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Hammer-Rama: The Evil of Frankenstein, by Alexander Miller

13 Oct

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Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein series have their high and low points, but neither grew tiresome or redundant. Much of that is thanks to director Terence Fisher, their frontrunning director who helmed the inception of both series. Discounting the studios later attempt to revamp the Frankenstein franchise with the Ralph Bates vehicle The Horror of Frankenstein, The Evil of Frankenstein was the only one (out of six) without Fisher’s steady hand. Does that make the film any less commendable? Not entirely. Cinematographer-turned-director Freddie Francis stepped up and shoots a colorful entry into the series, but the problem with The Evil of Frankenstein isn’t a due to poor direction but a clunky script that disjoints the previous continuity as well as a poor choice in its execution of the monster.

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Hammer-Rama: Never Take Sweets From a Stranger, by Alexander Miller

22 Aug

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Going through the library of Hammer films, I wanted to break from their reputation as purveyors of macabre thrillers, victorian horror, and tales of science fiction. At times I find myself at odds with the reductive attitude towards a studio whose infamy rose from making superior genre films. So instead of just taking Hammer seriously, I thought I would find the most serious Hammer film out there. And boy are they out there. This is what led me to revisit a strange but compelling drama that can’t be categorized alongside anything else in their output. It doesn’t stray so far from their modus operandi, but the distinction is revealing. Previously in this series, we’ve looked at Hammer films dealing with famous movie monsters – your phantoms, your frankensteins, your mummies. Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (or Never Take Candy from a Stranger) deals with a very real type of monster – a child molester.

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Hammer-Rama: The Revenge of Frankenstein, by Alexander Miller

26 May

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Needless to say, The Curse of Frankenstein shook up the world of horror and put Hammer on the map. By this time, Universal’s classic monsters descended into self-parody with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein along comes this colorful and lurid reimagining of Shelley’s novel with gore and sex accentuated by a straight-faced execution of material that had been the subject of ridicule. American audiences and studios alike were enthusiastic in 1957, and Hammer went from quota quickies to international commodities. By 1958, Hammer had revised not one but two wildly successful classic monster movies with The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror Of Dracula. Naturally, more monsters would reach the silver screen but Hammer decided to revisit the Frankenstein series after going to Transylvania.

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Hammer-Rama: The Curse of Frankenstein, by Alexander Miller

13 May

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Hammer made plenty of great gothic chillers but when you arrive at the Frankenstein and Dracula series, you’re entering the masterclass of their Victorian horror movies. Prior to Dracula, The Mummy, or plagues of zombies, it was an enigmatic Baron and his titular creation that made a small English studio a sensation.

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Hammer-Rama: These Are the Damned, by Alexander Miller

25 Apr

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Earning the reputation as one of the strangest films from Hammer Studios is no easy feat and, considering the competition, These are the Damned (aka The Damned) should wear that badge proudly. I’m kicking myself for selecting this title because it’s a damn hard film to synopsize, regardless, here we go; These are the Damned is largely a science fiction tale, but its characters spawn from the biker/youth gone wild subgenres as well. King (Oliver Reed) leads a biker gang around Hawthorne with his sister Joan in tow, after they mug an American tourist named Simon Joan feels remorseful and flees her possessive brother by jumping aboard Simon’s boat. Afterwards they discover a secret military base holding a band of children that are the subjects of a military experiment to breed a radioactive race of people with the intent of surviving a pending nuclear war. Thanks to King’s demented fixation on his sister he joins Simon and Joan in liberating the captive kids.

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Hammer-Rama: The Phantom of the Opera, by Alexander Miller

11 Apr

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When you treat a studio as if it were a genre, it might seem like favoritism, nostalgia or cult appeal as a result of predominantly working in the horror genre. Even if you’re not a fan of horror films or Hammer’s unique interpretation of them you have to admire their proficiency.  Applying their formula to revamp classic monster movies proved to be a winning recipe. However, Hammer’s 1962 rendition of The Phantom of the Opera merely caused a ripple after the tidal waves of success that had come before it. Thanks to maneuverable craftsmanship (and other circumstances) Hammer steered what could have been a disaster into the safe waters of comparative mediocrity.

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Hammer-Rama: The Mummy, by Alexander Miller

4 Apr

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The pattern of Hammer’s horror films shadowed Universal’s, as Hammer struck gold over the course of one year (1957-1958) with The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. These films made Hammer Horror the sensation we know it and introduced audiences to the legendary pairing of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Their Dracula and Frankenstein series are what put Hammer on the map, but 1959 is the year that their holy (or unholy) trinity of classic monster remakes came full circle with the inclusion of The Mummy. Universal will always be applauded for their massive contribution to the horror genre, but Hammer’s revisionist titles exceed Universal’s in my opinion simply because they’re more exciting.

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Hammer-Rama: The Quatermass Xperiment, by Alexander Miller

28 Mar

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Before Hammer had set the world of cinema ablaze with their lurid Victorian horror films, the studio that dripped blood coined a new type of thriller. “Gothic fantasy” became the best way to describe their adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s hit BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment. Hammer had been gaining traction with a string of films noir, comedies, and a couple of clunky ventures into sci-fi with The Four Sided Triangle and Spaceways. In 1951, Hammer had signed a four-year deal with American producer Robert Lippert, who would supply an American actor therefore making their films from this period marketable in the states as well. Brian Donlevy would be the American export in this early Hammer chiller (easily the utilization of Lippert’s deal) playing the stern Professor Bernard Quatermass as a cold and unfeeling protagonist. Science and the advancement of his work are priorities. Humanity and compassion are secondary, perhaps nonexistent, to the good professor. The exigent sense of timing in this movie correlates with the characters (especially the darkly driven “protagonist”) and the script, thus calibrating us with the stakes of a rapidly mutating astronaut who fatally “absorbs” people (in some ways predating body horror), simultaneously instilling a classic sense of vampiric horror. In short; hard sci-fi enlivened by Guest’s utilization of modern realism makes this film feel genuinely scary.

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Hammer-Rama: Introduction, by Alexander Miller

22 Mar

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Whenever film historians talk about the “magic” of the studio era, when the big five dominated Hollywood, the word is somewhat lost on me. It’s not from a lack of understanding or a frame of reference, the appreciation and admiration for the classics will always be there. The only time I feel a sense of wonder associated with a particular studio is when the name Hammer comes up. Known for their massively successful thread of horror films, however, the famed studio made movies in almost every genre, their horror films are easily their best, but their noir, sci-fi, and various other thrillers are quality experiences as well.

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