Top 10 Hammer Horror Films on DVD
Great DVD Releases from the Studio That Dripped Blood
They starred Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and a host of other actors whose names were to become indelibly associated with the horror genre. They featured unprecedented gore and sex in vivid colour. They brought to life such classic movie monsters as Dracula, Frankenstein, werewolves, zombies and the Mummy. They were the product of Hammer Films, the studio who dominated British Gothic horror films between 1957 and the early 1970s.
Hammer fans have never had it so good. In the past few years, an astounding number of titles have seen DVD releases, with dozens of titles from Hammer's back catalogue -- including noirs, thrillers, war films and comedies, as well as horrors -- now available in pristine, widescreen prints for home viewing. For the Hammer novice, here's a rundown of the 10 best.
10. The Kiss of the Vampire
Between the second and third of Hammer's Dracula series, the studio made this exquisitely designed and photographed vampire film, using some plot elements that never made it into the earlier The Brides of Dracula (1960). The pre-credits burial sequence stands out among Hammer's opening scenes, and Don Sharp lives up to his name, directing the suspense and action with an almost Hitchcockian precision.
9. Dracula, Prince of Darkness, 1966
It's difficult to select just one of the several sequels in Hammer's Dracula series, especially as the 1960 The Brides of Dracula is so meticulously crafted and enduringly popular. However, for pure atmosphere, Dracula, Prince of Darkness is my favourite in the canon. Dracula himself (Lee again, after an absence of eight years) doesn't appear until halfway through, but the build-up is eerie and intense. Andrew Keir, as a no-nonsense vampire-hunting monk, proves himself more than worthy of taking on the kind of adversary role played by Peter Cushing in the first film. Barbara Shelley -- Hammer's greatest "scream queen" -- is a delight.
8. The Curse of the Werewolf, 1960
Oliver Reed was unknown when he took on the title role in this film, and it was to be the first of many starring roles in Hammer and beyond. There are many things to love about this adaptation of Guy Endore's Werewolf of Paris (with the setting relocated to Spain), but Roy Ashton's classic werewolf makeup tops the list. The transformation effects look a bit dated today, but the makeup itself stands up there with the earlier The Wolf Man and the later American Werewolf in London as one of the most frighteningly memorable ever seen on screen.
7. The Plague of the Zombies, 1965
This was Hammer's only attempt at a zombie film -- pre-Romero -- and a thrilling addition to the genre it is. John Carson, as the sinister Squire Hamilton, rivals Christopher Lee for his gravitas and villainous presence, and the film contains some of Hammer Films' most iconic image. The most celebrated scene by far is the green-infused dream sequence where the undead rise from their graves in a fog-shrouded graveyard.
6. Frankenstein Created Woman, 1967
Hammer made seven Frankenstein films over all, including The Curse of Frankenstein , in 1957, their first big horror success. This fourth in the series is one of the finest, with a deeper, more philosophical take on the legend than usual, as Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) experiments transplanting a human soul. His creation is Austrian model Susan Denberg, who sadly disappeared into obscurity (and a mire of drug addiction and mental illness) after the movie.
5. Quatermass and the Pit, 1968
Hammer had already enjoyed success with two Quatermass films (in 1955 and 1957), based on the BBC TV serial, and returned to the sci-fi subject a decade later, with Andrew Keir as the subversive scientist of the title. Here he gets involved with an excavation in a London Underground station, where he uncovers evidence of an alien spaceship and ancient satanic powers. It's a tense film, with an unrelenting pace and plenty of suspense.
4. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 1969
This is an impressive entry to Hammer's Frankenstein series, with a particularly witty script and great performances all round. Freddie Jones, as the Creature, is particularly moving, evoking a pathos not seen in a Frankenstein monster since Boris Karloff.
3. Night Creatures, 1962
Also known as Captain Clegg, Night Creatures is an adaptation of the swashbuckler Doctor Syn, by Russell Thorndike, later made by Disney into the TV series and feature film Dr Syn: Alias the Scarecrow. Hammer, as expected, capitalizes on the horror elements of the story, so as well as delivering a top-notch pirate-cum-smuggler adventure, it exudes Gothic atmosphere, especially in the haunting marsh scenes.
2. The Devil Rides Out, 1968
The Devil Rides Out remains a genuinely chilling occult thriller, even after more than four decades. Christopher Lee has a rare chance to play the good guy and turns in one of his most memorable performances as the Duc de Richleau. Charles Gray will make you shiver as satanic cult leader Mocata. Director Terence Fisher exhibits brilliant precision in the many suspense sequences, including the final showdown, in which De Richleau confronts the powers of darkness head on.
1. Horror of Dracula, 1958
For me, there's no contest as to Hammer's best film. It is in this radical re-imagining of Bram Stoker's Gothic tale that everything comes together perfectly -- design, score, acting, screenplay and direction. Christopher Lee's handsome, elegant Count Dracula couldn't be more different from Bela Lugosi's ghoulish, sinister creation of 1931. Peter Cushing is both eminently wise and shrewdly pastoral as Van Helsing, ready to leap into action at a moment's notice in his pursuit of his nemesis.
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