Monday, February 2, 2015

Book review - Hazel Court: Horror Queen (An Autobiography)

Review by Steve D. Stones

First, I'd like to thank my loving aunt and uncle for presenting this book to me as a Christmas gift in 2014. I feel very fortunate to have the book in my collection because it is not sold in the United States - and traveled from Court's native country of England to end up in my hands. The book was published by Tomahawk Press in Sheffield, England in 2008.

Court takes the reader on a chronological journey of her life from her birth in Birmingham, England, to the loss of her first love during the time of World War II, to her motion picture stardom, her marriage to director Don Taylor and on to her accomplishments as an artist and sculptor studying in Pietrasanta, Italy. Her sculptures have gained some international recognition over the years.

American audiences best know Court from her appearances in several Roger Corman films of the early 1960s - based on Edgar Allan Poe stories - such as Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963) and The Masque of The Red Death (1964). Masque of The Red Death is regarded as Corman's greatest film - and Court certainly adds to the greatness of the film - even after burning an upside down cross above her right breast in one scene.  Corman's films have given Court the reputation of  a "Scream Queen." 

Before acting in Corman's films, Court was cast in a number of Hammer Studios films in England, such as The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959). That same decade in the 1950s, Court starred in a low-budget sci-fi film that has gone on to earn international cult status - Devil Girl From Mars (1954). Court says she gets lots of fan mail because of this film.

Court also has the distinction of being the only actress who has ever starred with all of horror films' leading men at the time - Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, Ray Milland, Peter Lorre and Christopher Lee. She says working with these great male actors was a pleasure, and each treated her with great respect and professionalism.

Court enjoyed a successful TV career in America - starring in such big hit TV shows of the sixties - such as Bonanza, Rawhide, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. Director Graham Baker gave her a small walk on role in Omen III (1981) that she was not cast for - thinking no one would recognize the aging Court. Fans immediately poured out fan mail after seeing her on screen in Omen III after a long lapse in appearing in any films.

The biggest message the reader gets from reading Miss Court's book is that she has a very positive, upbeat personality - and never has anything negative to say about anyone. Her tone is as attractive as her good looks. Even those who have encountered her seem to have a very positive image of her.

An example of this is when Court met Winston Churchill in his garden as he was speaking to some of his goldfish. Instead of speaking of Churchill in a negative way for this peculiar behavior, Court sees this experience as part of Churchill's great genius.

Her daughter, Sally Walsh, penned the forward of the book and tells the story of her and Hazel accidentally hitting a policemen with their car on the way to Buckingham Palace. Instead of citing Court for reckless driving, the officer asks for her autograph - claiming he was a big fan. He then told Court that she could hit him with a car anytime - according to Walsh.

The book is filled with 200 beautiful, rare photos of various stages of Court's career from many of her film and TV productions. Some have never been published, and one is a topless photo of a scene cut from the American print of The Man Who Could Cheat Death.

Court passed away in April of 2008 at her Lake Tahoe residence in California. May her films live on for fans in generations to come. 

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