LEADING LADIES: SUZAN FARMER

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Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today is an actress mostly known to horror fans for one major horror movie. The actress is Suzan Farmer, and the movie is DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), Hammer Films’ second Dracula movie starring Christopher Lee, and the direct sequel to their mega-hit HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

In DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the undead count is resurrected when his servant murders an unsuspecting guest at the castle and uses the man’s blood to rescuscitate his vampire master. Suzan Farmer plays one of the guests, Diana, who’s married to the brother of the slain sacrificial victim. It’s a memorable performance in a movie that has continued to age well over the years, and is held in much higher regard today than it was upon its initial release back in 1966, when it was widely viewed as an inferior sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA.

Here is a partial look at Suzan Farmer’s career:

THE SUPREME SECRET (1958) – Tess – Farmer’s movie debut in 1958 at the age of 15.

THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963) – Constance Beverley – High seas adventure which takes place in 1648 and also stars Lionel Jeffries, Oliver Reed, June Thorburn, and Hammer regulars Michael Ripper and Duncan Lamont.

THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964) – Angela – Hammer pirate adventure written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Don Sharp. Starring Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir, Duncan Lamont, and Michael Ripper.

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) – Susan Whitley – Farmer plays the daughter of a wheelchair-bound Boris Karloff. She’s stuck in the castle while Karloff conducts bizarre experiments, all the while her boyfriend Stephen (Nick Adams) tries to convince her to leave daddy and get the heck out of there! Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.” Also starring Freda Jackson and Patrick Magee.

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Diana- My favorite Suzan Farmer role and performance. A big reason for this is she’s in some of the best scenes in the movie, certainly the best Dracula scenes. The scene where Dracula (Christopher Lee) attacks her from an open window, and later when he slits open his chest and invites her to drink his blood, are two of the more memorable sequences in the film. Farmer also enjoys playful chemistry with Francis Matthews, who plays her husband Charles. Their dialogue together resonates throughout the movie, and they really do seem like a young married couple very much in love. Farmer also dubbed the high-pitched screams for co-star Barbara Shelley.

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Vanessa – Shot simultaneously with DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, using many of the same sets and cast, including Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Farmer.

PERSECUTION (1974) – Janie Masters – Farmer’s last movie credit is in this thriller starring Lana Turner as an evil mom tormenting her adult son played by Ralph Bates and his family. Also starring Trevor Howard, Patrick Allen, and Ronald Howard.

LEAP IN THE DARK (1980) – Grace- Farmer’s final screen credit was in an episode of this horror anthology TV series.

Indeed, after 1966, the majority of Farmer’s screen appearances were on the small screen on various TV shows.

Suzan Farmer passed away on September 17, 2017 at the age of 75 from cancer.

I hope you enjoyed this brief partial look at the career of Suzan Farmer. She made a lasting impression with only a few appearances in horror films in the 1960s, especially in the Hammer Film DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Speaking of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, with the recent passing of Barbara Shelley, and six months earlier of Philip Latham who played Dracula’s loyal servant Klove, all the major cast members from that classic Dracula movie are now gone, sadly.

Here’s a toast to them, a wonderful cast in a classic Dracula movie.

Please join me again next time for the next LEADING LADIES column, where we’ll look at the career of another leading actress in the movies, especially horror movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

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NIGHT CREATURES (1962) (also known as CAPTAIN CLEGG) is one of my all time favorite Peter Cushing movies.

Technically not a horror movie, NIGHT CREATURES is instead an energetic and atmospheric pirate adventure, filled with mystery and intrigue, and since it was made by Hammer Films, the horror elements are certainly highlighted, including the eerie Marsh Phantoms.

In NIGHT CREATURES, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Blyss, the local reverend in the small village of Dymchurch, but all is not as it seems, as Blyss is secretly the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, who years after escaping his own execution (Hmm, sounds like something Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein once did…) settles into Dymchurch and decides to turn over a new leaf, to do good for a change. Up to a point. See, Blyss is also the leader of a secret smuggling operation which smuggles illegal goods in and out of Dymchurch and uses the mysterious Marsh Phantoms as cover.

When Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) arrives with a troop of a soldiers, he sets out to expose and thwart the covert smuggling operation. Collier is also the man who spent his life chasing down Captain Clegg. Hmm. Interesting.

And this one is much more than interesting. This rousing adventure set in 18th century England is so full of atmosphere you’ll feel like you’re riding the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney! It’s also a helluva entertaining story.

The cast is first-rate.

At the top is Peter Cushing, channelling the same energy he used to portray Baron Frankenstein here as Dr. Blyss/Captain Clegg, and he’s at it again playing the heroic villain. We should not like Clegg very much, but in Cushing’s hands, we root for him. The script by John Elder provides Cushing with many memorable moments, from his admonishing of the weasel Mr. Rash (Martin Benson)… “Mr. Rash!” to his verbal spars with Captain Collier. At one point, Blyss is doing everything in his power to make sure Collier and his men have nowhere to stay the night in Dymchurch, but Collier declares his men are definitely staying, to which Blyss utters under his breath, “Really? I wonder where?”

Another fine moment comes when Collier believes a man his men shot in the arm is Blyss, and when he grabs Blyss by the wrist, he flinches, but there’s no bullet wound. Collier asks him why he flinched when he grabbed his arm, to which Blyss answers, “It wasn’t my arm, Captain. You trod on my foot!”

Veteran character actor and Hammer favorite Michael Ripper delivers one of his all time best movie performances as Jeremiah Mipps, the coffin maker, Blyss’ loyal right hand man. He too has numerous memorable lines of dialogue and key moments in the film, like one where he is seen sleeping in one of his coffins. One of his better lines comes when an angered Captain Collier at discovering one of his key witnesses has been found dead, demands of Mipps to know why the man was out on the Marshes. Mipps replies, “I couldn’t well ask him, seeing that he’s dead.”

A young Oliver Reed, fresh after his performance as the werewolf in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) makes for a dashing young Harry Cobtree, who is also part of Blyss’ operation and is in love with Blyss’ daughter Imogene (Yvonne Romain).

And Patrick Allen is excellent as Captain Collier, the man who matches wits with Blyss throughout the movie. Allen also starred with both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the science fiction thriller ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED (1967), and his voice was also dubbed in for the character Rex Van Ryn in the Christopher Lee Hammer classic THE DEVIL’S BRIDE (1968).

NIGHT CREATURES also features a rousing music score by Don Banks, who also scored Hammer’s third Frankenstein movie, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964).

Director Peter Graham Scott fills this one with lots of memorable scenes. There’s an exciting fight scene between Blyss and the hulking Mulatto who is out for revenge against Captain Clegg, and the climax to this one is also action-packed. The special effects on the Marsh Phantoms are first-rate. All in all, this is one Hammer Film you do not want to miss. It’s topnotch entertainment from beginning to end, without a slow moment in sight.

Incidentally, Hammer had to change the name of Cushing’s character from Dr. Syn to Dr. Blyss, since Disney owned the rights to the character, which is based on Russell Thorndike’s Doctor Syn stories. Disney made DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963) starring Patrick McGoohan in the lead role, which was later aired in three parts on TV on THE MAGICAL WORLD OF DISNEY.

If you are looking to bust yourself out of the winter blues this January, look no further than the thrilling pirate adventure NIGHT CREATURES, which features a talented cast touting out their A-game, with Peter Cushing leading the way with yet another of his phenomenal movie performances, this time as the heroic Dr. Blyss, doing his best to move on from his villainous past as the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, but only when it suits him, as he is more than comfortable running his secret smuggling operation. And when the relentless Captain Collier arrives, the stakes are raised, and Blyss’ cover and entire operation are suddenly in jeopardy.

