by Steve Habrat
By the late 60s and early 70s, Hammer Films was beginning to loose some of the popularity that the studio once enjoyed. They started trying to compete with the wave of exploitation horror that was beginning to emerge, which led to the studio cranking up the sleaziness in their pictures. In 1971, one of Hammer’s final triumphs would be director John Hough’s Twins of Evil, the third installment in the Karnstein Trilogy, which also featured 1970’s The Vampire Lovers and 1971’s Lust for a Vampire. Steamy, seedy, extravagant, and violent, Twins of Evil is a hugely entertaining horror film that retains Hammer’s gothic visual style while upping the amount of sex, nudity, and graphic violence for a crowd craving some exploitation insanity. Starring an aging yet wickedly sharp Peter Cushing and the beautiful former Playboy Playmates Mary and Madeleine Collinson (who also happened to be real life twins), Twins of Evil is a thrilling combination of the vampire film, satanic horror film, and witch-hunt thriller, all expertly balanced by screenwriter Tudor Gates. It’s also extremely atmospheric and loaded with Hammer’s beloved castles, heavy fog, crucifixes, tangled woods, and rotting cemeteries.
Twins of Evil introduces us to innocent Maria (played by Mary Collinson) and rebellious Frieda (played by Madeleine Collinson), two identical twins who have traveled to the town of Karenstein to live with their uncle, Gustav Weil (played by Peter Cushing). As it turns out, Weil is the leader of a local witch-hunting group called the Brotherhood, who tracks down young girls who have been accused of witchcraft and burns them at the stake. As the twins settle in to their new home, they happen to hear about a wealthy local by the name of Count Karnstein (played by Damien Thomas), who is well known for practicing the dark arts and coming from a family of Satanists. One evening, Count Karnstein plays host to a satanic cult, and through a barbaric ritual, they happen to contact the spirit of Countess Mircalla (played by Katya Wyeth), who proceeds to turn Karnstein into a vampire. The next day, Karnstein is travelling through town when he bumps into Frieda, who has become smitten with Karnstein’s evil reputation. That evening, Frieda accepts an invitation to Karnstein’s castle, where she gets turned into a vampire and tortures a young girl with Karnstein. After Frieda attacks a member of the Brotherhood, Weil captures his niece and is forced to lock her up until he can decide her fate. His plans change when a local schoolteacher by the name of Anton Hoffer (played by David Warbeck) approaches him about the possibility of vampirism running rampant through the town.
Easily ranking as one of the most fun horror films that Hammer Films ever released, Twins of Evil is an exotic breed of vampire film. The first half is a witch-hunting horror film ripe with hair-raising scenes of Cushing’s Weil ruthlessly running down young girls, tying them to a stake, and burning them to a crisp. Though the film has a heavy B-movie vibe, Hough doesn’t hold back exploring the senseless brutality of these witch-hunts. After finding a man dying in a foggy graveyard from a vampire bite, Weil and his Brotherhood attack the first girl they spot wandering through the woods and drag her off to face a cleansing fire. It really makes for some alarming glimpses of religious extremity at its absolute worst. For a stretch, Hough lays off some of the witch hunting in favor of a satanic horror film set to growling organs, hooded high priests, human sacrifice, and a cry for Satan that would make the climax of Rosemary’s Baby blush. Hough uses the satanic pit stop to glide straight into vampire mayhem that is simultaneously bloody and sexy. The true strength of the film is the way it seems to be able to switch subgenres on us in the blink of an eye.
Performance wise, the actors and actresses seem to have been encouraged to have as much fun with the material as humanly (or inhumanly) possible. Cushing is at his absolutely cheesiest (that is meant as a compliment) as the perpetually serious Weil, an antihero willing to burn an innocent victim at the stake just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’ll loathe him at first, but as the film progresses, you’ll be forced to admire the way he sticks to his beliefs. As far as the Collinson twins are concerned, they actually prove to be a pair of competent actresses for a pair of Playboy Playmates. The standout of the two would be Madeleine as the wicked Frieda, who enjoys flirting with the dark side. Hough seems pressured into showing off their bodies for the camera, something that I’m sure Hammer insisted on considering they have Playboy Playmates in the main roles, but the Collinsons don’t seem to mind too much. Damien Thomas gives a vile turn as the satanic Count Karnstein, who grins and snarls through a pair of vampire fangs and shrugs his shoulders in boredom over a satanic ritual that fails to impress him. He can pull off seductive, creepy, and charismatic like a real professional. David Warbeck also holds his own as the kindly schoolteacher Anton, who basically becomes the true hero of Twins of Evil.
