Release Date: November 17th, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere) Directed by: Tim Burton Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, Kevin Yagher Based on:The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving Music by: Danny Elfman Cast: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Marc Pickering, Christopher Walken, Ray Park, Lisa Marie, Peter Guinness, Martin Landau (uncredited)
Mandalay Pictures, American Zoetrope, Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes
“Villainy wears many masks, none so dangerous as the mask of virtue.” – Ichabod Crane
This is one of my favorite Tim Burton movies and every time I watch it, it just makes me wish that he did more straight up fantasy horror films.
This is Burton’s take on the famous story by Washington Irving but it takes the Sleepy Hollow legend and makes it a lot darker and more badass than other adaptations. For many, the classic Disney animated version is probably the one they’re most familiar with. This Sleepy Hollow is very different.
I love that this is gothic horror at its core and you can see the influences of Hammer Films, as well as those Edgar Allan Poe movies with Vincent Price. In fact, Burton does more than homage Hammer, here, as he also includes some Hammer legends in the film: Michael Gough and Christopher Lee, to be specific.
This also features Ian McDiarmid and a visually obscured Ray Park, making it the only movie to feature Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and Darth Maul: Star Wars can’t even claim that.
Anyway, the film is led by Johnny Depp and I love him in this. He plays a sort of whimsical, awkward character and his version of Ichabod Crane shows early signs of what Depp would later create as his most famous character, Captain Jack Sparrow.
I love the humor in this movie and I don’t think that it would’ve worked quite the same way without Depp. Here we have a great investigator that has to get down and dirty… and often times bloody. The humorous bit is that he’s a germaphobe and winces every time he has to do something unsettling or gross. It’s a reoccurring gag throughout the film but it works every time and it isn’t overused.
Depp also has Christina Ricci to play off of and I always like when these two are together. I honestly wish that they worked together more often, as they have real chemistry and always tend to accentuate each other’s performance.
The rest of the cast is padded out with some immense talent between Christopher Walken, Michael Gambon, Miranda Richardson, Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Lisa Marie and Casper Van Dien, who had just come off of the cult classic Starship Troopers.
I enjoy the look and tone of the film and my only real complaint about it is that it seems a bit too drawn out. The story is too complex and should have been refined and tweaked to bring the film down to around 90 minutes. It doesn’t really need more than that but at the same time it could’ve also used a bit more head chopping and action.
Apart from that, the only other negative is that the CGI looks cheesy in two parts but both of those moments happen really quick and it doesn’t wreck the film. I just found it a little bit jarring in those split seconds and it does pull you out of this period piece setting.
In the end, this is still pretty solid and it’s one of the highpoints of ’90s horror, as the decade came to a close and gave us a new millennium full of subpar, mostly shitty horror.
Rating: 8.5/10 Pairs well with: other gothic horror films around 2000, as well as other Tim Burton films with Johnny Depp.
Release Date: June 25th, 1962 (UK) Directed by: Terence Fisher Written by: John Elder Based on:The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux Music by: Edwin Astley Cast: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton
Hammer Films, 97 Minutes
“I am going to teach you to sing, Christine. I am going to give you a new voice! A voice so wonderful that theatres all over the world will be filled with your admirers. You will be the greatest star the opera has ever known. Greater than the greatest! And when you sing, Christine, you will be singing only… for me.” – The Phantom
My memories of this film were much fonder than they probably should have been. Granted, I love Hammer horror, especially the films directed by Terence Fisher. Plus, this had Michael Gough in it and that guy’s typically fantastic.
I still like this film and I thought that the look of it was great and akin to what one would expect from a Hammer horror movie of this era. I also love the look of The Phantom and thought that his mask is one of the best the character has ever had in this story’s long history and countless adaptations.
My biggest issue with this film, though, is that it is really slow and kind of boring, as some segments just drag along at a snail’s pace.
Also, the alterations to the plot didn’t really seem to benefit the story and I have to question why this deviated so much. I mean, that’s something that Hammer did often, as they wanted to tell their own story while using these famous literary characters but The Phantom of the Opera is already a pretty one-note story with a pretty one-note monster. This is probably why there weren’t a slew of Phantom sequels in the classic horror runs of Universal Studios and Hammer Films, which saw several Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies.
