The 10 Best Hammer Horror Films
A while back gave you readers a horrific look at the 10 Best Universal Monster Movies. These films were classics that still influence the genre, but like all good things they came to an end. Filling the void of gothic horror films left by the end of the Universal Monsters franchise was the British studio, Hammer Film Production. With American genre films leaning more in a post-WW2 science fiction angle, audiences flocked to see the bloody horror films produced across the pond that made cinema legends out of actors like; Sir Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Oliver Reed. Because so many scary movie fans love Hammer Horror as much as the universal Monsters, I believe it is only fair to look at the Top 10 Best Hammer Horror Films. I am aware that lately the studio has experienced a resurgence but for the sake of keeping things classy their more recent films are not eligible for inclusion.
1. Horror of Dracula: The one that started it all. This was by no means the first film adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel but, the film did have a spark and an energy unlike any other vampire film before it. Whereas Universal’s take on the classic was a slow and deliberate melodrama, The Horror of Dracula was a fast paced romp with; dashing heroes, a vile vampire, and blood aplenty. The honor of putting on the vampire’s cape fell to, Christopher Lee, who many argue was the best of all time to play the count. Uttering only a few lines at the beginning of the film, Lee let his charisma and unbelievable screen presence do the acting for him. By simply standing there he oozed of; evil, malice, and sensuality. Not to be outdone, Peter Cushing was perfect as the dashing hero, Professor Van Helsing who is the only one with the gusto to stand up to the Count.
2. The Curse of Frankenstein: With this film, Hammer built on the success of Dracula with a philosophy of “if it isn’t broke don’t fix it”. Reuniting Cushing and Lee as the monster and his creator they applied the Dracula treatment to Mary Shelley’s gothic classic. Just as Lee dominated Dracula, Cushing shined in this interpretation of Frankenstein. Many have played the role of the monster maker in such a way that made him sympathetic to viewers, as a man who simply loses control of his ego and his creation. Cushing did nothing of the sort as he made the character pure evil, showing that despite his constant playing of good guys he was quite capable of being the villain as well.
3. The Hound of the Baskervilles: With two of the biggest icons of gothic literature bringing them success, they went for broke and brought in the last member of the genre’s triumverate, Sherlock Holmes. Brought to the screen by Terence Fisher, arguably the studio’s best director, the film played up more scarier elements of the World’s Greatest Detective’s world. But the element that truly made this film a fan favorite was Peter Cushing’s terrific performance as Holmes.
4. Curse of the Werewolf: If Cushing and Lee were the Karloff and Lugosi of Hammer Horror then Oliver Reed was their Lon Chaney Jr. Universal made werewolves the iconic film monster they are today, but it was Hammer that took those elements and ran with it. Many elements from Universal’s The Wolf Man found their way into Curse of the Werewolf ; father issues, dealing with inner turmoil, silver as a weakness; but this film ran with those elements further than The Wolf Man. Reed as the protagonist is the highlight of the movie, he is intriguing enough as a character that you are genuinely interested in what is going on rather than counting the seconds until he grows fur. And the movie the climax of this werewolf flick will have fans on the edge of their seats until the very end.
5. Captain Clegg: Sadly overlooked, this flick is loved by the small cult audience that has discovered it. Swapping outright scary for ominous and mysterious, the film follows a group of soldiers as they stumble upon a coastal town under the watchful eye of a minister, which is haunted by phantoms in the nearby swamp. All the while the mystery of the pirate Captain Clegg haunts every character in the cast. With great twists and scares and even a little bit of humor provided by the local undertaker, this is a film that horror fans need to see.
6. The Devil Rides Out: This films marked Hammer’s first exploration into the realm of the occult. In a nice turn Christopher Lee takes on the role of the hero as he investigates the acquaintance of his friend and discovers a horrifying secret. The stylistic battle between good and evil which ensues comes to a wild conclusion that will put a smile on the face of any horror fan.
7. The Revenge of Frankenstein: Though he will always be associated with Van Helsing and Grand Moff Tarkin, for my money Peter Cushing is one of the best actors to play the role of Dr. Frankenstein. For proof of this one only has to look to The Revenge of Frankenstein, a particularly gruesome yet incredible entry in the Hammer horror franchise. Finding a way to cheat death, the mad scientist goes right back to his great hobby of monster building. This stands as visually, one of the best Hammer horror films of them all.
8. Dracula 1972 AD: When it comes to the tales of the legendary vampire count, fans have become accustomed to period adventures set in quaint villages, but Hammer was bold enough to change this formula. They took the eternal battle between Dracula and Van Helsing and set in the contemporary setting of 1970’s London. The descendants of the original Van Helsing find themselves in battle with the arch foe of the family, who (to the delight of many fans) has developed a taste for hippies.
9. The Mummy: Hammer had successfully stumbled upon a formula where they took already established horror film formula and put their own spin on it. They tackled; Dracula, Frankenstein and his monster, werewolves, and many other iconic monsters, so it was only natural that the Hammer touch would be applied to the Mummy. They took the plot that Universal had used for their own take on the Egyptian creature and added some healthy doses of; action, color, and plenty of gore. It may seem uninspired but it still does not fail to entertain.
10. The Brides of Dracula: First and foremost this flick must be eligible for a prize for most misleading title as the famous count does not even appear and in the first few moments of the movie we are informed that he is in fact “dead”. Christopher Lee was hesitant to return to the iconic role and, Hammer needed a new blood sucker for Van Helsing to battle. Enter Baron Meinster, who followed Dracula’s MO perfectly as he preyed on vulnerable young women. While the villain may have been dull, this film was a fantastic showcase for Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing as he battled the vampire and his brides with everything leading up to one of the coolest ways to slay a vampire in movie history.