While Hammer’s earlier horror films were stone-faced and relentlessly somber, Twins of Evil seems to have a sense of humor about itself. The soundtrack—while exceptional—is wildly over the top, resembling something you might have heard in an Italian spaghetti western. Its all mighty trumpets and ominous organs blasted for maximum effect. Visually, Hough sticks to Hammer’s gothic calling card, but at times he seems to be really laying it on thick, especially in the early scenes when stuffs a gigantic crucifix into a handful of shots. Then there are the overdramatics and the not-so-subtle symbolism that chew on the screen. Cushing screams and shakes his fists at the sky while yelling, “God has sent me TWINS OF EVIL!!,” and during a steamy make-out scene, one character suggestive strokes a nearby melting candle. These winking moments could have been a bit distracting, but Hough has a way of making them strangely charming. Overall, while it certainly drives a stake right through the heart of subtlety and its strongly self-aware, Twins of Evil is still a scrappy little horror movie with plenty of blood, sex, and nudity to go around. It’s a smooth blend of multiple subgenres that all compliment each other quite well in the end. Twins of Evil ranks as one of Hammer’s strongest films in their horror vault.
Twins of Evil is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In 1957, Hammer Films first made contact with American audiences with The Curse of Frankenstein, an autumn-fused retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Starring Peter Cushing as Frankenstein and Christopher Lee as the monster, The Curse of Frankenstein was a leaner and meaner film when compared to James Whale’s 1931 classic. It also contained a bleak psychological edge that appeared to be inspired by J. Searle Dawley’s 1910 short film Frankenstein. In 1958, Hammer followed up The Curse of Frankenstein with The Revenge of Frankenstein, which directly addressed events from the first film. After striking a distribution deal with Universal Studios, Hammer was allowed to directly copy from Universal’s Boris Karloff classic. Hammer quickly got to work on The Evil of Frankenstein, which found the studio modeling their monster after the iconic Karloff version. Directed by Freddie Francis, The Evil of Frankenstein breaks from the first two films in the series and attempts to almost restart itself, disregarding any continuity simply to capitalize on the look of the monster. The result is a sporadically entertaining but surprisingly sluggish horror film that is glaringly devoid of serious creativity.
Ten years after being banished from his hometown of Karlstaad due to his unorthodox experiments, Baron Victor Frankenstein (played by Peter Cushing) returns to his hometown with his assistant, Hans (played by Sandor Eles), to restart his experiments. Under the cover of a town festival, Frankenstein and Hans slip through the village unnoticed and return to Frankenstein’s ransacked mansion. After spotting the town Burgomeister (played by David Hutcheson) wearing one of his rings, Frankenstein causes a scene that draws the attention of the authorities. Forced into hiding, Frankenstein and Hans take shelter in a cave with a local deaf-mute beggar girl (played by Katy Wild), but while exploring, Frankenstein makes a shocking discovery—his creature (played by Kiwi Kingston) that wandered off ten years ago frozen in a chunk of ice. Frankenstein, Hans, and the beggar girl remove the creature from the ice and take it back to Frankenstein’s castle where he restores the creature’s life. Despite being reanimated, the creature refuses to respond to commands, so Frankenstein hires the help of Zoltan (played by Peter Woodthorpe), a disgraced sideshow hypnotist that is also being forced out of town. Zoltan agrees to try to hypnotize the creature and his attempt is an excess, but Zoltan begins using the creature behind Frankenstein’s back to carry out his own revenge on those who disgraced him.
Under the talents of Freddie Francis, The Evil of Frankenstein manages to hold on to Hammer’s level of quality. Despite the fact that most of their films were made on small budgets, they consistently produced A-level work as far as the set design and art direction was concerned. Francis makes sure that the sets looks great even if a few of them have been lifted from Whale’s film, the costume design is detailed, and that familiar gothic atmosphere is still allowed to poke its head in every now and again. As far as visual fumbles go, The Evil of Frankenstein drops the ball on the overall look of the dreaded creature. Modeled after the famous make-up work by Jack Pierce, the creature here has the same flattened forehead, sagging eyes, and frowning mouth that Karloff’s creature did, but it looks slapped together in a rush. Putty lines are clearly visible and the prosthetics appear as thought they were just stuck on in globs. As a B-movie monster goes, this creature is a winner, but when compared to the effects on Christopher Lee’s monster in The Curse of Frankenstein, he doesn’t even belong in the same series. To further keep him in the vein of the Karloff monster, they slap a gray suit on him that is reminiscent of what the creature wore in Universal’s Son of Frankenstein and they complete the look with platform boots that boost his size and slow to a shaky stomp. The only thing Hammer chose to omit from their creature were the famous bolts that jutted out from Karloff’s neck.
