Tag Archives: Hammer Horror Films

The Phantom of the Opera-1962

The Phantom of the Opera-1962

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring Herbert Lom, Michael Gough, Heather Sears

Scott’s Review #1,254

Reviewed May 12, 2022

Grade: B+

Probably not the best-known film adaptation of the famous 1910 French novel written by Gaston Leroux, but likely the most horrific. Hammer Horror Productions getting their hands on this is a significant win since the story is perfectly suited for the horror genre.

I’ve not yet seen the 1925 silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney which I hear is wonderful so I cannot compare that to this.

The possibilities for a macabre telling are endless and director Terence Fisher, a familiar director in Hammer films, is back at the helm to mix the dreariness of a musty London theater with the creepy face mask of its lonely and wounded inhabitant.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating in this review. It’s impressive to notice the astounding achievements the Horror films obtained by making lemonade out of lemons from a budget perspective. The limited funds necessitated creativity which can be seen in every series frame, especially the colorful sets and costumes.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) is no different and is even better than some others in the brilliant mix of mood and sympathy for its main victim, specifically the luminous and disfigured ‘phantom’ played by Herbert Lom.

Dastardly Composer Lord Ambrose D’Arcy, wonderfully played by Michael Gough, and his bullied backer, Harry Hunter (Edward De Souza), struggle to find a replacement for the female lead in their new opera after she quits and flees town in the wake of a gruesome theater murder.

When a new prospect, the virginal Christine Charles (Heather Sears), disappears after the advances of Ambrose, Harry cautiously investigates unaware that there is a lonely figure inhabiting the theater.

Meanwhile, a mysterious masked man (Lom) who is eerily familiar with the opera holds Christine captive and offers to groom her to play the part.

He is a mix of crazy and passionate and his plight is sympathetic when what he’s been through is finally explained.

But the atmosphere is what sets The Phantom of the Opera apart from other similar films of the 1960s, even Hammer films.

This is never more evident in an early scene when the camera follows the characters on the misty streets of London, the darkness and shadows becoming prominent as they walk through streets and dark alleys.

Fisher, now five years into his association with the production company has hit his stride. A limited budget might reduce another director to a fretting basket case but the result and ease that he parlays to The Phantom of the Opera are quite beautiful.

Many scenes take place in the theater itself adding a foreboding element to the events. Dusty yet brimming with musicianship and artistic pizzazz, it’s fun to watch the characters sneak around and scheme within the confines of this structure.

Therefore, the mood and trimmings are exquisite without actually being so.

The music sequences are impressive without going on for too long, and despite the locale being switched from Paris to London for obvious reasons, the main being that the actors are British, this doesn’t hamper the overall experience.

The best, and most gruesome scene, occurs when a poor chap swings across the theater stage in a neck rope, dead as a doornail. The creaking sound of the rope as the man swings back and forth is chilling and dubious.

Lom is my favorite actor in the film and his character’s backstory reveal is humanistic and impressive. Who can’t relate to at least once being swindled or cheated out of work that is rightfully theirs?

Gough, also familiar to Hammer Horror fans, is tremendous as the treacherous main villain.

Sears is okay but perhaps not the greatest actress nor the best choice for the role. She’s rather bland and unmemorable.

The Phantom of the Opera (1962) falters a bit when it ends too suddenly, though many Hammer films suffer the same fate. This film is not for those expecting a grandiose Andrew Lloyd Webber style musical but for fans of down and dirty horror it’s just what the doctor ordered.

The Curse of the Werewolf-1961

The Curse of the Werewolf-1961

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Oliver Reed, Clifford Evans

Scott’s Review #1,219

Reviewed January 15, 2022

Grade: B

Oliver Reed, later famous for films like Oliver! (1968) and Women in Love (1969) makes his first starring role in the low-budget Hammer Horror film, The Curse of the Werewolf (1961). He carries the latter third of the film simply because it takes that long for his character to appear.

