Late post today since I unexpectedly spent my afternoon and evening and night planning out a short film shoot. Which is awesome. I am really excited.
But as a result today’s post is a little late and pretty brief. The long and short of it though is that I love both of these movies and I am now a Hammer Films Fan Girl.
Don’t forget, check in tomorrow at 12 PM PDT as Matthew and I Google+ Hangout this horror movie marathon. We’ll be talking about what we’ve watched, how it’s going, what fun things we have coming up. Have any questions? Let us know!
And check out Matthew’s Day 4 post on Let the Right One In and it’s remake. It’s really good.
The Curse of Frankenstein, 1957. Dir. Terence Fisher, Written by Jimmy Sangster. Starring Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee.
The Horror of Dracula, 1958. Dir. Terence Fisher, Written by Jimmy Sangster. Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee.
I hate to admit it, but I know next to nothing about Hammer films. It’s one of those pieces of horror history that has until now slipped past me. This weekend, I’m changing that. And I’m really excited about it.
I’ve always thought of Hammer as being Britain’s answer to the Universal Monster movies. That’s sort of right but they’re also more than that. They’re not just quaint retellings of the same stories, these movies are pushing the bar for what was acceptable. Some of the first horror movies shot in color, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula both featured gore, violence, and sex. And they’re a hell of a lot of fun.
After my week of remakes, it’s nice to step back and look at these movies that are, well, actually good. While they might be considered tame by today’s standards, both of these movies do have their fair share of gore. There’s still quite a bit that happens off screen but still, we get the blood in that bright red of the 50’s. We get the scantily clad ladies submitting themselves to Count Dracula, or in the case of Frankenstein we have the entire subplot of Victor’s affair with his maid. In the context of the time these were made, there’s some pretty shocking stuff here. It’s great.
Of course we’re still a few years away from the true gore of films like Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast and the nudity that really start happening in the 70’s, but still. The seeds are being sown here. We can see where the genre is about to head. It’s a little funny to think about these films, how much fun all of this early splatter could be, and then compare that to our standards for gore today. As shocking as any of these early attempts may have been, there’s still a clear fiction present. With the bright red blood, the over-the-top effects, it all serves to remind us this is just a movie and it’s cool to see how far these earlier horror films could take it. Today, there’s been such a push for realism, a push to show not just gore but pain, that a lot of the fun has gone away.
But I digress.
Let’s talk about The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula.
I really enjoyed them both. Christopher Lee is a fantastic Dracula. Victor Frankenstein is a dick.
That more or less sums it up…
The Curse of Frankenstein was Hammer’s entrance into the horror game. As much as I love James Whale and his Frankenstein movies (Bride of Frankenstein is one of my favorites), those earlier films definitely played up the camp. I love them for what they are but I can see where their actual horror has maybe not held up as well. Whale’s monster is more of a tragic figure. Terence Fisher’s creature (also played by Christopher Lee) is repulsive. But I found the bigger difference wasn’t in how the creature was portrayed, it was in the character of Victor Frankenstein. Fisher’s Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is as repulsive as the creature he makes. I was honestly surprised by how thoroughly unlikeable this Victor Frankenstein is. In other versions I’ve seen, he’s been deeply flawed but ultimately somewhat redeemable. Here, he’s just not and it’s great.
This film really does focus on Frankenstein’s depravity, the depths of evil he’s capable of. There are still a lot of changes from the book but I think this focus on Frankenstein’s own evil rather than the evil of the monster serves to play up the horror. To see his arrogance, see the things he does, he’s just a terrible, terrible man. It’s a difference from the book as well, in the frame story of the novel we meet Victor after he has suffered through horrific events, full of remorse. In this film, Victor never once takes responsibility for the horror he has created. It’s his companion Paul’s fault that the creature is evil because Paul damaged the brain, it’s the creature’s fault that people have died because it killed them. Nevermind that Victor created this creature, ignoring all of Paul’s warnings, committing unspeakable acts of his own.
Plus, he’s sleeping with the maid and doesn’t love Elizabeth at all. Poor Elizabeth.
Curse of Frankenstein is different from the other Frankenstein’s I’ve seen and I like that. It also has all of those elements of the gothic that I love, the design is wonderful, and the creature does look more like one would imagine from Mary Shelley’s original description.
All of these elements help make this film classic, but there’s also one more thing. It’s the acting. Peter Cushing is great. Some of the supporting characters still have that theatrical cheese we associate with old horror movies, but Cushing has none of it. He’s solid and compelling and completely believably immoral.
We’ll segue here into The Horror of Dracula, Hammer’s next entry into the horror genre. Once again starring Peter Cushing and this time featuring Christopher Lee much more prominently, this Dracula takes things another step further. Christopher Lee makes a fantastic Dracula but I said that already. He just has such a presence and chemistry. He’s also scary.
I’d talk about the gore, and there is some, but there were versions of this film with more. A partial print was found in Japan and I would love to see that. I heard something about a UK Bluray release but haven’t really heard anything about a US one. Anyone know anything? Hook a girl up? I need to see a better print of this!
Ah, the joys of watching old movies…
It makes total sense that the version I saw of this was an edited one. There’s one part near the end during the iconic death of Dracula (which is awesome) when it seemed like it ended a little abruptly. Like something was missing. You know why? Because something was!
But even still, I also loved this Dracula. Again, it’s got the gothic, it’s got the design, it’s got the acting. I can’t believe I waited so long to see these movies.
And there are more! Tomorrow my Hammer movie watching continues. I wish I could watch them all but it looks like I’ll only be getting to one more. Sad. Oh well, I’ll just have to make sure to add a few more in next year.
Am I the only one late to the Hammer party? Have you guys seen these? Which are your favorites?