Still, this is a good, competent film. It’s just not Hammer or Fisher’s best and it sort of feels like it was half-assed at the production stage. Maybe Hammer kept striking oil with all of Fisher’s other films based on classic monsters and all parties involved just phoned this one in.
I used to think of this as one of my favorite film adaptations of the story but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Lon Chaney or Claude Rains versions.
Rating: 6/10 Pairs well with: other Hammer films of the late ’50s through early ’70s, especially those directed by Terence Fisher.
Release Date: August 25th, 1965 Directed by: Freddie Francis Written by: Milton Subotsky, Robert Bloch Based on:The Skull of the Marquis de Sade by Robert Bloch Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Michael Gough
Amicus Productions, 83 Minutes
“All I can say to you is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade!” – Sir Matthew Phillips
I felt like I was going through Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee withdrawals, as it’s actually been awhile since I got to kick back and watch one of their many collaborations. I mean, there were 22 of them and I’ve already reviewed several but I just felt the need to spend some time with two of my three favorite horror legends, especially during this trying COVID-19 self-imposed social exile.
Anyway, I really love The Skull. It’s not the best film with these guys in it and frankly, they don’t share enough scenes but this picture is full of so many great actors from the era, that it is hard not to love. I especially liked seeing Patrick Magee, Nigel Green and Michael Gough pop up in this.
The plot is an interesting one, as it sees Cushing come into possession of the skull of Marquis de Sade. The skull itself is possessed by an evil force, presumably de Sade, and it makes those around it do evil acts. Cushing is driven mad and we even get a moment that shows him murder his best friend, Christopher Lee.
What’s really fun about this movie is how some scenes are shot in regards to the skull. While this is a low budget production and a product of its time, where effects were still fairly primitive, the skull truly becomes its own character because of the simple tricks the filmmakers did.
I love how you see through the skull’s eye sockets in many shots, giving you a first-person perspective of the evil force, as it enchants and takes control of its human vessels. The use of colored light within the skull added a certain mystique to these shots. Also, the way that they made the skull physically float through the air was done to great effect. Even though modern HD televisions make the strings more visible, it still works and most of these effects look really smooth, especially for the mid-’60s.
The tone and atmosphere of the film are also well crafted. The cinematography is effective, especially in regards to the lighting and shot framing. And even though most of the story takes place in what was modern times, it still has a very Victorian feel to it.
Most importantly, this is well acted from all the key players, as they gave this film their all and made it better than it needed to be.
Like most old horror, this relies on the imagination of the viewer. It’s a “less is more” suspenseful thriller that uses your own imagination as its real monster.
While Amicus wasn’t quite at the level of Hammer, the best of their pictures, this being one of them, definitely stood proudly alongside their closest competition.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films. Specifically, those starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
Release Date: June 12th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere) Directed by: Joel Schumacher Written by: Akiva Goldsman Based on:Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger Music by: Elliot Goldenthal Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, John Glover, Elle Macpherson, Vivica A. Fox, Jesse Ventura, Nicky Katt
Warner Bros., 125 Minutes
“If revenge is a dish best served cold, then put on your Sunday finest. It’s time to feast!” – Mr. Freeze
When I recently reviewed Batman Forever, I was really harsh on it. I also said that it is a worse movie than this one, which is considered one of the worst movies ever made. Watching these two films, back to back, after all these years, I still feel that way. This is the superior film of the two dreadful Joel Schumacher Batman pictures.
What makes this stand well above Batman Forever, for me, is the thing that most people like to trash about this picture: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. Sorry, I just love puns and Mr. Freeze’s awful and cheesy puns still make me smile. Sure, I’d prefer a more serious Batman film than this festival of hokey camp but if Schumacher insists on destroying something I love, I can at least appreciate Schwarzenegger’s performance for what it is, a beacon of utter hilarity in a sea of horribleness. And really, Schwarzenegger’s Freeze is the best of the Schumacher Batman villains. The Riddler and Two-Face were just more insane versions of the Joker, Poison Ivy was terrible and Bane just made me want to cry.