The film is sectioned into parts and though only a little over one hour and thirty minutes feels quite long. The finale is the best chapter and the others, while good, move too slowly considering the brief running time.

This is the first werewolf film to be colorized and the film was heavily censored upon release.

Hammer horror regular director Terence Fisher is at the helm so there is a soothing and secure feeling for the viewer. We know the quality will persevere and I adored the setting of Spain with its gothic steeples and flavorful culture.

The Curse of the Werewolf is above average but not one of the best in the Hammer series.

Reed plays Leon Corledo, a man with brutal and macabre origins. He is adopted and raised in the home of a kind and respectable Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans). When he leaves Don Alfredo to find work, Leon discovers that he has increasingly violent urges. Although these fits are somewhat calmed by Leon’s love for the beautiful Cristina (Catherine Feller), he regularly transforms into a werewolf, terrorizing the Spanish countryside.

Before the central part of the story, Leon’s mother is imprisoned and raped by a homeless beggar gone mad. Unfortunately for her, she gives birth on Christmas where the werewolf curse is started. She soon dies and little Leon is taken in by Don and his motherly housekeeper, Teresa.

The middle sequence explains how Leon as a little boy escapes out his bedroom window to kill animals thinking it’s all just a dream. Don and others try to hide Leon’s secret.

The curse doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why does the Christmas holiday make an unwanted newborn “unlucky” and a vicious werewolf? Why is Leon the only werewolf around? Surely, others are born on Christmas day.

Reed is the main draw as the handsome Leon and he makes a lovely mate for Cristina though too few scenes of them exist. It’s not explained why they fall in love other than they are both beautiful and Cristina’s current intended mate is boorish.

But, then again, The Curse of the Werewolf is not a love story so we accept some details with a grain of salt.

Any fan of Hammer horror films wants blood and mayhem and there is a good smattering of each. The dastardly Marquis Siniestro who humiliates the beggar and nearly rapes the servant girl (Leon’s mother) gets it in the back from her with a jagged mirror and the death is bloody and satisfying.

Later, a slutty girl with designs on Leon is ravaged to death by him after he turns into a werewolf on a night with a full moon.

The finale is bittersweet and almost tender when Don must make a horrible decision to kill his son with a silver bullet made with a crucifix to prevent the tortured Leon from killing anymore and suffering a life of misery and regret.

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) is not as satisfying as the Hammer horror films featuring Dracula or containing Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Nobody will ever usurp Lon Chainey Jr.’s frightening portrayal of the wolfman decades earlier but it’s fun seeing Reed take center stage in the film.

There’s also enough to keep Hammer fans entertained.

The Brides of Dracula-1960

The Brides of Dracula-1960

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Peter Cushing, Yvonne Monlaur

Scott’s Review #1,218

Reviewed January 9, 2022

Grade: B+

It’s always impressive to me what Hammer Film Productions do with such a limited budget mostly from a set and art direction perspective. With small funds, they can create gloomy yet beautiful set structures that are highly creative and appear extremely lavish.

To the savvy viewer, this tidbit can make each film a treasure trove of enjoyment if only to look beyond the central activity taking place and notice the style.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) is no exception.

The film is a sequel to the 1958 film Dracula (also known as Horror of Dracula), though the character of Count Dracula does not appear in the film, and is instead mentioned only twice. As fans of these films know Christopher Lee portrays Dracula. Instead, the vicious vampire at the center of the film is Baron Meinster, a disciple of Dracula’s and played by David Peel.

The fiendish villain even bites his own mother played by Martita Hunt making her undead and terrifying to the residents of a Spanish village.

Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is the hero of the story and must drive a stake through the heart of the vampire baron before he deviously makes innocent Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur) his bride.

Cushing is a familiar part of Hammer horror film lore and leads the charge as the film’s hero. I love the character because he is heroic and unflinching, always calm, cool, and collected in the face of sheer horror.

The aforementioned sets are gothic and brilliant, especially the gloomy castle owned by Baronness and her son. When she invites Marianne to spend the night the girl is treated to a stylish room and a ravishing dinner served by a threatening servant named Greta.

