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Hammer horror films

Ingrid Pitt and Madeleine Smith in
Vampire Lovers (1970) - Roy Ward Baker
image sourced here.

Gore from Hammer

As the technical aspects of filmmaking became easier, and a lot less expensive, horror films became more flamboyant - and gorier - in the late Fifties. Taking full advantage of this, the British Hammer Studios embarked on the mass production of bloodcurdlers that became their calling card. In glorious Technicolour, and replete with scenes charged with sexuality, your basic Hammer horror was often misinterpreted as merely a means of titillation (as the years wore on, this judgment became less and less of a lie). There was clearly intelligence at work in both The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula, not least by the casting director (Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were teamed up for both films), and, in Terence Fisher, the company had found a true auteur. The Hound of the Baskervilles, filmed the same year as Dracula - 1958 - and utilising its two stars, is a wonderfully atmospheric version of Conan Doyle's crime thriller, with all concerned on top form. --Noel O'Shea


Hammer horror refers to horror films produced in the late 1950s through the 1970s by the British film studio Hammer Films. They made a series of horror films that were collectively known as Hammer's House of Horror.

What Vincent Price was to American International Pictures (AIP), Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were to the Hammer studio. Hammer horror begins with the 1957 film The Curse of Frankenstein, in which Cushing played the mad doctor, and Lee the monster. The two teamed up next year for 1958's Dracula, also known as The Horror of Dracula, in which Lee played the title Count, and Cushing played Dr. Van Helsing, his nemesis.

The two were paired over the following decades quite frequently, in a series of sequels to these pictures. Lee went on to become, after Bela Lugosi, the next most famous face of Dracula. He made six more Dracula pictures for Hammer:

Later films in the series tend to turn increasingly to self-parody, though Satanic Rites rivals Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in its amusing vision of hippie jive.

Other Hammer vampire films include the Karnstein Trilogy based very loosely on J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla:

These films featured Polish actress Ingrid Pitt, and were somewhat daring for the time in suggesting lesbian themes.

Cushing, for his part, went on to make five more Frankenstein films for Hammer, including 1959's The Revenge of Frankenstein. Cushing also appeared in Dracula sequels without Lee, such as 1960's Brides of Dracula, in which David Peel played an intriguingly decadent Count.

Hammer also made a 1959 remake of The Mummy, with Lee as the Mummy. Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde were visited in 1960's The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. There was also a Hammer Phantom of the Opera starring Herbert Lom (1962).

The Hammer horror films were hardly critical favourites when they appeared; critics accused them of being over-the-top gruesome in the manner of the Grand Guignol. For viewers of the twenty-first century, used to even gorier fare, the Hammer films seem tamer, more atmospheric and camp, yet at their best they can still be truly frightening. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammer_Horror [2004]

Ingrid Pitt

The Vampire Lovers, (UK, 1970) featured Polish actress Ingrid Pitt, and were somewhat daring for the time in explicitly depicting lesbian themes. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammer_Horror [May 2005]]

Dracula A.D. 1972 (UK, 1972) - Alan Gibson

Dracula A.D. 1972 (UK, 1972) - Alan Gibson
image sourced here.

Dracula A.D. 1972 (UK, 1972) - Alan Gibson [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

"Dracula A.D. 1972," starring Christopher Lee as the titular vampire, is one bizarre film. It starts with a prologue set in the 1800s: Lee's Dracula is shown in battle with his nemesis Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). As the title indicates, the main body of the film brings Dracula into the 1970s, where he battles Van Helsing's descendant (also played by Cushing). Also along for the horror is a young Stephanie Beacham as the second Van Helsing's lovely granddaughter.

The film tries to blend traditional vampiric horror with 70s style youth culture: thus the elements of sex (discretely), drugs, and rock 'n' roll permeate the film. To early 21st century viewers, the swingin' music, outrageous mod clothes, hairdos, and wannabe hip slang ("Weird, man. Way out") of the young cast may come off as more campy than anything else, but it does make the film fun.

Lee is compelling as Dracula: articulate and elegant, yet feral. Unfortunately, his screen time is sparse; his amounts to little more than a small supporting role. The real star of the film is Cushing as the 20th century Van Helsing. The classy Cushing projects real intelligence and ability as his character. He brings total conviction to every scene, and has solid chemistry with Beacham (although I think his hands come a little too close to her bosom in a couple of scenes--watch it, "Grandpa"!). "Dracula A.D. 1972" may be far from the best of the many Dracula films, but Cushing and Lee make it worthwhile. --Michael J. Mazza via Amazon.com

via by http://groovyageofhorror.blogspot.com/

see also: Hammer horror - 1972

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) - Terence Fisher

Another innovation, and one which took advantage of the studio's investment in a more expensive colour production, was the amount of gore in the film. Previously, horror films had not shown blood in a graphic way, or when they did it was concealed by monochrome photography. In The Curse of Frankenstein, it was bright red, and the camera lingered upon it.

The film itself is directed excitingly by Terence Fisher, with a lavish look that belies its modest budget. Peter Cushing's performance as Baron Victor Frankenstein, and Lee's as the imposingly tall, brutish monster provide the film with a further veneer of polish.

