As many who listen to my Baron’s Crypt show which has been airing since 2014 of January, I started about two years ago, doing a segment called Horror Icon, the plan to achieve 666 icons, in all fields of horror. Now plenty of writers choose icons of those still living to comment about their careers and upcoming projects, which is very good, however going back to those that contribute and build the foundation of the horror genre very important. Often enough those picked have the most famous names Price, Lee, Cushing, Karloff, Corman, Hitchcock, and many more, therefore I choose for this new column someone who worked with all these important men. While this column won’t appear every month, when it does the special name shall be chosen, and none finer than The Queen of Scream, Hazel Court.
Who was Hazel Court?
Her name, not as familiar as that of actresses Betsy Palmer or Elvira, but for others, that cherish the gothic cinema and Hammer Studios this name brings back fond memories. For the literary fans, those that know of Stephen King’s writings, he’s one of Court’s biggest fans to this day, and often mentions her in his novels, some manner or another, even the slightest hint. She was born on February 10, 1926 in England and by the age of fourteen, she fondly studied drama at a few of Birmingham theaters. However, the titles “horror queen” and “icon” didn’t start until after the exceptionally popular The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) from director Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster, based from Mary Shelley’s famed story Frankenstein, and starred with the leading men of the time Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Other “scream queens” of the era, the actresses were known more for their screams only of that time however, Court’s roles often relied on not only her ability to “scream” but she also portrayed women with a strong villainous nature or feistiness that reminds some of Betsy Palmer and her willingness to show her cleavage to entice others, similar to Elvira. Her fanbase grew with the steady supply of films such as Premature Burial (1962), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), but actually the b-movie sci-fi flick Devil Girl from Mars (1954) helped her achieve a cult status and other filmmakers saw her propelled her to cult status and brought her fan mail. She continued her appearances in films and also on many small screen television shows including Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and also was involved in art with her fan Vincent Price, before spending almost 10-years on the convention circuit meeting fans. In the final year of her of life, she wrote her autobiography, Hazel Court: Horror Queen, who died on April 15th, 2008 of a heart attack.
Why should horror fans of today care?
Any fan of classic horror especially that of the Roger Corman era and Hammer Studios, who crave for more the original meaning of gothic, needs to recall those who contribute to the roles, especially with strong female characters, such as Hazel Court. Recalling for the moment, Court thought of career in comedy films she got the opportunity to star in low-budget production in 1954, called Devil Girl from Mars, (everyone starts somewhere) which surprisingly went on to appear on big screens, then and at special events even today. However, three years later, this led her to becoming Hammer Studios first major star and awarded her all sorts of praise and treated her as an equal to her male counterparts. Hazel recalled in various articles that the cast and crew that often worked together on various Hammer productions were as a loving family, and Peter Cushing a kind soul and delightful to work with on set and a pleasure offset. If anyone ever read anything about Cushing, they knew it was a very true statement, he clearly was born in the wrong century.
Hazel starred again with Christopher Lee for her second role for Hammer Studios on the lesser known film, “The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959)”, which struggled with the censors due to the eroticism and violence of this famed studio. The Masque of the Red Death (1964) directed by Roger Corman and a story from Edgar Allan Poe, was her best-known film of her career (that many regard as a correct statement) starred her as Juliana bride to the infamous Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), her sexual presence and death became praise-worthy from her fans.
What makes her a horror icon?
She’ll be remembered for her roles in gothic horror classics with the ability to project a seductive charm and yet able to stand feisty to opposition. Her last role, a cameo, portrays her in director Graham Baker’s The Final Conflict (1981) aka Omen III, where she served champagne to some fox hunters, likely unintentional her first uncredited role had her as Tipsy Champagne Drinker in Champagne Charlie (1944). In addition, Hazel constantly reminded aspiring actors “never have any onset tantrums… You enjoyed doing it, and you didn’t ever think of yourself as special.”
from Funky Moped featuring images/photos of her roles.
List of Selected Filmology:
The Final Conflict (1981) R | 108 min | Director: Graham Baker | Stars: Sam Neill, Don Gordon, Lisa Harrow
Premature Burial (1962) Unrated | 81 min | Director: Roger Corman | Stars: Ray Milland, Hazel Court, Richard Ney, Heather Angel
The reference materials used for this article, (located in my private library) along her films:
- Fangoria (US) – April 1990, Iss. 91, by: Tom Weaver, “Queen of ’60s Horror”
- Femme Fatales (US) – September 1 2000, Vol. 9, Iss. 4/5, pg. 90-95, by: Ted Newsom, “Hammer Heroines–Hazel Court: The ‘Devil Girl’ Diva on Hammer, the European Cut, Corman, Cushing, Carnage, Edgar Allan Poe and ’60s Pulchritude”
- Video Watchdog (US) – June 2008, Iss. 140, pg. 16-23, by: David Del Valle, “Bewitching Hazel: A Personal Memoir”