As if reworking the story wasn’t doing enough damage, Peter Cushing was also forced to rework the character of Victor Frankenstein. Gone is the putrid little man who had affairs with his maid and seethed at his mentors from trying to put a stop to his gruesome experiments. In that man’s place is a kinder soul, one who only shows his sinister side when he rips a heart from a dead man’s chest and deadpans, “he won’t be needing it!” It’s a bit of black humor that shows his disregard for the dead. Besides the one scene, Frankenstein is a sympathetic character, constantly tormented by those who just simply don’t understand. Cushing plays him as a misfit cast out of normal God-fearing society and forced to suffer for fascination with scientific progression. “Why can’t they ever just leave me alone!,” he sighs melodramatically as he takes a dejected look around his trashed manor. In a way it works and there isn’t anything particularly faulty with Cushing’s portrayal, but you will certainly be left longing for that weasel we were forced to follow around in the first two films. Pitted against Cushing’s misunderstood protagonist is Woodthorpe’s Zoltan, a smirking baddie who likes to pick on the deaf-mute beggar girl and manipulate the creature into carrying out his sadistic orders. Woodthorpe is up to the task of playing a villain and he certainly turns his Zoltan into a slimy one, but his storyline seems out of place, making you wish that Francis would have omitted him from the action entirely.
Considering that this film is trying to replicate some of the finer aspects of Whale’s Frankenstein, you would think that Francis and screenwriter John Elder would have attempted to make us sympathize with Kingston’s creature. While Kingston largely lets the make-up do most of the work, there isn’t any of creature’s child-like wonder that we saw in Whale’s film. There is no “flower picking” scene or torment from a hunchback. No, The Evil of Frankenstein becomes more about playing the tiny violin for Frankenstein and lingering on Zoltan’s scumbag behavior. In a sunny flashback, we get a brief little glimpse of society rejecting the creature, running him down and putting a bullet on him. It’s basically the only time we ever are invited to really feel anything for the creature. Overall, for those who were wondering what it would be like if Hammer replicated what Universal had already done to popular effect, then The Evil of Frankenstein is the film for you. It never musters any memorable scares and the viewer will have a hard time empathizing with the creature. You also can’t help but wonder what the creature would have been like had Lee possibly taken the role (they probably could have made him unrecognizable in that make-up). Still, the film holds up to Hammer’s level of quality and Cushing does his best with what he has to work with. If there is a lesson to be found here, it’s that Hammer shouldn’t have tampered in the realm of cinematic gods like Universal Studios, James Whale, Boris Karloff, and Jack Pierce.
The Evil of Frankenstein is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In 1957, British film production company Hammer Films crossed the pond and spooked American audiences with The Curse of Frankenstein, a bloodier and far less buttoned-up interpretation of Mary Shelley’s classic novel. A year later, Hammer would follow up that Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee vehicle with another Cushing/Lee horror outing in the form of Horror of Dracula, arguably one of the finest vampire films ever made. Many have argued that the ultra-gothic Horror of Dracula is a much better film than The Curse of Frankenstein, mostly due to Lee’s commanding performance as Dracula. Despite what side you fall on, these films are the reason that Hammer Films became as popular as they did. In 1960, the company decided to make a sequel to Horror of Dracula. While Lee wasn’t game to come back for seconds (he wouldn’t return until Dracula: Prince of Darkness), the studio moved forward with The Brides of Dracula, another horror film that is perfect for a crisp October evening. Sexually charged, gory, and packing one hell of a satisfying finale, The Brides of Dracula only slips due to Lee’s absence. In the wake of his performance in Horror of Dracula, there was no way that the blonde baby-faced David Peel was going to be able to match his evil.
The Brides of Dracula begins with a young French schoolteacher by the name of Marianne Danielle (played by Yvonne Monlaur) traveling to Transylvania to take a new job at the Lady’s Academy of Bachstadt. After being left in a pub by her carriage driver, Marianne is invited to stay with Baroness Meinster (played by Martita Hunt), a wealthy local that the villagers seem very uneasy about. Upon arriving at Baroness Meinster’s castle, Marianne catches a glimpse of her son, Baron Meinster (played by David Peel), who is in chains and said to be insane. Marianne soon meets the Baron, who pleads with Marianne to unlock the chains around his ankle and let him go free. Marianne finds the key and frees the Baron, who then proceeds to confront his mother. All the action scares the innocent Marianne and she dashes off into the night, only to be discovered the next day by the kindly Dr. Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing). Marianne attempts to recount her story, but she has a difficult time remembering all the details. Van Helsing agrees to escort Marianne to her new school, but on their way they make a pit stop to investigate the body of a young dead girl. Van Helsing discovers that she has two bite marks on her neck, which he immediately recognizes as the mark of the vampire. After Van Helsing witnesses the young girl claw out of her grave at night, he begins racing to track down and dispatch any vampires in the area. His quest leads him to the Baron Meinster, who is determined to find Marianne and make her his bride.
