Founded in 1934, Hammer is one of the oldest and most successful film companies in the world! But it wasn’t until 1958’s “Horror of Dracula” that Hammer Films officially leapt onto the world stage. Hammer made good use of the recent lax in censorship by adding buxom virgins dressed in sheer nightgowns, savage vampires and liberal use of the now infamous technicolor, “Hammer blood.” The red stuff seemed to ooze out of every crypt, staked vampire heart and across the luscious red lips of the female vampires.
Hammer also launched the careers of several distinguished actors like Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing and Ingrid Pitt. Due to the nearly 300+ titles in the Hammer oeuvre, this list will focus on the more classic, gothic horror films produced by Hammer.
10. Vampire Circus
Schtettel, an isolated and disease riddled village in middle Europe has been quarantined from the rest of the world; only a mysterious circus convoy manages to pass through the blockade. But instead of bringing joy and wonder to the weary citizens of Schtettel, the circus brings unimaginable horror and carnage due to an age old curse placed upon the village by Count Mitterhouse, a bloodthirsty vampire. It is soon discovered that the leader of the circus caravan, Anna, a former lover of Mitterhouse, has uncovered the castle crypt and unleashed the vengeful Count upon the citizens of Schtettel.
A very bold and bloody Hammer film, even from its humble beginnings as a script, Vampire Circus has gone on to become somewhat of a cult classic. The film has some terrific fight scenes between the citizens of Schtettel and the vampire horde and also features a truly terrifying and downright nasty performance from the tragically under appreciated, Skip Martin.
If you’re in the mood for lots of technicolor “Hammer Blood” and ample cleavage, but don’t mind a bit of hammy acting from some of the supporting characters, then Vampire Circus is for you!
Skip Martin in Vampire Circus
9. The Brides of Dracula
Marianne, a young schoolteacher, played by the beautiful Yvonne Monlaur, is on her way to the Badstein Girl’s Academy when her journey is suddenly interrupted. She decides to spend the night in a nearby castle occupied by an elderly recluse and his servant. Late at night, Marianne decides to roam the castle alone and happens upon a charming young man chained to the castle floor. The young man happens to be the Baron of the castle, and after some enticing, convinces Marianne to release him from his chains. As you expected, the Baron turns out to be a vampire and quickly disposes of the servant and the elderly recluse before chasing after Marianne. Luckily Marianne runs into the arms of Van Helsing, played by the great Peter Cushing, and the two prepare for battle against the blood crazed Baron.
The Brides of Dracula is a rare film in the Hammer canon in that the Baron, baring a strong resemblance to Dracula, is not played by Hammer regular Christopher Lee, but instead by David Peel. The film features some terrific performances from Peter Cushing and Yvonne Monlaur and also has one of the best demises for the film’s villain that involves a burning windmill. This is a must see for diehard Hammer fans and newcomers alike!
8. Captain Clegg
In 1776, a mulatto pirate is punished for assaulting the wife of the ruthless Captain Clegg, played by Peter Cushing. The pirate has his ears severed, tongue removed and is left marooned on a deserted island. Several years later, in the village of Dymchurch a young Captain Collier is investigating reports of brandy being illegally smuggled as well as reports of “marsh phantoms” haunting the nearby countryside. Captain Collier soon discovers that “marsh phantoms” are none other than the former comrades of Captain Clegg, who faked his death and has been passing himself off as the harmless town vicar.
Captain Clegg is a very interesting film in that it veers away from the typical, supernatural horror genre that Hammer had become known for and instead focuses on a more historical drama piece with no real “monsters,” that is unless you count Captain Clegg. This is for fans looking for something a little different from the countless “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” films being churned out by Hammer at this time.
Oliver Reed in The Curse of the Werewolf
7. The Curse of the Werewolf
Yvonne, a mute servant girl is tragically raped by an evil beggar while trapped in the village dungeon. A kindly Don Alfredo has pity on the young girl and decides to taker her into his home. Yvonne dies while giving birth to Leon, played by a young Oliver Reed , but the boy is able to live a somewhat normal and privileged life as the adopted son of Don Alfredo. But as Leon reaches adulthood he begins to experience terrible bouts of rage and persistent, nightly dreams of drinking blood and running with wolves. A nearby farmer’s flock is soon found mangled by an unidentified animal. Don Alfredo, afraid for his adopted son and fearing the worst, consults a priest who informs him that Leon has been cursed with Lycanthropy. After a night of heavy drinking, Leon transforms into a werewolf with the full moon and attacks and kills several of the town villagers. Leon is imprisoned for his crimes but soon escapes and is chased across the rooftops of the village until the film’s climatic finale.
