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Blu-ray Review: Classic Hammer Horrors on Double Play

★★★☆☆
After the success of the Daniel Radcliffe-starring chiller The Woman in Black (2012) earlier this year, Hammer Films are on a bit of a high once again and you can now treat yourself to the latest high definition releases from the extensive back catalogue of the horror giants. The newest wave of entries in the studios ongoing restoration series sees three Blu-rays of enjoyable horrors from the latter half of the 1960s; Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966), The Mummy's Shroud (1967) and The Devil Rides Out (1968).

Rasputin: The Mad Monk sees Christopher Lee's penetrating stare being used to maximum effect especially when you consider that the film was shot back to back with Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) which saw the actor regrettably toothless. He stars as Russia's greatest love machine, going from depraved monk to manipulator of the Tsarina via mild-control and the power to heal. He's simultaneously commanding, menacing and oafish throughout the film with the only drawback being his regrettably easy demise when compared to the real story.

The weakest of the three releases is probably The Mummy's Shroud which suffers from the greatest problem of all mummy films; the villains innate lack of scariness. Sir Basil Walden (André Morell) and Stanley Preston (John Phillips) are world famous archaeologists who uncover the tomb of a young Pharaoh Prince. When the shroud that covered his body is stolen, those who were involved in the desecration of the tomb begin to die, one by one, at the hands of the Prince's loyal protector mummy. Phillips is genuinely unlikeable as Preston and the wired old lady controlling the vicious mummy is a nicely unsettling addition but overall it lacks a powerful central presence.

That is not the case in The Devil Rides Out, based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley and adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson, and once again stars Lee; this time as a good guy. Directed by Hammer favourite Terence Fisher, the movie follows Duc de Richleau (Lee) and Rex Van Ryn (Leon Greene) as they attempt to save their friend from a satanic cult and prevent the evil Mocata (Charles Gray) from inducting two new members into the shadowy world of devil worship. Naturally, things get pretty wild when the dark magician wants his new disciples back.

On the whole, these are three thoroughly enjoyable additions to the Hammer Horror Blu-ray collection and, in Rasputin and Duc de Richleau, offer up two captivating performances from Christopher Lee. However, better work has undoubtedly been done by this classic British institution.

Ben Nicholson
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