The Brides of Dracula (1960)

Starring Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, Freda Jackson, David Peel, Miles Malleson, Henry Oscar, Mona Washbourne, Andree Melly

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: Moderate, I’ve heard this one was weak.


I can’t believe it, but it’s been a whole year since last October! I know, right, who woulda thought? What I’m getting at is that last October I watched my first Hammer Horror films, loved them and hoped to check out more during the following year. The DVD of The Curse of the Werewolf also came with The Brides of Dracula, so I thought I was well on my way to attaining that goal. I decided to wait a bit after October, but weeks turned to months, and while I got dangerously close to watching this a number of times during the past few months, I instead decided to just wait until October and go for the whole full circle thing. Watching The Brides of Dracula has reminded me of something I had somewhat forgotten in the wake of my first Hammer films: that Hammer films are incredible! Oh man, I have no idea how I survived for so long without ever seeing one, as these would have been instant classics with me during my horror-starved adolescence.

The Brides of Dracula is an interesting Dracula movie in that there’s no Dracula! Spoiler alert for the first film in this series, but Dracula got plumb fucked up! The sun streamed down as he lay on that lovely zodiac wheel on his tile floor, and Dracula turned to ash. So I’m not totally surprised that in the sequel he’s still dead; there’s not really a way to come back from that, is there? OK, OK, there must be, because Hammer brought Christopher Lee back for the next film, and honestly I’m quite interested to see how exactly he does come back from that. But anyway, The Brides of Dracula! Don’t be fooled by the title, this isn’t specifically about Dracula’s brides, although the Dracula stand-in does eventually have a little harem going on.

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The Mummy (1959)

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley, George Pastell, George Woodbridge, Harold Goodwin, Denis Shaw, Willoughby Gray, Michael Ripper

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. The Mummy was my favorite Universal horror film as a kid.


For the final film of my four film Hammer series, I decided to go with the hallowed tale of The Mummy, a standby favorite monster of my childhood via the 1932 Universal film starring Boris Karloff. What was always interesting to me about that film was Karloff’s vulnerability and the fact that while he was killing people and generally doing wrong, he had a reason to do so that was understandable. He was a sympathetic monster and coupled with the copious Egyptian motifs, I was powerless to the power of the mummy.

So going into Hammer’s take on the tale, there was a pretty high hill to climb. Unfortunately, I can’t say what I’ve said in all the previous Hammer reviews, that “This one is even better than the Universal version!” I stand firmly by the original, and while I did greatly enjoy Hammer’s film, I thought it was slower than it needed to be. When your monster is a shambling corpse wrapped in ancient bandages and caked with thick swamp mud, you do get something of a pass, but I can’t excuse away all of the film’s crawling pace.

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The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Starring Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Josephine Llewelyn, Richard Wordsworth, Hira Talfrey, John Gabriel, Warren Mitchell, Anne Blake

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. Loving these Hammer movies, love the werewolf character.


Hammer continues to impress with this stunning rendition of an old, tired tale. Once again they choose to go in a completely opposite direction from the classic Universal film, delivering a film that is not only better, but incredibly so. How did they manage such a feat? By following their tried and true method of focusing on the characters. The Curse of the Werewolf is not quite epic in its scope, but it does seek to present a nuanced portrayal of a life in its entirety. This is the werewolf by way of Charles Dickens, and I loved it.

The first half hour or so is dedicated solely to setting up the origin of the werewolf in question. And not just his childhood, but the series of events leading to his conception! This is the first of many wonderful strokes of genius and is easily my favorite section of the film. A beggar seeks food and drink, but is turned away by the poor townspeople as all their food reserves have been given to the Marquis for his wedding day. One of the boisterous men jokingly suggests that the beggar should go to the party and seek his handouts there. The beggar, oblivious to the joke, decides it’s a better plan than any he’s had all day and sets out down the road. I don’t want to ruin anything so I’ll stop here, but suffice it to say this is one of the best half hours I’ve ever seen in classic horror cinema. Perhaps it’s just my intense love for revenge stories and the hard extremes presented here. I can’t say for sure, but I thought it was brilliant.

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Dracula (1958)

Dracula (1958)
AKA Horror of Dracula

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Carol Marsh, Olga Dickie, John Van Eyssen, Valerie Gaunt, Janina Faye, Barbara Archer

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. Love Dracula, loved the first Hammer movie I saw.


Based on the success of The Curse of Frankenstein, Hammer decided to make more movies in a similar vein and Dracula was next in line. It seems like a natural fit for the studio, with intense characters and gothic visuals bursting forth from the source material. While I don’t think it’s as good of a film as The Curse of Frankenstein was, Hammer’s Dracula (Horror of Dracula in America) is an engrossing, enjoyable slice of celluloid cake. As with all of these standard horror monsters, the stories are all part of our culture. From a young age, we teach our children about vampires and their weakness to garlic and sunlight. All of these vampire bullet points show themselves here, but what makes Dracula interesting is the slightly varied take on the events of Bram Stoker’s classic novel and the wonderful performances from the entire cast, just like in The Curse of Frankenstein.

