You will have to allow me a bit of a conceit with the title of this post. The other day we talked about monster films from Creature Double Feature and I want to devote this post to some of the horror titles they showed. Technically these are all monster films. I guess the difference for me between the two categories is that the films I discuss here actually scared me as a child. Some of them have not aged as well, and some of them delve into high camp and exploitation film, but they were important to me growing up and turned me into a horror movie nut. Note that all of the films with the exception of Attack of the Mushroom People are from Hammer Productions. A British film producer that specialized in horror. Many of these films star Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who always took their roles seriously and professionally, even twenty years later when they were tired of playing the same characters.
Dracula/Horror of Dracula
Hammers first foray into horror solidified them and their stars as a force to be reckoned with. I loved Universal horror movies, but they never actually frightened me like Hammer films did. They took these classic stories and included violence and at first the suggestion of sexuality. Hammer’s Dracula sets up the vampire archetype that every vampire film follows to this day, any other actor besides Lee would not have been able to pull this off to such success.
Several of the same actors as Dracula and some of the same formula, but beautiful sets, costumes and a mud and slime covered Lee as the Mummy. I remember hiding behind the couch for this one. Lee created a brilliant sense of dread and his physical movements matched his acting skills.
Attack of the Mushroom People/Matango
Back to Japan again. Matango is an odd film and I will forgive you for chuckling at the title, the terrible English dubbing and some of the special effects. What sets Matango apart is that it is so dark. Matango is not about the monsters, but about how humans become animals in the face of stress and possible harm. Science fiction does a great job at presenting difficult themes behind make up and effects magic, but sometimes it also hides what would be normally considered a great film if it was presented in any other format.
Quatermass and the Pit/Five Million Years to Earth
Pit is my favorite Hammer film. I won’t go into too many details here except to say that the film is complex, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, and may or may not have aliens. Quatermass while generally unknown in the US is on par with Doctor Who in terms of British superheroes which is probably why Hammer retitled the American release to Five Million Years to Earth. The film is an adaptation of a hugely popular television serial of the same name that is also worth watching. Andrew Keir oozes confidence and authority as the scientist hero. If I could save the world through science, Keir’s Quatermass is the guy I would want by my side.
The Vampire Lovers
As Hammer started treading water they new that they needed to inject more of what made them popular into their films and Vampire Lovers is a prime example of the exploitation style direction they decided to go in. Hammer had a tendency to star attractive women along side their male protagonists and sometimes this didn’t always work out as models don’t always make for fantastic actors. In Ingrid Pitt they cast someone who fit the Hammer archetype and had such on screen charisma that she essentially carried the entire film. For film completists Vampire Lovers is the start of the Karnstein Trilogy, of which Vampire Lovers is the best.
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