With a title like The Brides of Dracula, you’d immediately assume that ol’ Drac would make an appearance somewhere in the picture. For those who are getting their hopes up of catching a glimpse of Lee’s iconic vampire, you’re about to be very disappointed. Heck, the head vampire is barely even mentioned, only coming up twice throughout the entire film. With the role of head vampire vacant, Hammer recruited David Peel, who seems to be having plenty of fun in the role of the Baron, but he just can’t quite rise to the level of the baritone Lee. He swishes his cape around like a kid looking at his new Dracula costume in the mirror and he curls his lips to reveal his plastic fangs, but he’s almost too good-looking to really make your knees knock together. In an attempt to capture Lee’s crazed, bloodshot look, director Terence Fisher cuts to close-ups of Peel’s bulging eyes, but it’s just not the same. Far more memorable are the brides, who basically only watch as Van Helsing tussles around a windmill with the Baron. They may not be all that threatening, but just their ghostly appearance alone certainly sticks with the viewer. They call to mind the three terrors that snuck around Bela Lugosi’s castle and stalked Renfield in Universal’s Dracula.
While Peel’s performance may not have the impact that Lee’s did, Cushing and Monlaur certainly don’t disappoint as the heroes. Monlaur does most of the heavy lifting early on as Marianne, the beautiful schoolteacher who tries to do the right thing, but unleashes evil in the process. Her innocence and kindness makes us root for her when the Baron starts closing in to make her his bride. Cushing reprises his role as the relentless vampire hunter Van Helsing, a hero who seems capable of slipping out of the nastiest situations imaginable. He becomes almost a fatherly figure to the young Marianne, who enthusiastically tells him about her marriage. Like a proud father, he beams with delight—only to slowly become more horrified as she reveals who the man is that will be taking her hand. There is plenty of warmth in Cushing’s performance and you will find yourself holding your breath when Peel’s fangs bear down on his neck. Hunt’s Baroness Meinster is a mysterious piece of work as the Baron’s mother, who doesn’t seem too alarmed when he son finally comes calling. Also on board here is Andree Melly as Gina, Marianne’s jealous roommate who gets turned into one of the dreaded vampire brides.
In true Hammer fashion, The Brides of Dracula is heavy with misty forests, gothic castles, and moonlit graveyards—all things we have come to expect from the studio that successfully revived the classic monsters. Even the opening credits appear as bloody scribbled with a desolate castle looming ominously in the background. Director Fisher, who was the man behind Horror of Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, seemed to be getting more and more comfortable with the gothic aesthetic, as his frames are almost overflowing with crosses, coffins, knotted trees, and withered late falls leaves. In addition to the Halloween-heavy mood of the film, The Brides of Dracula also features a sequence in which Van Helsing shows off an extremely painfully way to treat and get rid of a vampire bite. Using a hot poker and some holy water, it really shows the fight that lies deep within our hero. Overall, with the ever-game Cushing at the wheel and Fisher working double time to make sure each and every scene is as atmospheric as it can be, The Brides of Dracula turns out to be an entertaining and solidly spooky sequel from Hammer. Come to catch a glimpse of the brides and stay for the thrilling windmill face-off.
The Brides of Dracula is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
That evil Baron Victor Frankenstein is back and more hellish than ever in director Terence Fisher’s 1969 Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, the fifth entry in Hammer’s brutal and bloody Frankenstein series. Back with a vengeance, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed ushers in a pulverizing wave of emotion that will shatter your heart and a number of unbearably tense moments that Hammer’s Frankenstein series was noted for. A bit different than other Frankenstein films, this entry in the series lacks a grunting, groaning hulk of a monster and replaces him with a mad colleague who has undergone an icky brain transplant. Not as heavy on the horror and more of a thrill ride, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed finds Peter Cushing once again stepping in as the infamous mad scientist and playing him with such demented fury, it practically sends the viewer into shock. While the lack of a deformed corpse shuffling around the countryside may be a bit of a disappointment, the twisted story and the lack of a clean cut hero makes this installment one that really hits you right in the gut. And I dare you not to be downright mesmerized by the chilling opening sequence and that grim ending.
The monstrous Baron Victor Frankenstein (Played by Peter Cushing) has been prowling the streets in secret and gruesomely claiming victims for his terrifying experiments. After one of his victims survives and discovers the whereabouts of his secret lab, Frankenstein is forced to take shelter at a local boarding house that is run by young landlady named Anna (Played by Veronica Carlson). Under a new name, Frankenstein keeps largely to himself but after he discovers Anna’s fiancé, Karl (Played by Simon Ward), who happens to be a doctor at the local mental asylum, is stealing drugs and selling them, he blackmails the young couple into helping him with his macabre work. The couple soon learns that Frankenstein is attempting a brain transplant on a former colleague named Professor Richter (Played by Freddie Francis) who has been locked up in an insane asylum for many years. As the police close in on the trio, the experiment on Professor Richter doesn’t go according to Frankenstein’s plan and Richter sets out to make Frankenstein pay for his ungodly experiments.
