Book Review: Famous Monsters – Ack-ives, Vol. 2: The House of Hammer

I’ve been a Hammer Films aficionado since I was a wee little lad. Growing up, my granmum always had AMC and other old movie stations on. As the sun went down, often times there’d be some solid old school horror, whether it was the Universal Monsters stuff, Vincent Price movies or the Hammer films, which almost always starred Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing and usually the two of them together.

I used to videotape every Hammer film that came on television and I had a solid collection. As I got older, I ended up getting just about everything I could on DVD, completing the Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy film series. Not to mention everything in-between.

So I had to pick this up when I saw it in my local comic book shop.

This reads like a book but is in a magazine format. But it’s pretty thick and has a slew of good articles about the history of Hammer studios and all the great movies they put out.

It delves into their big franchises, which were the UK’s darker and more serious takes on the franchises originally created by Universal, most of which came from famous works of literature like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Hammer didn’t just stop there, though. They did other vampire movies, mummy movies, zombie movies, werewolf movies and just about everything else under the sun that could be tailored into a good horror story.

Famous Monsters did a fine job of painting the picture of who the creators behind Hammer were and why their work was so essential to the evolution of horror.

This is definitely worth checking out and it is plastered with lots of great photos from the film themselves, as well as behind the scenes stuff.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic horror magazines.

Film Review: Horror Express (1972)

Also known as: Pánico en el Transiberiano (original Spanish title), The Possessor (US re-issue title), Panic in the Trans-Siberian Train (alternate title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1972 (Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival)
Directed by: Eugenio Martin
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Silvia Tortosa

Granada Films, Benmar Productions, 91 Minutes

Review:

“The two of you together. That’s fine. But what if one of you is the monster?” – Inspector Mirov

It’s been at least a decade since I’ve watched Horror Express but I really didn’t like it the few times I saw it, even though it is one of the 22 motion pictures that teamed up real life best friends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It also features another one of my favorite actors, Telly Savalas.

I’m not sure why I wasn’t a fan of it, as I liked it this time around but maybe I’m older, more mature, have a better palate and thought that this thing was a bit of a fine wine with just the right amount of cheese to accompany it.

I think that one of the reason’s I never liked it was due to the fact that all the prints and releases of this film are in pretty poor quality. I hope it gets a proper remaster, at some point. But I was able to not let that bother me this time, as I got caught up in the story, most of which I hadn’t remembered other than this being a mummy on a train movie.

There’s a weird twist though, this mummy is actually an alien and he has this power where he uses his glowing eyes to peer through his victims’ eyes and murder them with some sort of brain crushing ability. However, the alien mummy has to kill people to regain his form and his strength but he also can control them like an undead army.

This movie feels like a mix between Agatha Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express and a classic Hammer horror film. But it looks more like the ’70s visual style of an Amicus production. Strangely, this is neither a Hammer or Amicus film but it was able to lure in the talents of Lee and Cushing.

I liked the setting and how the environment was used so well. A train kind of limits what one can do in a horror movie but it never wrecked the plot here and it actually made you feel just as confined as the characters.

The movie uses miniatures for the exterior train shots but they come off really well. That could be due to the poor quality of the print hiding the imperfections but even the big finale, which sees part of the train go over a cliff was pulled off nicely.

I’m glad that I revisited this. I didn’t expect to actually dig it as much as I did this time but sometimes you can revisit something you weren’t fond of and see something new or worthwhile that you may have missed before.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Amicus and Hammer Films of the early ’70s, especially those featuring Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee.

Film Review: The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

Also known as: Blood Zone (Japan English title), Method for Murder, Waxworks, Sweets to the Sweet, The Cloak (segment titles)
Release Date: February 21st, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Duffell
Written by: Robert Bloch, Russ Jones
Music by: Michael Dress
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliot, Ingrid Pitt, Jon Pertwee, Joss Ackland, Nyree Dawn Porter

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 102 Minutes

Review:

“That’s what’s wrong with the present day horrorfilms. There’s no realism. Not like the old ones, the great ones. Frankenstein. Phantom of the Opera. Dracula – the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow.” – Paul Henderson

I know that I’ve stated a few times before that I’m not a big fan of anthologies but sometimes there are those rare exceptions like Creepshow. Well, this is one of those rare exceptions.

