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: 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)
“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.
Also known as: Frankenstein Made Woman (Portugal) Release Date: March 15th, 1967 (US) Directed by: Terence Fisher Written by: Anthony Hinds (as John Elder) Based on:Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Music by: James Bernard Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters
Hammer Film Productions, 86 Minutes (UK), 92 Minutes (US)
“Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not.” – Baron Frankenstein
I was working my way through the Hammer Films Frankenstein series but I had to jump ahead to this, the fourth installment, as it’s the only one I don’t own on DVD and I can only see it on FilmStruck, which is sadly closing up shop November 29th.
This one is a bit different than the three before it, as Baron Frankenstein actually seems pretty level headed and exhibits some empathy. While I prefer the mad scientist role for Cushing, he was never quite as mad as Colin Clive’s Frankenstein and he actually seemed fairly rational at times. I guess, he was less cartoony but at the same time, his evil nature felt more pure and less like a caricature.
I do enjoy seeing Cushing’s Frankenstein seeming to have learned from his past mistakes and shitty behavior. That doesn’t mean he’s stopped his work but he is more responsible and less reckless with it.
Also, his work has strangely evolved, as now he’s found a way to trap the souls of the recently deceased in an effort to put them in a new body and give them life again. It’s a really bizarre turn but I’ll accept it, as this is the fourth of these films and it allows for some creative freedom and not just a rehash of the standard Frankenstein plot.
The monster in this chapter is a young girl with a disfigured face. But before she becomes a monster, we see her and her father constantly bullied by three rich assholes from the village. The girl’s boyfriend is one of Frankenstein’s assistants but he is blamed for the murder of the girl’s father, which was actually committed by the rich assholes when they were trying to steal wine. The assistant is executed but Frankenstein is able to trap his soul and return it to his deceased body.
The girl is severely upset over the death of her boyfriend so she drowns herself. The body is eventually brought to Frankenstein, who is able to not only revive her but to cure her of her disfigurement and physical handicaps. But she loses her memory while Frankenstein and his assistant Hertz try to slowly bring her back towards a normal life.
As she starts to remember things, she is taken over by the vengeful spirit of her dead boyfriend. Possessed, she exacts revenge on the three assholes who killed her father, allowed her boyfriend to be executed and eventually drove her to suicide.
There are a lot of twists and turns and the plot is absolutely bonkers but it’s pretty exciting if you are a fan of Hammer.
Cushing gives a solid performance and I really liked Susan Denberg, as she had a lot of different angles and personalities she had to convey within the 92 minute run time.
This is not a great Hammer movie or anywhere near Terence Fisher’s best but it reinvented the wheel a little bit and for some, that might not work, but for me, I welcomed it, suspended disbelief and just accepted the insanity of the plot.
Rating: 6.25/10 Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.
Release Date: April 30th, 1972 (UK) Directed by: Robert Young Written by: Judson Kinberg, George Baxt, Wilbur Stark Music by: David Whitaker Cast: Adrienne Corri, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder-Brown, Lalla Ward, Robin Sachs, Lynne Frederick, David Prowse, Thorley Walters
Hammer Film Productions, Rank Film Distributors Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 87 Minutes
“The Circus of Nights! A hundred delights!” – Michael
Vampire Circus is a little known Hammer Studios film from the early 1970s, when they were on their way out as a dominant horror studio. It came out at the same time that Hammer’s Dracula series was winding down.
I have always liked Hammer’s non-Dracula vampire spectacles, however. And to fanboy out a little bit, Vampire Circus has always been a favorite of mine. That may have something to do with Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, being in the film, as well as one of my favorite Doctor Who companions of all-time, the second Romana, Lalla Ward. Realistically, I just love the premise.
The story is pretty original and really fun. A troupe of circus gypsies shows up in town and captivates the people. The reality is that they are vampires out to get revenge on the town for killing their master Count Mitterhaus.
Speaking of which, the opening sequence, which features the original defeat of Mitterhaus, is one of the best things Hammer has ever created. It was also a great way for director Robert Young to start his career, as it was the opening to his first feature film.
Vampire Circus is really imaginative and it certainly isn’t a cookie cutter vampire flick. The circus twist is really cool and freshened things up for the genre. Everything from the live performances to the animal stunts just added a really cool vibe to the picture. It certainly had a bit more flair than other Hammer vampire movies.
Additionally, the cast was really good. I really enjoyed the performances of Adrienne Corri and Anthony Higgins. Higgins was particularly mesmerizing as the sexy male vampire that transforms into a black panther. Skip Martin, as the sinister dwarf, was a big highlight too. He was legitimately scary and intimidating for a little fellow. He played up the creepy clown shtick quite well, before creepy clowns were even a thing.
The style of the film mimics what was the norm for Hammer’s gothic horror pictures. Even if it may have felt dated for the time, its creativity certainly makes up for it being stylistically derivative. Plus there is a naked body painted tiger lady that rolls around all frisky and seductive.
Vampire Circus is probably only a good film for those who love the work of Hammer Studios in their heyday. But if you are one of those people, this is a unique experience that deviates quite well from their typical formula while not venturing so far away that it isn’t a Hammer picture.
Plus, Count Mitterhaus, Emil and the Gypsy Woman were pretty cool villains, as was their troupe of circus themed henchmen.
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.