Perhaps the strangest touch to Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is the fact that there isn’t the usual Frankenstein Monster that we are all familiar with. This creature is certainly sympathetic as everyone he stumbles across is terrified of him (he means them no harm) but he actually speaks and very intelligently at that. The only thing truly horrifying about his appearance is the slew of stitches that dot his forehead like a hellish crown. Later in the film, the Monster (or Professor Richter) goes to see his wife who is just sickened over what Frankenstein has done to her husband. It is emotionally intimate and touching as Professor Richter hides out of his wife’s sight and calmly tries to comfort her. Mind you, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed certainly asks for plenty of empathy but this isn’t all a pity party. Fisher opens the film with plenty of bloody, gore, and severed limbs to make us all a little queasy. The opening finds a masked Frankenstein prowling the shadows and lobbing off heads as blood splatters every which way. If that scene doesn’t get your heart pounding, surely the sequence that finds a water main suddenly bursting and a rotten corpses bubbling up from its muddy grave as Anna tries desperately to hide the body from onlookers will have you covering your eyes. It’s smartly conceived horror sequences like this that prove to the viewer that Fisher and Hammer may have been making a spin-off franchise film but they were determined to do it with plenty of style and fury.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed also gets a boost from the always-spectacular Cushing as the demented Frankenstein. If you think you’ve seen him at the height of his evil, wait until you see him here. He hilariously cuts down a group of over opinionated gentlemen who criticize his past experiments. As he overhears their conversation, the sullen Frankenstein turns to them and says, “I didn’t know you were all doctors!” They quickly explain that they are not doctors and Frankenstein hits them with, “Oh, I thought you knew what you were talking about.” When he is verbally ripping someone to shreds, Frankenstein commits other monstrous acts including a heartless murder and the stomach-churning assault of Anna. It is also terrifying the way he forces Karl into murder but what is even more chilling is that Karl doesn’t put up much of a fight, although he does squirm but mostly during the experiments. The climax of the film largely belongs to Francis, who really manages to get us on his side as Richter. Then we have Carlson and Ward as the young couple forced into terrible acts by their evil puppet master. It certainly isn’t easy to watch Karl get tangled in a web of death but there are points where he doesn’t seem to mind at all. Anna, meanwhile, is more of a prisoner than Karl, kept around only for Frankenstein to rape and make coffee.
In typical Frankenstein fashion, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed ends with a fiery confrontation between Richter and his creator. You will be cheering as Richter unleashes charred revenge on the sick and twisted Frankenstein. In a way, the film is disappointing because we are so naturally used to seeing a decaying corpse brought back to life through electricity that it does come as a bit of a shock when this “Monster” begins speaking in a polite manner. The positive is that it does add a fresh spin on the material and it doesn’t resort to rehashing what we have already seen in previous Frankenstein films. The other disappointment is that most of the scares are found at the beginning and then the film transitions into a more of a suspense thriller with lots of bright red blood. Overall, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is certainly a strong installment in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, one that isn’t afraid to embrace plenty of extremely unethical behavior and plenty of fiery doom and gloom when the curtains fall on the climax. This is a nasty movie with infinite amounts of madness burning in its blood red eyes. An essential film for Hammer fans.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
After Hammer Studios tackled such legendary monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein, the English horror factory then wrapped their claws around The Mummy. Borrowing heavily from the Universal’s rebooted series (The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse) and stitching the best parts together under the direction of Terence Fisher, The Mummy is another solid horror release from Hammer. Released in 1959 and in Technicolor, The Mummy is a bit grander than The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, daring to hop from Egypt to London and back again. Even if the film was made on elaborate sets with fancy lighting, The Mummy is much more exotic than the previous two offerings from Hammer but the lack of a fresh spin on the material is what keeps The Mummy from reaching the level of greatness found in The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. It’s the same old shuffle and strangle from our bandaged baddie but you can’t help but get chills from his appearance. Despite being bogged down by the familiar, The Mummy is still a creepy horror film that completes a stunning cycle of horror that reintroduced the world to supernatural terrors.
