Hammer Films contributions to the sixties were nothing short of marvelous, and they always seemed to know what kids wanted. They provided some of the best, most artistic, and memorable monster movies to date, often incorporating kid-friendly flourishes to their productions. A shining example of this would have to be The Phantom of the Opera which featured a hunchbacked assistant to the plot who aided the demented Eric in his miscreant deeds.
To fully appreciate Hammer horror films is to come to know and expect actors like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and beloved characters like Dracula, Medusa, The Mummy and Professor Quatermass. Hammer films also managed to incorporate a high degree of sexual interest in their productions. With that opens the door for the 1966 Hammer film "The Witches". This movie has a strong Voodoo-like element featuring a nymphet in a trance soon to be a sacrifice.
None of the Hammer formulas are new; I think that's what made them such great movies to begin with. That they put a completely different slant on horror films, adding a gothic element, sexy undertones, brilliant camera work, and simple scripts and plots is not to say that the movies were perfect, but more interesting than films that focused on American society.
The Dracula franchise is probably the most over-worked horror element in cinematic history. As a kid I loved probably all vampire movies, and couldn't choose a favorite. The Hammer-Christopher Lee series were probably the most stylish of any. I sometimes feel that the Dracula series is all that Hammer is known for when, in fact, they have contributed so many fine movies beyond the scope of our undead anti-hero. Christopher Lee is no doubt a great actor, but as Dracula, he failed to frighten me. It's my opinion that the most frightening vampire was the one played by Barry Atwater in the TV movie "The Night Stalker".
I likewise found Hammer's Mummy franchise to be equally non-impressive. I will say that the sets were great-fantastic at times-and the photography was up to the usual top notch Hammer Horror standard, but no one will ever beat Boris Karloff's Mummy Kharis. Karloff's Im-Ho-Tep also drooled of evil. When playing a character like The Mummy, it's not nearly enough to merely walk half speed with one arm in a sling; One must have that "undead" presence, the emotion of horror, and the depth of a character that was truly intended to frighten. This is where Hammer Films did fall off the wagon; the sets were great, the photography brilliant, but the mummy was lackluster.
Quatermass and the Pit / Five Million Years to Earth 1967 / 1968
The first title is the British producton "Quatermass and the Pit" is the U.S. releas "Five Million Years to Earth" As a film title, I think I like "Quatermass and the Pit" much better. The story is a bit difficult to follow, yet so utterly strange, that it's hard not to watch it. This movie was a real 60's stunner in the sense that it offered up some serious science fiction instead of legendary monsters being rehashed for the umpteenth sequel. Basically, the plot begins with the unearthing of a strange alien craft in a London underground excavation. Remains are found within the craft (I'm still not sure if they were alien grasshoppers, or what), but the creatures were, in the story, martian visitors five million years from the earth's past who had managed to influence human evolution. Once awakened, they manage to direct human thought and re-build their energy to tremendous power.
One Million Years B.C. 1966
We went to the drive-in to see this movie. I remember liking it very much. It had every possible element that could appeal to any family member: dinosaurs, cave men, dangerous landscapes, adventure, girls, and of course, a basic storyline which featured zero dialogue. The main character, Tumac, is a man expelled from his cave tribe. Left to his own survival instincts, the story guides the viewer through a series of odd encounters-including a giant prehistoric tarantula. Even as a kid I knew better, but it was all in the fun. Also, the generous use of Iguana lizards with studio make-up were used constantly in dinosaur movies. Tumac finally comes into his own when he meets a tribe of blonde-haired rock dwellers. The men all had preshistoric mullets complete with blonde beards. (They would have made fine 80's cavemen). The movie deserves credit for its attempts to entertain, and for the fact that it made a prehistoric boar roasted over a cave fire look so delicious!
The Phantom of the Opera 1962
The most difficult monster movie concept for me to grasp as a kid was the fact that "The Phantom of the Opera" was NOT a horror story. Neither was "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". They were stories of pitiful beings living in a society that rejected them, or would no doubt reject them. Even though Aurora Models made them into monsters, they were not. Hammer Films probably did the best job in providing kid entertainment with their entry among the numerous Phantom remakes. This one is actually more intriguing than the rest. For one thing, it dosen't matter that you only see the Phantom's hideous face for a split second at the end; His mask his far scarier than his face, and we see it a lot! Note that I mentioned "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" above; Hammer's Phantom likewise features a hunchback, who, at the end of the film, is swinging on stage ropes just as Quasimodo swung on the bellfry ropes. Not only that, he serves as The Phantom's assistant in the canals of the city sewer system where voice lessons are given.
I finally got to see this movie for the first time on TV. It was also my first viewing of "The Phantom of the Opera" in any movie version. However, it came on at nine o'clock, past my bedtime, so my parents would not let me stay up for the two hours to see it, no matter how important it was to me. So, I sneaked out of bed and hid under the kitchen table to watch it. The end result was: Waaaaay too much opera and singing, but a nice surprise of developing an immediate crush on actress Heather Sears!
The funniest ending to this story is that my Mom also made a huge batch of peanut butter cookies. I grabbed a whole bunch of them to eat under the table while watching the movie. I must have cleared half the platter of cookies. Once I went back to bed, I immediately got sick and threw up-blaming it on the Ovaltine I had to drink before bed. (There was a short phase where my Mom thought that Ovaltine was good for you before bed.) Once she discovered the missing cookies, the lateness of my getting sick (after eleven p.m.), plus what had been the feature movie that night, she put two and two together and figured out exactly what had happened. I was grounded for a week. It was all The Phantom's fault!
The Hammer Horror Classics of the Sixties
- The Brides of Dracula
- Hell Is a City (1960)
- Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960)
- The Stranglers of Bombay (1960)
- Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)
- The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll / House of Fright (1960)
- The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
- The Full Treatment / Stop Me Before I Kill (1961)
- Shadow of the Cat (1961)
- Taste of Fear / Scream of Fear (1961)
- The Terror of the Tongs (1961)
- Captain Clegg / Night Creatures (1962)
- The Phantom of the Opera (1962)
- Pirates of Blood River (1962)
- The Damned / These Are the Damned (1963)
- The Kiss of the Vampire / Kiss of Evil (1963)
- The Maniac (1963)
- The Old Dark House (1963)
- Paranoiac (1963)
- The Scarlet Blade (1963)
- The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)
- The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)
- The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)