NIGHT CREATURES is an underrated gem, one of Hammer’s best, and a must-see for all Peter Cushing fans. But be on your guard! Captain Collier and the King’s men are on the prowl! But don’t fret. Just look to the scarecrow across the way for his signal, and if his hand moves, then it’s time to run!

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF (1975)

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Legend-of-the-Werewolf-werewolf

One of my favorite werewolf movies has always been Hammer’s THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961). Directed by Hammer’s A-List director Terence Fisher, THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF features both memorable scenes of fright, a strong performance by Oliver Reed as the werewolf, and superior make-up by Roy Ashton.

However, I can’t deny that this movie does suffer from some very slow pacing and some weak story elements, so much so, that over the years, its reputation has diminished, while Universal’s THE WOLF MAN (1941) keeps getting stronger.

Now, there is another werewolf movie out there, the seldom seen LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF (1975), produced by Britain’s Tyburn Films, a company that tried and failed to compete with Hammer and Amicus, that has something that neither of the aforementioned werewolf movies have, and that something is a someone: Peter Cushing.

legend of the werewolf - peter cushing

Peter Cushing didn’t really make a lot of werewolf movies. He appeared in THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974), and he fares much better here in LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF, a movie that has always been dismissed as an inferior cousin to Hammer’s superior THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

But in the here and now, one can almost make the argument—almost-— that it’s LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF that’s the superior movie.

I say “almost” because seriously, LEGEND is hindered by some weaknesses that can’t be ignored. However, it has enough strengths where it can seriously be involved in the conversation of classic werewolf movies of yesteryear.

LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF tells the story of young Etoile (David Rintoul) who like Mowgli in THE JUNGLE BOOK was raised by wolves. While still a boy, he’s discovered by the owner of a travelling circus and joins the show as “wolf boy.” As an adult, he runs off to Paris where he finds work at the local zoo, specifically handling the wolves there. But it’s at this time that he discovers he’s a werewolf, but he’s also a particularly selective werewolf, because as a human, he has a crush on a local prostitute, and as a werewolf, he’s able to kill only her clients.

Hmm. Perhaps this one should have been called LEGEND OF THE JEALOUS WEREWOLF.

The subplot in LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF involves medical examiner and coroner Professor Paul (Peter Cushing) who while he’s not rolling his eyes at the local authorities, likes to play amateur sleuth. And when the werewolf murders start to happen, and the police are clueless, Professor Paul decides to solve the case himself, and it’s here where Peter Cushing enjoys the best scenes in the movie.

For Peter Cushing fans, LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is a must-see film, as it provides Cushing with nonstop memorable scenes, both full of humor as he belittles the authorities, and poignancy, as he’s the one man who actually understands the werewolf. The scene at the end of the film where he confronts the werewolf in the Paris sewers is one of the best scenes in any werewolf movie period. Really!

So, you can list Peter Cushing as the number one reason LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is a classic horror tale.

The second reason is the make-up. Borrowing heavily from Roy Ashton’s classic werewolf make-up in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, the make-up team of Jimmy Evans and Graham Freeborn gives us the screen’s second blonde werewolf. The werewolf make-up here is very good. That being said, it’s not quite as good as Ashton’s, and it’s also not original, since it looks exactly like the make-up on Oliver Reed in CURSE.

Probably the biggest knock against the film is its cheap production values. LEGEND simply doesn’t compare to the opulent sets and costumes found in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF.

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF was directed by Terence Fisher, one of the best horror movie directors of all time. LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF was also directed by a veteran of the genre, Freddie Francis. Francis’ reputation is more as a cinematographer and did his best work on movies as a cinematographer rather than as a director. But his horror films in general are pretty good. Probably my favorite Freddie Francis directed horror movie is DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), Christopher Lee’s third Dracula movie. LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is probably my second favorite Freddie Francis-directed horror movie.

He includes some nice touches, like close-ups of the werewolf’s bloody teeth, shots that are particularly effective.

