Hammer Films have made a triumphant return to the world of horror cinema of late. Kicking things off with the critically acclaimed vampire romance story ‘Let me In’ (2010), the legendary film house rose back up from the grave with a vengeance, much like one of the monsters in its gothic horror heyday.
2012 saw the release of worldwide smash ‘Woman in Black’, featuring Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, who proved he was more than just a one trick pony, making the difficult transition from child actor to adult star look like a walk in the park. The film earned $20 million in its first weekend, making it Hammers biggest US opening of all time. It also went onto become the highest grossing British horror film in 20 years.
With a sequel in the pipeline, as well as other new productions including poltergeist flick ‘The Quiet Ones’, it looks as though Hammer will not be laid to rest again anytime soon. But what about the beginnings of arguably the most successful and well known horror production companies of all time?
Founded way back in 1934, it wasn’t until 1955 that Hammer Horror was born. The company soon began monopolising the market, creating largely gothic horror hits and making huge stars of their chosen actors, (notably Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) many of whom are best known for their work with Hammer.
Christopher Lee has lent his talents to many huge franchises over the years. Memorable performances in the James Bond, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings franchises have secured his place as a movie legend, but he is sure to be remembered most for his portrayal of Dracula, a role he reprised several times throughout his career.
Although most famous for their gothic era, Hammer were not afraid to explore different sub-genres of horror. Let’s take a look at ten of their films which have influenced many of today’s cinematic shockers and can still hold their own against more modern classics.
10. Nightmare (1964)
Nightmare focuses on a young girl haunted by visions of her mother locked away in a mental asylum, but when these visions and reality collide, madness ensues leaving the audience guessing between fact and fiction. Allmovie hailed the film as “an effective little chiller which packs a surprising punch for a film of its age’’.
9. The Nanny (1965)
This suspense filled chiller tells the tale of a troubled young boy named Joey, recently discharged from a home for disturbed children for drowning his younger sister. He is then assigned a rather sinister nanny in the shape of Bette Davis, who herself has a shady past and dark secrets which soon become apparent to Joey, but he struggles to prove this to those around him. Hailed as one of the best non supernatural hits for Hammer in the 1960’s, it captured the imagination of both critics and audiences alike.
8. Fear in the Night (1971)
This psychological thriller follows a young woman working at a boarding school who finds herself being terrorised by a one armed man, but nobody will believe her (this is well before the days of camera phones). Featuring some genuinely tense moments, and twists, this film also featured a young Joan Collins.
7. The Vampire Lovers (1970)
With the swinging sixties over, it was no holds barred in this sex fuelled story which was filled with innuendos, and starring Ingrid Pitt. The popular actress played three different roles in the film, most notably a lesbian vampire. Despite being little more than a sexploitation flick, it was still a fun ride all the same. Your grandad probably loved it.
6. The Quatermass and the Pit (1967)
In this second sequel to The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2, Hammer blended sci-fi with horror in this tale of an alien spacecraft discovered underground in London. Whilst nowhere near as horrific as travelling on the London Underground today, it proved to be another hit for Hammer, but the fourth instalment promised never materialised.
5. Scream of Fear (1961)
Originally titled ‘Taste of Fear’, this story of a wheelchair bound girl haunted by the dead body of her father on his estate, was not a huge hit in in the US or UK, where it was perhaps overlooked as films such as Psycho had marked a change in direction for the horror genre. The film does has some great twists and scares andwas Christopher Lee’s favourite Hammer film, as he felt it had the best director, actors and story.
4. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
This was Hammers only stab at the werewolf genre, but still considered a favourite among fans. When a mute servant girl is abused by a bestial madman and gives birth to an unwanted child on Christmas day, it soon becomes apparent this is no normal child, and madness ensues each time there’s a full moon. The late, great Oliver Reed puts in a fantastic performance as the crazed, hairy beast, and as it was his first credited role, nobody was aware at the time that he was actually just playing himself.
3. The Mummy (1959)
Imagine Jason Voorhees wrapped in toilet paper, and you’ve got the character of ‘The Mummy’. Yet another Hammer classic to feature dream team Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, The Mummy tells the tale of a British archaeologist who while desecrating the tomb of a beautiful Egyptian princess (as you do) unwittingly unleashes her mummified lover who wreaks havoc. He then follows the group back to England where he takes a shine to the archaeologist’s wife. The Mummy captivated critics and audiences alike with its mixture of murder and romance and to this day, the film still holds a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
2. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
Hammers first horror shot in colour was not especially well received by critics, but what do they know? After managing to bring a dead puppy back to life, two men embark on a scientific experiment to create a human being from scratch, and why not?! The film not only revived gothic horror on both sides of the Atlantic, but grossed more than 70 times its production cost and influenced the likes of Tim Burton and Martin Scorcese. It also marked the start of Hammers long lasting reign on horror cinema.
1. Horror of Dracula (1958)
Christopher Lees first foray into the role of Dracula, and by far the best. Lee manages to be charming, with a sexual allure the female characters cannot resist, then horribly terrifying when he moves in for the kill. Peter Cushing gives an excellent turn as arch enemy Van Helsing, the two male leads worked so well together, they would eventually appear in around 20 films alongside one another. Several competent sequels followed, although most didn’t make full use of Lees acting skills, and attempts in the early 70’s to bring the character into the modern era proved less successful.