The exteriors are as good as the interiors and portray the village within Transylvania as cozy and homespun. Outside the prominent inn run by the locals is inviting as much as it feels forbidden and haunted.

When Marianne is abandoned in the village by her terrified coach driver we know that secrets or living creatures are waiting to be unearthed.

These atmospheric additions will compel audiences to tune in and enjoy the horrific moments.

Speaking of the horror, The Brides of Dracula feels enough like camp to not be too scary, and comic elements exist throughout. No better example of this is the bumbling and boozy Doctor Toblerplayed by character actor Miles Malleson.

While many moments are over the top especially when a vampire character bares their fangs in the best hammy way, the film never feels foolish or amateurish.

A huge misstep is naming the film The Brides of Dracula when no Dracula is ever to be found. I incorrectly assumed that the Baron was Dracula until after the final credits had rolled. It’s a sneaky way to capitalize on the name recognition of Dracula.

There are too many fun moments in the film though to harbor much resentment. Of the brides, my favorite is Gina, played by Andree Melly who looks the most frightening.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) is an entertaining and pleasing chapter in the Hammer horror catalog. All the expected elements are contained within including a crucifix and a healthy dose of holy water.

The Witches-1967

The Witches-1967

Director-Cyril Frankel

Starring-Joan Fontaine, Kay Walsh

Scott’s Review #1,096

Reviewed December 29, 2020

Grade: B

Legendary film actress Joan Fontaine chose a Hammer horror film as her final role. While not high-brow art, these films are entertaining and a fun treat for horror fans. They are frequently macabre, clever, and make the most of a small budget. In The Witches (1967), Fontaine leads the way adding class and huge star quality. The film is good, but not great, with an unfulfilling ending. The cinematography and Fontaine’s involvement are the best aspects.

Also worthy of mention in the acting department is Kay Walsh, a talented British actress, who is terrific as the seemingly kind woman turned crazed witch. She adds professionalism to a pivotal role. The other supporting actors play their parts well to ensure that the craft of acting is respected. I adore the British flair that Hammer films always have.

Fontaine plays Gwen Mayfield, an English schoolteacher who accepts a new job as the headmistress of the local school in the quaint village of Heddaby. The quiet town is exactly what Gwen needs after suffering a nervous breakdown while residing in Africa. She experiences a small flirtation with the Reverend Alan Bax (Alec McCowen), who confesses that he is not overly religious. Stephanie is his sister, played by Walsh.

Before long, Gwen becomes immersed in the worlds of two of her students, Ronnie (Martin Stephens) and Linda (Ingrid Brett). Ronnie insists that Linda is being abused, which prompts Gwen to investigate. Meanwhile, Gwen discovers a voodoo doll and sleuths to find out what is going on in the village. Events lead her to a sanitarium, and finally to a coven of witches, intent on human sacrifice.

The Witches has a late 1960’s look and feel which gives some sophistication. Gwen is draped in stylish clothes and jewelry and wears a cute, trendy bob haircut. The set design is cool with groovy, colorful furniture that enhances the tight budget to full advantage.  Alan and Stephanie’s estate is particularly impressive with modern furniture, drapes, and various trimmings.

Another positive is the hefty amount of exterior sequences offered. Director, Cyril Frankel, who directed many episodes of the popular British television series, The Avengers, provides a similar production so The Witches feels like a long episodic series. The luxurious English village is sunny, calming, and atmospheric brightening the atmosphere of the film. This counterbalances the themes of demons, voodoo, and witches, well.

Frankel builds the story momentum throughout The Witches at a good pace, but this is lost in the final act, which is way too abrupt. During the first three-quarters of the production, we are led to believe that Gwen is either crazy, imagining the strange events, or that one of the townspeople is gaslighting her. It’s easy to deduce the latter is what is going on, and the fun is figuring out who or who is doing the dirty deeds.