Also working against LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is it arrived on the horror scene late in the game. In 1975, JAWS took the world by storm, and modern werewolf classics like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) and THE HOWLING (1981) were just a few years away. Audiences in 1975 weren’t all that interested in a werewolf movie that seemed more at home a decade or so earlier.

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF also featured Oliver Reed in the lead role. LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF features David Rintoul. And while Rintoul is just okay here, I don’t think you need Laurence Olivier playing a werewolf. For what he was supposed to do, Rintoul is just fine, but he never received the praise which Reed did for his werewolf portrayal a decade earlier.

What LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF does have is a veteran cast. In addition to Peter Cushing, the film also stars Ron Moody as the cantankerous zookeeper.  Moody won the Best Actor Oscar in 1968 for his portrayal of Fagin in the musical OLIVER!, incidentally, directed by Oliver Reed’s uncle Carol Reed, who also won Best Director that year, and OLIVER! won Best Picture as well. Moody is excellent here in LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF, and the scenes he shares with Peter Cushing are well worth watching.

Hammer’s favorite character actor Michael Ripper is also in the cast. Ripper also appeared in Hammer’s THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, and not only that, but his characters have the dubious distinction of being murdered by the werewolves in both movies!

The screenplay by John Elder (aka Anthony Hinds) is also not a strength. While the story told in the movie is decent enough, and the Peter Cushing storyline a very good one, the dialogue throughout most of the movie is sub par.

Long considered a tepid entry in the werewolf movie canon, LEGEND OF THE WEREWOLF is trending upward. It’s getting better with age, and in spite of some obvious weaknesses which still need to be considered, it does feature two acting greats, Peter Cushing and Ron Moody, who add a lot to this otherwise standard werewolf picture.

Is it really better than THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF? No, I wouldn’t say that. But the gap between these two movies is no longer as wide as once thought. Watch out CURSE. The LEGEND is growing!

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the April 2016 edition of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.  It’s on the Hammer Film THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960).  Enjoy!

—Michael

Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll poster

When Hammer Films struck gold with their horror hits THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), remakes of the iconic classics FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and DRACULA (1931) it was for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them was each film made changes to the original versions that blew audiences away.

In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Peter Cushing shocked  audiences with his villainous portrayal of Baron Frankenstein, and in HORROR OF DRACULA, Christopher Lee terrified viewers with his explosively violent portrayal of Count Dracula.  For some reason, in their subsequent remakes, Hammer wasn’t able to duplicate these impressive improvements, and so, while their handsome productions would continue to look good and genuinely entertain, they never seemed to regain that edge which their first two remakes possessed.

Take THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960) for example.  This is yet another very good looking Hammer Film, directed by their top director Terence Fisher, and it even features Christopher Lee in a supporting role, but at the end of the day, while modestly entertaining, THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL remains vastly inferior to the versions which came before it, the 1932 version DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, in which Fredric March won an Oscar for his performance in the lead dual role, and the 1941 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE starring Spencer Tracy.

The gimmick Hammer uses here in TWO FACES is that when Jekyll turns into Hyde, he doesn’t become a hideous looking monster but an extremely handsome gentleman.  Yet, in spite of his looks, Mr. Hyde is still a sinister being.  Now, this tweak to the story in itself is rather interesting, and I have no problem with it.  However, the problem here isn’t the tweak, but the fact the the evil Mr. Hyde in this movie, played by Paul Massie, pales in comparison to the previous dark interpretations by Fredric March and Spencer Tracy.

Both March’s and Tracy’s performance remain disturbing today.  While I like both performances and both versions a lot, I’ve always given the Tracy version a slight edge because Tracy instills such an abhorrent evil in his Hyde that I still find this movie difficult to watch, even today.  I always feel like I need to shower after watching it.  The way he torments Ingrid Bergman’s Ivy is horrifying and unpleasant.

