Tag Archives: hammer

Fright Night (1985) – Review

30 Aug

Imagine a world where vampires were still not the bud of jokes. Lets face it. Vampires are overused in the horror genre, and also have bled (no pun intended) into genres that they don’t even belong in. That isn’t to say that all modern vampire films aren’t cool, but they can be few and far between. Making light of the over usage of vampires can actually be a fun thing, too. Just look at Tom Holland’s 1985 film Fright Night. This movie has become a cult classic in the horror genre, but to call it purely horror would be a lie. It’s an excellent blend of comedy and horror mixed with a true love of everything terrifying, and is proud of its roots in classic Hammer films and anything worthy of a scream.

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Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is nor stranger to horror movies, with his nights spent staying up late to catch cheesy horror movies on t.v., hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), an aging actor in Hammer-esque horror movies. You’d think that given the opportunity to face the supernatural would mean a lot to someone like Charley, but when his new neighbor, Jerry (Chris Sarandon), turns out to be a vampire responsible for dozens of murders, he is anything but thrilled. Charley doesn’t find any help with the police or his family, but his friends Amy (Amanda Peterson) and Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) gives him the benefit of the doubt and convinces Peter Vincent to help Charley, who has the utmost faith in the t.v. star’s ability to hunt vampires. What happens next is Charley’s and Peter’s showdown with the supernatural that won’t end pretty.

Sometimes I’ll watch a horror movie and enjoy it immensely for what it is. Most of these movies serve to startle or create some sort of reaction of fear with the audience. On the other hand, there are some horror movies that just seem to be made for fans of horror movies. What I mean by that is that there are some movies that are just so full of in jokes, references, allusions, and recreations that will make any horror dork squeal with delight. This is the case with Fright Night, Much like Tom Holland’s later film Child’s Play, this film is purely meant to bring joy to fans. It isn’t a particularly scary movie, but it’s one of the most entertaining “horror movies” you’ll ever see. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a comedy more than it is a horror film.

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I’ve written quite a bit of reviews on Hammer horror films, and have firmly stated that they are some of my favorite examples of how to make a scary movie. It seems that Tom Holland feels the same way, as this movie quite literally looks and feels like a Hammer film from the 1960 or 1970s. Even the name Peter Vincent is not only a nod to Vincent Price, but also Hammer icon Peter Cushing. There’s another scene that takes place in Peter Vincent’s apartment where the room is filled with horror memorabilia. There’s a painting of Bela Lugosi in Dracula, a bust of Count Olaf’s head from the remake of Nosferatu, and if you look hard enough you can see the mask that Roddy McDowell wore in Planet of the Apes. There’s another scene that carefully recreates an iconic scene from The Exorcist. What I’m saying is that part of the fun of watching Fright Night is spotting all of the homages that Holland wrote in, but that’s not all, folks.

Where this film really succeeds, though, is putting it all together. It’s a fantastic combination of horror and comedy that can actually be a tricky thing to pull off. I’ve heard people say that all horror has a touch of comedy since laughter helps keep people unafraid, but Fright Night is legitimately hilarious. The acting is good across the board, but Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon (whose character I refer to as the Vampire Humperdink, thanks to The Princess Bride) really own their roles. You can see how much fun they’re having in the way they perform their roles. They both ham things up quite appropriately. Finally, while there may not be too many special effects shots, all of them are memorable and some of the make up is just downright fantastic.

Fright Night is an example of exemplary horror film making. While there was really only one scene that made me jump, it’s still incredibly well made altogether. What has to be remembered is that this film is a horror/comedy and is meant to be laughed at. For fans of horror, it’s a must see for so many different reasons. Hell, even if you hate horror movies, this one may just be worth your time.

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Hammer’s “Mummy” Series – Review

19 Jul

Many moons ago, I did a two part review on Hammer Film’s Dracula movies starring the late, great Christopher Lee as the title character. Hammer didn’t stop it’s remakes of Universal monster movies there, however, with a long running series of Frankenstein films and also a series of Mummy movies. This four film long series ran from Hammer’s hay day in 1959 to 1971, when the company was in its decline. While there are certainly aspects of these movies that have that genuine Hammer horror feel, a few of the outings feel like complete rehashes of what’s already been done, and one even seemed completely devoid of any and all types of thrills.

Like I said the series started in 1959 with The Mummy and continued after quite a few years in 1964 with The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.

 

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The series continued in 1967 with The Mummy’s Shroud and finally ended in 1971 with Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb.

