April 27, 2008

HAZEL COURT - horror heroine nevermore

I'd been waiting for the publication of this autobiography for many months now. Sadly, just days before it's release, the author passed away.

Hazel Court was Hammer Horror's first female star. The winning combination of 'Hammer glamour' and acting ability in their leading ladies often proved elusive, but Hazel ably and amply provided both. She starred opposite Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), setting herself up as a 'horror heroine' for the next decade.

Her subsequent horror films, including three in the Roger Corman/Edgar Allen Poe series, are all recommended. For Hammer, she also appeared in The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) opposite Anton Diffring (Circus of Horrors), in which she famously appeared topless for the saucier 'continental' version. Neither version of the film has appeared on DVD yet.

Roger Corman's adaption of The Premature Burial (1962) cast her opposite Ray Milland. The resulting film makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it. In 1963, she starred with Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and a young Jack Nicholson in the comedy-horror The Raven. But her greatest role was in The Masque of the Red Death (1964), where her character is practically Lady Macbeth. Her satanic villainy and masochistic nightmares rival Vincent Price's evildoing in the story. Her altercation with a frenzied falcon is as fierce and frightening as anything in Hitchcock's The Birds.

The book talks about all of her films, even the silly Devil Girl From Mars, and is available online from Tomahawk Press. Beautifully illustrated with rare photos, some in colour, this is a book I've been wanting to read for years, but not with such sad timing.

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