In an industry famous for bloated budgets and excessive extravagance, Hammer Film Productions always struck a blow for efficiency. Hammer horror films are legendary for doing a lot with a little, while almost magically repurposing constraint to fuel creativity. With a handful of tools – iconic actors, small budgets, simple sets, beautiful heroines, and charismatic heroes – Hammer consistently nailed it, delivering one memorable horror film after another.
Repetition was key to Hammer’s frequent success, and names like Terence Fisher, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing are constant and irreplaceable ingredients in any discussion of Hammer horror history. While it’s difficult to axe any horror classic off this list, we hammered away at the task to bring you these 10 great movies which still prove just how much fun we can have while being terrified.
10. Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966) – Don Sharp
The great Christopher Lee playing the most famously corrupt, scheming, fraudulent, hypnotist of a holy man in history? Yes, please. The setup for this film seems too good to be true, and film fans wise enough to sense the implications of this description are right to salivate at the prospect. And, for the most part, this Hammer classic delivers on its potential.
The chief merit of this film is certainly Lee’s dynamic performance, which he throws himself into with gusto. As Rasputin manipulates his way from disgraced monk to trusted advisor of Russian royalty, Lee makes us believe that this charlatan really possessed the charisma to make it happen. Movie fans don’t flock to Rasputin for its nuanced screenplay or its groundbreaking visuals; they line up to see Christopher Lee light up the screen – and are never disappointed.
9. Countess Dracula (1971) – Peter Sasdy
The great Ingrid Pitt was given a well-deserved chance at the starring role in Countess Dracula, and she made it a memorable one. Though Pitt leaves us pining for more opportunities to see her dynamic acting abilities on display, this film showcases her unique talent in an intriguing package of a story.
Based loosely on real events, the Countess in question discovers that bathing in the blood of young women has a physically rejuvenating effect on her. The Countess promptly sets out to kill countless women in her 17th-century Hungarian empire and use them as a beauty balm. This is a plot tailor-made for a Hammer film, and it’s every bit as fun as it sounds.
8. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974) – Brian Clemens
With a title like this, a movie could be impossibly awesome or epically disastrous. Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter lands somewhere in the middle; it manages to be one of Hammer’s better efforts without quite rising to the level of a classic. It’s indisputably great fun though, and all true vampire hunters should feel proud to have their names associated with it.
Captain Kronos is a professional vampire hunter whose services are required in a small village where youth-draining spectres are hard at work. Instead of losing blood, the victims of this breed of vampire show signs of rapid and premature aging. Captain Kronos has faced plenty of supernatural enemies in his career, but can he defeat vampires who don’t play by the rules?
7. The Witches (1966) – Cyril Frankel
When it comes to casting, The Witches delivers the biggest surprise in the Hammer bag. None other than Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Suspicion, Jane Eyre) joins the iconic club of actors who populate these classic films. Having shown her talent for dramatic acting in earlier gothic films, Fontaine lends those skills to the Hammer universe.
After a close encounter with a witch doctor which leaves her mentally fragile, Fontaine returns to the quiet life of a school teacher. But dark forces seem to have followed her, and the teacher receives warnings that a sinister cult is on her trail. Fontaine must summon all her courage to face an evil foe whom she thought she had successfully escaped.
6. The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) – Terence Fisher
Hammer cobbled together several excellent sequels for the Frankenstein story, and “Revenge” is doubtless one of the best. Peter Cushing and crew are resurrected for this second installment of the mad Doctor’s exploits, breathing new life into the familiar tale in the process.
After having escaped punishment for his previous crimes against nature, Victor Frankentstein resumes his work – both as a medical doctor and as an experimental scientist. This time around, Frankenstein has learned from his past failure and plans to transplant a new brain into an already perfectly formed body. Sounds like nothing can go wrong with this experiment, right? Watch to see if the revenge of Frankenstein can undo his curse.