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At the risk of sound repetitive, I really only need to give one basic summary for the first three films in this series. Pretty much throughout these movies, archaeologists discover ancient tombs containing mummies and priceless artifacts, which they use to try to make a profit at a museums or as sideshow attractions. The mummies in the tomb awaken because of a curse and then begin to kill members of each expedition one by one. Now, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb changed the pace up a little bit with an expedition team finding a perfectly preserved Egyptian princess buried in a sacred tomb. This princess has been reincarnated as a professor’s daughter and is soon tricked into working to bring the evil princess back to life… by killing members of the expedition, so the basic formula is pretty much still there.

The Mummy starts the series off with a bang, and it unfortunately never quite achieves the thrills and fun that are packed into this movie. Part of that may be because this is the only film in the series to feature Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. These two Hammer titans clash just as good as they always do in this film. There’s one excellent scene in particular where the mummy, played by Lee, unexpectedly crashes through Cushing’s glass door and lunges at him with a vengeance that has been boiling up for a thousand years. There’s also a memorable flashback sequence that shows how Lee’s character, Kharis, became the mummy. The Mummy is a wonderfully creepy Hammer classic that shouldn’t be missed.

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So, like I said before, the first film of this series is unfortunately the peak of all the excitement. The next two sequels can be best described as incredibly lackluster. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb has almost no redeeming qualities. The actual mummy in this movie has very little screen time, and pretty much just lumbers around. The scenes all have the appropriate atmosphere, but no actual climax that is worth watching. Terence Morgan’s character is really the only interesting part of this movie, so honestly, just skip this one.

The Mummy’s Shroud thankfully steps things up a little bit, but not by all that much. Take the atmosphere away and replace it with a much cooler mummy and some really awesome death scenes, and you have this movie. Being released in 1967, this starts the period when Hammer began its fall into obscurity. People just weren’t interested in what they were making, and when films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were released, people REALLY weren’t interested. Like I said though, this movie has some redeeming qualities. The death scenes are over the top and memorable, and they also give the mummy something to do. There’s also a great climactic scene in which the mummy appears to disintegrate before our very eyes. I don’t really have too much to say about this one other than it showed where Hammer was at at the time, and it has some wonderfully eerie scenes that make it worth at least one watch.

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Finally, it seemed like Hammer saw that they couldn’t just have another movie where a guy wrapped in cloth terrorized upper class British men who accidentally resurrected it. Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb is actually based off of a novel by Bram Stoker called The Jewel of the Seven Stars, which is a story about archaeologists working to revive an Egyptian queen. That’s more or less the story of this last movie, but it steps up the “Hammer Factor” big time. There’s plenty of blood, eerie scenes, and…well… let’s just say there’s plenty of Valerie Leon to go around… It was also nice to see a different sort of story than the other movies. This makes Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb the best in the series after the original 1959 movie, but also an underrated Hammer classic.

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This Hammer series is ultimately pretty uneven. There’s really only one awful movie in the bunch, and that’s The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. Just a step above that we have The Mummy’s Shroud, which has some really memorable scenes. Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy are the real stand out film in this series, since they have the most style and are all around just better made movies. Any fans of Hammer films have probably already been exposed to these movies, but if you’re new to their works, stick with the first and the last films. Those ones just scream Hammer and rank as some of their best work.

Hammer’s “Karnstein Trilogy” – Review

20 Feb

I absolutely love the horror films that were produced by Hammer production company from the 1950s through the 1970s. Now me saying I love them means I love quite a few of them, while others are absolute crap and don’t even qualify as being so bad that they’re actually good. By the 1970s, Hammer was running out of steam and began to get tired of releasing sequel after sequel instead of creating something new. The answer to their problems (sort of) was found in a novella Sheridan Le Fanu called Carmilla. The result is the uneven, but totally Hammer-esque, Karnstein Trilogy.

The first of these films was released in 1970 and titled The Vampire Lovers while the other two were both released in 1971, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil.

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While these movies are called a trilogy, it’s kind of hard to find any sort of continuity among them. The only real connection is that all three implement the Karnstein family of vampires as the villains. In The Vampire Lovers, Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) is a bisexual vampire who begins to prey on the young women of Styria, turning entire households against the people who know what she truly is. After his daughter falls victim to Marcilla’s bloodlust, General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) gets a band of men from the town together to march on Karnstein Castle and put an end to the evil once and for all.

Lust for a Vampire tells the story of the vampire Mircalla (Yutte Stensgaard), who may or may not be the same vampire from the first film. I really can’t be sure. Anyway, Mircalla finds her way to a finishing school where she once again(?) begins preying on the students. Meanwhile, the school’s new English teacher, Richard Lestrange (Michael Johnson) begins falling in love with Mircalla, which begins an unholy and forbidden relationship that can only end in tragedy.

