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Posted October 1, 2010
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The latest in Sony's Icon series featuring the varied genre's of Great Britain's venerable Hammer studios, "Hammer Films: The Icons of Suspense Collection" is a bargain for anyone interested in several night's worth of substantial entertainment at a very low cost. This three disc, six feature set of relatively obscure Hammer pictures is something of a mixed bag; each is visually polished, professionally acted, with generally intelligent and literate scripts. BUT.... most seem to be produced with an annoying sense of cold feet, as if the powers that be of this studio of bloody Gothic horror suddenly became overly cautious when tackling a subject outside of their comfort zone. Each film is produced in and presented here in crisp, attractive black- and-white and pleasingly clean audio tracks, and equally crisp trailers all in their original aspect ratios! The first film, Val Guest's "Stop Me Before I Kill!" is a fascinating dialogue-driven psychological study of an unhinged Grand Prix racer convinced he means to kill his wife. The pace is deliberate but the film is undone by several unappealing performances (Diane Cilento's shrillness only accentuates her accent into the realm of the unintelligible.) and another of Hammer's seemingly rushed and unconvincing conclusions. However, Claude Dauphin is marvelous as a duplicitous psychiatrist and the film is propelled by an appropriately edgy score by Stanley Black. The second film, "Cash on Demand" is a delightful discovery; a small-scale chamber drama almost exclusively taking place inside a small English bank. Witty and well played to a very satisfying conclusion, this could be considered a Hammer version of the themes of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" with it's own original twists. It features a wonderful pairing of acting stalwarts Peter Cushing and Andre Morell as antagonists. "The Snorkel" is an oddly but appropriately titled little film concerning spousal homicide ingeniously using the title device, and a daughter who suspects what really happened while all those around her call her mother's death a suicide. Peter Van Eyck charmingly plays the cold-blooded killer, but again a sledgehammer ending is wasted with the addition of an unnecessary final scene as if the studio shied away from the "wow" factor of the film's finale. "Maniac" is a handsomely mounted but utterly preposterous Kerwin Matthews vehicle concerning an American artist who become involved in a rather peculiar romantic triangle. "Never Take Candy From a Stranger" is what would pass as a prestige project from Hammer, though due to their horror-based reputation was generally met with critical backlashes that completely misunderstood the source material. Filmed with remarkable subtlety, this study of a small town disgraced with the actions of a child molester was thematically years ahead of it's time and was probably Hammer's most emotionally raw film ever, but frustratingly the ending seems rushed and unfinished. The sixth film is the gem of the set: a complete, uncut print of Joseph Losey's amazing Teddy Boy gang/romance/science-fiction hybrid "These are the Damned". Volumes could be written about the extraordinary aspects of this film, but the less known, by the uninitiated, the better. This is a film that is challenging and demands attentive viewing by serious film enthusiasts; certainly not a casual entertainment. Among it's many attrib
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