Tell someone that you're going to watch a "Hammer movie" you might instantly get back a series of "ooohhhs," "aahhhs," and possibly a knowing smile. Hammer films seem to occupy a space all their own. They seem to be thought of differently, accepted differently, and have an incredibly devoted fan base.
Hammer Film Productions made inexpensive (but sometimes very successful) films for a number of decades. Though best known for their horror pictures, particularly their Christopher Lee-Peter Cushing pairings, they certainly produced more than just horror features. They made crime films, mysteries, and adventure stories that took place in exotic locales. Four of these last type of films have just been put together in a brand-new two-disc set entitled Icons of Adventure.
Included on the discs are The Pirates of Blood River, The Devil-Ship Pirates, The Stranglers of Bombay, and Terror of the Tongs. Sticking with one of their most famous faces, three of the four films in the box star Christopher Lee, and several other actors appear in more than one feature as well.
Divided onto two-discs, the set has a very different feel depending on which disc is being viewed. Disc one contains The Pirates of Blood River and The Devil-Ship Pirates, both, as their name indicates, pirate movies. They each feature a band of bloodthirsty pirates, captained by Christopher Lee, who are trying to pillage, ransack, and control a small town. A small band of townsfolk opposes the pirates, and the groups do battle. The particulars of the stories differ slightly (the pirates are after hidden treasure in one and to convince an English town that England has lost a war to Spain in the other), but the overarching idea is the same.
Disc two, while having a completely different feel than disc one, also contains two very similar films, The Stranglers of Bombay, and Terror of the Tongs. Both pictures find a British man working in a colony (India in one and Hong Kong in the other), who uncovers a hidden society of corrupt locals who are murders/mobsters. The hero is the only person with the will to stay the course, uncover the truth, prove everyone else wrong, and try to fix the world.
There is very little original, new, and different in any of the films, but there does seem to be a devotion to the silliness by everyone involved that makes these less-than-stellar films fun enough to watch. All the characters are painted very broadly, and the horribly naïve or evil (depending on whether they are cult members or not) depiction of the locals in Terror of the Tongs and The Stranglers of Bombay is certainly something that could not be gotten away with today.
All the movies do in fact look as though they may be reusing sets (with minor alterations) from one to the next, and with the first movie being made in 1959 (The Stranglers of Bombay) the last in 1963 (The Devil-Ship Pirates), and all being produced at the same studio, that's not outside the realm of possibility.
The DVD release features commentary by those that worked on the films and historians. Additionally, there is a cartoon short, "The Merry Mutineers," the first part in the 1953 serial The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd and a two-reel comedy, Hot Paprika, included in the release. Icons of Adventure will be released June 10 and puts a lot of Hammer non-horror into a single package.
All the films in the release have been digitally remastered and look wonderful. One won't find some new amazing truth about life or have a film experience unlike anything they've ever had before with the titles in Icons of Adventure. In fact, there are moments in all the films that are dull, outlandish, or simply too ridiculous. Yet, they're still an interesting look at an era of filmmaking that seems very distant.