Well, this is going to be a long blog entry. My Halloween Horrors got HAMMERED this year, so this post contains 14 different pieces of my October madness.
Hammer and I have a weird relationship. When I was a young lad, back when televisions had coat hangers attached to them, I was obsessed by Creature Double Feature. I quit playing baseball as to avoid missing the latest monster film or adventure of Draculatic proportions. I loved the Dracula movies...but as time went on I left them behind. While some of you may not appreciate the slasher boom, it was MY time for movies. I sneaked in to Friday the 13th entries every year and Jason became my Frankenstein-literally in Part 6-and cable TV took away my Saturday ritual.
I loved Dracula, but we just lost touch. I remembered the skinny face of Peter Cushing from the occasional Frankenstein adventure, which was how I saw most Hammer films. Adventure films. They lacked the gore and oh so forbidden nudity (in the TV prints) that Jason and Freddy would offer me. They just seemed old and creaky by comparison. Herbert West (who I'll get to later) was Dr. Frankenstein for me.
So, I was inspired this year. I'm particularly proud of the achievements of my friends Neil Vokes and Bob Tinnell as they unleash FLESH AND BLOOD on the world. It is a Hammer inspired bit of Sequential Cinema that I've long waited to enjoy. But...well...I found that my appreciation for it as a comic book was deep, but I was not really skilled enough in the ways of what they were referencing to truly get it.
And when I want to get something it gets got. With obsessive desire to understand I looked squarely at the Obsessive Science Monster-FRANKENSTEIN. Watched all of them. Then moved on. And on. Groovy negligee. Buoyant breasts. Blood and Beards. Hammer. I need to get a printed copy of Flesh and Blood. I need a flashlight. I need to get under the covers of my bed.
I'm HAMMERED now and it won't stop. Inspiration comes from odd places sometimes, and it is best when it is from the success of your pals.
I originally planned to write individual reviews, but again I felt under qualified to really add anything to the mountain of study that has been put forward on these films. Not a lack of confidence really, just not sure what I can give. So, here are my quick thoughts. Nothing deep, but an unskilled look at a small splattering of Hammer Horror. I told my friend Bob Sargent that "these Hammer guys take their films fucking serious, man" and I meant it. So, use the lens of cinematic love that colors all my writing on this blog and enjoy some observations on my viewings. They will probably be re-watched in coming years-I can't wait to read what I thought "back when I re-discovered Hammer for myself."
Curse of Frankenstein was my first foray into this new Hammer period in my cinematic trip and I loved it. Christopher Lee hits a grand slam and gives a stunning performance as the monster-I didn't even realize it was him!! The Baron is a nutcase, but likeable in an obsesso-wacko kind of way. I was really struck by this being made when it was and how it stacked up to the monsters from Roger Corman and crew. This was an entirely different ballgame! Terence Fisher puts so much visual style to the world that the soap opera "But I love you!" sequences fall by the wayside as I was marveling at how much weight the bandaged monster body seemed to be carrying. And that monster!!! Wow! WOW! Hazel Court is great in what could have been a simple Screaming Mimi role as well.
As an 80s kid I have to say this one reminded me tons of Re-Animator (yes, I know it is the other way around of course). With the re-animation of the animal. The co-conspirator repulsed by the actions of the mad scientist and the beautiful lady. See, Hammer already made me appreciate how much it has done already.
Revenge of Frankenstein was a let down. I am certain a repeat viewing would help now because it definitely fits well as Frankenstein escapes the blade of justice to rename himself Dr. Stein (hah..creative fellow) and get cracking at the dead tissue and solving that whole unlife problem. The biggest upside was the look of the film and it's setting up Frankenstein as a Science Adventurer that seems to have more than a few morality issues. I really liked the entire bit of business involving the Doctors Union trying to bring Dr. Stein in to line! Hah, you can't tame Frankenstein and it really sets a very original character in motion for Hammer. Cushing puts the arrogance of the Doc, which always seems to lead to his folly, across with little motions so well that I completely got the character from here on out. He doesn't have time for you, he has things to do!!