The Mummy begins in Egypt in 1865, where crippled archeologist John Banning (Played by Peter Cushing), his father Stephen (Played by Felix Aylmer), and his uncle Joseph Whemple (Played by Raymond Huntley) are digging for the long lost tomb of Princess Ananka. Despite bizarre warnings of curses from a local Egyptian man named Mehemet Bey (Played by George Pastell), the group discovers and enters the tomb of Ananka where they also discover the mysterious Scroll of Life, which Stephen proceeds to read from. Shortly after reading from the scroll, Stephen is spooked by an unseen figure and sent into a catatonic state. Three years pass and John has returned to London where he father stays in a nursing home. One day, Stephen snaps out of his catatonic state and reveals to John that when he read from the scrolls, he accidentally awakened the mummified high priests Kharis (Played by Christopher Lee). As John waves off the ramblings of his father, the mysterious Mehemet Bey arrives in London with the undead Kharis, looking for the members of the group that disturbed the tomb of Ananka. By night, Bey sends Kharis out into the countryside and commands him to kill those who were part of the expedition.
A tad longer than The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, The Mummy has a slow build that really hits its peak half way through the film. The terror really roars in a sequence featuring Bey commanding Kharis to emerge from a murky swamp and begin his rampage. The scene is effectively lit, with a muddy and moldy Kharis rising out of the murky water as those atmospheric mists seen in Hammer’s previous offering creep silently across the frame. It is easily the most memorable and horrific moment in The Mummy and it certainly has to rank up there as one of the most frightening movie moments ever. The rest of the film resorts to what we have seen before, Kharis shuffling through the woods and fields towards illuminated mansions. He does get a nifty jump scare when he heads to the nursing home to find Stephen and he crashes through a window. You will thrill as John riddles Kharis with bullets and even blasts him with a shotgun, leaving two gaping holes in his chest, which add to his macabre appearance. It should also be noted that for a low budget horror film, The Mummy certain has some incredible effects on Kharis, a rotting corpse caked with mud. He certainly is a creature to behold.
Being a Hammer production, naturally Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are the ringleaders of the mayhem. Lee is almost unrecognizable under all the muck covering his body. He is forced to rely on the emotion pouring from his eyes, which dart around the face of Isobel Banning (Played by Yvonne Furneaux), who reminds him of his beloved Princess Ananka. We do sympathize more with this Lee creature than we did with his Frankenstein Monster, mostly because he is a monster because of his love and affection. We do get a chance to see Lee’s face in an extended flashback that reveals his back-story and even then, he is painted up with a fake tan and shrouded in robes. Cushing is given the heroic role and he does it admirably, especially as he drags a crippled leg around with him. There are times where Cushing looks a bit unintentionally hilarious as he flits around with a shotgun but he sells it pretty well. He gets a pretty nifty war of words with Pastell’s Bey, a secretly sinister man who wishes to punish all who dared disturb the tomb of Ananka. Eddie Byrne shows up as Inspector Mulrooney, who is skeptical of that a supernatural being could be responsible for all the madness that is taking place around him.
If you have seen Universal’s Kharis series, then you basically have an idea where Hammer’s interpretation is heading. The fact that the film is so predictable does knock it down a few pegs. After the sequence that has Kharis emerging from the swamp, the film has a hard time really topping that scene. The middle section of the film gets an extended look at how Kharis was transformed into the monstrous mummy that he is. While it is a very ornate and shiny sequence, it plays out a bit longer than it really needed to. It does, however, pack a seriously nasty gross out scare that will have you wincing. The climax of the film is appropriately grim and tragic to go along with the tragic feel of Kharis. The Mummy does find Hammer Studios showing some range outside of their gothic comfort zone but they still manage to sneak a few of those touches into the film. Overall, the film has two spectacular performances from Lee and Cushing and there are a number of moments to send your flying out of your seat, but The Mummy is never as atmospheric as The Curse of Frankenstein or Horror of Dracula. It may not stick with you like the other two films did but there is enough style and grace here to build The Mummy up into a film that will satisfy horror fans everywhere.
The Mummy is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Shortly after unleashing their bloody interpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Hammer Studios decided to tackle Frankenstein’s partner in crime—Dracula. While The Curse of Frankenstein is considered the film that introduced Hammer Studios to the world, Horror of Dracula is considered one of their finest films in their vault. Once again starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula is a sexed up vision of the vampire, complete with plenty of cleavage to satisfy the male viewers. While adding a heavy layer of sexuality and allowing plenty of blood to flow in striking Technicolor, director Terence Fisher has been credited for laying the groundwork for the modern vampire film. It features a suave Lee as Dracula preying upon voluptuous women who all shriek in orgasmic terror as the legendary bloodsucker drains them of blood. There is plenty of seduction in Horror of Dracula, something that was only vaguely hinted upon in the Tod Browning’s Universal classic Dracula. Much like The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula is very low budget, taking place primarily on two or three sets, which may have been left over from their previous offering, but there is plenty of misty atmosphere that would make Universal jealous. And then there is Lee as Dracula, who some argue gives the definitive performance as the iconic vampire.
