Hammer Horror Gems and More
By Kristin Battestella
While mostly known for its vast array of horror and mayhem movies, in its day, Hammer Films produced quite a good dose of vampires, adventure, and fantasy, too. Here’s a quick helping of some of the Brit Studio’s fun and scares.
Countess Dracula – Ingrid Pitt (The House That Dripped Blood) and Leslie-Ann Down (North and South) lead a fun supporting cast in this 1971 Hammer juicy recounting the bloody derangement of Elisabeth Bathory. The time and place is a little Hungarian unspecific, but the accents are real for once- as opposed to the usual tendency to over-Anglicize. However, I am surprised Pitt was dubbed. It’s a very good voice job, but I can’t believe her own accent wasn’t good enough. The costumes are also simply glorious, and candlelit interiors and period touches set the tone perfectly. There’s great castle facades, stone workings and secret passageways, winding stairs, lovely ironwork, a sweet looking castle library, and plenty of boobs, blood, and kinky. Whew! This must have been shocking at the time, but now the naughty is just right in adding twists and scares. Director Peter Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula) keeps things similar to other Hammer vamps but also finds something unique among those same old confoundedly resurrected and silent Draculas. A few viewers might not like the non-all out horrorfest expected, but the historical elements and gothic feelings are bloody good fun.
The Mummy (1959) – Hammer perennials Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee team again for this well paced if somewhat familiar plot. Though he looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon in some scenes and is styled more like a Bond henchman doing the evil deeds of late Victorian villain George Pastell (also of The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb); Lee’s reanimated and mummified priest Kharis is dang menacing but no less tragic in his violence and lost love. His overbearing stature works wonders against the intelligent and suave archaeology gentleman Cushing- whether he’s in the dirty wraps or decked out in great Egyptian costumes, color, and brightness. The sets, however, could use some work, as the exteriors are a bit, well, plastic looking instead of mighty stonework monolith. Yvonne Furneaux (Repulsion) is also a lovely but slightly lightweight façade that’s a little out of place with Cushing’s take action and dueling wit. Fortunately, the musical charms accent the Egyptian suspense and cap off the scares beautifully. Toss in some humor and great fun and this version equals total entertainment.
She (1965) – Ex-soldiers John Richardson (One Million Years B.C.) and Peter Cushing leave 1918 Palestine in search of the lost city of Kuma- ruled by the titular Ursula Andress (Dr. No) and her high priest Christopher Lee. Meow! Though the pre-history adventure angles may seem as if Hammer is branching too far from its Horror bests, this one is a fun and entertaining desert romp. Perhaps Bernard Cribbins (Doctor Who) as Cushing’s batman is sometimes a little too Brit servant humor and some of the jokes might be lost on today’s younger viewers. The speaking volume is also soft against the music and some of the tribal elements are stereotypical of both the sixties and the onscreen post- Great War attitudes. Otherwise, the sets are fun, the ladies juicy, and the action well paced. What’s not to like?
The Vampire Lovers –Ingrid Pitt and Peter Cushing star in Hammer’s kinky 1970 adaptation of Carmilla, and this one all but has it all! It doesn’t look dated one bit, is still very well paced, and keeps up the entertainment through out. Very nice fog and castle moods, early 19th century frocks and wispy nightgowns, sparkling candelabras and jewelry- it all sets the tone for plenty of blood, fangs, bites, and lots and lots of boobs. The askew, black and white dreamlike photography and scary outdoor locations set off the definite lesbian juiciness, but fans of girl on girl vampire action and those of straight horror can both enjoy alike. The virginal Madeline Smith (Live and Let Die) ups the vampire prey, Kate O’Mara (Dynasty) is also darkly enchanting, and Pippa Steele (of the follow up Lust for a Vampire) is a real screamer! Okay, the opening narration is a bit much and the music is kind of loud but really, no quibbles here. Now if only the two sequels were readily available stateside!
The Viking Queen –This 1967 ancient Britain yarn starring Don Murray (Bus Stop) and Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who) suffers a touch from its lack of notable Hammer stars- though priest Donald Houston (The 300 Spartans) is twisted fun. Fortunately, the scenery is also lovely, and all the chariots and gear are glorious. Even with the sweet costuming and colors, there’s a faded or grainy photography that makes the battle action –though small scale- quite authentic looking. We’re closer in plot to Boadicea than Vikings, yes, but there’s plenty of whipping and pillaging to make up the difference. The star crossed Druid versus Roman love and war also comes across honestly, and the debate and action are well paced. Some will find this bad and dried up, I’m sure, and perhaps this one could have been bigger and better, indeed. For those who like a little sword and sandal action of old, we have an entertaining little piece from director Don Chaffey (Jason and the Argonauts) that feels more like an Ode to DeMille than the expected Hammer guts and glory. Who knew?