With a Christopher Lee/Hammer Films Dracula marathon still in my near future, I figured I’d first get through the other Hammer Films I inherited from my late brother, which comes down to six flicks, more than half of which feature classic movie monsters.
THE HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN (1970)
This break from the Peter Cushing Frankenstein movies is as rebellious as the villainous young Doctor Frankenstein in the film is. It’s also as bland as the Peter Cushing films.
Frankenstein is an arrogant, womanizing prick. He gets the daughter of his school’s dean pregnant and flees. He kills his father to inherit all his money. He convinces his friend to help him with his experiment then kills him for parts.
It’s not until 65 minutes in that he finally awakens possibly the hunkiest monster ever.
Just like Dr. Frankenstein, his monster does what he wants, which means killing anyone he comes across and seeming to have a subtle smirk of joy on his face as he does it. His 30 minutes of screen time save the film.
THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)
Hammer attempts a werewolf movie, and manages to just drag the story on and on and on for 82 minutes before our werewolf, a young Oliver Reed, transforms…by turning away from the camera. Sigh.
The plot is even worse. After some commentary on class distinctions, a beggar rapes a woman. She has a baby…on Christmas Day. Bet you didn’t know that a baby born on Christmas Day is automatically a werewolf. Oh, for Christ’s sake.
The kid eats little animals, grows up to be Oliver Reed, gets urges for blood again, and begins killing. He’s locked up, does that back to the camera transformation, escapes, and hey, as bad as the movie is, it’s cool that he looks like a more gnarly version of the Wolfman.
The most impressive part of the film is his climb up, down, and all around rooftops during unoriginal conclusion when villagers with torches chase after him. Wolfman is like the original parkour master.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962)
The classic Gaston Leroux novel has been adapted at least once a decade for virtually 100 years. While anything is just going to feel like treading the same ground over and over, I’d say this is a pretty tight way to bring the Phantom into the 1960s.
The plot doesn’t stray far from the source material. The lead singer of an opera quits after a real dead body steals the spotlight during a performance.
A background singer is made the new lead, and the phantom soon speaks to her in a disembodied voice in her dressing room, pretty much warning her that he’s coming for her to teach her how to sing.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to her when she’s abducted (by a little sidekick man) and brought to the phantom’s lair in the sewers where he teaches her to sing better for her big opening night. But damn, this violent Phantom slaps her around a bit!
The final scene features a long opera performance (there are several in the movie), the falling chandelier shtick, and the phantom finally ripping off his mask to reveal his face.
THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963)
Shocker. It’s a non-Dracula, non-Christopher Lee vampire flick from Hammer Films.
A man and woman stay at an inn after their car runs out of gas and are soon invited to a masquerade party at a nearby castle.
The family that befriends them proves to be weird, and they eventually kidnap the wife and try to convince the husband that she never existed. That’s because they are vampires and plan to make her one of them!
There are a couple of satisfying horror scenes here, most notably the opener of a funeral that turns bloody, and the final scene in which bats are conjured from hell to wipe out the vampire cult. The story is okay and the general tone of the film delivers on the classic horror vibe, but it’s slow paced and there only very minor vampire biting scenes.
Paranoiac presents a plot that has been recycled numerous times over the decades; a dead family member suddenly shows up alive.
This time it’s a brother who committed suicide. His siblings were raised by their aunt…and still live with her as adults. When the suicide brother returns, the crazy sister is thrilled, and the alcoholic brother, played by Oliver Reed, thinks the family is out to get him for his inheritance. The aunt thinks the suicide brother is a fake.
As the suicide brother and sister get closer, Oliver Reed proves to be totally insane, there’s a masked creep with a hook roaming around the house (awesome), and someone really wants the suicide brother dead. It’s an atmospheric thriller, and it goes a place you wouldn’t think a movie would dare back in 1962…incest!
Of course the truth of what happened to the suicide brother comes out in the end as family members are at each other’s throats.
These days, Nightmare is quite a generic title, and in retrospect, the general plot of this film is still replicated to this day. It’s the old let’s scare a woman to insanity type of film…sort of like Paranoiac.
I would say Nightmare is Hammer Film’s answer to the William Castle movies. It reminds me of House On Haunted Hill, down to the exterior shots of the blocky, cold looking house in which the film is set. Unlike most Hammer films, it even takes place in the present day (1964). Those two factors make it my favorite of all the Hammer films I’ve been watching.
The opening scene alone is good stuff, with a young woman following the sound of a voice calling for help and getting trapped in a room with a freaky female mental patient.
Turns out the young woman is away at school and having nightmares that are driving her mad. She returns to her home…where she saw her mother stab her father to death. Good plan. The awesome flashback scene depicting the murder has echoed through numerous childhood trauma scenes since, particularly in slasher movies of the 80s.
The family servants are there to great her, along with a new nurse. And wouldn’t you know the young woman is terrorized by visions of a woman roaming the halls and lying dead in bed with a knife in her chest.
Having scene this plot played out in plenty of movies, I immediately figured someone’s probably trying to drive her mad so she’ll commit a murder and be locked away, leaving them to collect an inheritance.
Was I right? Watch the film and find out.