Horror of Dracula begins with Jonathan Harker (Played by John Van Eyssen) arriving at Count Dracula’s (Played by Christopher Lee) castle, posing as a librarian. As he is taken into the gothic walls, a beautiful woman who is begging for help approaches Jonathan but is scared off by Dracula as he welcomes his guest. Dracula takes Jonathan to his room where it is revealed that Jonathan isn’t a librarian at all, but there to put an end to Dracula’s reign of terror. The next day, Jonathan is attacked by the same woman and bitten on the neck. Just as the woman is about to kill Jonathan, Dracula interrupts the attack and fights the girl off. Jonathan passes out from the attack and awakens the next day with strange marks on his neck. He slips down to the dungeon where he discovers Dracula and the woman in their coffins. Jonathan quickly dispatches the woman but Dracula wakes up and kills him. Shortly after the confrontation, Professor Van Helsing (Played by Peter Cushing) arrives at the castle looking for Jonathan and as he searches, he finds both the body of Jonathan and his diary. Van Helsing then sets out to deliver news of Jonathan’s death to his fiancé, Lucy (Played by Carol Marsh) and her brother, Arthur (Played by Michael Gough). But just as Van Helsing arrives to deliver the news, Dracula begins tormenting Lucy and Arthur.
Fisher’s Horror of Dracula doesn’t hesitate to jump right in to the action. There is no extended sequence of Jonathan traveling to Dracula’s gothic castle or whispers from the terrified villagers about the undead claiming the night. Right from the beginning, we learn that this Dracula is nastier and bloodier than anything we have seen before. Lee’s Dracula can be a gentleman one minute and the next; he is a red-eyed beast looking to tear the throat out of anyone who dares cross him. The first glimpse we get of the snarling Dracula certainly does shake the viewer up and it could very well be the most frightening scene of the entire film. The second half of the film finds Dracula largely absent from all the action and the main characters debating how to keep Dracula away from Lucy and Arthur’s wife, Mina (Played by Melissa Stribling). Many may deem this boring, especially since the middle section finds the characters pacing ornate dens while discussing vampire lore rather than tending to spurting arties. But it is these scenes that build the anticipation for Dracula’s return and in a way, make us fear him all the more. He could be anywhere, at any time, and we have no idea when he will choose to strike next.
Then there is the fantastic Cushing as Van Helsing, a mere mortal who resorts to tricks to fight the relentless vampire. It is difficult not to admire the way Cushing approaches each terrifying situation he encounters, as he is always cool, calm, and collected. Cushing has great chemistry with Gough, who is probably best remembered for his work as Alfred in Tim Burton’s 1989 gothic superhero film Batman. Cushing and Gough team up for a final showdown with Dracula that I promise will satisfy in every way imaginable. It is morbid and action packed but forced to remain restrained due to Hammer’s limited budget. We also can’t forget about the ladies, who also get their chance to really spook us throughout the course of the film. Marsh is the standout as Lucy, who nabs another one of the film’s more effective spooks. As a young girl wanders the woods, she is coaxed further in by the terrifying apparition of Lucy, who reveals a full set of razor sharp fangs to the young girl. It is another one of those scenes that catapult Horror of Dracula to the top of the list of horror movies perfect for Halloween night. Stribling gets a hair-raising encounter with the king vampire as he enters her bedroom and slowly makes his way in for the bite.
While Horror of Dracula may have plenty of terrifying moments to go around, the film has some surprising moments of humor, which does alleviate some of the tension. Yet when Fischer wants to scare the living hell out of you, he does it with a vengeance. Behold the scene where Gough and Cushing wander a misty tomb and come face to face with the undead Lucy. The final showdown in Dracula’s castle is also pretty gripping as a rattled Van Helsing starts to loose control against the demonic force he is facing. The film ends with some rickety special effects that have not aged well but are still appropriately disturbing. Incredibly influential and scary, Horror of Dracula is certainly one of the finest examples of vampires at their most sinister. The film deserves to stand alongside classics like 1922 silent German Expressionist nightmare Nosferatu, the legendary 1931 Universal/Lugosi offering, and Werner Herzog’s surreal 1979 Nosferatu the Vampyre. Overall, Horror of Dracula is a small but scrappy homerun for Hammer Studios. You may find yourself hanging garlic on your door and sleeping with a stake and crucifix next to your bed. Make it a double feature with The Curse of Frankenstein.
Horror of Dracula is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
In the mid to late 40s, the supernatural gothic horror film that Universal Studios pioneered began to fade away. In its place, Hollywood embraced atomic age creature features and paranoid science fiction, all of which became wildly successful. In the late 50s, when this new form of horror was reaching its peak, British film company Hammer Studios took a chance and revived the gothic horror film, giving Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and the Mummy a Technicolor makeover. The first film from Hammer was 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, a soft-focused melodramatic horror film that was dripping in blood and sexuality. While The Curse of Frankenstein can’t compete with the Boris Karloff/James Whale classic, the film takes more of a psychological approach to Mary Shelley’s material and boy is this one spooky vision. Certainly a film that is Halloween appropriate, The Curse of Frankenstein doesn’t hope to milk most of its horror from Frankenstein’s ghoul but from Baron Frankenstein himself, a monstrous man of science who will stop at nothing to complete the ultimate experiment. Still, the Frankenstein Monster is one that will haunt your dreams, a horrible scarred freak that wanders the woods and kills anyone that dares cross its path.
