Hazel Court didn’t exclusively shot horror movies, but she’s still remembered for her contribution to some genre classics. Often projecting smoldering sensuality in her roles, Mrs. Court remains a lasting memory for fans of fantasy cinema aged over thirty (of which the old fart writing these lines belongs to). We’re far from the so-called modern queens of horror, thankfully, and other anorexic but still silicone-endowed femmes fatales. In short, I’m not feeling guilty in being nostalgic when talking about this Siren.
Born on February 10, 1926, in Handsworth, Birmingham, England, Hazel Court is a real redhead, by the way. Since data on her childhood is nowhere to be found, we can only note that she debuted in small repertory theater companies around her area. She knocked on the doors of the famous Ealing Studios, as a bomb raid was taking place, during WWII. Her first film was Champagne Charlie in 1944, as she was 18 years old and her only line of dialogue was “I never drank champagne before”, in a tale paying homage to British music hall life of the 1860s.
Our actress would then shoot many light comedies and B police dramas. Her first fantasy film is Ghost Ship in 1952, where she shared the screen with her first husband, Dermot Walsh. In it, we can hear Hazel sing the Popeye cartoon theme song! On a very small budget, the script involves a couple and their newly-acquired haunted yacht.
In 1954, Devil Girl from Mars appeared on big screens, an indescribable sci-fi cult movie. A sexy female Martian invader, wearing tight dominatrix leather, arrives at a Scottish inn, alongside her faithful robot servant (the later looking quite ridiculous, like many of its ’50s counterparts). She informs the patrons that planet Mars just went through a cultural revolution and females are now in power. Her objective on Earth is to capture vigorous men to bring back to her home world, in the goal of breeding them with her fellow sisters, thusly creating a new master race. Hazel plays a disillusioned model struggling with this unlikely story. As you can probably guess, it’s a far cry from 2001: A Space Odyssey… but there are more laughs here than in Kubrick’s head-scratcher.
1957 remains the year that we can assuredly denote that Hazel Court became a true Cult Siren, with the arrival of Curse of Frankenstein in theaters (she could also be named a finalist in the Breathtaking Cleavage Contest). As this was Hammer Studios’ first horror hit, we could already find actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in lead roles, as they would become worldwide stars following the success of this production. Of course, the film was a turning point in the horror genre, as more graphical scenes of violence would become more and more popular in years to come (as would the sexual content… did I not mention cleavage?). Now 30, Hazel would begin another phase of her career. Her four year old young daughter, Sally Walsh, also has a role.
Soon after, Hazel joined the cast of the American TV series Dick and the Duchess on CBS, alongside Patrick O’Neal. This move opened the way for numerous television appearances, most memorable being those for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, four roles between 1958 and 1961. One of them showed us Hazel being transformed by her jealous husband (played by Laurence Harvey) into chicken feed. She also guest-starred in many more TV series, such as Thriller, Mannix, Bonanza, Mission: Impossible, The Twilight Zone and The Wild, Wild West.
Hazel’s second horror role for Hammer would be The Man Who Could Cheat Death, once more alongside Christopher Lee and a specialist in cold and blaséd aristocratic roles, Anton Diffring. The later plays a sculptor who unusually finds a way to stop the aging process. Not the most memorable film at first, this warrants a second viewing to really delight in the most macabre plot point; sadly, this title is pretty hard to find. There’s always been a rumor that a nude scene was shot for the foreign market, which was confirmed by Hazel herself in an interview with Bruce Hallenbeck in 1990, where she talked about showing her breasts when posing for the (lucky) sculptor. In 1961, Hazel could be seen in Dr. Blood’s Coffin, relating the adventures of a doctor experimenting with giving life to the dead or such nonsense. Faithful to the genre products of the era, this can be appreciated by any fan of sixties horror.
Next, Hazel would solidify her status as a cult favorite in shooting three projects for prolific American director Roger Corman, all being part of his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. She would co-star with Ray Milland in The Premature Burial, the least known of the trio. A guy is so afraid of being buried alive (???), that… but I presume that you can fill in the blanks. Then came The Raven, an horror comedy starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson. For once, there’s no forced humor and the actors have a field day. As a villainous character, Hazel seems to have the time of her life.
The Masque of the Red Death in 1964 is probably her most well-known role and surely her best performance. As Juliana, bride of Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), her sex-appeal is at its peak and her tragic death (a bit on the bloody side) is one of the film’s highlight. The could be Corman’s best film, as it was often compared to an Ingmar Bergman project! Extraordinary cinematography, unforgettable images, excellent actors… What can one ask for more considering that this project remains one of the most brilliant in the horror genre in the sixties?
Busy year was that 1964, as Hazel wed American director Don Taylor (responsible among many others for Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Damien: Omen II, The Final Countdown and many TV series). They met while shooting an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. From this point forward, Hazel would concentrate on guest-starring on television shows, the last of these appearances being for MacMillan and Wife in 1972. She would devote herself to her family (having had a son with Taylor) and discovering new talents for painting and sculpting. There would be a small cameo for Omen III: The Final Conflict in 1981, where she would end her performing career by serving champagne to some fox hunters, an odd remembrance to her only line in her first movie, Champagne Charlie. To this day, she still lives in California. Hazel can also be seen in a 1997 documentary on Hammer Studios, Ted Newsom’s Flesh and Blood.
Even with Don Taylor’s death in 1998, Hazel was still recently active on the conventions circuit, charming fans with her great availability and class. I always have the impression that she’s too often forgotten in listing the great horror actresses. Her inclusion here is then well deserved.
1944 Champagne Charlie; Dreaming 1946 Carnival; Gaiety George 1947 Hungry Hill; Dear Murderer; Bond Street; Root of All Evil; Meet Me at Dawn 1948 Forbidden; Holiday Camp; My Sister and I 1952 Ghost Ship 1953 Counterspy 1954 Devil Girl from Mars; Scarlet Web; Tale of Three Women; Present for a Bride 1956 The Narrowing Circle; Behind the Headlines 1957 The Curse of Frankenstein; Hour of Decision 1958A Woman of Mystery; Model for Murder 1959 The Man Who Could Cheat Death; The Shakedown; Breakout 1961 Mary Had a Little…; Dr. Blood’s Coffin 1962 The Premature Burial 1963 The Raven 1964 The Masque of the Red Death 1981 The Final Conflict