Saturday, February 9, 2013

Beast of Morocco AKA The Hand of Night 1966

   A strange little British horror film released in 1966, this was ingrained on many monster fans minds because of the still that appeared  Famous Monsters of the "crooked eye" hooded figure and showings on late night television in the late 60's and early 70's.  Starring William Sylvester as architect Paul Carver who travels to Morocco after the death of his wife & child in an automobile accident. The films starts off with a weird dream-like credit sequence with skeletons , floating smoke and a 1960's British horror movie fake looking bat. Carver then is in a fog shrouded cemetery watching three coffins (one a child's) being carried into a crypt. Entering the tomb the sees a bearded Arab and himself and his wife as bride & groom, a coffin then opens with his wife in it and then a car accident with him yelling for the others to jump.

   After waking up on the plane to Morocco he meets an archaeologist named Gunther (Edward Underdown - who was also the undertaker in the dream sequence). After landing he meets Gunther's assistant Chantal played by Diane Clare ( Plague of the Zombies). Gunther invites Carver to come by his house later and later Carver then goes to visit a doctor friend of his and finds he has recently passed away. Although its never stated directly it is implied that Carver has come to Morocco to commit suicide. Believing himself a "harbinger of death" he gets drunk in the hotel bar. Later he walks to Gunther's house (after being warned he must pass thru the bad section of town) and is followed by an elderly Arab. After some bats appear the Arab makes a remark about "choosing between the light and the dark", then disappears. Arriving at Guther's house during a party he meets his partner Leclerc (William Dexter) who is the Arab in his dreams and Gunther tells him he has just discovered a tomb in the desert. While at the party Carver also spies a mysterious looking woman when he places a ring on his finger from Guther's collection of artifacts.

    Later that Carver has a dream where's is in a lavish place with the mysterious woman from the party and the Arab who he meet earlier during his walk. Waking up in the middle of the barren desert he is discovered by Guther and Chantal who inform him that this is the site of the tomb they are excavating.  Later its reveled that the tomb is of a Princess named Marisa, who swore a curse on mankind after she was buried alive for infidelity. Chantal and Carver soon start a love affair and it develops that Chantal represents the "light" while Marrisa "the dark" and they each trying to win him over. Gunther suggests that the spirit of Marisa might be a vampire and a struggle begins for the soul of Carver and his very weak mental state.
  The film tries very hard to do something different with the vampire mythology and the exotic setting in Morocco does help with the film's atmosphere. Although vampires are discussed and there are coffins and stakes, plus in one of the films truly startling scenes a  man's' face starts to disfigure in the sun (hence the famous "melting eye"' still) the film stays away from the usual black cloaked vampire trappings. Although made in 1966 it does have the look and feel of an early 60's film or late 50's film. Perhaps does fall a bit flat in some regards and it does try to do a little more then it can actually accomplish in the end it is an interesting film.

   It was actually filmed in Morocco so it doesn't have that "set bound" look that plagues some lower budget movies from the same period. The big problem with the movie is Sylvester, who would later appear in 2001 A Space Odyssey.  He just doesn't seem to have a great presence. He's performance is rather flat and somebody like Kieron Moore (Crack in the World 1965) would have made a better choice. British actress Diane Clare (who speaks in an excellent French accent in the movie) does well in her part. She reached a bit of a peak in the mid sixties with this and Hammer's Prague of the Zombies and The Wrong Box both from 1966, but then kind of faded from view in the late 60's. She also has a wonderful small role in Robert Wise's The Haunting from 1963 and also appeared in the well worth seeking out film Whistle Down The Wind from 1961. Her co-lead role in Plague most likely would have led to more Hammer roles at the very least  but she was over shadowed in it by Jacqueline Pearce.
   Although some sources state 1968 as a release date the copyright date on the few stills floating around from A.I.P. (who bought the film for American T.V.) shows 1967. The film has never had a video release and all the grey market DVD's floating around have a slightly faded/ pinkish look to the color. A Studio Canal DVD release  in England was rumored a few years ago nothing has materialized so far.

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