Our story begins in a dank prison where a gaunt Baron Victor Frankenstein (Played by Peter Cushing) is awaiting execution for a grisly murder. A kindly priest visits the imprisoned Victor, who then listens to his bizarre confessions. The story then flashes back to when Victor was just a young wealthy orphan and he meets his mentor, Paul Krempe (Played by Robert Urquhart). The two bond instantly and as Victor grows up, the two work side by side on a groundbreaking experiment that can restore life to the dead. The two manage to bring a small dog back to life, a success that sparks a horrifying determination in Victor to restore life to a human corpse. Ignoring Krempe’s pleas to continue their research before trying to raise a human corpse, Victor begins grave robbing and putting together a hellish creation. As the construction continues, Victor even resorts to murder to obtain the brain of a genius for his monster. Despite the brain being damaged, Victor manages to restore life to the corpse and creates a creature (Played by Christopher Lee) that isn’t the genius he hoped, but a bloodthirsty murderer with little emotion. After the creature escapes from Victor’s lab, it wanders into the woods where it stumbles upon local villagers, all who are horrifically slaughtered.
While the addition of color allows us to get a clear glimpse of Frankenstein’s grotesque creation, the film also repulses us with plenty of detached limbs, rotting eyeballs, severed heads, and oozing wounds. More grotesque than the Karloff monster, Lee’s abomination isn’t nearly as sympathetic as what Universal came up with, something that makes him less memorable than Karloff. You still have to give Lee’s monster credit, he does have a startling appearance and his blank stare kills certainly do make your skin crawl. A confrontation between him and a terrified blind man is certainly a sequence that will have even the most hardened horror viewer holding their breath. The monster is only given a small amount of screen time, something else that hurts the growth of his character, and Lee is forced to just swing his arms around in a fury and look confused for a good portion of the film. He is creepy as he wanders the autumn landscape and surveys the gothic architecture around him. Yet most of the fear is tapped in Frankenstein himself, an even more terrifying force that makes the monster look tame by comparison.
The cold-hearted scientist is certainly the true monster of The Curse of Frankenstein, one that holds you in suspense for a good duration of the runtime. While Colin Clive played Frankenstein as a man who has bitten off more than he can chew, Cushing’s Frankenstein is a man filled with hellish determination. He is sweet as sugar to his fiancé, Elizabeth (Played by Hazel Court), who is oblivious to his steamy encounters with his maid, Justine (Played by Valerie Gaunt). We get the feeling that this affair will not end on civil terms and it does take a turn for the nasty, especially when Justine reveals serious news to Victor and pleads for marriage. It is also difficult to watch the friendship between Frankenstein and Krempe deteriorate into a bitter relationship with Krempe constantly pleading with Frankenstein to end this madness. While Clive’s Frankenstein is celebrated more than Cushing’s, the better of the two will always be Cushing. At times, he can be incredibly charismatic and even charming but in the blink of an eye, his gentlemanly charm is undercut by a sinister meeting with a mortician for a pair of eyeballs. Krempe is ultimately the subtle hero of The Curse of Frankenstein, the voice of reason who puts the monster down once and then frustratingly disappears from the terrifying climax.
Made on the cheap, The Curse of Frankenstein doesn’t have the grand fiery ending that Universal’s Frankenstein has. The film has a bit more of a personal climax, one that, yes, does end with flames and a vat of acid (in place of a windmill), but with hints that this may all have been in Victor’s head. Could it be that the monster never existed at all? Quite the creative spin on the legendary material! The miniscule budget does force director Terence Fisher to really focus on character development to really take center stage and luckily, amazing talent surrounds him. He also does a fantastic job creating a spooky atmosphere with very little. The most detailed set is certainly Frankenstein’s boiling and bubbling lab, cramped and confined when viewed next to the stone structure seen in Universal’s Frankenstein. While it certainly isn’t perfect and there is just too little of Lee, The Curse of Frankenstein belongs to Cushing and that inauspicious gothic mood. The ending is certainly grim with madness running amok (just get a load of that final image). It does send the viewer off shaken and that is all that many can ask of a good horror movie. Overall, if you’re not really in the mood to revisit Universal’s legendary classic for the 50th time, seek out this Technicolor nightmare on Halloween night. It may have you switching on a nightlight or two.
The Curse of Frankenstein is available on DVD.