Case Number 18669: Small Claims Court

HAMMER FILMS: THE ICONS OF SUSPENSE COLLECTION

The Snorkel
Sony // 1958 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Never Take Candy From A Stranger
Sony // 1960 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Stop Me Before I Kill!
Sony // 1960 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Cash On Demand
Sony // 1961 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Maniac
Sony // 1963 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
These Are The Damned
Sony // 1963 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 6th, 2010

The Charge

Six Edge of Your Seat Classics

The Case

The folks at Hammer Studios are best known for their veddy British form of fog-drenched Gothic horror films, which they churned out in droves from the Fifties to the Seventies. However, Hammer Studios was responsible for a host of films in numerous genres. Thanks to Sony, six of the studio's more suspense-oriented features have made it onto DVD in one convenient package. Although these films aren't quite forgotten masterpieces, they do show consistent quality in the acting and directing, which makes them a sure bet for fans of the studio or that era of British filmmaking.

Hammer Films: The Icons of Suspense Collection gathers these six films from the late Fifties and early Sixties:

* Stop Me Before I Kill! is the story of a race-car driver who gets into a terrible accident. When he wakes up he is sometimes overcome by an inexplicable compulsion to strangle his new wife. The pair meet a psychiatrist while vacationing in France, and he tries to help the unwilling driver come to grips with his condition. When, after treatment, he wakes up and his wife is gone, all signs point to his having strangled her. Can he clear his name before he's compelled to possibly kill again?

* Cash On Demand features an overly punctilious bank manager who is wrong-footed when the apparent agent of the bank's insurance company turns out to be a master bank robber. With his family's safety on the line, the manager must put aside his desire to save the bank and instead help the robber make off with the Christmas payroll.

* The Snorkel is a classic locked-room mystery. A young woman is found dead, the apparent victim of suicide when the gas is left on and the room locked from the inside. Only the woman's young daughter suspects her stepfather who, unbeknownst to everyone but the audience, used snorkeling gear to stage the suicide. It's a battle of wits as the young girl tries to expose her stepfather while he tries to arrange to inherit everything from his dead wife before it's too late.

* Maniac is the story of the title character, who burned up a young man when he found out that the young man was trying to molest his daughter. He's been locked up for years, and his wife has found a new man. The wife and her new beau agree to help the "maniac" out of his mental institution in exchange for freeing his wife from their marriage. They think it's an easy plan, but once they let him out they discover that initial attack might not be an isolated incident.

* Never Take Candy From a Stranger is exactly what it sounds like -- a young girl reveals she stepped on a nail while playing that day. Her father asks her why she had her shoes off. She replies because she had all her clothes off because old man Olderberry asked her and a friend to dance naked in exchange for some candy. The father, the new principal at the local school, is understandably livid at his daughter's treatment. Two problems stand in the way of justice: the girl was never actually touched, making prosecution difficult, and old man Olderberry is the man responsible for the town's economic prosperity, and local law enforcement is therefore reluctant to proceed. The father presses the matter, and it goes to court, but justice is a funny thing when this much money is involved.

* These Are the Damned is an odd little film that follows a tourist as he's assaulted by a biker gang. However, the sister of the leader of the gang has some tender feelings for the tourist and runs away with him in his boat. The gang pursues the pair to an island, where they discover a group of children are being held in a mysterious experiment by the government to make a race of people who will be immune to radiation and able to repopulate the Earth in the event of a nuclear holocaust.

First, the good stuff about these films. All of them feature impeccable acting from both the leads and supporting cast (with a few exceptions, like the leader of the gang in These are the Damned). None of them are standout award-winning performances, but they're all solid and capable performances from obvious veterans. These films are also gorgeously and inventively shot -- most in MegaScope, no less -- by experienced cinematographers. Sinister and camera angles and interesting compositions abound. For reasons of budget (because they're easier/cheaper to film and more appealing to international audiences), most of these films feature extended scenes with no dialogue and the visual storytelling is impeccable. Finally, the premises of each of the film's are fascinating. I wasn't expecting such a frank examination of pedophilia in Never Take Candy From a Stranger or the nuclear anxiety revealed by These are the Damned. The fact that each of the stories provides a solid "twist" at the end makes it even better.

These films, however, are not without their problems. Pretty much every one of them suffers from the same affliction: these are short story narratives that have been needlessly expanded to feature length. About half of them start with a bang before slowing way down in a overly long second act before picking up in the end for the twist (like The Snorkel). The other half start really slow before making key revelations in the second act that build to an interesting third (like These Are the Damned). With some scissors (or the fast-forward button), these films could be tight little TV episodes for The Twilight Zone.

These six films (which average about 90 minutes) are generously spread across three discs, with two features per disc. This shows in the video quality, which is stunning for material of this age and budget. These black-and-white prints have little damage that I could find, and the prints have strong contrast and very low grain. The cinematography of these films is extraordinary, and that's easy to appreciate with these transfers. The stereo sound is pretty barebones, but there was no excessive hiss or distortion that I could hear.

Extras, however, are sadly lacking with this set. That's not surprising given the price point ($24.99 for six flicks), but a little documentary on Hammer Studios, or even a Hammer Studio filmography would have been nice. Instead, all we get is the original trailer for each of the films. That's a lot for films of this vintage, but Hammer Studios deserves better. I'm also not thrilled that all three discs are stacked on top of one another on a single hub in a single-width keep case.

This disc is probably only worth a purchase for hardcore Hammer completists, but the films are interesting enough in their own right, even if none of them quite succeed at being as nail-biting as they could be. If nothing else, this disc does an excellent job of showing how good fifty-plus-year-old films can look on disc.

The Verdict

I'll save you any more tension: Icons of Suspense is not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, The Snorkel
Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, The Snorkel
Video Formats:
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1958
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Snorkel
* Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, Never Take Candy From A Stranger
Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, Never Take Candy From A Stranger
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Never Take Candy From A Stranger
* Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, Stop Me Before I Kill!
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Stop Me Before I Kill!
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Stop Me Before I Kill!
* Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, Cash On Demand
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Cash On Demand
Video Formats:
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Cash On Demand
* Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, Maniac
Judgment: 76

Perp Profile, Maniac
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Maniac
* Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, These Are The Damned
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, These Are The Damned
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1963
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, These Are The Damned
* Theatrical Trailer

Accomplices
* IMDb: Stop Me Before I Kill!
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0054901/combined

* IMDb: Cash on Demand
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0054731/combined

* IMDb: The Snorkel
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0052207/combined

* IMDb: Maniac
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0056219/combined

* IMDb: Never Take Candy From a Stranger
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0054116/combined

* IMDb: These are the Damned
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056576/