Speaking of Ivy and Bane, this film’s other villains, one would have to be somewhat excited at the prospect of Uma Thurman playing Ivy. However, she gets completely Schumachered up and is a shell of the great character she should be. In fact, she’s not Poison Ivy at all, she’s a wacko scientist reborn as a plant that emulates over the top starlets of a bygone Hollywood era.
Now Bane, he’s even less Bane than Ivy is Ivy. In the comics, Bane is an intelligent and strong foil for Batman, a true equal with more strength and the advantage of not being bogged down by good guy morals. Here, he is a dumb hulking brute that spends more time dressed like Dick Tracy in a lucha libre mask than actually doing anything useful. Fuck Bane. Fuck Schumacher.
The film is also full of the Bat-nipples, Bat-butt and Bat-crotch shots made famous in Batman Forever but since they introduced Batgirl here, we also get a gratuitous Bat-boobies shot when she first throws on her costume. Schumacher likes his sexy Bat-bits being front and center in these more “family friendly” films.
We also get more of Elliot Goldenthal’s awful Batman theme except it is even louder and more unrelenting in this picture than it was in Batman Forever. It literally never stops. Sure, it may have the volume dropped a bit here and there but it is just two hours of violent horns blowing right up your ass. By the time you get to the final shot of the movie where Batman, Robin and Batgirl run towards the screen with the theme blaring louder than ever, you want to scream, “Oh my god! Fucking enough already!!!”
This film isn’t as ugly as Batman Forever but make no mistake, it is still really friggin’ ugly. It’s like some random person walked up to Joel Schumacher and asked, “How are your Batman films going to look?” And he realized he hadn’t thought about it yet but since he was buying black light posters for his niece at Spencer Gifts, he pointed to the poster rack and hissed, “Just like thiiiiiissssss!”
Other than Schwarzenegger trying his damnedest to be fun here, there is nothing in this film that is worthwhile. I could get into the lousy script, how George Clooney was like a fish out of water, the horrendous wire work in the action sequences and about 900 dozen other things but this movie is a massive failure. Still… not as bad as Batman Forever, which wasn’t even mildly fun or entertaining. Schwarzenegger saved this movie from itself, even if it still turned out worse than a sawdust enema.
So it should go without saying that this needs to be put through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 5 Stool: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”
Release Date: June 9th, 1995 (Mann Village Theater) Directed by: Joel Schumacher Written by: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman Based on:Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger Music by: Elliot Goldenthal Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar, René Auberjonois, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, En Vogue, Ed Begley Jr.
Warner Bros., 122 Minutes
“Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?” – Alfred Pennyworth, “I’ll get drive-thru.” – Batman
People like to trash Batman & Robin as one of the worst films ever made. It’s far from one of the worst ever. But most people haven’t really dug as deep into the shit barrel as I have. And truthfully, this movie is much worse.
People also love trashing the Schumacher Batman films as a whole but typically say that Batman Forever is okay. No, it absolutely is not okay. It is one of the worst comic book adaptations of all-time. It doesn’t understand the source material at all and it is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions capped off by horrible characters, horrible acting, ugly as hell sets and a hefty helping of several awful ’90s tropes.
Generally I like Val Kilmer. He’s horrible in this and either severely miscast or had such a bad script and direction that he just showed up, read his lines dryly and went back to his trailer to bang babes. I’m going to say that it is both of those things. It’s like no one that made this movie gave a shit about it at all and they just did a bunch of cocaine and then took a shit ton of downers before going on set.
Well, except for Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, they acted like they were on cocaine mixed with speed. And really, their versions of Two-Face and the Riddler made no sense within the context of who those characters are.
Tommy Lee’s Two-Face was like a crazier version of the Joker and turned up to 11. He was a coked up gorilla dressed like a circus performer. Carrey’s Riddler was another crazier version of the Joker mixed with his Fire Marshall Bill character from the sketch comedy show In Living Color. But I’m also someone that never got Jim Carrey’s appeal and always thought of him as an annoying asshole, excluding Dumb and Dumber and his dramatic work after the ’90s.