The film was an enormous success, not only in Britain, but also in the USA, where it inspired numerous imitations from, amongst others, Roger Corman and his American International Pictures. It also found success on the European continent, where Italian directors and audiences were particularly receptive.

The Curse of Frankenstein provided the studio with a template which they stuck to for around the next ten years. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hammer_Horror [Jul 2005]

see also: Hammer - 1957

The Stranglers of Bombay (1960) - Terence Fisher

Films with conceptually challenging ideas, such as The Stranglers of Bombay or Peeping Tom, can still be difficult to discuss outside of cult horror circles, even forty years after their release. --http://dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s363hichcock.html [Jul 2005]

The Stranglers of Bombay (1960) - Terence Fisher [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

One of Hammer and Terence Fisher's most notorious and Sadean horror movies, about the thuggee atrocities in India in the 1820s. Guy Rolfe battles against a fatal sect of Kali worshippers whose mascot is a sexy teenager called Karim (Devereux). As men have their tongues pulled out or are castrated, Karim drools and wriggles so much that the film became a cult sensation on the continent and was cut in England. Actually, it isn't at all bad, even on a straight adventure level, and the Karim figure remains one of the purest incarnations of evil in all of Fisher's work. Be prepared for a few laughs, though, as rural Bucks is substituted for the sweltering plains of India. --DP via Time Out Film Guide 13 via http://www.timeout.com/film/75469.html [Jul 2005]

see also: Hammer - 1960

The Devil Rides Out (1968) - Terence Fisher

The Devil Rides Out (1968) - Terence Fisher [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The Devil Rides Out is a Hammer Horror film starring Christopher Lee and Charles Gray. It also starred Emmerdale actor Patrick Mower and Paul Eddington. It was released in 1968 and directed by Terence Fisher. The screenplay, based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley, was written by 'Hell House' author Richard Matheson. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil_Rides_Out [Jul 2005]

Countess Dracula (1972) - Peter Sasdy

Countess Dracula (1972) - Peter Sasdy [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
image sourced here.

Ingrid Pitt in Countess Dracula and The Vampire Lovers
Polish-born actress Ingrid Pitt's erotically supercharged presence is the highlight of this double bill of vampire chills from Hammer Films. In Countess Dracula, Pitt stars as an aging noblewoman (inspired by the real-life Erzebeth Bathory) who discovers the secret to eternal youth in the veins of young virgins, while in The Vampire Lovers (based on J. Sheridan LeFanu's "Carmilla"), Pitt's sensuous bloodsucker seduces Hammer starlets Madeleine Smith and Kate O'Mara and incurs the vengeful wrath of Peter Cushing. Countess is the more sober of the two films, with Jeremy Paul's script and Peter Sadsy's direction playing out more like an Old Dark House mystery than Hammer horror, while Lovers' aims for comic-book thrills with plenty of nudity and violence (much of which was trimmed from the American version, but reinstated here); in both cases, Pitt's sexy/scary performances make this DVD a memorably viewing experience for vintage and new-school horror fans alike. --Paul Gaita

via http://www.bittercinema.com [May 2005]

Elizabeth Bathory - female vampire

Vampire Lovers (1970) - Roy Ward Baker

Ingrid Pitt and Madeleine Smith in
Vampire Lovers (1970) - Roy Ward Baker
image sourced here.

  • Vampire Lovers (1970) - Roy Ward Baker [Amazon.com]
    The first and the best of Hammer's erotic vampire films
    "The Vampire Lovers," directed by Roy Ward Baker in 1970, is the first in the Karnstein trilogy of Hammer films, all based quite loosely on Joseph Sheridan LeFanu's story "Carmilla." The Karnsteins are a clan of vampires, represented in this version by a bunch of scantily clad women. Ingrid Pitt stars as Carmilla, who also goes under the anagram names of Mircalla and Marcilla at various points in the story (yes, there is a story). The last of her clan, Carmilla is trying to rebuild, turning first to Laura (Pippa Steele), the daughter of General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) and then Emma (Madeleine Smith), the daughter of Roger Morton (George Cole). Along the way she turns Mademoiselle Perrodon (Kate O'Mara) into a sexual slave. In the great tradition of Dracula and most other vampire films, Laura dies before anyone recognizes the marks of the vampire and then the goal is to save poor Emma from the same fate.

    There is a lot in "The Vampire Lovers" that never makes much sense. Who is the countess (Dawn Addams) who travels with Mircalla? What is up with the black-clad vampire (John Forbes Robertson) who keeps hanging around? Supposedly Mircalla is the last of her clan, but maybe not. Mircalla keeps saying she loves her victims, but they all end up dead, which certainly does not help out her clan much. In the end it is clear that Hammer, aided and abetted by American International in this instance, was making a flat-out lesbian vampire film. As such, I can honestly say that you are not going to find a better one out there. Ironically, "The Vampire Lovers" ends up being more erotic than the vast majority of films featuring heterosexual relationships between the undead and their victims. --Lawrance M. Bernabo, amazon.com

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