What Halloween would be complete without a Hammer Horror film or two? Perfect for brightening a drab evening of dishing out candy to someone else’s kids. Or, for playing in the background at your costume party, so antisocial people like me have something to watch, thank you very much. Like scones, these British imports only get better with age. Richly twisted, full of hedonistic atmosphere, and always a little bit sleazy, here are some of my favorites for ushering in the season of the witch.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969, Dir. Terence Fisher)
Dr. Frankenstein realizes that he needs to streamline his system for monster producing. The problem is that brains only stay alive for so long, so the whole procedure has to be carried out in one night! That’s just craziness. As anyone can tell you, the future of mad doctoring lies in freezing brains, thus reanimating corpses at one’s leisure.
Unfortunately, the only scientist ever to crack the riddle of cryogenics went insane. And Dr. Frankenstein might have sort of made him that way.
And so, it’s off to kidnap the nutjob doctor and transplant his brain into the body of another doctor. The latter will unfortunately have to be killed to maintain freshness. Sure, Frankenstein could just use a dying person from the local hospital. But the man he wants has such wonderful hands.
Enlisting the help of a young couple (and by “enlisting” I mean blackmailing) the doctor sets about making his dreams a reality. What’s the end result? Would you believe things don’t turn out that well for anyone?
Portrayed venomously by Peter Cushing, this Frankenstein is surely the bad lieutenant of Dr. Frankensteins. He’s not just evil. He’s E-veeel. The title of this film isn’t mere hyperbole: Frankenstein MUST be destroyed! Anyone within 30 ft of him is at risk; the man is a walking time bomb. Despite this fatal flaw, his seemingly doomed medical procedure goes extremely well: he creates a literate, sane human being. On the minus side, the creation despises Frankenstein. Of course, can you blame him? And that’s the point. The monster is the doctor himself.
Ironically, all of Frankenstein’s crimes – which include murder, rape, and extortion – are committed as part of an ongoing effort to make the world a better place through Science. If he had such a passion for public service, you’d think a guy like him would have chosen politics over medicine.
Horror of Frankenstein (1970, Dir. Jimmy Sangster)
Realizing he couldn’t possibly be more evil, Peter Cushing opted out of this follow up to Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. In his stead, Ralph Bates takes up the mantle as a younger, hornier Baron Frankenstein. This is an origin story, showing us Frankenstein, the amoral schoolboy, as grows into Frankenstein, the amoral country doctor. Unlike its predecessors, Horror of Frankenstein is a black comedy. Bates’ doctor labels body parts as if he’s putting together a TV stand from IKEA. In his employ is a body snatcher who often enjoys a nice, picnic dinner, while his young wife does all the digging. And let’s not forget the little girl who brings about the destruction of all Frankenstein’s hopes and dreams. These moments are priceless. The ending is the perfect punchline to a joke about why people suck.
There’s not much else to say here. The plot is pretty bare. Frankenstein sets about making a monster, and that’s about it. It’s the delivery and the camp style that make it so unique. This is a must see for anyone who’s ever thought about having an acid vat installed in their home. I’m not the only one, again, am I?
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971, Dir. Roy Ward Baker)
WARNING: The transformation of a man into a woman will actually take place before your very eyes!
– movie poster quote.
Ralph Bates returns as another famous doctor, but this time with some hormonal issues. Once again, a simple plot you’ve seen countless times before. Boy meets girl upstairs. Girl upstairs falls in love with boy. Boy turns into a girl and starts murdering prostitutes. You know, same old. Jekyll’s biggest problem is that his female half keeps using his charge account to buy outrageously expensive clothes. I shit you not.
Truth to tell, there’s more going on with the story than that alone. There’s a bizarre 4-way love “triangle” between Jekyll, the aforementioned girl upstairs, the girl’s brother, and Sister Hyde. (More than a few Three’s Company moments there, let me tell you.) There’s also a subplot that involves the White Chapel murders. And legendary body snatchers, Burke and Hare, actually make an appearance. The duo is hired by Jekyll to supply him with young female cadavers for his experiments.
Hare: What do ya think he does with all them bodies?
Burke: I don’t know, but if I was you, I wouldn’t be eatin’ any meat pies in this neighborhood.
I should also mention that you get to see Dr. Jekyll do a little “exploratory” the first time he becomes Hyde. Honestly, if I looked like actress Martine Beswick, that’s all I would ever do.
And no, I’m not going to make a joke about Jekyll feeling up his own Hyde. I have too much respect for the Cinema.
Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971, Dir. Seth Holt)
This is not a mummy movie. I don’t care who tries to argue differently. Mummies are not hot chicks. I know the difference. I’ve been to college.
This is an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s lesser known novel, Jewel of the Seven Stars. The central character is Tera, Queen of Darkness; an evil sorceress condemned by ancient Egyptian priests to a state of eternal limbo. While her body lies imprisoned in a desert tomb, her soul wanders the stars, waiting for a chance to re-enter the domain of the living. By chance, or by design, a group of explorers unearth her perfectly preserved remains. (And by “perfectly” preserved, I mean actress Valerie “Me-yeow” Leon.) What happens afterwards tells the story of how, over many years, the spirit of Tera manipulates each of them into helping her resurrect herself. Several members of the expedition hold totems of power that Tera must reclaim in order to be reborn. Using the expedition leader’s daughter as her pawn, she sets about retrieving her magic relics from them by hook or by crook.
Blood of the Mummy’s Tomb, like the novel it’s based on, is a reworking of Dracula. Honestly, I think it’s a much darker story than Dracula. At least in Dracula there’s a glimmer of hope. There’s an available science for defeating vampires. If you’re dealing with Queen Tera, on the other hand, it seems that you’re just screwed. The only proven method for surviving an encounter with her is to become her slave and give her what she wants. This isn’t a guarantee that you’ll live. It just bumps the odds a little bit in your favor.
One more thing I’d like to note: a lot of people die in this film. And almost every single death involves the throat being torn out. Oddly, these are not deaths where you would think it possible for someone’s throat to get torn out. For example, a man has a car accident, and his throat gets ripped out. Another man falls from a window, and, too, his throat is ripped out. A group is taken down by a sudden, desert windstorm. Yep. All throats ripped out. When you can rip out someone’s throat with wind, that’s some awesome power right there. It makes you wonder, if she can do that while she’s in limbo, what the hell does she need a body for? Seems like it would just get in the way.
I know mine does.
Vampire Circus (1972, Dir. Robert Young)
The opening of Vampire Circus shows you exactly why vampires are nasty bastards. In a scene that will make you feel dirty for watching it, the local Count manages to kill a village child and make raunchy not-love to another villager’s wife. Apparently, this happens like every weekend. But on this one, random occasion, the villagers have decided enough is enough! They charge the castle, stake the Count, and flog the whore.
Good work men! Let’s go back to the village and make more children!
It turns out this Count must have been from Jersey ‘cause he has cousins who are pissed off about this shit. They are coming to town for some old-fashioned family justice. But they have some other things to do, so it takes them about fifteen years to get there.
Forget ‘bout it.
Flash forward fifteen years, and the village is isolated and dying from bubonic plague.
What these people need is a creepy circus!
And man is it creepy. When your ringmasters are a clown and a woman who looks like a 70’s Country-Western star, you know something foul is afoot. Creep factor aside, I have to admit it’s a pretty damn cool circus. You’ve got a great Cirque du Soleil-style performance featuring a silver-striped neked woman. You’ve got shape-shifting tigers, shape-shifting panthers, shape-shifting bats . . . a monkey. That monkey knows it’s got carte blanche, too. No self-respecting vampire wants to shape-shift into a monkey. And you can’t have a circus without a monkey, so that monkey knows no one is going to off him. No wonder he’s always smiling.
I may have gone off topic a tad. Where was I? Oh, yes. The villagers are all going to die.
I won’t spoil the rest for you. Vampire Circus represents Hammer’s attempt to reinvent their vampires for a younger, “hipper” audience. There’s a much darker, meaner vibe here than in older Hammer flicks. At its heart, this is a revenge tale. The vampires aren’t just out to destroy the village; they’re mission is to avenge the Count by murdering all of the town’s innocent children. One of the vampires asks, “Do they all have to die?” He’s abruptly shot down and told to just do his job. “Yes, they all must die.”
Watch it. It’s good.
Wow, I can’t believe I’m finally done.
Oh, uh, what I meant to say was, I can finally go back to playing Batman: Arkham City. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
And in between silently taking out Joker’s thugs, I plan on watching a plethora of horror movies. I feel like I owe it to all the monsters out there by showing respect for their only holiday.
Ben Martini watches lots of movies, plays lots of video games, and sometimes reads things. He is not lazy, he is just conserving energy for the apocalypse. Which, by the way, will not involve zombies, and is taking way too long to happen. One day he is going to do some stuff or something. But right now he doesn’t give a shit. He also wants to know what happened to his hat. The green one.