Frankenstein Created Woman was what I watched next and this is where it totally took off for me. What an incredible film!! There isn't an ugly shot in the entire movie, and it has a bunch of relentlessly creative elements sprinkled atop the atypical plot of a beautiful woman containing two souls-one of which is bent on vengeance. The SOUL EXTRACTOR and the ideas that power it are easily the things I'll take away from the series. Not content just to play with flesh anymore, the Baron goes straight to the ethereal here. The only odd complaint I had was that the three naughty ne'er do wells that need to die are seemingly done in reverse order. I bet there is a reason, but I can't see it yet. The worst (and most awesome) of the batch is Anton, played by Peter Blythe, is dispatched and I really didn't care about the others-which dampened the climax. Ah well...I also became a big fan of Thorley Walters with this one. He is just fun to watch. This is probably the film I'd pick to show new Hammer viewers a Frankenstein film if I had to pick one.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is almost as awesome as Woman, if not a dead tie. Cushing gets to ride the insanity coaster over the edge as now Frankenstein crosses not only the lines of good taste in dead bodies, but even presses the live flesh of Veronica Carlson as he breaks a completely different moral code. As I watched along in the series this one was probably the most disturbing and interesting for me. Frankenstein is blackmailing a young doctor and his fiancee (over coke smuggling!) into assisting him as he jams the brain of a colleague into a new body in order to find out what the man knew when he died. It blows up in his face though, because the Monster is more man than Frankenstein at this point, and he/it tries to settle his worldly affairs with compassion (as opposed to the Doc who keeps around Anna to make coffee) and methodically attacks and tries to destroy Frankenstein. You want to root against the Baron? This is the one to do it with.
Bonus note, this is the movie that made me question Peter Cushing and Hammer's choice of footwear. Jeez, in the opening scene the little shoes made me think it was a prostitute wandering the streets, not Frankensteena Ballerina! Now when I rewatch these I'll be obsessing over feet!
Evil of Frankenstein was one I missed in it's proper viewing space, and I really enjoyed it. NOTHING like the others, this is Hammer Road taking a short cut through Universal Way. It doesn't match, Cushing tries to sell this more...pathetic...Frankenstein. Why me...boo hoo...dead flesh...boo hoo. But it does feature an awesome Box Head Beast of a monster and some wickedly wonderful sets. I really loved the scene of the monster in the ice. Dr. Franck. Dr. Stein. Fah, having the Baron meet up with his creation as randomly as he does here is a great stretch of believability! Yeah, it's fun and for folks with Comcast HD it was on for free On Demand. GREAT print too.
This movie did make me appreciate the remainder of the series, especially ...Woman. After trying to play nice with established Frankestein-ia it seems the Hammer crew was charged up to do something much more unique. They succeeded and while this one will probably stay more a footnote to the series than a beloved classic, it belongs in a way that shows what could have been done if less effort, and unique minds, had made these films.
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is a trash film epic. We have mouth to vein, brain dropping fun all around. Frankenstein gets another young couple to help him as he turns the table on the administrator of an asylum and takes over for his own twisted experiments. Cushing has gone around the bend here with Frankenstein. He looks gaunt and tired (which is pointed out in the dialog at points) and builds up a giant of a Neanderthal styled mega monster with a heart. Frankenstein has lost all perspective. I almost dropped over laughing when Cushing casually tosses out the lines about getting the creature to procreate "the usual way!" Just...wow. Total entertainment and a bittersweet ending as the Doctor remains unbowed by his massive failure, ready to roll on.
I wish they had rolled on.
Horror of Dracula was my first Dracula in several decades and again, I was blown away by the production and quality of it! Lee is Dracula and having him pursued by Cushing as Van Helsing is just too much fun. The entire cast is game, I loved seeing Micheal Gough as the straight man to all the bizarre goings on. There are a few little bits that were off however. I thought John Van Eyssen was pretty wobbly as Jonathan Harker. It seems like the script had him in the know about Dracula's evil powers right up front. And then...he just stands around, unhip to the fictional script. The opening scenes of this film are fantastic, but this performance didn't work for me at all. Not that it matters much in the longer scheme of the film of course. I have to say though, THIS is a horror movie to me. Even though I'm in on the mystery of the monster (as audiences were even upon release), Lee creates elements of mystery to his performance that I want to look at again and again.
Countess Dracula knocked my socks off. It felt like a dirty fairy tale with Ingrid Pitt getting naked and scrubby bubbly with blood. There is romance. There is intrigue. There are the truly OO-ER MISSUS breasts of Andrea Lawrence to adore! I was totally absorbed by this film, it was fun to watch Nigel Green try to keep up with the aging Countess. The man just wanted a little action lady...this all could have been avoided. A must see in my opinion.
Flesh and Blood note: The mighty BEARD of Dobi is so very Vokes to me it is beyond belief. That was some frickin' work I'd wager.