Nicole Kidman is completely wasted as the overly horny psychiatrist trying to get into Batman’s head and pants. Chris O’Donnell wasn’t necessarily a bad Robin but the character is a kid, not a thirty year-old. It’s like they took their casting cues from Beverly Hills 90210, a show synonymous for trying to pass off thirty year-olds as high school students.
Well, at least Pat Hingle and Michael Gough are back as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred but really, I just feel bad for them. Hopefully they got paid well.
The film also features nipples being added to the Bat-suit, I’m not shitting you. Plus, it has gratuitous Bat-butt and Bat-crotch action shots.
Lastly, the beautiful Danny Elfman score has been replaced by an awful brassy explosion that never lets up, courtesy of Elliot Goldenthal, who was apparently trying to destroy our eardrums. The Elfman theme and scores were a magnificent part of the Burton films but I guess if Warner Bros. wanted to distance themselves from quality and align themselves with a foot long double meat shit sandwich, than this was a necessary change.
This movie is a steaming pile of neon accented bear droppings. It most certainly needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”
Release Date: June 16th, 1992 (Los Angeles premiere) Directed by: Tim Burton Written by: Daniel Waters, Sam Hamm Based on:Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger Music by: Danny Elfman Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Vincent Schiavelli, Andrew Bryniarski, Cristi Conaway, Paul Reubens, Sean Whalen
Warner Bros., 126 Minutes
“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It’s okay to be scared; many of you won’t be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God’s children! First, second, third and fourth born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march! The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin
When I was a kid, other than Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Back to the Future, Part II, this was my most anticipated sequel. This was also the second and final time that Michael Keaton would play Batman, as well as being Tim Burton’s last Batman picture.
While I don’t quite love this chapter in the film series as much as the original, it is still really damn good and certainly better than the two Joel Schumacher films that followed.
We lose Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl and Jack Palance but we gain Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, as well as small parts by Vincent Schiavelli and Paul Reubens. Plus, Michael Gough and Pat Hingle return to accompany Keaton.
The two top billed villains in this story are the Penguin and Catwoman, although when you really analyze the picture, Walken’s Max Shrek is the true villain and his name was an obvious homage to Nosferatu actor Max Schreck. By story’s end, Catwoman is more of an antihero like she would become in the comics.
Danny DeVito was probably a perfect choice for the Penguin back in 1992. He had star power, charisma and definitely a similar body type. However, in this adaptation of the Batman mythos, he is reinvented to be more grotesque and much larger in girth. While he comes from wealth and opulence, this version of the character was rejected as an infant and went to live out his life in the Gotham City sewers where his only friends were sewer penguins and eventually the circus themed gang that he controls.
Catwoman also has a different origin. Here, she is a pushover secretary who gets in over her head and is shoved out of a high rise window, presumably to her death. There is a sort of mystical moment where alley cats swarm her body and she is magically reborn with cat-like reflexes and confidence. It’s pretty silly but Tim Burton made this film more like a dark fairy tale than his previous Batman movie.
Even though Gotham City is a massive place, the sets and design of this film make it feel pretty confined, even when we are in what are assumed to be wide open spaces. Maybe it was designed this way, intentionally. But the film feels smaller than the previous Batman movie, even though it cost a lot more to make: $80 million, as opposed to the $35 million budget of the first chapter.
Still, the cinematography is pretty good and the world looks much more like a Tim Burton world than the first film, which had tighter controls on it from the studio. It was the Burton elements though that I feel bogged this picture down a bit. Plus, the film was considered less family friendly and caused the studio to make drastic changes to the franchise after Burton was booted before the next picture. Granted, the followup movies were pretty horrendous.
This is a pretty good Batman picture, even if it does take some tremendous liberties in altering the source material. The right kind of spirit was there and this really just sort of exists in its own Tim Burton universe. That’s not a bad thing and if it wasn’t for the Burton Batman movies, we would have never gotten the near perfect masterpiece that was Batman: The Animated Series.