Amicus is often times confused with Hammer Films, as they were another British studio that made horror pictures in the same era and used a lot of the same stars. They did have a tendency to make a lot of anthology pictures though, where Hammer focused more on classic monsters in the same vein as the Universal Pictures horror films of the ’30s and ’40s.

This one might be the best of Amicus’ horror anthologies, which are really hit or miss for me.

love that we get to see Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in another film, which happened over twenty times in their careers. They don’t share screen time here, unfortunately, as both men star in different stories within this anthology framework. But each is the star of their own segment.

Additionally, we get to see a segment starring Denholm Elliot a.k.a. Marcus Brody of Indiana Jones fame, as well as Jon Pertwee, most famous for playing the third incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who. It doesn’t stop there though, as we also get to enjoy the wonderful Ingrid Pitt, a true British scream queen, and Joss Ackland, who I love in just about everything.

While this stacked cast does a lot to make this film work and to legitimize it in a sea of horror from the era, it is the stories and the actual connection that they have that makes this a really enjoyable feature.

This is a small and confined feeling film, as just about every scene takes place in the same house. Each segment focuses on a different owner of the house and how this haunted property finds a way to effect them and bring out their fear.

We have a story about a writer going insane, seeing his imagined killer coming to life. We then get a story that involves a wax recreation of a dead love. Then there is one about a young girl that is a witch who terrorizes her overbearing father. And finally, we get my favorite segment that sees a legendary horror actor come into possession of a mystical cloak that turns the wearer into an actual vampire. There is also a chopped up segment that strings all the tales together.

I wouldn’t say that this is the best horror film put out by Amicus but it is the best one I’ve seen in awhile. That being said, it is in the upper echelon of their pictures and pretty damn enjoyable all around.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other British horror films from Amicus and Hammer from the late ’60s/early ’70s.

Film Review: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Release Date: April, 1974 (Paris Festival of Fantasy Film)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Shane Briant, David Prowse, Madeline Smith, John Stratton, Patrick Troughton, Bernard Lee

Hammer Film Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, Paramount Pictures, 99 Minutes

Review:

“[after operating eyeballs onto the creature] Now, in approximately one hour, when the narcosis wears off… we shall see.” – Baron Victor Frankenstein

This is the final picture in Hammer Film’s Frankenstein series. I have now revisited and reviewed all of the films that star Peter Cushing. I need to go back and revisit the other one that stars Ralph Bates but that one is a semi-parody and not as serious as the Cushing installments.

As a kid, I always loved this one and I still like it a lot but having now seen it so soon after watching the others, I’d have to say that this one is the slowest. In fact, it drags out in parts and is a little bit boring.

It still has its fair share of excitement and I love that Frankenstein’s monster in this chapter is a “neolithic man”, which just equates to the monster being a massive, hulking brute, covered in lots of fur with an ape-like face. It’s also worth noting that the monster was portrayed by David Prowse, who would go on to be Darth Vader and thus, this was a film with both Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin, three years before their more famous pairing in Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope.

Prowse was also in a lot of Hammer pictures. Certainly not as many as Cushing but this wasn’t a new type of role for him.

The film also stars Shane Briant and Madeline Smith, who many probably remember as Miss Caruso from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor of Doctor Who fame also has a small role, as does Bernard Lee, the actor who played M in the James Bond movies of the ’60s and ’70s.

I like the setting of this film, which is an asylum. Frankenstein has taken on another identity and works in secret within the asylum, where there isn’t a shortage of bodies to experiment on and brains to steal.

