• Pirates Of Blood River, The

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: October 10th, 2017.
    Director: John Gilling
    Cast: Glenn Corbett, Christopher Lee, Marla Landi, Kerwin Matthews, Oliver Reed, Andrew Keir, Peter Arne
    Year: 1962
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    Directed by John Gilling and written by Jimmy Sangster, Hammer Films’ 1962 production of The Pirates Of Blood River will never overshadow the gothic horror classics that the studio was known for, but it is a good old fashioned adventure film that entertains quite handily.

    Set in the 17th century, the story begins when Jonathan Standing (Kerwin Matthews), a Huguenot, is accused by the puritanical leaders of his village, including his own father (Andrew Keir), of committing adultery with Maggie Mason (Marie Devereux). When Maggie is killed by a school of piranhas, Standing winds up being sentenced to fifteen years in a penal colony. Understandably, he’s rather nonplussed about this, and before you know it he’s made his daring escape.

    Soon enough, Standing encounters Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee), a one-eyed man with a bad arm, and his gang of French pirates (Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper and Peter Arne all factor in here). They come to an agreement – LaRoche and his crew will escort Standing back to his village where they believe a substantial amount of treasure has been stashed. Upon their arrival, the pirates loot and pillage (they are, after all, pirates) in hopes that their behavior will convince the townsfolk to give up the loot – but of course, it won’t be that easy. Is the village doomed? Not if Henry (Glenn Corbett) has his way!

    “Ransacking a lost tropic island... for a fabulous idol of gold!”

    Shot at Hammer’s own Bray Studios, Burnham Beaches and Black Park (a popular Hammer location, where the pond used for many scenes was so filthy that it had adverse effects on some of the cast members, including Lee and Reed), looks like a more epic production than it really was (just listen to the commentary track for details on that – Sangster had to write a pirate movie for Hammer while keeping in mind they didn’t have money to build a proper boat, the one in the opening scene is stock footage!). The cinematography from Arthur Grant helps out quite a bit here, giving the movie the right sort of compositions often enough that we notice what’s on the screen, not what’s missing. It works quite well. The score adds to the feeling of high adventure that the story serves up in heaping dollops. The script throws in enough action and intrigue to ensure that the pacing is quick, while the costumes are colorful and nicely detailed.

    Helping to up the film’s entertainment value immensely, however, is the cast. Kerwin Matthews and Glenn Corbett don’t get up to anything all that interesting here, but the British cast members that populate the film are in fine form indeed. Oliver Reed just goes for it, playing his pirate Brocaire gusto to spare. Ripper and Arne are great as well. But really, the real star of the show – and this probably won’t surprise anyone – is the late, great Sir Christopher Lee. His LaRoche is a world weary man, the brooding type, and Lee plays the role with the utmost seriousness. He makes it work. He looks great and he really does a fine job of carrying the picture.


    The Pirates Of Blood River makes its Blu-ray debut from Twilight Time in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen on a 50GB disc. The transfer is good, but it is not perfect. The image is soft in spots and it looks like some mild DNR has been applied to the image, smoothing things out a little more than some of us might have liked. It’s not a complete debacle by any stretch, however, as film grain is evident and detail rises above standard definition quite handily – but it does keep the picture a few steps away from the best it could be and at times is a bit soft. On the plus side, colors look very nice, the film is given a nice bite rate and as such there are no compression problems, and there are no noticeable issues with edge enhancement. The picture is also very clean, showing no noticeable print damage related issues.

    The only audio track on the disc is an English language DTS-HD Mono offering, with optional subtitles provided in English only. No issues to note here, the track sounds just fine. Dialogue is clear, the score sounds good, effects are punchy without ever sounding too high in the mix. The levels are nicely balanced and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.

    Carried over from the old DVD release that came out through Sony is an audio commentary with writer Jimmy Sangster, art director Don Mingaye, and Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn. For those who haven’t heard it before, this is an excellent discussion that covers not only the feature but also quite a few other Hammer productions that Sangster and Mingaye were involved in during their time in the industry. Hearn, of course, knows his stuff and proves the perfect moderator to keep the conversation engaging from start to finish.

    Additionally, the disc includes an isolated score option, the film’s original theatrical trailer, an interactive Twilight Time catalogue, menus and chapter selection. Inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase is an insert booklet of liner notes from Julie Kirgo (with input from our own Chris Workman!) that detail the film’s qualities and performances and make the case that it is an atypical Hammer picture.

    The Final Word:

    Pirates Of Blood River isn’t the first picture that comes to mind when you think of Hammer or Christopher Lee but it’s definitely an entertaining swashbuckler made with a strong cast and featuring some good cinematography. Hammer puts entertainment first and foremost with this one, and it pays off. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray carries over the commentary from the old DVD release and offers a decent upgrade over that standard definition version.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      You nailed it, Ian. Definitely better than the DVD, with vibrant colors, but the image is a little too waxy at times. Still, I'm glad I've got it on Blu.
    1. John Bernhard's Avatar
      John Bernhard -
      Hoping Indicator / Powerhouse can give fans something better than this TT Blu.