Release Date: June 19th, 1989 (Westwood premiere) Directed by: Tim Burton Written by: Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren Based on:Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger Music by: Danny Elfman, Prince Cast: Jack Nicholson, Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter
Guber-Peters Company, Warner Bros., 126 Minutes
“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” – The Joker
Sure, there are several movies that had a major impact on me, as a young kid. However, none of them, except maybe Star Wars, quite hit me like 1989’s Batman. This was the cinematic event of my childhood that probably shaped my life for quite some time and is responsible for me still being a massive Batman fan today.
After seeing this, I got into comic books a lot more, started drawing my own and even had a comic publishing company in middle school with some friends. And to this day, Batman is still my favorite hero and he also has the coolest villains, hands down.
I was so excited to see this, being that I was ten years-old. I bought the novelization when it went on sale and read it in a day. Then I read it a few more times before the film actually came out. Was I worried about spoilers? Nope. Seeing it come to life in the flesh was all I really cared about, even if I knew the story, inside and out.
All these years later, this is still my favorite Batman film and Michael Keaton is still my favorite Batman. Adam West is a very close second though, as I discovered him and the ’60s show alongside this film.
As a ten year-old, I had never seen anything as perfect as this. When it came out on VHS, my cousins and I watched it three or four times in a row, until we passed out from exhaustion. The next day, we probably watched it another half dozen times. This was the cherry on top of the summer of 1989, which is still one of the best summer movie seasons of all-time.
Watching it in 2018, I still absolutely love this film. Sure, I see some of the minor flaws it has, like a sometimes nonsensical plot and weird developments that don’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. But this is a comic book come to life and for the time, it was some top quality stuff and it has aged really well.
The film sort of has a film-noir and a German Expressionist style. Gotham City looks timeless because of the film’s style and that style helps to keep this grounded in its own reality. While some things are over the top, it feels much more plausible than most of the comic book films today. Batman and the Joker could both exist in some way because no one here has super powers. This is really a crime thriller where the hero of the story just has a lot of money for cool gadgets and a sweet jet.
Over the years, some people have complained that Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker is corny or just a retread of the ’60s Cesar Romero incarnation. I think Nicholson was fantastic and it is one of my favorite roles he has ever played, right alongside Jack Torrance (The Shining) and Jake Gittes (Chinatown and The Two Jakes). Maybe Nicholson didn’t look like the perfect comic book version of the character but he made up for it in his madness and his ability to come off as convincing, scary and cool.
Michael Keaton is my Batman simply because he was my first and well, he is the perfect balance of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Wayne wasn’t the best but it was acceptable while his Batman was exceptional. In later years, we got Val Kilmer, who I thought was too dry, and George Clooney, who did a great Wayne but a not so good Batman. Christian Bale was grunty and just sort of there and Ben Affleck hasn’t really wowed me, although he hasn’t disappointed either.
1989’s Batman is still a perfect storm, as far as I’m concerned. Within the context of what it is, a living comic book, there isn’t a whole lot that one could nitpick about. Then again, some writers and critics over the years have tried to call the film out for not being as good as it is remembered. But some people on the Internet survive by posting clickbait articles and whining. Some people just think they need to show how cool they are by trashing something they will never be as cool as.
While I would also go on to love the direct sequel to this, Batman Returns, this chapter in the Tim Burton Batman duology is the best. While I am a fan of directors being able to convey their vision and Burton had more control with the sequel, I like how this one turned out compared to its followup. It’s more of a studio movie, sure, but it has just enough of that Burton touch to make it fairly unique. Plus, the score by Danny Elfman mixed with the sweet tunes of Prince created one of the most iconic soundtracks of all-time.
Batman has a few problems but they pale in comparison to a lot of the blockbusters today. The film didn’t try to be too big, which is what every contemporary blockbuster does. It also has a dark edge to it, coming out of a decade where Reaganomics and new wave music had most people acting cheery and cheesy. This was a precursor to the edgier ’90s where darker indie films and grunge music became the pop culture of the time.
