, with this one obviously being a standalone and still something a bit out of step with its peers. Also included are the U.S. and U.K. trailers (which are quite different from each other), a Trailers from Hell edition of the trailer presented by Brian Trenchard-Smith, and galleries for 48 production stills and 74 promotional images. The 40-page booklet contains a new Adam Scovell essay, a Terence Fisher excerpt about the film, and press material and review highlights.

Finally we get to disc four with 1964's Nightmare. In the wake of Hammer's superb Scream of Fear and the smash success of Psycho, the market for black-and-white thrillers proved lucrative enough for the studio to have regular screenwriter Jimmy NightmareSangster to crank out numerous twisty psycho-shockers, almost all monochrome, including Maniac, Hysteria, and The Nanny, Nightmarewith stragglers Crescendo and Fear in the Night coming along in the '70s. Even a cursory viewing would make it obvious that most of these were far more indebted to Diabolique than Psycho, and that's certainly the case here as well with one of the most beautifully shot films from the cycle.

Terrorized by nightmares about her homicidal mother who's been in an asylum for six years, schoolgirl Janet (Women in Love's Linden) is escorted by her closest teacher, Mary Lewis (Bruce), back to her remote country home to stay with her guardian, Henry (Knight). Also in the house is Grace (Redmond), who's supposedly there as a companion but is actually a nurse on hand in case Janet tries anything self-destructive. The extended stay quickly turns hellish as Janet's nights are tormented by visions of a sinister woman in white (The Innocents' Jessop) who either wanders the halls or shows up stabbed in the chest. Janet's fragile psyche begins to crumble, but that's just the beginning of a series of shocking revelations and betrayals within the household...

A first-time viewing of Nightmare can be quite disorienting as the film takes a very dramatic turn halfway through that essentially sends the whole story careening in an entirely different direction, so it's best just to walk in blind and go along with it. The visual flair provided by director (and frequent cinematographer) Freddie Francis and his skillful director of Nightmarephotography here, John Wilcox, is the most valuable player here by far, using Nightmareexpansive CinemaScope framing to perform beautiful visual tricks with light, shadow, and depth of field in every single shot. It's a real feast for the eyes, even more than Francis' scariest entry in the cycle, Paranoiac. The story itself hinges on not one but two schemes that couldn't possibly work at all in practice, even by the standards of these films; if you don't mind throwing any allegiance to plausibility out the window though, it's an entertaining and deliciously overheated rollercoaster of a thriller with enough narrative switchbacks to keep you on your toes.

Before it did the laserdisc and VHS rounds the same time as Phantom, this film was nearly impossible to see for a long time and barely even turned up on TV anywhere. In fact, it was mostly familiar through some striking promotional stills of Linden's nightmares that turned up in genre books for years. Luckily its scope framing (complete with that familiar "CinemaScope mumps" facial stretching common to the era in close-up shots) has been preserved in pretty much every format since, including the same Universal DVD and Blu-ray sets mentioned above (albeit minus any extras apart from the trailer). The fact that the studio's HD scan done for that set was already in fine shape means the Indicator release looks unsurprisingly excellent as well; the advances in authoring mean you get better compression here and finer presentation of the film grain, but there's only so much it can do to improve over a presentation that was already quite fine to begin with. A new audio commentary Nightmareby Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby is as good as you'd expect, rattling through the cast and crew, addressing the questionable claim that Julie Christie was originally cast as NightmareJanet, examining the famous but also somewhat dubious working title of Here's the Knife, Dear - Now Use It, and sharing lots of anecdotes about the participants including some great info about Jessop. Also playable over the film is 1994's The BEHP Interview with Freddie Francis, which runs over the length of the feature with the filmmaking chatting with Alan Lawson and Syd Wilson about his career as both a director and cinematographer, the difficulty of "being a director and a gentleman," the lessons he learned about how to man a cinematic ship, and his candid thoughts about the wide variety of films over the course of his career. In the last "Hammer's Women" (10m2s), Pamela Hutchinson presents a thorough biography of Redmond, who enjoyed a productive career on both the small and large screens as well as on the stage where her flaming auburn hair became something of her signature. A video intro by Kim Newman (8m10s) is largely focused on Sangster, not surprisingly, including his wholesale recycling of the plot in 1971's A Taste of Evil, the impact of Jessop's performance, and the various genre connections strewn throughout. Huckvale tackles another score here in "Something Lurking in the Chords" (29m48s), this time going back to Banks again for a study of how the psychology and suspense of the film are accentuated by the string-heavy musical approach here. Three extras are also ported over from the film's earlier U.K. Blu-ray release in 2016 from Final Cut, starting with a "Memories" video interview with Linden (14m15s). She warmly recounts her experiences in and out of the movie industry including the family break she was on that she had to break to work with Ken Russell, her own son's affinity for acting, and her thoughts on the productions she worked on throughout her life. In "Madhouse: Inside Hammer's Nightmare" (14m12s), Rigby and Lyons are joined by Hammer historians Alan Barnes and John J Johnston for an overview of the production including James Carreras' role in shepherding it to the screen and the roles of both Francis and Sangster within the studio at the time. Finally, "Nightmare in the Making" (27m14s) offers another take on the making of the film with Wayne Kinsey threading the film's history through interview footage with Linden, Sangster, and art director Don Mingaye (not to mention some great still photos from this and other connected Hammer films). Finally you get the very dramatic theatrical trailer (here taken from the usual full frame SD master we've had for ages) and galleries for production stills (43 images) and promotional material (42 images). This time the insert booklet has an essay by Emma Westwood, press material samples, and critical reactions.



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Reviewed on June 21, 2021