Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hammer Horrors: An A to Z Appreciation

In my house, watching a Hammer movie every Halloween is a tradition. While I love the Universal monster flicks, too, I grew up on Hammer's colorful, lively, gothic fright classics. With special thanks to my Cafe collaborators Toto and Sark, here's my A to Z tribute to the British House of Horror.

The Abominable Snowman (aka The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas). Don't look for scary monsters in Nigel Kneale's surprising spin on the search for the Yeti.

David Peel as Baron Meinster.
The Brides of Dracula. My favorite Hammer Dracula film and Drac isn't even in it! Instead, we get the devious Baron Meinster, an innocent French lass, Peter Cushing's second appearance as a dynamic Van Helsing, and--yes--that shadow from the windmill!

Cushing, Peter. When Hammer launched its Frankenstein franchise, it made a brilliant decision to focus on the doctor and not the Monster. But it wouldn't have worked without the remarkable Peter Cushing, who evolves his characters subtly from film to film.

Charles Gray, looking more suave
than sinister here.
The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil's Bride). Expecting a Dracula film here? Well, I'll plug the underrated Dracula Has Risen from the Grave quickly, but then move on to The Devil Rides Out. It's a creepy tale of a Satanic cult set in the 1920s with Christopher Lee as the intelligent hero and Charles Gray as the downright disturbing cult leader.

Elder, John. This was the pseudonym used by producer Anthony Hinds when writing screenplays for some of Hammer's finest films: The Kiss of the Vampire; Curse of the Werewolf; Frankenstein Created Woman; and many others.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Arguably, the best of the Frankenstein series, showing how fully Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) has transformed into a monster himself.

The Gorgon. Something is turning residents of a small German village into stone in this wonderfully atmospheric tale helmed by Hammer's top director, Terence Fisher.

Cushing as Holmes.
The Hound of the Baskervilles. This brisk adaptation of Conan Doyle's classic has aged remarkably well, with Cushing making his case as one of the best Sherlock Holmes and Andre Morell ideally cast as a serious Watson.

I Only Arsked. This comedy, adapted from the British TV series The Army Game, is not a horror movie at all. But I still find its title kinda frightening and, since I couldn't think of another "I", it gets an entry on this list!

Jekyll, Henry. Hammer mounted two serious versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story. In The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Henry is portrayed as a bore while Hyde is handsome, charming--and evil. In the later gender-bender Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde...well, the title tells all.

The Kiss of the Vampire (aka Kiss of Evil). A honeymooning couple encounter an aristocratic vampire family in a small Bavarian town. A near-perfect vampire film, with some critics claiming it inspired Roman Polanski's delightful The Fearless Vampire Killers.

Lee in his most famous role.
Lee, Christopher. He redefined Count Dracula for a generation of horror film fans--but also excelled at playing other monsters (Frankenstein Monster, The Mummy), villainous pirates, and unlikely heroes. A less likely choice for "L" is Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a bizarre mix of kung fu and vampires which is way more fun that one would expect.

The Mummy. This lively remake of Karloff's film presents a more physically imposing--and quicker moving--Mummy. Its smashing entrance through the glass doors of a study is an iconic scene and evidence that maybe the French critics were right when they proclaimed director Fisher an "auteur."

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (aka Never Take Candy from a Stranger). Forget about the "B" movie title and prepare yourself for a gripping, very well-acted tale about a case of possible child molestation in a small Canadian town. The monsters in this film are all of the human variety.

One Million Years, B.C. It probably cemented Raquel Welch as the premiere sex symbol of the 1960s, especially with the poster featuring her in an animal-hide bikini. But let's not forget about Ray Harryhausen's incredible dinosaurs either.

The Phantom of the Opera. I almost opted for Ingrid Pitt due to pressure from my Hammer friends. Instead, we'll go with Phantom of the Opera, an under-appreciated version of the Gaston Leroux novel, with an excellent Herbert Lom as a sympathetic Phantom.

Quatermass and the Pit. Nigel Kneale, who adapted his own television serial, uses science fiction to explain the supernatural in a one-of-a-kind tale about an unusual craft uncovered during a subway excavation. Andrew Keir proves to be the definitive Professor Bernard Quatermass.

The Reptile. Cornish villagers are dying from what the locals call the Black Death. But why does one of the victims have a snake bite on the neck? And what's going on up at the sinister Dr. Franklyn's house? This well-made effort wisely unfolds as a mystery and hold attention even after the culprit is revealed.