This film may also contain some of the fastest "falling in loves" ever.
Twins of Evil led me to realize that the Karnstein Trilogy was going to be MY Hammer. I don't even know how to summarize it briefly, but this is a busty and lusty little fantasy film that features vigilantes against vampires and ample twins all over the screen. The plot is so simple. Two girls, twins...a vampire in the woods. One girl is naughty and the other nice. Finally, one is evil, the other...not so evil, but in the line of fire (literally) from fearful villagers. I love this film. I have to say, it wasn't until later that I learned that this was the final Karnstein entry. It is pretty much divorced from the others outside of the busty lusty bits and stands tall on it's own.
Favorite line has to be Karnstein by the inverted burning hot crucifix rubbing up his naughty twin and saying "for you...all pleasure shall be supreme!" I mean, is that not Sex Monster 101 or what?? BRILLIANT!!!
Scars of Dracula contains my favorite image of the Hammer experiment, Christopher Lee punishing his man servant (Doctor Who??) with a burning sword is incredible. While it is in dire need of proper bats on strings, Scars piles on the gore and is one of the most entertaining of the lot so far. Jenny Hanley from The Flesh and Blood Show gives me proper stake wood, so we are already in good stead Scars, but what really jumped out at me was that this has many elements of the original novel that weren't present in Horror of Dracula! And Dracula is a sadistic badass, he seems less interested in pursuing his prey than outright devouring it and moving forward for more more more gore! Also, is it me or does Dracula get easier to revive, but grander in the way he does it here. From start to finish this is a ton of fun. Lightning?? YEAH!
Satanic Rites of Dracula is an oddball, it didn't feel like a Hammer film to me, more like a cheaper knock off one-using the same stars. It features a Psyhomania styled gang of vampiric thrall toughs, a little groovy "what the hell kind of law enforcement branch is this" tele-thrill and Christopher Lee giving a very very odd performance as D.D.Denham. What, Dr. Franck and Dr. Stein were out of town?
But you know what I like best---this is a TRASH FILM!! We have goofy Dracula and some naked chained vampire women (whose discovery by our heroes is a real highlight) AND we have Peter Cushing chainsmoking and looking gaunt and unsure as a descendant of Van Helsing. When the evil plot of BUBONIC PLAGUE is revealed I was excited to see Dracula the World Killer idea, but it plays out even better as we witness bubbling flesh of those that would serve Dracula.
I like this better than A.D. 72 because it dispenses of groove and keeps 70s grime and grit!
Vampire Circus is awesome, I know this from a viewing back when the Carlton DVD was released. There are a shedload of groovy images coming out of the beast people angle and the amazing performance from the lead gypsy woman of course, but the story and how original it is amongst vampire films really makes it a must watch. From the Plague Borders and the adventuring in relation to that, the lustful villagers falling prey to animal desire and my favorite Thorley Walters moment to date as the ridiculous bumpkin Burgermeister finds himself in a mirror ball of amusement and mayhem! If you haven't seen this, or are as inexperienced with Hammer as myself-it is a great place to start and see a bunch of sides to the output. A little stagey, full of great images and trashy spectacle, this is a circus you'll be ready to climb into the clown car with.
The Vampire Lovers. The Vampire Lovers. YES!! Busts. Busts. BUSTS!!! Bites. Bites. BITES!! The saga of Mircalla Karnstein is a full throttle bit of sex and violence cinema that manages to satisfy the junk cinema fan, but tosses in unique flavors at every turn. OK, I like the women-we can probably all agree on that. But what I can't stop thinking about is Ingrid Pitt and her portrayal of the doomed sex monster. The character does a lot of things for a lot of different motivations, but with this performance she keeps it all straight (probably the straightest thing in the film) for us. I wanted her to win? Go figure.
The opening segments are also really interesting, very stylish and it got me right into feeling the unique funk these Karnstein flicks are laying down. From the lascvious monster to the lewd lady of the house right on up to the dagger crosses and teleporting nighties-I'm digging it. Also, I have decided that Madeline Smith can use her stunning lung power to make me feel rather uncomfortable.
Thankfully, she does it in a nightie. What else?
I need to return to the Karnstein trilogy in a few months and watch them again.
Well, there we have a bunch of Hammer films that I enjoyed watching. I can't wait to read Flesh and Blood again and appreciate not only what it is, but what it springs from and pays proper tribute to. The hours of viewing were fun and I know they will pay off.