Also known as: The Crimson Cult (US) Release Date: December, 1968 (UK) Directed by: Vernon Sewell Written by: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln Music by: Peter Knight Cast: Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele, Mark Eden, Michael Gough, Rupert Davies
Tigon Films, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes
“It’s like a house from one of those old horror films.” – Eve Morley, “It’s like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment.” – Robert Manning
The only thing that this movie really has going for it is its great cast of horror legends. It boasts the talents of Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Barbara Steele. It also features Michael Gough, most famous to American audiences as Alfred from the Tim Burton Batman films. Rupert Davies even pops up in a small role.
I also have to give props to John Coquillon’s cinematography. His use of vivid and colorful lighting was effective, as were the sets and the colorful costumes he captured and brought to life. The film, in its best visual parts, looks like living art.
Unfortunately, the story is weak and there isn’t much of anything that is surprising. Barbara Steele often times distracts from the frail and inadequate script with her alluring beauty and her piercing gaze but even with the help from Karloff and Lee, the film is still pretty flat and uninteresting.
However, anytime that you can see legends like this come together, it is an affair worth checking out. I always like seeing Michael Gough in old British horror flicks too, considering how good he was for Hammer Studios in Horror of Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera.
Karloff and Lee look like they were having fun working together but neither of them gave anything close to their greatest performances. Barbara Steele was really good but she just didn’t have a lot to do and her character was fairly one dimensional. She looked stunning in her body paint and costume and really embodied the part of the demigod witch that she was supposed to be.
The main characters of the film were Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherell but they were completely overshadowed by the legends packed into this picture. They still did decent with the material. Wetherell was very pretty and had a great body, which is obviously why she was selected to play the Stage Actress in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
Curse of the Crimson Altar is just average. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just exists. The positives are cancelled out by the negatives but at least the stars make it a worthwhile experience for those who are fans of their work.
I have to break this into two parts, as there are eight films to review.
Christopher Lee was the greatest actor to ever play Dracula. In fact, he probably also has the most longevity as the character since he played him in seven films for Hammer over what spanned about two decades.
Lee has since gone on to get more notoriety in films outside of horror after playing Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. He also played Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels. But before all that, he was the king of horror and this series featured him at his most iconic and memorable.
Horror of Dracula (1958):
Also known as: Dracula Release Date: May 8th, 1958 (UK) Directed by: Terence Fisher Written by: Jimmy Sangster Based on:Dracula by Bram Stoker Music by: James Bernard Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling
Hammer Film Productions, Rank Organization, Universal International, 82 Minutes
In the first film, we get a retelling of the classic Bram Stoker tale. Some of the characters are the same but the events differ greatly.
Jonathan Harker arrives at Dracula’s castle. However, in this version, he knows who Dracula is and he is there to destroy him. Before he gets that chance, he ends up a vampire himself. This brings in Van Helsing. In this series he is played by Christopher Lee’s constant co-star and lifelong best friend, Peter Cushing.
Cushing is most famous as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. So this film features two great Star Wars villains as leads. The film also features Michael Gough, who was best known in more modern times as Alfred in the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films that were released between 1989 and 1997.
As a film, this installment is the best in the series. It is some of director Terence Fisher’s best work. It has a great pace, a great atmosphere and the cinematography was total Hammer Horror style, which would become synonymous with the studio and many other studios that tried to knock it off and mimic Hammer’s success. Granted, the style was used in The Curse of Frankenstein a year prior but Fisher’s implementation (and probably invention) of the style was really at its best in these two films.
This movie is greatly acted, greatly directed and the special effects for the late 1950s are pretty damned amazing. Taking into account the limited techniques of that era, the Dracula death scene is pretty cool to watch and I can see where at that time, it would have been awe-inspiring and cutting edge. Hell, it is way more effective than the overabundance of CGI that we get now and it also looked more realistic because what you see on screen was actually physically on the set.
The Brides of Dracula (1960):
Release Date: July 7th, 1960 (UK) Directed by: Terence Fisher Written by: Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan, Edward Percy, Anthony Hinds Based on:Dracula by Bram Stoker Music by: Malcolm Williamson Cast: Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt, Yvonne Monlaur, David Peel, Michael Ripper
Hammer Film Productions, Universal International, 85 Minutes
One could argue that this film should be omitted as Christopher Lee is not in it and neither is Dracula.
