Thursday, 18 November 2010
MY HAMMER HORROR DILEMMA
I love Hammer movies. I grew up with them. I saw so many Hammer Horror double bills when I was a kid in the 70's that they're as much a part of my childhood as Pet Rocks and flared jeans.
Hammer made movies that literally thrilled me as a kid, goofy as that sounds. I would watch the screen crouched down in my seat, anticipating the next vampire's hiss or Frankenstein Monster's stumble. Today, I appreciate them, partly for their nostalgia value, but mostly because they are terrific movies.
The studio was so successful at being distinctive in what it did, at creating its own world, that it also created a dilemma for me. You see, it's almost impossible for me to differentiate one Hammer movie from the other. Not that they're all the same; far from it. Some are Black & White, some are colour; some are gothic, some are contemporary; some are graced by the presence of Lee and Cushing, some aren't; and some are just better than others. But all share that Hammer stamp, unlike almost anything else I can think of other than the Val Lewton-produced cycle of suggestive horror flicks from the 40's, and there were only nine of those. Different than a world that a single filmmaker creates through an entire filmography, say Alfred Hitchcock or Jean-Luc Godard, Hammer movies feature different directors, writers, cinematographers, composers, and casts, but each Hammer Horror makes up a part of the "world of Hammer" in my mind, and to me "The World of Hammer" is one utterly fantastic, continuous movie.
As a blogger, the opportunity to take part in numerous Favourite Film lists arises with some regularity. My Hammer dilemma means that I rarely include a selection from the Hammer studio... There's just too many to choose from and I want to include them all! It's as if one Hammer film comments on or relates to another in the Hammer cannon; like one is somehow connected to the others. This leads me to attempt to pick a representative movie, but that's just foolhardy and it's just not fair to the individual films. The fact is that Hammer produced a large number of not just good films, but several that can easily be considered classics.
So in recognition of all the times that I've left a Hammer film out of the creation of whatever list I may have been taking part in, and because I'm so fond of each of these films, here are my favourite Hammer Horrors, each one a unique part of "The World of Hammer":
The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Brides of Dracula, Never Take Candy from a Stranger, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Taste of Fear, The Curse of the Werewolf, These are the Damned, Paranoiac, The Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, Frankenstein Created Woman, Quatermass and the Pit, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, The Devil Rides Out, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, The Vampire Lovers, Countess Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Hands of the Ripper, Twins of Evil, Straight on Till Morning, Vampire Circus, Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and The Satanic Rites of Dracula.
There is, however, one Hammer Horror that I'm incredibly partial towards. And having said that, I feel like I'm being oddly dismissive of all the others. That film is Hands of the Ripper. I first saw it when I was 12 years old, on TV during a trip to England with my parents. There in the St. James Hotel, I watched fascinated and terrified as Jack the Ripper's daughter gorily (for its time) slashed her way through victims both deserving and shockingly undeserving. Later during this trip, we visited the Whispering Gallery at St. Paul's Cathedral. The fact that the climax of Hands of the Ripper occurs there added an extra frisson for me as we sent our whispered messages around its circumference. I've watched this film several times since this initial and impressionable viewing, and it's still one of my favourite films. The attack scenes still pack a jolt, the story is still involving and fresh, and Anna, the Ripper's daughter played by Angharad Rees, is one of the most tragic heroines in all of Hammer's films. I love it.
Hammer Studios closed in the late 70's after changing public taste resulted in declining box office. With the old studio recently reanimated anew and producing films like the remakes (sigh) of Let Me In and The Woman in Black, there's the potential that it may yet recapture some of its old glory. Whatever the future of the new Hammer, there are plenty of Golden Era Hammer films out there; go get you some!