Frankenstein is obviously still evil but he is nowhere near as dastardly as he was in the previous film, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. But that’s the thing with the Hammer Frankenstein pictures, there just isn’t any real consistency and every film is sort of self-contained. It’s a stark contrast to how they managed their Dracula franchise where most of the films led right into the next chapter.

Being that this is a later Hammer movie, it does have a bit more of a gore factor than their earlier pictures. It isn’t overly gory but there are some scenes that still come off as pretty intense. For instance, there is a scene where the patients within the asylum literally tear someone apart with their bare hands. It happens off screen but we see meat and fluids flying, as well as what’s left of the poor soul after the savage attack.

This is one of the weakest installments of the film series but I still enjoy it quite a bit. The thing is, Hammer was running out of gas by 1974 and there was more competition in the UK from studios like Amicus, who also produced movies in a very similar style to Hammer.

I wouldn’t call this a worthy finale to the film series but The Satanic Rites of Dracula wasn’t a good finale either.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1969 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Bert Batt
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Veronica Carlson, Freddie Jones, Simon Ward, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, Warner Bros., Seven Arts, 98 Minutes, 101 Minutes (US version)

Review:

“I have become the victim of everything that Frankenstein and I ever advocated. My brain is in someone else’s body.” – Professor Richter

It’s been a really long time since I have seen this chapter in the Hammer Films’ Frankenstein series. This is the fifth one out of the six movies starring Peter Cushing and it’s my favorite one after the original.

Even though I really like this installment, it has its ups and downs but the film really plays out like a good drama with horror and sci-fi elements thrown in.

This has some of the best acting in the series and the inclusion of Veronica Carlson was a strong positive for me. She is one of the more talented Hammer scream queens and really takes over the screen in the scenes where she is featured. It also doesn’t hurt that she is absolutely stunning in that old school, classic beauty sort of way.

I also thought that the rest of the cast was pretty damn good for a Hammer picture that came out towards the end of their two decade run as kings of horror.

Peter Cushing is absolutely dastardly in this one and while that does a fine job of building suspense, tension and the desire to see him get his comeuppance, it did feel uncharacteristic for his version of Baron Frankenstein. We’ve come to know him over the four films before this one and he’s always operated fairly consistently. Sure, he’s done evil shit before but he just has an extra edge to him here. He isn’t driven by his science and obsession over his work. Instead, he seems to be driven by the fact that he enjoys being a complete bastard. His dive into deeper evil is punctuated by him raping Veronica Carlson’s character and frankly, that’s the most uncharacteristic thing that he does in the film. He never cared about the ladies before but that changed with this movie. For the first time, it made him truly unlikable. I guess it makes him more of a pure villain but I always liked to think that there was still some way to save his soul and that he was just a victim of his own mania.

I love that the “monster” in this maintains his intelligence and isn’t just a dumb, hulking brute. It’s about time that Baron Frankenstein’s experiments reach a higher level. And I’m glad that this ignored the absolute weirdness of the previous film that saw the mad doctor trapping souls.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed benefited most by having the series’ best director, Terence Fisher, return. This felt like a true sequel to the original more than any of the other films and in some ways, it was probably another soft reboot, as the continuity in this film series doesn’t seem to matter from film to film.

This is solid, classic Hammer. This is a prime example of why they were masters of the horror genre from the mid-’50s through the mid-’70s.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Also known as: Frankenstein’s Monster (Sweden)
Release Date: May 8th, 1964 (US)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: John Elder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Peter Cushing, Sandor Eles, Peter Woodthorpe, Katy Wild, Duncan Lamont, Kiwi Kingston

Hammer Film Productions, Universal Pictures, The Rank Organisation, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I realized long ago that the only way to prove my theories was to make something in my laboratory that actually lived. I never told you, Hans… I succeeded once.” – Baron Frankenstein

Continuity?! Who the hell needs bloody continuity?!

This is the third film in Hammer’s long running Frankenstein film series but it completely overlooks the solid second film and only builds off of what happened in the first one. So I guess it’s like an alternate “part two”.