Paul Massie doesn’t come close to matching the intensity of either March or Tracy with his performance as Mr. Hyde.  He’s even worse as Dr. Jekyll.  Spencer Tracy makes Dr. Jekyll such a heroic figure it’s almost impossible to believe that Mr. Hyde could emanate from him.  Massie’s Jekyll is a boring bearded scientist who speaks and looks like he’s spent the last several years living in a cave.

Paul Massie Mr. Hyde

Paul Massie as a handsome Mr. Hyde

The script by Wolf Mankowitz doesn’t help matters.  As Hammer Films often did, the story is simplified, and characters condensed.  Instead of having Jekyll and Hyde deal with both a wife and a mistress, in this version he only has a wife Kitty (Dawn Addams), who happens to be someone else’s mistress!  Yep, she’s having an affair with the unscrupulous Paul Allen (Christopher Lee).  Now, not only is Allen sleeping with Jekyll’s wife, but he’s also living off Jekyll’s money, as he keeps asking for handouts which he doesn’t pay back, and Jekyll is fool enough to keep paying him!

As you can see, Jekyll in this movie is sort of a clueless dolt, and he’s not particularly sympathetic. Worse yet, when Mr. Hyde comes along and decides he’s going to steal Kitty away from Allen, he’s a miserable failure at it!  Some evil villain!  Sure, eventually he exacts his revenge against these two, but compared to March’s and Tracy’s Hyde, this guy’s a pussycat.

Sadly, the story here is all rather boring, and the characters don’t help.  Both Kitty and Paul Allen are unlikable, Dr. Jekyll is a sad sack who deserves his fate, and Mr. Hyde is as ineffective a villain as Wile E. Coyote!  None of these folks have much to do.  The only thing on Hyde’s agenda here is disrupting the adulterous relationship between Kitty and Paul Allen, and he’s not terribly successful at it.

Director Terence Fisher who usually crafts at least one memorable scene in each of his films fires blanks with this one.  And the pacing is dreadfully slow.  For example, one of the first scenes is a long drawn out scene of exposition dialogue between Jekyll and one of his colleagues that seems to go on forever and really gets the film off to a molasses-like start.

Christopher Lee fares the best here with his supporting role as Paul Allen.  First of all, it’s a rare time that Lee isn’t playing the villain, the hero, or some pompous snobby type.  He’s a handsome cad here,  who prides himself on how much fun he can have at other people’s expense, and when he first meets Hyde, the two naturally become friends, until later when Hyde turns against him.

christopher lee two faces of dr jekyll

Christopher Lee in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

It’s also a chance to see just how handsome Christopher Lee was.  When we think of Lee we think of red bloodshot eyes and hissing fangs, but without his Dracula make-up, he was quite the handsome man.  He’s rarely looked as dashing as he does here in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

Lee also gives the character of Paul Allen some depth.  He gives the guy an undercurrent of conscience.  He doesn’t like Hyde the more he gets to know him, nor does he really treat Kitty all that badly.  He genuinely seems to have feelings for her.  In a strange way, Paul Allen may be the most likable character in the movie.

Another fun part about THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is a young Oliver Reed shows up in a pre-THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) performance in an unbilled bit as a bouncer.   He gets to confront both Hyde and Paul Allen before being promptly thrashed by the both of them.  It’s fun to see Lee and Reed in the same scene.

But other than Lee’s performance and Reed’s one scene, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about concerning THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.  The whole film plays like DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE LITE.  And that’s really the biggest problem with this movie.  It doesn’t come close to duplicating the effectiveness of the previous JEKYLL AND HYDE movies.  It doesn’t contain the powerhouse performances of Fredric March and Spencer Tracy, nor does it have the same disturbing story the previous versions tell.

THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is as good looking and well-produced a Hammer Film as any, but in this case, without anything extra special to lift it above the prior versions of this Robert Louis Stevenson tale, it’s simply not enough.

And that’s because in this movie the two faces of Dr. Jekyll are neither heroic nor monstrous, and as a result not at all memorable.

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