Peter Cushing returns however, as Van Helsing and this fleshes out his story more, which is good considering that a version of his character doesn’t return to the series until the final two films. Also, this film is directed by Terence Fisher. Regardless of those who don’t consider it part of the series, it is, at the very least, a spiritual successor to Horror of Dracula.
This film follows Baron Meinster (played by David Peel), who is a disciple of Count Dracula. The plot revolves around a girl who comes to town and tickles the Baron’s fancy. However, the Baron has an overbearing mother who literally has him chained up. He is said to be insane. The girl, Marianne, feels for the Baron and grows a bond with him. One thing leads to another, a girl winds up dead and Van Helsing, who just so happens to be in the right place at the right time, suspects vampirism.
This is a pretty good film and it is consistent with Terence Fisher’s great catalog of classic horror gems. Sure, Lee doesn’t reprise his role as Count Dracula but the story is engaging enough to keep one interested and Cushing is good enough to keep any film afloat – even some of the shittier horror films he found himself in throughout the years. This is not one of those shitty films, however.
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966):
Release Date: January 9th, 1966 (UK) Directed by: Terence Fisher Written by: Jimmy Sangster, Anthony Hinds Based on:Dracula by Bram Stoker Music by: James Bernard Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Thorley Walters, Francis Matthews
Hammer Film Productions, Seven Arts, Warner-Pathé Distributors, 20th Century Fox, 90 Minutes
Finally, after an eight year hiatus, Christopher Lee is back as Dracula! And he would remain so for the rest of this iconic series! Unfortunately, Peter Cushing checked out and wouldn’t return until the seventh film in the series Dracula A.D. 1972.
This is my favorite chapter in the series. I find the story to be the most engaging and interesting of all the Hammer Dracula movies. Weirdly, Dracula doesn’t even have a line of dialogue in this film other than a few grunts and noises and intense stares. Truthfully, he doesn’t need words, as his motivations are pretty clear and it actually makes him more frightening and animalistic in this movie. Christopher Lee has a way of telling a story with his eyes and body language and even without words, Dracula felt more like the apex predator that he is in this film than any other Dracula film in history.
This installment is also directed by Terence Fisher and plays like the final part of his Dracula trilogy – encompassing this film and the two before it. This would be his last movie in the series and frankly, after this film, the quality started to decline. Granted, every film was still a positive experience except for the final one.
The plot in this film deals with four Londoners who end up in the Carpathian Mountains on vacation and are warned to stay away from the evil castle on the nearby mountain. Of course, they end up in the castle and are used to resurrect Dracula. The Dracula regeneration scene is pretty spectacular.
This is also the first film in the series to feature a bad ass religious figure taking on the evil vampire lord. They needed someone to fill that Van Helsing spot in the film, so this started the trend of having religious figures combating Count Dracula. This film also uses the formula the best, as Andrew Keir’s Father Sandor was like a kick ass Santa Clause with a high-powered rifle.
Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968):
Release Date: November 7th, 1968 (UK) Directed by: Freddie Francis Written by: Anthony Hinds Based on:Dracula by Bram Stoker Music by: James Bernard Cast: Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Michael Ripper
Hammer Film Productions, Seven Arts, Warner-Pathé Distributors, Warner Bros., 92 Minutes
Man, I really enjoy this film too. It brings back the religious protagonist. In this film he is Monsignor Ernest Muller. He is less effective than Father Sandor in the previous chapter and is actually the catalyst that unleashes Dracula, even though he doesn’t realize it.
This film also brought in another protagonist, one who is dating the niece of the Monsignor. This character was more interesting as he was a self-professed atheist that got under the skin of the religious know-it-all. In fact, I feel like they used the dichotomy between the religious man and the non-religious man to make a commentary on the subject within the scenes of this film.
As things would go, Dracula wants the girl, the boyfriend must protect the girl and conflict ensues. While this isn’t the best in the series, the plot is fresh and the series isn’t falling victim to redundancy at this point.
Lastly, the Dracula death scene in this film is phenomenal and beautifully shot; props to the director, Freddie Francis.