The Horror Honeys: The Hammer House of Vampires!

The Hammer House of Vampires!

A Horror History "Vampire Month" List with Supernatural Honey Suzanne

Hammer Productions started in the mid-30s with a handful of films, but its first run was short-lived and they folded after two years. In 1938, Exclusive Films resurrected Hammer to produce cheap, domestic films in an effort to fill in cinema schedules. It wasn’t until 1955 that Hammer became the “House of Horror” that we all associate with the film company today. 

After the success of The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Hammer was looking for another big win with yet another horror mainstay, Dracula. There were nine films Hammer produced featuring our favorite bloodsucker and they are all tied together, more seamlessly than most film series, making this one of the first horror franchises. A franchise has to start somewhere and so we shall with the film that started it all and would adorn actor Christopher Lee with the most recognizable character in his career.

The Horror of Dracula (1958)

After hashing through the copyright issues with Universal, Hammer gave us their own version and the first in a long line of vampire films. Directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, The Horror of Dracula would give us something Universal’s version didn’t: blood. Shot in glorious Technicolor, that beautiful Hammer blood is bountiful and adds a welcome, albeit unrealistic, bit of gore. This is based on the Stoker novel so there is no need to rehash the plot. Lee is joined by his good friend and onscreen nemesis, Peter Cushing as Dr. Van Helsing. 

The Horror of Dracula is available on DVD and Amazon Instant video.

The Brides of Dracula (1960)

Dracula was a success, so in 1960 Hammer followed it up with The Brides of Dracula. Terrance Fisher was once again at the helm and Cushing reprised his role of Van Helsing, but Lee was unwilling and rather than replace him, they just cut out the character altogether. This was probably a wise move in the grand scheme of things. Instead, Dracula was replaced with Baron Meinster (David Peel), an acolyte of the master. This film is all about the ladies and their new master, The Baron. It’s not my favorite of the series, but it’s watchable.

The Brides of Dracula is available on BD

Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

The next installment in the Dracula series sees Christopher Lee back in the cape, as the Count is brought back after his ashes are mixed with the blood of a hapless victim. His death at the end is pretty original, departing from the usual sunlight and stakes formula. The unique aspect of this film is that Dracula never utters a single word, he merely hisses. There is debate over why he doesn’t speak. Lee claims the dialogue was deplorable and he refused to speak it, while screenwriter Jimmy Sangster said he never wrote any lines for the character. I don’t know about you, but my money is on Lee’s version. Regardless, Prince of Darkness is what I consider to be a more direct sequel to the original film and one of my favorites in the series. Peter Cushing, sadly, only appears in the prologue. 

Dracula: Prince of Darkness is available on BD.

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968)

The fourth entry in the series is taken over by director Freddie Francis and stars Lee, in his third appearance. Dracula is once again resurrected by blood and terrorizes a village. Here Dracula’s castle has been cleansed so he cannot enter. His mission is to destroy the exorcist and reclaim his power. Things go pretty much as expected and good triumphs, ending with our beloved Count impaled on a cross. Let’s face it, people, these films, like any other franchise, don’t become more compelling as time goes on and we are only on film four.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is available on DVD, Amazon Instant Video and soon to be released on BD.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)

All of the Dracula films have an undercurrent of revenge, but this entry is pretty straightforward once you get past the ridiculous opening, that is. We open as we closed in the last film, with Dracula (Christopher Lee) impaled on the cross. A businessman, having witnessed the death, takes off with Dracula’s cape, ring, and some dried blood. These items are sold to a man named Courtley, who mixes Dracula’s dried blood with his own. He drinks the mixture and transforms into Dracula. He vows to take revenge on those who would not help him. These titles keep getting more literal.

Taste the Blood of Dracula is available on DVD, Amazon Instant Video and soon to be released on BD.

Scars of Dracula (1970)

After his resurrection, Dracula (Christopher Lee) returns to Transylvania where he goes on another virgin killing spree. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, this would see the end of the Dracula period films, as Hammer went back to the basics and recycled elements of Stoker’s original story. Due to it’s heavy violence and gore, Scars would be the first Hammer film to receive an R rating. Critically panned and hated by both Lee and Ward, it has gone on to become a fan favorite.

Scars of Dracula is available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video.

Dracula A. D. 1972 (1972)

Done with the Gothic atmosphere, Hammer wanted to modernize and opted to bring Dracula into contemporary London. Christopher Lee is back in his sixth appearance as Count Dracula and is joined once again by Peter Cushing who returns as a descendant of Van Helsing. Unlike the other installments, this film begins with a completely new flashback rather than the final scene from the previous film. It’s full of hippies and horrible music. On the upside, it also has Stephanie Beacham and Caroline Munro. This is my least favorite of the series. To say it’s dated would be an understatement.

Dracula A. D. 1972 is available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

A direct sequel to Dracula A. D. 1972, Rites brings back many of the same characters and cast. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing return in what would be their final Hammer film together and Lee’s final performance as Count Dracula. This entry is utterly ridiculous and involves, not only the occult, but government conspiracies and the bubonic plague. Dracula’s death in this film takes the cake as he meets his end in a bush with a fence post.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula is available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video.

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

After The Satanic Rites of Dracula, Christopher Lee decided enough was enough and declined any further involvement in the series. He was replaced with John Forbes-Robertson. In this final installment, Dracula meets his nemesis Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) for one last showdown. This time it’s in a village in China where Dracula offers support to six sad vampires who lost the seventh member of their gang. Van Helsing and a group of seven kung fu experts are out to destroy them all. Yes, it’s as hokey as it sounds, but if you like kung fu movies, this will be right up your alley. 

The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is available on DVD.

Despite the monotony of the storylines, which, as I stated, never really change or get more compelling, Hammer tried very hard to maintain a certain sense of continuity, first with Lee always in the title role and with the ever-present prologues showing the final death scene in the previous film, making the resurrections a bit more palatable.  

Aside from my nauseating love of Lee and Cushing, I’ve always loved Hammer’s style. The Gothic look and feel of the films, the gorgeous costumes, and their use of color gives these films an appeal which surpasses the absurdity of the plots. I would prefer to watch even the worst of these films over the best films in some contemporary franchises.

Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula
As if the testosterone driven bloodsucker films weren’t enough, in 1971 we were given a take on the Elizabeth Bathory mythology in Countess Dracula, starring Hammer darling, Ingrid Pitt as the Countess. This, during a time when Hammer was trying to compete with the mainstream film market, amped up its sexual content in lieu of being able to deliver more explicit gore.

Hammer also produced a series of vampire films known as The Karnstein Trilogy, loosely based on Carmilla, a novella by Sheridan Le Fanu. Those films include The Vampire Lovers (1970) –See my review hereLust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971).

Before the end of their reign, Hammer would produce two more films in their vampire cache; Vampire Circus (1972), which is a favorite of mine, and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974), more of an action film rather than straightforward horror, and was intended to be the first in a series of films, but, alas, it was not meant to be. Their last production would be in 1979. Of course the house that Hammer built would be remodeled in 2007, but that is a story for another time.

Which is YOUR favorite Hammer vampire film?
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