7. The Nanny (1965)
One of Hammer’s most unsung films, The Nanny features a terrifying performance from Bette Davis, who plays a governess that murders her charges. Her latest ward is Joey, an emotionally disturbed 10-year-old who’s just returned from a children’s home, where he was remanded after drowning his sister.
Imagine Joey’s surprise when he returns home to his father (James Villiers, perennially cast as the snooty aristocrat) and mother (Wendy Craig, who’s best remembered for her comedy roles) to find creepy Davis willing to dote on him. Needless to say, he rebels, little realizing that Davis is not someone to trifle with. We don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say that her preferred method of punishment is a short, sharp shock – involving water.
Davis, with a British accent, is so restrained as to make you forget about her other forays into horror, which usually saw her trying to outdo her co-stars. She was reportedly “difficult” on the set of The Nanny, but with a performance this good, why complain?
6. Evil Dead Trap (1988)
Evil Dead Trap’s minimal plot is sketched in during the opening scenes, when the arrival of what purports to be a snuff film prompts a ratings-hungry TV presenter and her crew to journey out to the deserted army base shown on the tape.
As with Dario Argento (or, for that matter, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava), you don’t admire the proceedings for their logic and originality but for the succession of startling setpieces set to a memorable score and, sure enough, when director Toshiharu Ikeda begins despatching his one-dimensional cyphers one by one, his movie shifts into high gear.
The first to be toe-tagged (somewhat predictably) is the lascivious production assistant who’s skewered by spikes that inexplicably burst through the walls and floor, a sequence sure to captivate fans of Argento’s Suspiria. All that’s missing are the black gloves.
5. The Psychopath (1966)
Leave it to Robert (middle name: “Author Of Psycho”) Bloch to concoct this bizarre tale of a killer who leaves dolls with each of his victims, which marked a highpoint in Freddie Francis’ otherwise patchy career as a director.
Intended to capitalize on Hammer’s psychological thrillers such as Taste Of Fear (which, because it’s a small world, were trying to capitalize on the success Psycho), The Psychopath could easily have been just another hacked-out thriller loaded with pop psychology, but there’s enough weirdness and gallows humour in Bloch’s script (he also wrote The House That Dripped Blood and Asylum) to keep it from becoming routine.
Weirdest of all is the sequence where one of the lead characters disappears and is discovered dressed in make-up and baby clothes, having been transformed into a human doll. Incidentally, the film’s American tag line (“Mother, may I go out to kill?”) inspired the Misfits song of the same name.
4. Psychomania (1973)
What can be more British than a film about a motorcycle gang that “terrorizes” a small town by being insufferably rude? Well, the leader is played by Nicky Henson (Downton Abbey), his mother is Beryl Reid (No Sex Please We’re British) and the Inspector on Henson’s trail is Robert Hardy (All Creatures Great And Small).
Following a Faustian pact, Henson commits suicide and immediately returns from the grave as an invincible version of his former self, prompting his friends to follow suit. Which they do – by leaping off buildings, throwing themselves in front of traffic, wading into lakes carrying rocks etc.
Played with its tongue firmly in its cheek, Psychomania has confounded viewers who don’t “get” the movie since its 1973 release. In amongst the dream sequences and a scene where Reid turns into a frog (long story) is a bizarre moment where Henson is buried with his motorcycle – only to drive his way out of his own grave seconds later. Moments like this are a litmus test for the audience – if you like your horror straight up and without irony, don’t bother watching.
3. Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (1974)
Late-period Hammer movies come in for criticism, what with all those silly and repetitive monster films, but in amongst them were some entertaining movies that deserve to be better known.
Written and directed by Brian Clemens, Captain Kronos is as quirky and eccentric as Dr Jekyll And Sister Hyde, Clemens’ previous script for Hammer. It’s a new spin on an old idea, with Kronos chasing vampires across Europe, armed not with stakes but his trusty sword (and accompanied by his hunchbacked manservant, no less).
A swashbuckling vampire movie, you say? Yes, because Clemens has turned his back his back on Hammer’s creaky franchise monsters in favour of a more unconventional approach, as you’d expect from a former scriptwriter for the TV series The Avengers.
Also around, and debuting as a leading lady, is Caroline Munro as a wayward gypsy girl, but don’t go thinking that this is another period piece with beasts, blood and boobs – the movie’s sophisticated enough to eschew those trappings.
2. Nailbiter (2013)
Sensibly eschewing the found footage, torture porn and generic teen slasher subgenres, director Patrick Rea gives us a cautionary tale that proves the wisdom of avoiding road trips during tornado season. Alice Maguire (Emily Boresow) and her three girls are driving across Kansas to meet her husband, a Marine who’s returning from overseas, when she spies an unfriendly storm in the rearview mirror. Forced off the road, they take refuge in the cellar of a seemingly abandoned house, and that’s where the true horror begins.
The story of a family being stranded in Hicksville and falling prey to crazy locals and their crazier secrets may bring to mind the Texas Chainsaw, House of Wax and Hills Have Eyes revamps, but they were formulaic, surprise-free and sucked like an Electrolux. Nailbiter just wants to get on with the business of storytelling, and Rea delivers a lean, entertaining effort that, while not dazzlingly original, still avoids the ‘been there, done that’ feel of most fare.
At no point does any character stop to namecheck George Romero, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven etc, nor does anyone experience a ‘Nilbog moment’ and proclaim the blindingly obvious. Okay, so maybe the monster does resemble a rubbery Orc in a few shots and the ‘storm’ is clearly being generated by a rain machine, but that’s all.
1. At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964)
Played by writer/director Jose Mojica Marins, Coffin Joe is Brazil’s first horror icon. A bearded, black-garbed gravedigger who wears a top hat and cape, Joe has one wish: to maintain the “continuity of the blood.” Because his wife cannot bear him a child, he kills her and sets about finding a suitable woman to grant him an heir, leaving the usual trail of corpses in his wake.
For an early 60s effort shot in monochrome, Midnight is surprisingly explicit: a card player has a finger severed by a broken bottle, a man is whipped during a bar brawl and the local doctor has his eyes gouged out before Joe pours acid over him. Marins makes underground pictures on threadbare budgets – part exploitation, part art-house – but the violence in his films is more shocking than anything that played American Drive-ins around the same time.
A direct sequel, This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse, followed in 1967, but despite appearances in The Strange World Of Coffin Joe (1968), The Awakening Of The Beast (1969) and Hallucinations Of A Deranged Mind (1978), the final part of the “Coffin Joe Trilogy” didn’t appear until 2008. Embodiment Of Evil ups the violence and nudity, perhaps attempting to hide the fact that although Marins was still attempting to find the perfect woman, he was 72 at the time of filming.
Author Bio: Ian Watson writes about film for one reason – to encourage people to watch films like Starcrash instead of that drivel where cars turn into robots and save the world. Every time one of those pictures makes money, an angel dies and falls from Heaven.