The Snorkel. This clever suspense film boasts one of my all-time favorite opening scenes and, yes, it does involve a snorkel. It loses a little steam along the way, but nevertheless will keep you guessing about the outcome.

Both twins look innocent in this picture.
Twins of Evil. Two pretty lasses relocate to a Puritan village to live with their uncle and aunt. One of them falls under the influence of the evil Count Karnstein and becomes a vampire. But with one good twin and one bad one, things quickly become complicated. This was the last of the Karnstein Trilogy, which also included The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire.

The Ugly DucklingHammer's first take on Jekyll/Hyde was this 1959 comedy about a meek pharmacist who takes a drug and becomes dashing Teddy Hyde. The same twist was used again, in a serious vain, in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll.

Vampire Circus. One of Hammer's later vampire pictures, this tale about a traveling carnival of bloodsuckers has become a minor cult film. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't seen it, though it's bloodier than Lee's Dracula films.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Hoping to duplicate the success of One Million Years, B.C., Hammer cast Victoria Vetri (aka Angela Dorian, a former Playboy Playmate) as a damsel amid the dinosaurs. When I saw it at the movie theatre, you could pick up a flyer that provided translations of some of the cave people's words. Useful!

X: The Unknown. Before The Blob, Hammer released this entertaining yarn about a radioactive glob that emerges from the Earth. The unlikely cast includes Dean Jagger, Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey), and Anthony Newley.

Yvonne Monlaur.
Yvonne Monlaur. Yes, it's a bit of cheat, because I used her first name, but this French actress is a favorite among Hammer fans with her performances in The Brides of Dracula and The Terror of the Tongs.

Zombies. Hammer's only zombie outing was a good one, Plague of the Zombies, in which another small Cornish village becomes the site of a voodoo-practicing squire who turns the locals into the walking dead.


  1. Hammer and Halloween! They go together so wonderfully. Great list, filled with classic films, great actors, a pseudonym, and a comedy?. Great job, Rick, and Happy Halloween!

    1. Thanks, Toto! This year's Hammer viewings included THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (the highlight), TWINS OF EVIL, and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.

  2. Rick, another great A-Z entry. I haven't seen anywhere near all of these. Your enthusiasm for Hammer has recently inspired me to catch some of the ones I hadn't seen, and now I'll have to add more to that list! An interesting fact about "X-the Unknown": It was originally to have been directed (under a pseudonym) by blacklisted Joseph Losey but he was replaced before shooting began. Some say this was due to illness, others that Dean Jagger objected to Losey's politics. He did finally get to direct "These Are the Damned" for Hammer and although it was marketed as typical Hammer fare it really wasn't.

  3. R.D., I recall your excellent review of THESE ARE THE DAMNED on your blog The Movie Projector. It was indeed atypical for Hammer, but Hammer actually made a lot more than horror films. DEVIL SHIP PIRATES is an entertaining land-bound pirate movie, NEVER TAKE CANDY is a thought-provoking social commentary, and CASH ON DEMAND is a nifty two-person suspense film.

  4. An excellent and entertaining list of all things Hammer. I agree that "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" is one of their finest films, and a film any studio would be proud to have their name on. It easily could have snagged a Best Picture nomination and one for Freddie Jones for Best Supporting Actor, and I'm not joking.

  5. Nice job, Rick! You covered most of the Hammer highlights, and manged to cram in some fun lesser-known titles as well. Glad to see some love for THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, my two all-time favorite Hammer films. A fine capper to what's been a very busy Halloween season for you...kudos!

  6. Great list Rick! I caught up on some Hammer Horror this Halloween with "Dracula Has Risen From the Dead," "Dracula Prince of Darknness," "Frankenstein Created Woman" and my favorite of the group the "Revenge of Frankenstein."

  7. Rick, you and your collaborators have put together a wonderful list! I've seen just about all of the movies on there, except for Vampire Circus, Twins of Evil, and I Only Arsked (that title probably doesn't sound strange in Liverpool!) I love Hammer, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing especially. And I thought Brides of Dracula was great, even though they weren't in it. Your description of The Mummy was hysterical: "... -- and quicker moving--Mummy." It is harder to get away from that one!

    Of course I adore The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas. Do you remember when the Cafe first started and I did an article about that movie? We couldn't agree on whether it was Himalayas or Himalayans -- you were right of course, darn it -- it was Himalayas!

  8. Very cool list! It keeps me in the Halloween mood even though it's over!

  9. a lot of goodness here...short, descriptive and to the point...but...I would bote Brian Donleavy as the "definitive" Quatermass in the two Val Guest directed films!!