If you haven't guessed by now, I love a horror movie with atmosphere. When a movie can suck you in and feel unique, that's the sign of a great movie. Luckily for me, throughout the 50's, 60's and 70's, Hammer Studios managed to put out a slew of horror films that fit this bill perfectly. Many of you may be familiar with these films but many, especially here in the States, may not.
Each Hammer Horror film was trip back in time to a different era. Throughout the years, the studio built a trademark look and feel which became quite popular in midnight features on TV. Not only was the studio known for its classy takes on cerebral horror, it was also known for beauty. Hammer held a stable of beautiful and talented women that held a unique stature and grace. Many women got their boost to stardom in the hallowed halls of Hammer and in turn they gave us many characters to feel for, lust after, and fall in love with.
Here today, I give you a list of 8 Hammer Films to Die For. My list is not indicative to all that Hammer has to offer by any means; there are many more out there. This simply is my list of personal favorites and a great introduction to the studio to those who aren't familiar. So enjoy, and prepare yourself for a horror film that is far and away outside the confines of what makes modern horror. If you are already a fan, be sure to share your own favorites as well!
For those not familiar with the genius acting skills of Christopher Lee; this roll is where it all began. Want to know why Christopher Lee is so sought out for iconic cameo roles such as Saruman in "Lord of the Rings" or Count Dooku in "Star Wars"? Then you need to see this man don the fangs and go to battle against Peter Cushing. While an odd start for the well known bloodsucker, Lee only had around twelve speaking lines in "Dracula"n all in scenes with Jonathon Harker, he manages to own every scene with his huge frame and menacing stare. Also, "The Horror of Dracula" is a great introduction to Hammer horror as it showcases the period settings that they are known for, as well as their trademark dripping atmosphere.
Rest assured, while Christopher Lee was indeed a legend in the stable of Hammer stars, there was one actor that actually outdid him in both skill as well as output. That man was Peter Cushing. Many of you may recognize this man with his brief flirtation with outer space as Grand Moff Tarken in the original "Star Wars" but to some of us, he was known long before that as none other than Victor Frankenstein.
Given a vehicle of his own, Cushing manages to own every aspect of this well known character. In my mind, most anybody when asked about the Universal Studios "Frankenstein", they will undoubtedly remember the monster itself and not as much about the Doctor that brought him to life. Cushing manages to take this character and bring it to the forefront. This isn't horror in the conventional sense; they are never going to jump out and scare you. Instead, we are given a more intellectual flavor of horror that focuses on a man's complete disregard for humanity in the pursuit of a dream.
Hammer enjoyed pumping money into sequels as much as any other film studio, and that was the case with "The Brides of Dracula". This time around however we lose out on Christopher Lee and his fangs and we get a new story that ties in with the loose translation of Bram Stoker's original. The original Dracula is dead, so now we are treated to his protege Baron Meinster who his luring women in left and right across the countryside. What makes this film remarkable is that we receive a more fleshed out role for Peter Cushing's Van Helsing, more developed from the original "Horrors of Dracula". In addition, we also start to see Hammer studios formula for buxom beauties that would come to prominence over the years and become a staple for what the studio is known for.
Cushing was so stellar as Doctor Frankenstein before, why not make a new movie based around the same character? In "Frankenstein Created Woman", just as the title suggests, Hammer has opted to change up the formula for Mary Shelly's original and throw in some breasts to boot! While this is indeed an enjoyable aspect, there is more at work under the bodice here. We also get to see the further downward spiral and disregard of humanity from Victor Frankenstein which delivers us an excellent extension of the classic original story.
Always standing out first and foremost with an air of regalness, the majority of Hammer films are period pieces, often centering on vampires. They like you to think they’re classy, what with their atmosphere and period costumes. However, all of that is nearly always a front, to cover up their own unique sense of pervertedness, as the Hammer Studios always held a stable of buxom babes, and they weren’t afraid to use those weapons. "The Vampire Lovers" played on their well known standing as a vampire house and served as a vehicle to prove just how sexy they can be. Here we are introduced to the power house of sexuality that is Ingrid Pitt and the charming innocence of Madeline Smith. Not merely just a scare story with fangs, "Vampire Lovers" focuses on the corruption of innocence with a hint of evil. And boobs. Loads and loads of boobies.
Do you love busty women in period corsets? Then you’re in the right place! Here we are with yet another Hammer Studios period flick, dripping with atmosphere and cleavage! And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. This time around we get a Hammer Vamp story with a twist. With a heavy dose of Salem Witch Trial style zealotry, we have a vampire film with two antagonists instead of one. Also giving this foray into fangs a new spin is in Hammer’s departure from their standard vampire canon and with a new origin line to vampirism, this time dealing with Satanism. In addition to your typical Hammer staples, we are also treated to a loose attempt at the formation of a trilogy here, which helps add to the depth of the story. "Twins of Evil" continues on the tales of the Karnstein family introduced in "The Vampire Lovers", something that was new for Hammer at the time.
There is so much to love about this film that quite honestly it’s impossible to choose where to start. So we’ll start with the details. Always masters of the atmospheric, Hammer Studios excels at timeless period pieces along with a heavy Gothic atmosphere to go with them. Where the true fun lies however is in the vampire mythos employed for this bout of undead slaughter. Where Hammer has set their own mythos in stone throughout the years, they set forth to destroy it all in one fell swoop.
In Captain Kronos we learn that there are many species of vampires. In fact as many different species as there are insects. With different species lies different methods of death, and that is where the true beauty of Kronos lies. A true highlight of the film, when their dear friend Dr. Marcus is converted to the dark side, he wishes for death before he can wreak havoc and murder across the country side. Seeing this as an excellent opportunity for experimentation and to let them know what they are truly up against, Kronos and Grost tie Marcus to a chair and set about their various methods to see which one shall be the true killer. No less than three methods into the experiment, Marcus groaning and wailing in pain all the while, the good doctor is finally laid to rest accidentally as Kronos slaps him in the chest driving the arm of his silver cross home.
Ever wonder what it would be like if somebody took the good old fashioned Gothic Transylvanian Dracula and dropped him into 1972 London? Me neither, but Hammer Studios went ahead and spelled it out for us! I’ve always touted Hammer Studios and their mastery of atmosphere. This time however, Hammer missed the mark a bit, and now we’re treated to something that’s a little hokey, a little goofy, and a little too out there to hold interest. Have you ever wondered what Dracula would be like in the hip, happening 70’s? Again, me neither. Still, the movie is put together with Hammer's high standards of production and stands out as a campy and bizarre take on the classic man in black.