Man Who Could Cheat Death (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher

Starring Anton Diffring Arnold Marle Christopher Lee Hazel Court

A long lost Hammer film from legendary director Terence Fisher, this never saw the light of day on VHS and only had a DVD release in 2008, nearly 50 years after it was originally made. Fisher, who helmed all the best Hammer films -- including "The Gorgon," "The Horrror of Dracula," "Brides of Dracula" and "Curse of the Werewolf" -- delivered the goods again with this gem, based on a play by Barry Lyndon.

After an opening with a Jack the Ripper-style attack on an old man in the streets of 1800s Paris, we meet Diffring's doctor -- a well-to-do medical man who dabbles in sculpting of nude women. When he's caught by an ex-lover right as he's attempting to drink a green formula he keeps in a safe, things get confrontational. As he begins morphing into a slightly glowing, green-faced ghoul-like character, he attacks the girl -- his hand putting a burn mark on her mouth.

After he returns to normal, the story unfolds. Diffring has fallen in love with voluptuous Hazel Court, who has the affections of another doctor, Christopher Lee, but has fallen for Diffring ever since he sculpted a nude bust of her. When another, 80-something-year-old scientists arrives in town, we learn that Diffring is actually more than 100 years old. He and his once younger professor accomplice discovered the secret to eternal life. But it required surgery every 10 years to replace a vital gland, or the use of the green serum to prvent Diffring from being hit with 75 years of aging in one moment. As it turns out, Diffring isn't against murdering people to get his gland.

While some have dismissed this as one of Fisher's lesser works, it was made when the director was at the top of his form. There are scenes that are genuinely chilling -- even seen 50 years later -- and Diffring's characterization as a sociopathic scientist with eternal youth is pretty convincing. It's also fun to see Christopher Lee playing the straight guy for a change.

A great movie and a must for British horror fans. The Legend Films DVD release from 2008 looks pretty good, but not as sharp as the major Hammer releases from Warner Bros. or Universal.

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-- Review by Lucius Gore


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