From the 1950s to the 1970s, the British film studio Hammer Films made some of the best horror pictures in the Western world. With over the top scripts, lush gothic colors and beautiful women, Hammer horror influenced everygenre from sci-fi (George Lucas would not have cast Peter Cushing as the Grand Moff Tarkin without the latter’s run in dozens of Hammer flicks) to fashion (a whole lot of ‘80s Goth starts here).
Here is five terrific (or terrifically cheesy) Hammer horror flicks (three of which involve Dracula).
Horror of Dracula (1958) -- The competition for best cinematic Dracula is fierce: You’ve got your Bela Lugosi, your Frank Langella, your Gary Oldman (the latter of whom I have softened on over the years -- I know, I’m a weenie). But as much as I love Bela, my heart is increasingly with this 1958 picture. Christopher Lee is a brilliant Drac while Peter Cushing is an appropriately devout Van Helsing. Lee would play ol’ Vlad for 15 years and Cushing did an awful lot of time as Van Helsing.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) -- Yeah, you read that right. The 19th century scientist (Ralph Bates) transforms into the extremely dangerous, extremely good looking Sister Hyde (Martine Beswick). There’s also a Jack the Ripper subplot. Get familiar.
Some brides (of Dracula)
The Brides of Dracula (1960) -- Ol’ Drac isn’t actually in this one, but a totally excellent Cushing is as Van Helsing -- the veteran vampire hunter must investigate some vampirism at a Transylvania girls’ school (you’d think that sort of thing would happen all the time there).
It’s a typrically fantastic-looking production from director Terence Fisher, probably the best of the Hammer horror helmers. Word to actor David Peel as the not-Dracula vampire Baron Meinster, but the hero of this, and so many other Hammer pictures, is Cushing, who never, ever acts like the material is beneath him. (Take another look at his performance in “Star Wars” vs. Alec Guiness -- the former is completely in the moment all the time, the latter, as wonderful as his character is, looks miserable.)
Throw your hands in the air/ wave 'em like you just don't care (from "The Devil Rides Out")
The Devil Rides Out (1968) -- Fisher kills it once again in this trippy flick (written by the great Richard Matheson from a novel by Dennis Wheatley). Christopher Lee is the good guy here, a man hunting a group of gnarly Satanists. The sort of movie for which you will see clips at an Alamo Drafthouse pre-show.
Dracula A.D. 1972 -- And then there’s this bit of lunacy, our man Drac and the grandson of Van Helsing (Lee and Cushing, ‘natch) do battle in the streets of London cir. 1972. There is a rock band called Stoneground, an outfit from Concord, Calif who could not sound more ridiculous playing for all these British kids.
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There are roughly one billion more Hammer horror pictures (many of which do not involve Dracula at all). Which are your favorites?
Hammer horror MVP Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. Respect.