Peter Cushing is absolutely phenomenal as Dr. Van Helsing, playing the cool, collected vampire hunter with an ease rarely seen on-screen. He’s all hero here, tracking Dracula’s movements and staking vampire hearts. The difference in the character from Baron Frankenstein, and Cushing’s ability to make Van Helsing his own, shows just how good of an actor he is. Perhaps this shouldn’t be worth mentioning, but in this day and age when we have people like Tom Cruise and Will Smith that literally bring the exact same style and cadence to nearly every role they are given, I think it warrants a quick aside. And let’s not forget Christopher Lee as Dracula! Lee played Frankenstein’s monster as well, and his ability to inhabit both characters so flawlessly is impressive. After seeing Dracula, it’s clear to me that the success of Hammer Studios wasn’t simply due to the filmmaking or the enhanced violence for the time. It is thanks in large part to the wonderful work of their cast, of which Cushing and Lee were the stalwart anchors.

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The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Starring Peter Cushing, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee, Hazel Court, Valerie Gaunt, Noel Hood, Melvyn Hayes, Paul Hardtmuth, Fred Johnson

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: Moderate. I’m excited to finally watch a Hammer movie after years of buildup, but I’m trying to remain grounded.


For my first Hammer Horror movie experience, I figured I’d begin at the film that started it all, The Curse of Frankenstein. Would you expect me to do anything else? Hammer had done some similar productions prior to this, but The Curse of Frankenstein was their first horror film in color and the one that kicked off their very successful series of revisionist horror films featuring the classic monsters. As such, it is a very impressive, competent movie, exhibiting quality filmmaking from every corner.

At this point in my life, I feel like I’ve seen enough Frankenstein movies. They are all relatively similar, and what is different usually isn’t different enough to care about. This is a big reason why I never actively pursued these Hammer Horror movies, because at some level I felt they’d just be simple retellings of the classic Universal movies, albeit in color with more daring gore. This is where The Curse of Frankenstein sets itself apart though, because in spite of all the odds stacked against it in my head, the film has such an interesting take on the story that it is not only worth watching, this is quite possibly my favorite Frankenstein of all. It definitely blows the 30s Universal movie out of the water for me, no disrespect to that movie intended. It is iconic and all that, but it can’t hang with this version of the tale in my eyes.

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Announcing the 2nd Annual Horrific October!

Yep, it’s that time again. Time for me to completely lose all control and give in to my wild desires of only watching horror films. Last year was a blast, and even though I’m more pressed for time these days, I’m gonna do my best to make this year just as awesome. I’m dividing my efforts into three main categories this year, which are:

Classic Japanese Horror

Featuring:

The Ghost of Yotsuya [Tôkaidô Yotsuya Kaidan] (1959)
dir. Nobuo Nakagawa

Jigoku [The Sinners of Hell] (1960)
dir. Nobuo Nakagawa

Onibaba (1964)
dir. Kaneto Shindō

Kuroneko [Yabu no naka no kuroneko] (1968)
dir. Kaneto Shindō

Full Moon Films

Featuring:

Vampire Journals (1997)
dir. Ted Nicolaou

Subspecies 4: Bloodstorm (1998)
dir. Ted Nicolaou

Parasite (1982)
dir. Charles Band

Castle Freak (1995)
dir. Stuart Gordon

Hammer Horror

Featuring:

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
dir. Terence Fisher

Dracula [Horror of Dracula] (1958)
dir. Terence Fisher

The Mummy (1959)
dir. Terence Fisher

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
dir. Terence Fisher

So there you have it! I’m pumped to finally be checking out these flicks, as just about every one has been on my ongoing “To Watch” list for several years. I’ve always heard about the Gothic beauty of Hammer Horror but now I will finally see what all the fuss is about for myself. Same goes for the work of Nakagawa and Shindō. Cannot wait. And depending on time I might sneak in a few more random movies, but I’m not promising anything.

The extravaganza kicks off October 4th with Vampire Journals!

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
AKA “The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula” & “Dracula and the 7 Golden Vampires”

Starring Peter Cushing, David Chiang, Robin Stewart, Julie Ege, John Forbes-Robertson, Shih Szu, Chan Shen, Lau Kar Wing, Robert Hanna, Lau Wai Ling

Directed by Roy Ward Baker & Chang Cheh (uncredited)

Expectations: Low. It’s a team-up, I’m not expecting much.


 

For my first foray into Shaw Bros. horror, I picked the film poised to unite the two renowned cult studios of Hammer and Shaw in one great grab at the money from both studio’s fans. Honestly, I don’t know how the film’s production came about, who asked who and all that, but I do know this. The Hammer studio was a giant at the time, primarily making lavish Gothic Horror productions on small budgets with great actors. The Shaw studio was also a giant at the time, primarily making lavish Kung Fu epics on small budgets with great actors. Wait a minute… Yes, I’ve always viewed the two studios as brothers from another mother, banging out their brand of films for the huddled masses. The idea of both studios producing one movie may be too much for celluloid to contain. Realistically, the film could never live up to these kinds of expectations though, so I tried to go in with the mentality that team-ups are always less than the sum of their parts.

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