The Horror Honeys: The Bloody Camp of Hammer Studios

The Bloody Camp of Hammer Studios


A Guest Honey List of Favorites from Lauren

I have a serious weak spot for Hammer films. What’s not to love? They’re big, brash and British, with bright red blood, heaving bodices, dark rites and sexual deviance. Some excellent British character actors have made their way through Hammer over the years, including its two most resplendent stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. But Hammer was also home to Herbert Lom, Andre Morell, Hazel Court, Oliver Reed, Robert Urquhart, and Michael Gough. If you don’t know the names, there’s no doubt that you know the faces. While the following list is heavily weighted towards the Cushing/Lee productions, many of them directed by Terence Fisher – which, let’s face it, are among Hammer’s finest – they are by no means the only Hammer's worth while. They’re just some of the best. 
Horror of Dracula

Or, just Dracula, as some prints insist. Whatever you call it, Hammer’s first Dracula feature is the most iconic. Starring Christopher Lee as our favorite undead villain and Peter Cushing as his arch-nemesis Van Helsing, Horror of Dracula comes bathed in bright red paint, lit by flashing fangs and not just a little bit of vampiric lust. Armed only with some crucifixes, a wooden stake and good old fashioned Englishness, Cushing and his crystal blue eyes take on Christopher Lee’s red-tinted ones, with predictable results. All of the requisite hallmarks of Hammer are here, from scenes of extensive exposition to pale maidens with impressive décolletage and, of course, a few pints of that glorious Hammer blood. Come for the Gothic architecture, stay for the fangs. With Hammer mainstay Michael Gough treading water in the background, Horror of Dracula is both gloriously camp and camply glorious.

Curse of the Werewolf

Oliver Reed was born to play a werewolf. A shirtless werewolf. That’s all you really need to know about this movie, but if you insist: Reed is your neighborhood werewolf, inheriting his trait from his nasty father. But he’s really just a nice boy who wants to sleep with the local don’s daughter, despite being parentless and…a werewolf. It’s actually a sweet and oddly touching story about a young man who does not deserve what happens to him. Reed is quite sympathetic as the poor little puppy who just wants to be loved. Sex and death, as always, are right at the top for Hammer Studios, and this one doesn’t skimp. It’s actually quite shocking in places, from an implied rape to the more pleasant sight of a very shirtless young Oliver Reed. 

The Abominable Snowman

The Abominable Snowman is technically a horror film, but it’s also a lot more than that. It’s an odd production for Hammer, and not just because it’s black and white. Peter Cushing is on hand as the most English Englishman to ever English, heading up a Himalayan expedition to search for the mythical Yeti. Things start going weird, though – this is Hammer – and take a turn for the worse the higher up into the mountains the team goes. With an army of Americans behind him, Cushing does his thing for science. It’s a remarkably thoughtful film, though, providing another type of chill than one might expect. The Abominable Snowman is actually one of my favorite Hammer productions for being so very different.

The Brides of Dracula

The Brides of Dracula doesn’t really involve Dracula so much as … not. In fact, the King of Vampires comes nowhere near this film, except for a glancing mention at the beginning. In any case, it’s a damn good movie; about a French governess in a low cut dress (is there any other type of French governess?). She’s abandoned in a Transylvanian village and takes up residence in the local spooky castle after no one else will protect her. Confronted with a creepy Baroness and a handsome young man chained up in his room, the girl does the only reasonable thing and lets the guy go. Turns out he’s a vampire, which no one expected.

The Brides of Dracula is actually one of my favorite Hammer films, despite the lack of Dracula. Peter Cushing is as enjoyable and comforting as ever as Van Helsing, guardian of Victorian maidenhood. But the female roles are filled with more than just heaving breasts (not to worry: there are those too). The women often get very little to do in Hammer movies, beyond being victims, but in this one we have at least three pretty tough ladies, in various capacities. I also like to think that Dr. Van Helsing finally gets the girl in the end. 

The Curse of Frankenstein

While not my absolute favorite Franky film (more on that in a minute), The Curse of Frankenstein is a pretty good one. The good Doctor is none other than Mr. Peter Cushing (yes, he appears in almost all of my favorite Hammer films, but that’s because he’s AWESOME). Frankenstein is far from the semi-sympathetic madman that Mary Shelley created and Colin Clive originally brought to life. Cushing’s Franky is a nasty bastard who wants to resurrect the dead, sleep with chambermaids, and cause problems for everyone who comes in contact with him. Co-starring a sadly underused Christopher Lee as the Creature, Curse of Frankenstein provides a number of scares while unfortunately falling a little short of the mark. Never mind, though: watch it for Cushing and Lee, and then carry on with my favorite Frankenstein film as though nothing ever happened. 

Frankenstein Created Woman

THIS is my favorite Franky film. While Frankenstein might be an evil bastard in Curse of Frankenstein, he’s a total maniac here. It takes awhile to get going; there’s a long set-up involving the death of an accused murderer as witnessed by his son. When you finally get to the crux of the film it’s a combination of madness, vengeance, and pathos the likes of which Hammer was so very good at. There are sadistic aristocrats, a tender love story, gushing blood, a lovely monster, and a few beheadings to round things out. Peter Cushing runs around quoting the Bible and trying to figure out how to capture souls. I cannot even describe how great this film is. 

Paranoiac

Oliver Reed only made a handful of films for Hammer, but he often acknowledged the importance of the studio in giving him his first major breaks. Paranoiac is sort of the poor man’s Psycho, but loads of fun nevertheless. Reed is a drunken lout – a major stretch – trying to drive his sister insane in order to get her inheritance. The arrival of a man who looks oddly like their dead brother, creating some serious problems, potential incest, and then … things become rapidly unhinged. The film turns on the performance from Reed, who is beautiful and vicious and enjoying himself just a bit too much. While somewhat low-key when compared with the wilder supernatural films, Paranoiac is a nice change of pace for Hammer. 

Dracula A.D. 1972

Sexed-up hippies! Dance parties! Resurrection of the Undead! These are the themes of Dracula A.D. 1972, the film in which Count Dracula is brought back to life to enjoy all the glories of the early 70s. The poor guy is incredibly confused for most of it, swaying around in a black cape, staring blankly at the Satanist hippies who raised him. The lead hippie is Johnny Alucard (DO YOU GET IT?!), who gleefully sets about performing black magic rites in the hopes of raising old Drac from the dead. The bloodshed and bizarre sexuality exhibit signs of Hammer’s slow decline into D-level flicks in the late 70s, but right now it’s good campy fun. There are some rather disturbing parallels with the Manson family killings only a few years before that somewhat color the enjoyment, though. Cushing and Lee are back in their original roles – the latter looking pretty confused for most of the film and the former evidently feeling a bit ill. Both leads are pretty game for the film, even if it does seem to insist that Dracula will take the number 7 bus. Still, it’s one of my favorites of the Hammer Draculas for the sheer weird campiness of the whole enterprise.