Hammered By Horror

One of my favorite parts of Halloween Month is the old monster movies that pop up on cable television. The American cable network TCM ran a couple horror films from Hammer Studios recently and it was fun to see them again after all these years.

The Curse of Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) is the film that put Hammer on the map as a horror movie force in the 1950s. Universal had stopped making horror pictures a decade earlier, but Hammer found there was a whole new audience hungering for classic monster pictures, now in lurid color and promising a dollop of sex and blood. Nowadays I suppose we’d call these movies “reboots” … but by any name, Hammer’s horror pictures were a fresh new take on monster movies when they debuted, and they remain nostalgic viewing to this day.

This picture marked the first of a dozen Hammer horror films that would star Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Cushing is in fine form here, playing the Doctor as an amoral son-of-a-bitch, while Lee is a bit less memorable in a role that gives him little more to do than flail his arms around and catch on fire, though the first appearance of Lee’s Monster still packs a punch …

The Monster’s appearance must have been startling for 1957 audiences, particularly when red, red blood gushes from that white face when the monster is shot in the head, but this Monster’s design hasn’t aged well, particularly with his pea coat and mop-head hairstyle that makes Lee look like an undead fifth Beatle.

Curse of Frankenstein

Christopher Lee as the Monster by William Stout

The actors all deliver their lines in a crisp, British thespian style, which serves to class up the movie quite a bit, and whether through stylistic choice or limited budget, the camera rarely moves, resulting in long scenes without cuts that lends the movie the sense of a stage play. This movie can’t lay a finger on James Whale’s Frankenstein pictures, but it is still an enjoyable gothic melodrama, and necessary viewing for any horror fan if only because of the place it holds in Hammer horror history. Keep an eye out for young Melvyn Hayes as the child Victor von Frankenstein — he looks so much like a young Peter Cushing that you’d swear the filmmakers had a time machine. It is a disappointment that Christopher Lee has so little to do in this picture, but he’d get his revenge a year later when he stared opposite Cushing in what would prove his signature role in The Horror of Dracula.

Later in the week I book-ended my little film festival with one of the final Hammer horror films in 1971’s Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb.

Blood From The Mummy's Tomb

This is a peculiar picture, slow even by the standards of mummy movies, and a bit of a cheat in that it is a mummy movie that doesn’t even really have a mummy in it! Peter Cushing was to have headlined this picture, but had to withdraw due to his wife’s illness, and his absence is keenly felt — the movie could have used his icy glare and intense delivery. But if you are patient and in the right mood, it is still fun to watch this movie unspool, with its gothic tale of a girl possessed by the spirit of an ancient Egyptian priestess.

But really, the main reason to watch this picture is for screen starlet Valerie Leon … and since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let Bruce Timm explain why:

Blood From The Mummy's Tomb

Valerie Leon in Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, by Bruce Timm

 Happy Halloween!


About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published every now and then at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on October 30, 2014, in Other Media and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great post Paul! Happy Halloween!


  2. One of my all-time favorite Hammer horror movies is The Devil Rides Out, starring Christopher Lee in one of his all-too-rare turns playing the hero.


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