While that’s pretty common in horror franchises these days, it’s a little strange that they ignored the second film, which I thought was pretty good and had a really satisfying ending that set up a formula for future sequels.

In this chapter, Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein searches for his creation from the first picture. He ends up finding the monster frozen in ice. The monster is then defrosted and brought back to life.

The film goes back and shows the creation of the monster but these flashbacks are new scenes and different from how they appeared in the original picture. So really, this kind of omits the context of the first film in a similar way to how Evil Dead 2 retells the events of The Evil Dead in its own condensed way.

Despite all that confusion, as I’m a stickler for continuity, I still like this chapter in the franchise. But if Peter Cushing is playing Baron Frankenstein, I’m probably going to like the film. Luckily, none of them are really bad.

This one was distributed in the United States by Universal Pictures, which gave the Hammer team the ability to make the monster look more like Universal’s classic design from the Boris Karloff movies. Weirdly, they made the creature’s head way too boxy in their attempt at creating the look of the Karloff creature. For most people it probably looks bad but it is at least a memorable version of the monster unlike the versions we got in parts two, four and five.

While this one isn’t directed by Hammer’s maestro behind the camera, Terence Fisher, it still has the same sort of spirit and tone. Freddie Francis did an acceptable job in place of the great Fisher.

The Evil of Frankenstein is a pretty strong outing by Hammer, even though it’s not one of the best in their long filmography. I still enjoy it for what it is and it kept the series interesting and fresh. And as always, Cushing was dynamite.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Also known as: Blood of Frankenstein (working title), I, Frankenstein (alternate title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1958 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Leonard Salzedo
Cast: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It should have been perfect. I made it to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. Frankenstein would have been accepted as a genius of science. Instead, he was sent to the guillotine. I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me!” – Dr. Victor Stein

The Revenge of Frankenstein was the first sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein. It came out pretty quickly, as its predecessor was released just a year earlier. Also, 1958 saw the release of another major Hammer Films movie that also starred Peter Cushing: The Horror of Dracula. Just after that, in 1959, we got The Mummy. Both of of those films kicked off their respected franchises for Hammer. Basically, Cushing was the king of the Universal Monsters remakes in the UK.

Now this isn’t nearly as good as Curse but it isn’t the worst of the Frankenstein sequels either. I feel that the creative process was probably hindered by Hammer Films being spread too thin due to a bunch of films being developed at the same time.

The script is still pretty decent and the story works well in keeping Baron Frankenstein alive and his experiments going.

However, this actually plays more like a drama than a horror film. Sure, there’s a monster but he’s hardly scary and then there’s a man who has been experimented on by Frankenstein and goes mad, dying in the doctor’s arms, yelling his name in front of a bunch of people at a party.

While Baron Frankenstein now exists as Dr. Stein and practices in another town, the yelling of his true name, combined with his likeness, makes the townsfolk very suspicious.

Frankenstein’s assistant in this film is much more on his side than the previous movie and he assists the doctor in faking his own death, once again, so that he can escape, move somewhere else and continue his work. I actually love the final scene in this movie and it firmly establishes that this film isn’t just a sequel but that it’s now an ongoing franchise.

This is an interesting and well crafted chapter in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, even if it is short on terror. It’s carried by the great performance of Peter Cushing, who seems more comfortable in the role and looks like he’s really enjoying the character, which is probably the best role he’s played over his long career.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is a solid outing by Hammer and another good performance by Peter Cushing. I also really enjoyed the performance by Michael Gwynn as a victim of Frankenstein’s work. Gwynn worked in other Hammer films, as well and is probably most recognized as the priest from Scars of Dracula.

Additionally, Francis Matthews was great as Frankenstein’s sinister assistant Dr. Hans Kleve.

In the end, Terence Fisher directed a pretty good sequel to his predecessor that built off of it and set the stage for the chapters after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.