It's Hammer time as the American Cinematheque celebrates "The Golden Age of British Horror, 1955-1975." For two decades, Hammer Film Productions, along with other British purveyors of terror, such as Anglo-Amalgamated, Amicus, Independent Artists and Tigon, unleashed a steady string of scary B-movies, often drawing from the same gothic literary sources that Universal had success with in the 1930s.
The three-week series opens with a pair of films directed by Terence Fisher and starring genre stalwart Peter Cushing. "The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1958) and "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969) both feature Cushing as the infamous doctor whose ghoulish experiments lead to horrific results.
The other iconic actor associated with British horror is Christopher Lee. Long before he was Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy or Count Dooku in the most recent "Star Wars" films, the towering Lee was best known as Dracula. After playing the monster in "The Curse of Frankenstein" in 1957, Lee stepped into the signature bloodsucking role — previously made famous by Bela Lugosi — the following year. "Horror of Dracula," released as simply "Dracula" in Britain and directed by Fisher, made full use of Lee's menacing 6-foot-5 frame, introducing us to a sexier, more physical version of the toothsome Transylvanian.
Cushing costars as the intrepid Dr. Van Helsing, matching Lee's bravado in one of the many films in which the duo would square off. Tame by today's standards, the film was gorier than audiences were accustomed to at the time and helped establish Hammer's imprimatur as genre master. Lee also stars in "Taste the Blood of Dracula" (1970).
"Dracula" screenwriter Jimmy Sangster first wrote the script for the 1956 sci-fi tale "X, the Unknown." Capitalizing on the success of "The Quatermass Xperiment" the previous year and Cold War paranoia, Hammer produced this Nuclear Age thriller about a radioactive mass terrorizing Scotland.
British soldiers on maneuvers discover an aberration in a fissure in the Scottish moors after several men receive severe burns, and high levels of radiation are discovered. Dean Jagger stars as an atomic scientist brought in to determine the nature of the voracious entity and teams with a detective played by Leo McKern to try to stop the gelatinous ooze as it seeks radioactive substances to feed on. The excellent cast remains nobly straight-faced throughout, despite the seeming silliness of the plot, and the pace is ably guided by director Leslie Norman — a replacement for Joseph Losey. A striking forerunner to monstrous slime movies such as "The Blob," it screens with "The Crawling Eye" (1958, a.k.a. "The Trollenberg Terror"), starring a pre-"F Troop" Forrest Tucker as a United Nations investigator who encounters some monocular, octopus-like creatures in the Alps.
The laughable monster in "Curse of the Demon" (1957, a.k.a. "Night of the Demon") can reportedly be blamed on meddling producers. Otherwise this Jacques Tourneur-directed spookfest is genuinely scary from the opening shots of Stonehenge and a drive through a menacing forest to its finish. Dana Andrews stars as a skeptical American scientist investigating a series of murders connected to a purported devil cult and its leader (Niall MacGinnis). The film screens with "Burn, Witch, Burn" (1962), in which a psychology professor discovers that black magic is behind his academic achievements.
The Goethe-Institut Los Angeles commences its seventh annual summer Blockbusters series, a survey of recent German box-office hits, with the comedy "Kebab Connection" on Tuesday. Director Anno Saul and his co-writers (including "Head-On" filmmaker Fatih Akin) concoct an entertaining farce centering on interfamilial happenings in a Turkish immigrant family.
Young aspiring filmmaker Ibo (Denis Moschitto) wants to make the first German kung-fu movie and puts his ideas to use by shooting a commercial — an uproarious martial arts spoof complete with a talking severed head — for his uncle's kebab restaurant. The spot shows at a local movie theater, the kebab business booms to the detriment of its Greek competitor across the street, and Ibo gets written up in the local paper.
Just as his professional life is looking up, however, his personal life gets complicated. Titzi (Nora Tschirner), Ibo's pretty, independent girlfriend, tells him that she's pregnant. This sits well with no one, least of all Ibo's father, Mehmet (Güven Kiraç), who reminds him that it's all right to sleep with a German girl, but "never, ever get her pregnant." The film takes some predictable turns on its way to an all-smiles ending, but there are some very funny moments in this comic mash-up of Turkish, Greek and German manners.
Black film festival
Also marking its seventh year is the Hollywood Black Film Festival, which starts Tuesday splitting time between the Fine Arts Theatre and Harmony Gold Preview House.
Among the early offerings is "Black Women in Film," a collection of eight short films directed by women. Two ambitious shorts focus on protagonists forced to assert themselves. "Ties That Bind," writer-director Angela Gibbs' drama, is a forceful study of a career woman (Karen Malina White) breaking the hold her abusive mother (Marla Gibbs) has on her life. "Sarang Song," written and directed by Tamika Miller, is a detailed period love story set in the tumultuous Los Angeles of the early 1970s. Simone's (Lalanya Masters) position as the leader of a campus student organization compromises her relationship with Nessa (Caryn Ward) and places her in the unenviable position of choosing between love and a cause.
The Golden Age of British Horror
"The Revenge of Frankenstein" and "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed": 7:30 tonight
"Horror of Dracula" and "Taste the Blood of Dracula": 7:30 p.m. Friday
"X, the Unknown" and "The Crawling Eye": 6 p.m. Saturday
"Curse of the Demon" and "Burn, Witch, Burn": 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Info: (323) 466-FILM, www.egyptiantheatre.com
"Kebab Connection": 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, 5750 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.
Info: (323) 525-3388
Hollywood Black Film Festival
"Black Women in Film — Shorts Program #1": 8:15 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Fine Arts Theatre, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills
Info: www.hbff.orgCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times