Thursday, June 18, 2015

Shatter (1974)

One of a pair of movies Hammer co-produced with the prolific Hong Kong studio Shaw Brothers, Shatter is nowhere near as well remembered as its companion piece, Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.  Which isn't surprising, as its attempt to mix Eastern martial arts with a Western espionage thriller simply wasn't as distinctive, bizarre and just plain camp as the other co-productions mix of Kung Fu and vampirism, with Peter Cushing's Van Helsing going East to fight Dracula's Chinese acolytes.  Whilst Seven Golden Vampires had the virtues of originality in its set up, Shatter's scenario had already been before and done much better, most notably in Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon

Neither Shatter nor Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires set the box office alight, (despite its novelty value, the latter picture was severely hampered by the lack of Christopher Lee as Dracula - John Forbes Robertson, in lurid make up which makes him look like a stereotype theatrical 'Old Queen' and sounding suspiciously as if he's being dubbed by Robert Rietty, is a poor substitute).  In part this was undoubtedly due to Hammer's lack of a proper US distribution deal at this point in time, but the poor quality of the films (in comparison with earlier Hammer output) and their, even in 1974, rather dated feel, really didn't help.   Nevertheless, one can't help but wonder whether, if the films had been better received, it might have proven a turning point for Hammer, reviving the company's fortunes.  Certainly, the hook up with Shaw Brothers must have looked, at the time, a shrewd move - UK producers were, by the mid seventies, desperate for new sources of finance, as US funding dried up.  With the Hong Kong studios riding high due to the popularity of martial arts movies in the UK and US, not to mention the access to a vast and - for Western film makers - virtually untapped Asian cinema audience, the co-production deal clearly seemed a recipe for success as far as Hammer's management were concerned.  Perhaps if the films had been better, then Hammer might have been rejuvenated.  In the end, however, the films fell between two stools, satisfying neither Western nor Asian audiences, instead coming over as awkward compromises.

I must admit that it has been an age since I remember Shatter being shown on TV in the UK.  I vaguely recall it turning up late at night and, whilst my memories are hazy, I think that I'm safe in saying that the trailer makes it seem far more exciting than it actually is.  Interestingly, the film was started by American director Monte Hellman, a Roger Corman protégé, but was completed by Hammer owner Michael Carreras after the former was sacked.  Whether it would have been a better film had Hellman been allowed to complete it is an interesting question.  Somehow I doubt that it would have done any better at the box-office.  As the seventies wore on, it became increasingly obvious that Hammer's finger was no longer on the pulse of popular expectations for exploitation films.  For contemporary viewers, their period horrors seemed too sedate and fussy, even with injections of sex and nudity to accompany the gore, and audiences could no longer identify with their remote and alien seeming historical settings   Even worse, the studio's attempts to update their horrors to contemporary settings always seemed half-hearted.  This last-gasp attempt to tap into the zeitgeist - in this case King Fu films - equally failed to grasp changing audience expectations, attempting to graft tired old formats onto the martial arts bandwagon instead of creating anything new. 



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