That caveat aside, this is a rather splendid set of four of Hammer's adventure films of the Sixties with a nice array of extras - including audio commentaries on all four films - and trailers to compliment the fine widescreen transfers.
The Pirates of Blood River is infamous as the pirate movie that takes place entirely on land (well, you do at least see a ship at sea from the shore). Kerwin Matthews is the rebellious youth trying to bring moderation to the fiercely religious island community of exiles who finds an even bigger problem when Christopher Lee and his band of pirates land on the island in search of the founding fathers' hidden treasure, and aren't too bothered by how many villagers have to die finding it. Sporting an eye patch, a good accent that strangely makes him sound like a French Max Von Sydow and a henchman called Hench, Lee is a villain so cool he doesn't even sweat, and if the movie isn't a great high adventure it's an entertaining programmer. A problem picture for Hammer, who couldn't decide whether to go for a restrictive X or a general U certificate, it went back and forth with the censors several times (the main casualty was the amount of blood in the water after the piranhas lunch on one character). None of the censor trims have been restored here, but the film boasts a good 2.35:1 widescreen transfer.
The Devil-Ship Pirates is an entertaining pirate romp from Hammer that's a part of studio legend. Hammer built a Spanish pirate ship for the film planning to reuse it on other pictures. Unfortunately, it was a death trap - the woodwork was so bad the decks would give way under people's feet and it was so unseaworthy that even in calm landlocked waters the thing would capsize, nearly drowning cast and crew. Things got so bad that even the parsimonious Hammer burnt it for real in the final scenes!
The film itself isn't as good as the story behind it, but it's a neat premise - the crew of Christopher Lee's Spanish privateer convince a small village that the Spanish Armada defeated the British to give them time to make repairs - well executed and an entertaining enough way to fill an hour-and-a-half on a Sunday afternoon.
It's all too easy to understand why Terror of the Tongs is such a rarity now - forget the political incorrectness, the most terrible thing about it is the sheer tedium. One brief scene of mild off-screen torture, a couple of badly choreographed fights and a LOT of sitting around talking to French or Irish actors pretending to be Chinese makes for a very, very long 80 minutes. Lee is mostly inert throughout the movie and has little to do, leading lady's Yvonne Monlaur's thick French accent and bad makeup make a mockery of her every scene and a plot which somehow manages to mix revenge, opium ("the pipe of dreams"), brothels, corruption, secret societies and murder and do nothing of even the remotest interest with them leaves you wondering how many irreplaceable body cells died while you were watching. The only pluses are Arthur Grant's photography and Bernard Robinson's typically beautiful production design and sets, both better than anything you'll see in even the best of Harry Allan Towers' superior Fu Manchu series, but other than that the most memorable thing in the film for me was the curious fact that, made up as a Chinaman, Marne Maitland looks just like my dog - and I don't think she'd be flattered by the comparison!
Only the existence of 'George and Mildred' stops this from being one of Hammer's very, very worst. Dull, but don't let that put you off the set - it's more than worth it for the other films.
The Stranglers of Bombay is much more like it. Directed by Terence Fisher at the peak of his powers, it's slightly more accurate than expected - some research has been done into the Thugs, which is more than can be said for Gunga Din - but is still closer in tone to Victorian melodrama than history. Guy Rolfe is typically laid back as the officer trying to persuade the apathetic East India Company to investigate a series of disappearances only to be ignored and ultimately replaced by the a particularly idiotic candidate who went to the right school. Investigating on his own, he soon comes up against the followers of Kali, with results that should entertain anyone who likes Fu Manchu and his ilk. It's particularly interesting just how critical the film is of the British mismanagement of India - although more an Old Boys' network here than the otherwise unemployable dregs of the Empire that made up the Honorable Company's ranks overseas in reality, rather than agents of civilisation, their concern is purely with the bottom line. It's a fast-paced 80 minutes with many of the usual 'British' suspects - George Pastell, Roger Delgado, Tutte Lemkow and Marne Maitland - in black face in the supporting cast, and better production values than you might expect from the obviously low budget.
It's strange that the film is such a rarity since there are many more politically incorrect films still in circulation: maybe its down to the controversy that greeted it on its first release. Nonetheless, well worth a look if it crosses your path, especially in a good widescreen transfer in its original 'StrangloScope!'