1. What is your favorite of the Hammer Frankenstein films and why?
Kevin: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Probably Peter Cushing’s best and most ferocious performance in the series, a haunting turn by Freddie Jones as the creature, one of the greatest shock scenes in Hammer’s filmography (the burst pipe), an intelligent and adult screenplay and a devastating ending. Not one to send the audience out with a smile on their faces. Oh yeah, and Veronica Carlson too. Runner-up: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), one of the saddest horror movies ever made. Yes, saddest. Just heart-wrenching in parts.
|Victor Frankenstein confronts his
creature in The Curse of Frankenstein.
I don't quite believe it coincidence that the creature resembles a horridly burned victim of radiation, much like those poor souls who perished at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Christopher Lee imbues the creature with a sublime gentleness, mostly reflected in those sad eyes, a victim himself of science gone mad. To hide its face in shame, to be self-aware of its deformity is a pity...and Victor Frankenstein is to blame! He and his Promethean ego.
Terence Fisher's direction is wonderful, structuring the film in flashback and never shying away from the Technicolor gore (though tame by modern standards). I also like the tracking shot when the creature is first revealed, and compare it to John Ford's famous close-up in Stagecoach when he introduces John Wayne! Though Victor's head is eventually placed on the chopping block, nothing in the Hammer universe is ever what it seems.
2. What is your favorite of the Hammer Dracula films and why?
Sark: Brides of Dracula. It takes a consummate film to make viewers forget that the imposing Christopher Lee as Dracula is nowhere to be found. Hammer has always been known for methodically paced, gothic period pieces, but this movie is, at its very basic, a romantic action film. Cushing shines the brightest as Van Helsing, and Yvonne Monlaur is an appealing love interest. Drop in some vampires, and you've got first-class cinema!
|Christopher Lee surveys a victim in
runner-up Taste the Blood of Dracula.
Alex: The first of a series is once again my favorite: Dracula. Though director Terence Fisher cuts Stoker's narrative to the bone, excising exposition and Victorian misogyny, Fisher does create a wonderful action film that is well paced and well bled. I prefer Hammer's version to the classic Universal which is well shot, I've always like Tod Browning's work, but it's too meek and visually reserved. Stoker’s text is rich with sensual delights underscored by some dreaded Freudian fear of women empowered by liberation from chaste cultural mores.
Fisher’s mise-en-scene conveys information so the story can jump cut quickly to the next setup. For example, as Van Helsing searches the castle for his cohort Jonathan Harker, he discovers a shattered picture frame. In one shot we learn the who, what, when, why, and where, of Dracula’s next appearance: he’s in search of the beautiful Lucy and her precious bodily fluids. This is compact storytelling that wastes little time with lengthy establishing shots or obtuse dialogue, and propels the journey towards its candelabra climax!
3. Although Hammer is most famous for its two series above, the studio made plenty of other quality movies...some with monsters and some without. What are some of your other favorite Hammer films and why do they appeal?
|Oliver Reed, filmed from underneath
the water, in Paranoiac.
|Charles Gray as the dapper villain
of The Devil Rides Out.
But there are other standouts that are often overlooked because of the Hammer label, yet have little to do with horror or science fiction. Two great War films Yesterday’s Enemy and The Camp on Blood Island make David Lean’s epic look like melodramatic kids playing at war. Director Val Guest imbues these films with brutal honesty, never shying away from the tough (and unfair) responsibilities that men face during wartime. The Nanny is a great thriller with Bette Davis, owing as much to Hitchcock as to director Robert Aldrich. And it has one of the creepiest kids since Jack Clayton’s The Innocents or Mervyn Leroy’s The Bad Seed!