The Curse of the Werewolf features a stellar performance from future powerhouse actor, Oliver Reed and also shows off an excellent and truly unique looking werewolf. A bit risqué for its time due to the rape scenes, The Curse of the Werewolf has truly stood the test of time and stands alone as THE ONLY, Hammer werewolf picture!
A wealthy, English family suffers tragedy when the father and mother perish in a plane crash, leaving the three children their considerable inheritances. Soon after the accident, the oldest brother commits suicide, leaving just the younger brother and his sister. The remaining brother, Simon, played by Oliver Reed decides to drive his already fragile sister Eleanor, into insanity in order to inherit the entire estate. But Simon’s plans are thwarted when a mysterious stranger claiming to be their dead brother shows up at their doorstep.
A lesser known gem of a film, Paranoiac features a very unsettling performance from the always exciting, Oliver Reed, a horror mask that puts Michael Myers to shame and is easily one the scariest entries in Hammer’s vast library. If you’re a fan of psychological thrillers or even pseudo slasher films, Paranoiac is the perfect choice for your movie night.
5. The Woman in Black (2012)
Arthur Kipps, a young, widowed lawyer and father played by Daniel Radcliffe is tasked with the sale of Eel Marsh House, an estate situated on a particularly perilous strip of land surrounded by a deep bog. Arthur is also instructed to search the house for any documents left behind by the former occupant, Alice Drablow. Upon arriving in the quaint village, Arthur finds the villagers unwelcoming, all except a Mr. Jerome who agrees to drive him to Eel Marsh House. Just before leaving for the house, Arthur discovers a curse upon the house and surrounding village children who seem to frequently “off themselves” in tragically alarming ways. Once inside Eel Marsh, Arthur finds some documents between two women named Jennet and Alice. Jennet blames Alice for labeling her mentally “unfit” to raise her own child whom Alice has adopted and barred from seeing his true mother. Jennet soon hangs herself in grief but not before placing a curse upon the town’s children. Arthur soon discovers that Jennet is the feared “Woman in Black” and attempts to appease the vengeful spirit before she takes his own son’s life as well!
I know what you’re thinking, “this movie isn’t a Hammer film, it came out a couple of years ago.” Well yes, it came out in 2012 but Hammer films has experienced somewhat of a revival recently and The Woman in Black was one of its’ modern, flagship films. I’m going to warn you now, this movie is scary and very, very dark. The film depicts numerous children being killed in sometimes gruesome fashion and is not for the faint of heart. However, this movie has some really great atmosphere and moments and if you’re up for a challenge, turn up the volume on this film and see if you can keep yourself from jumping in fright just once.
4. The Hound of the Baskervilles
According to legend, Sir Hugo Baskerville was killed by a “hound of hell” after murdering a young girl on Dartmoor. Over 100 years later, an ancestor of Hugo is found dead upon the moors, supposedly frightened to death. Historian Dr. Mortimer, fearing for the sole remaining heir to the Baskerville fortune, Sir Henry, elicits the help of none other than Sherlock Holmes himself, played by Peter Cushing. The pair discover that a local convict has escaped and is loose upon the moors, but the convict is soon found dead, mutilated in accordance with a sacrificial rite. Can Sherlock Holmes discover the truth behind the Baskerville killings or will Sir Henry also succumb to his family’s grisly demise?
The Hound of the Baskervilles is generally considered to be one of the best Hammer films ever produced. It has a truly ensemble cast which make great use of the original story material. Peter Cushing plays a very believable Sherlock Holmes and the film still has some truly chilling moments, seemingly inspiring future filmmaker, John Landis and the early scenes from his own creature film, An American Werewolf in London.
3. Dracula: Prince of Darkness
A pair of brothers and their wives are stranded on a remote country road when they regrettably decide to seek shelter in a nearby castle, despite the earlier warnings from the locals. The group discovers that the castle is in fact not abandoned, but attended for by a lone and creepily wonderful servant known only as Klove. Klove, played subtly but brilliantly by Phillip Latham, encourages the guests to spend the night in the castle. One of the brothers wanders off to explore the castle, as so many do in the Hammer films, and is soon stabbed to death by the murderous Klove and used as “human fertilizer” to reanimate the dusty corpse of Count Dracula. Dracula rises from his coffin and begins to seduce and terrify the local citizens, that is until a somewhat reluctant priest vows to kill the foul creature once and for all!
A lot of people will give me flack for this pick, but I still feel it truly has some of the best moments from any Hammer film. Critics of this film also hate the fact that Christopher Lee’s Dracula doesn’t utter a word throughout the film but instead hisses and growls his way to the film’s icy climax. Rumors have circulated that the reason Christopher Lee didn’t have any lines in the film is that he thought the film’s original lines for his character where so bad that he refused to say them, this I can neither confirm nor deny. Whether the truly gory way in which Dracula is resurrected or his wholly unique and watery demise, Dracula: Prince of Darkness gives you the best bang for your buck!