When the culprit is revealed (and it’s displayed on the cover art!), the conclusion is underwhelming. An attempted cemetery human ritual to remove life from Linda and infuse into Stephanie so that she can live forever is weak. After an odd sequence of the townspeople dancing and writhing around like nutcases in an unintentionally laugh-out loud example of overacting, Gwen foils Stephanie’s plan. The witch succumbs to death, a victim of her own heinous plan backfiring.

It is hinted that Gwen and Alan (who is revealed to be good) will forge a romance in the future, but I would have liked if we had gotten more of a taste of their budding attraction during the film. Still, it is likely the two will ride off into the sunset together in safety.

While not as gory as other Hammer films, The Witches (1967) instead casts exceptionally well and tells a decent story, interesting until the low-key finale. I expected a bit more from the ending, which simmers out instead of electrifying.

Horror of Dracula-1958

Horror of Dracula-1958

Director-Terence Fisher

Starring-Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee

Scott’s Review #1,083

Reviewed November 17, 2020

Grade: B+

The first colorized retelling of the classic vampire film starring Bela Lugosi from 1931, Horror of Dracula (1958) infuses style and a modern feel into the production making it a formidable entry as compared to the original. The film launched the popular and delightful British Hammer Horror film series, which included eight Dracula sequels.

British horror films nearly always add macabre elements and a British sophistication that merge class with gothic, and the film is a perfect late-night watch during the Halloween season for maximum effect. The atmospheric tone is key and will leave horror fans in bliss. The addition of horror stalwarts Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee only increase the pleasures.

On a gloomy night in 1885, a librarian named Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) arrives at Count Dracula’s castle in Romania to begin his new assignment. Secretly a vampire hunter, he is bitten by a desperate woman, really a vampire, begging for help. Jonathan manages to kill the woman but is then killed by Dracula (Lee). Doctor Van Helsing (Cushing) arrives at the castle to investigate, but Dracula already has designs on Jonathan’s fiancée, Lucy (Carol Marsh). A battle of good versus evil ensues.

Lee brings sexuality to Dracula that Lugosi lacks, though Lugosi is the creepier of the two. I love the close-up scenes where Dracula bears his enormous fangs and his eyes turn red in good close-up style. The casting of Lee is perfect as he becomes identifiable even in the first installment. I also love how Lee is a tall man, giving the character a menacing, foreboding, distinguished look. Many might secretly welcome him nibbling on their necks!

Cushing, later to be cast as villains, is wonderful as the empathetic Van Helsing. Lee and Cushing play well against each other. Van Helsing is stoic and confident as he smoothly leads the charge against Dracula and guides Jonathan’s loved ones into unchartered and unimaginable territory. It’s almost as if he has been through this before. A great scene occurs when Van Helsing arrives in town for a brandy and a drink at the local pub, its inhabitants suspicious and frightened, draping garlic over the entryway and hoping he will leave soon.

The best part of House of Dracula is the atmosphere that we are treated to and the color really razzles dazzles. The story is very good, but the texture powerfully shines through. Careful not to be too showy, director Terence Fisher, soon to be a Hammer horror main fixture, uses his limited budget to his advantage in clever form.

Fisher realized his project was a colorized version and created a polished looking, colorful, stained glass window, prevalent in several scenes. Dracula’s castle, and especially the bedroom where Jonathan stayed, is part cozy and homespun, part gothic and chilling. The cellar crypt is equally vast yet confining, as the open coffins provide wonders of who lies in them. The plethora of books elicits a cerebral feeling.

The finale is well done, but not as spectacular as expected. Other parts are better. Van Helsing chases Dracula in a race against the sunrise, ripping curtains down to provide harsh light, and turning Dracula to dust. I was expecting a little more gusto and more blood or a good stake through the heart. Fortunately, that entertainment was provided earlier in the film.

Shamefully, having never read the 1897 Gothic horror novel written by Bram Stroker (it’s on my list!), my understanding is that the film is pretty on target. The film bestows creepy elements and sexuality with great color, lighting, and set design. The lesson learned is that a hefty budget and CGI can’t replicate the creative design and good effects.