Supernatural horror or monster movies can sometimes be a bit difficult to get just right. Of course, within Hammer Films’ oeuvre there are plenty of examples of these films that are done effectively (The Curse of Frankenstein, The Devil Rides Out, Dracula, etc.), but these pieces walk a tight rope when balancing factors such as pacing, atmosphere, exposition, and action.
And with these attributes in mind, it may be easier to see why The Man Who Could Cheat Death never quite takes off as a horror classic.
Coming soon after the two Hammer landmarks of The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula, The Man Who Could Cheat Death follows a similar formula as its predecessors with a slower build-up to the supernatural climax with a few teases of horror strewn throughout the story. And in theory, this isn’t a bad way to approach such a film.
The problem comes in with the actors and characters that we are given to lead us through the tale. Though Anton Diffring is put in place to be a likeable sort of Peter Cushing role, he is never as compelling as his counterpart nor is his character ever particularly amiable either as a straightforward protagonist or a charismatic anti-hero. Add to that a lack of chemistry with love interest Hazel Court or any of the film’s supporting characters, a quite unbalanced ratio of talky exposition to horror scenes one would naturally expect, as well as a rather disappointing final confrontation between Diffring and the story’s effective hero, Christopher Lee, and it’s simply hard to be all that invested in the outcome we’re headed towards.
This isn’t to say that The Man Who Could Cheat Death is an out-and-out bad movie; it isn’t. It’s just… okay.
The problem is that it’s showing Hammer and their creative team resting on their laurels in relation to the initial Frankenstein and Dracula hits and not reaching far beyond that framework. Simply put, it’s a film that shows Hammer in their horror infancy before they really became the cult movie machine that fans recognize.
As a straightforward supernatural story, you could certainly do worse, but within the scope of Hammer’s contemporary legacy, it doesn’t stand as much more than a curiosity piece for completeists.
~ Stephen (@StephenThePM)