Christopher Lee in The Curse of Frankenstein
2. The Curse of Frankenstein
In a dark, mountain prison, a priest listens to the last confession of the doomed Baron Frankenstein played with relish by Peter Cushing. The Baron confesses to conducting several experiments along with his assistant, Paul, on a recently deceased highway robber, but the robber’s brain lacks the required intellect needed for Frankenstein’s creation. In an act of desperation, Frankenstein murders the brilliant, Professor Bernstein for his brain and places the murdered professor’s brain inside the robber’s skull. But the brain is soon damaged during an argument between Paul and Frankenstein. On a particularly stormy night, a stray bolt of lightning animates the hideous corpse played by Hammer great, Christopher Lee. Deranged due to his damaged brain, Frankenstein’s monster attempts to strangle its master but is quickly restrained. The next morning Baron Frankenstein discovers that his monster has escaped and killed a young girl before being mortally wounded by a rifle bullet. It looks like a sad ending for the Baron and his monster, or is it?
The frankenstein monster in this film is truly hideous, he practically oozes with hate and the gore effects in this film have held up surprisingly well! Featuring excellent performances from Hammer powerhouses Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, The Curse of Frankenstein is Hammer Films firing on all cylinders!
1. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter
When a young girl is found drained of her youth, Dr. Marcus summons the help of his former compatriot, Captain Kronos and his hunchbacked assistant, Professor Grost. The trio set off to investigate the suspicious Durward family and on the way they stumble across a beautiful gypsy girl played by Caroline Munro. After questioning the two young heirs to the Durward castle and their bed ridden mother, the group sets off in search of the elusive vampire. Dr. Marcus is attacked by the foul creature and Captain Kronos is forced to kill his beloved friend to keep him from joining the ranks of the undead!
This is the pinnacle of Hammer horror! Originally intended as the first film in a trilogy, Captain Kronos has gone on to be synonymous with Hammer horror, and rightfully so! Our hero wields a samurai sword and a surefooted attitude to go with it! But Captain Kronos really shines when it incorporates some truly obscure and archaic vampire lore into the narrative, specifically when Kronos and his assistant attempt to track the film’s antagonist. If you haven’t seen this film you are truly missing out! This film has all the best parts of Hammer horror; a rich, vibrant story, the moody protagonist, a beautiful heroine, gallons of “Hammer blood” and some of the best action scenes in any Hammer film, period.
These might not have the best scripts, production values or actors attached to them, but to me, they are some of the most entertaining films Hammer has made.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is the result of Hammer Studios and Shaw Brothers Studio, best known for their kung fu films, deciding to coproduce a film together. What could go wrong? A lot…a lot could go wrong but a lot did go right! The film features a rag tag group of warriors on a quest to extinguish a vampire menace terrorizing the local villages. Hammer Studios provides the typical gothic mood while the Shaw Brothers sprinkle in some excellent, choreographed kung fu action! This movie is just plain fun, go see it!
The Vampire Lovers
An almost soft core porn flick mixed with extreme violence, The Vampire Lovers had the film censors red with anger when it was released in 1970. This film is Hammer’s attempt to keep up with the rising tide of violence and sex in films being released at the time and in that, it succeeds. The film is a rough retelling of the pre-Dracula vampire story, Carmilla and casts the lovable Ingrid Pitt in the lead role. A very enjoyable film especially for fans of generous nudity and grisly violence, The Vampire Lovers is the first and by far the best film in the “Karnstein Trilogy.”
The Satanic Rites of Dracula
This is what I consider the grindhouse installment in the Hammer Dracula franchise. The film is grainy, the sound quality is poor and the acting is pretty hammy BUT this movie is fun. For fans that feel that some of the Hammer films drag a little bit, this is the film for them! The Satanic Rites of Dracula is action packed and you almost forget its a Hammer film at times, with the nonstop action and “modern” setting. I particularly love the ending to the film and feel that it is another one of my favorite Hammer “Dracula demises,” up there with the one in Dracula: Prince of Darkness. I mean anyone can jam a stake through Dracula’s heart but who has the balls to kill Dracula with a glorified rose bush?
Erick Wofford’s poster for “You Go Where It Takes You.”
Erick Wofford is a writer/director and independent filmmaker best known for his award winning short film, The Music of Erich Zann. He has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign for his next short film entitled, You Go Where It Takes You. The campaign is offering props, DVD’s, soundtracks and custom posters for the film! Please show your support for indie filmmakers!
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