In Twins of Evil we see twins Maria and Frieda (played by Playboy centerfold models Mary and Madeline Collinson) arriving in the town Karnstein after losing their parents. Their new guardian is the uncle Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing), a strict puritan who is also the leader of the “Brotherhood,” whose mission is to hunt the witches and other servants of the devil and burn them at the stake. While Maria begins settling in, Frieda becomes more and more attracted to the mysterious Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), an evil count that has recently been turned into a vampire. As Frieda becomes mixed up in his evil, Maria must try and protect her from the wrath of Gustav and his Brotherhood.

Let’s start with The Vampire Lovers. Like I said before, at this point in time, Hammer was running out of steam and their ideas for their movies were getting stranger and stranger. Just look at Dracula A.D. 1972 which came out a few years later. The good thing about The Vampire Lovers is that it still has that classic Hammer feel to it. There’s plenty of great scenes and the atmosphere is spot on with the traditional town inns, to the foggy cemeteries, and the ominous castles lit in the moon light. That and also the obscene amount of sex and nudity. That was Hammer’s draw with this movie, and it works to a point but begins to get pretty silly with its gratuity. All in all, this is a good entry and a fine start to the trilogy.

Then there came the sequel, Lust for a Vampire and… oh man… it’s something. It’s almost as if the film makers didn’t know if they were doing a softcore porno or a horror film. I get that they were trying to draw people in with the promise of boobies, but this is just ridiculous. The movie starts off cool enough with the creepy architecture and vampire horror stuff, but it soon goes away. Instead we get a cheesy love story between man and vampire, horrible music, and a stupid amount of gratuitous nudity that was thrown in just to get people in to see the movie. This isn’t a horror film, it’s too funny for that. Some of the actors who worked in this movie have even said it’s the worst movie they ever worked in. I can believe that.

You would think that after a movie that bad, the third film would only be worse. What if I was to tell you that it’s not only the best of the trilogy, but one of the best Hammer films I’ve seen. Twins of Evil combines vampires and witch hunting and features Peter Cushing as a violent puritan who burns “witches” during the night. We also get a fantastic vampiric villain played by Damien Thomas who seems to relish hamming it up any chance he gets. This is a super entertaining horror film that actually poses a lot of good points about the gray areas in morality and also has two villains working at opposite ends of the spectrum. Cushing’s character is a zealot for God while Thomas’ vampire is a zealot for Satan. It’s surprisingly smart and has its fair share of creepiness and gore.

The Karnstein Trilogy certainly isn’t the greatest work that Hammer film studios came up with, but for the most part it certainly is entertaining. The first film is fun, the second is the closest thing to career suicide you could see, and the third is an un recognized masterpiece. Fans of Hammer films should really get a kick at seeing how far they were willing to go in the final days of their productions. These movies certainly aren’t going to convert anyone who doesn’t like their other films, but for those of us who do they provide the creepy, gothic atmosphere that we’ve come to expect and the horror and gore that we’ve come to love.

Hammer’s Dracula Films – Series Review

13 Nov

Arguably, the most popular version of Bram Stoker’s infamous vampire is Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula in the 1931 Universal film. For modern audiences, there’s Gary Oldman as the title character in Francis Ford Coppola’s rendition. For me, the best version of Dracula was produced by a British company, Hammer Studios, and featured Christopher Lee as Dracula. This will be the first of two parts for the review of Hammer’s Dracula films, the first being Horror of Dracula, or just Dracula for European audiences, which was released in 1958.

Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) is supposedly Count Dracula’s (Christopher Lee) new librarian, but is soon revealed to have ulterior motives. Those being to destroy Dracula. Harker is soon killed leaving the mission to be completed by his ally, Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing). Dracula is closer than he thinks and begins terrorizing those closest to Harker and himself. As the clues to Dracula’s location begin to pile up, Van Helsing prepares himself for a showdown with the Count, hopefully bringing an end to the evil once and for all.

I am absolutely in love with every aspect of this movie from the sets, to the performances, to the story. This is also the first Dracula film to really showcase blood, and showcase it it does. Terrance Fisher, the director of this film, really can’t get enough of the red stuff. It looks pretty fake, but I still enjoyed seeing the early use of “gore”, and I’m sure audiences were shocked. The final showdown is even so intense, that there is footage that had to be cut out. Apparently, this footage has been found in Asia. Hopefully we’ll be seeing that at some point.

Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing’s chemistry is what really drives the movie. Paradoxically, they aren’t onscreen much together, but it plays off this kind of overt chemistry that culminates in an epic finale. This is a beautiful looking film with outstanding performances and memorable scenes. To me, it is the perfect Dracula movie. Check this movie out. It’s awesome.

Hammer released  Brides of Dracula in 1960, but there’s no Christopher Lee in it, so I can’t really call it a direct sequel. Audiences had to wait almost 10 years for the sequel. It wasn’t until 1966 that the second film was released, Dracula: Prince of Darkness. Was it worth it?

When the Kent’s carriage driver refuses to drive them any closer to Karlsbad, a mysterious carriage with no driver arrives to pick them up and bring them to the looming castle on top of the hill. They choose to go there despite a priests warnings earlier in the night. Turns out they are staying the night in Castle Dracula. Using the blood from one of the Kents, Dracula’s servant, Klove (Phillip Latham) brings his master back to “life” to terrorize the world once more.

Horror of Dracula is a tough act to follow, but Prince of Darkness holds its own. Much like in the previous film, Dracula doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but when he does, it’s awesome. Rumor has it that Christopher Lee HATED the dialogue he was given, and refused to speak it. This only makes his character more animalistic as his only drive seems to be blood and all the sophistication that comes with the character goes right out the window.

My gripe with this movie is that the pacing is just a tad slow. The first one isn’t a race at all, but this was bogged down with some over the top dialogue that tried too hard to be interesting. Once the film gets its footing, there’s no stopping it. I just wish we got there a little bit faster. The costumes still look great and the performances are still top notch, and there’s more blood than ever. I really liked this one, but can’t quite say I loved it as much as its predecessor.

In 1968, Hammer Studios released it’s third Dracula film, Dracula Has Risen From the Grave.

In an attempt to exorcise Castle Dracula from the evil that still possesses it, a priest (Ewan Hooper) inadvertently releases Dracula from his icy grave. Now Dracula and his priestly servant go to the nearby town for some blood hunting. Now it’s up to Monsignor Mueller and his atheist partner Paul (Barry Andrews) to save the beautiful Maria (Veronica Carlson) from becoming Dracula’s bride.

While this may not be the best entry in the series, it is arguably the most memorable. What I mean by that is that this film contains some of the best scenes, but overall doesn’t always feel to good. For instance, a major issue I have with this is filming in the forest during the day, but trying to make it seem like it is night time. Just film at night. It’s really distracting seeing Dracula walk around the forest with sun peering through the leaves. Sloppy film making with sloppy results. There’s also this weird orangish glow that shows up on the sides of the frames every now and again which can be cool at times, but also a bit overbearing when it isn’t necessary.

Still, this movie is iconic when it comes to vampire movies. The staking scene is surprisingly horrific and Dracula’s demise via impalement on a cross is excellent and will never get old. Christopher Lee is as good as ever, and he even speaks a little here and there in this one. I guess the dialogue improved a little bit. I’m even interested in the relationship between Paul and Maria. The film makers understand that these stories are about more than just Dracula killing people and sucking blood, it’s also about human relationships and the strengthening of them through the conquering of evil. Dracula Has Risen From the Grave is a great entry in this series.

Moving on to 1970, Taste the Blood of Dracula was released.

After three Englishmen who are bored with their aristocratic lives decide to join the infamous Courtley for a black mass ceremony to summon his master, Dracula, they are faced not only with the possibility of murder charges, but also one very angry vampire who wants revenge. Yes, that’s right. Dracula is back with a thirst for blood and won’t stop until all responsible for the death of his servant are killed. That is unless Paul (Anthony Higgins) can stop him and save his girlfriend, Alice (Linda Hayden).

I don’t want to say that this is where the decline of the series began because this isn’t really a bad movie, but unfortunately I’d be lying. This is the beginning if the end. Much like the previous film, Taste the Blood of Dracula has plenty of good scenes, but isn’t too well constructed all around. The violence is certainly brought to the next level and there is of course much blood and gore to be had. The black mass scene is creepy and memorable, but that’s about it.

I have two major problems with this movie. For one thing, nothing new is brought to the table. The structure of the plot can be related to all of the other films in the series that has come before and the whole Paul/Alice relationship is exactly the same as the Paul/Maria relationship in Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, which is a far superior movie. This is also one of the most anticlimactic movies I’ve ever seen. Right when the final showdown is getting good, it ends.

This review has covered films 1-4 in this series. My next review will cover films 5-7. Things only get weirder and weirder for Hammer’s Dracula series from this point on, so I’ll have  a lot of material to talk about. Stay tuned.