The Rich World of Hammer Horror Films

The Plague of the Zombies one sheet posterThere’s nothing quite like drawing the curtains against the chilling wind, switching out all the lights and settling in to a really scary film at this time of year. Before Christmas cheer truly sets in to the nation’s psyche, a fantastic way to spend some time preparing for the holiday season is by discovering some new and forgotten horror films.

If you’re fed up of the modern offerings, most of which seem to be more about torture and gross special effects than actual horror, you might want to discover something that’s new to you, or fall back in love with a classic. And there are few studios more well know for classic horror than Hammer House films. Many of the films produced by the company have been said to directly influence some of the most famous horror films in cinema history, so they’re well worth the viewing.

Starting out by looking through Hammer’s huge catalog, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing a film to watch – there are, after all, quite a lot. So I’ve picked out three of their best  for you to enjoy one of these cold, dark nights…

The Plague of the Zombies 1966

While zombie fans everywhere will hail Night of the Living Dead as being the zombie film to start all zombie films, director George Romero has shared that he was influenced by the lesser-known Hammer production The Plague of the Zombies. One great reason to watch this film: you can clearly see just how the themes and tropes it introduces has inspired many subsequent zombie films and TV programs.

Even if you’re not a fan of the current generation of zombies, The Plague of the Zombies is truly original in the sense that it actually draws from reality. While the graphics may not disturb us in quite the same way today, the references to real voodoo will leave your skin crawling. With Brook Williams as the original zombie hunter, Dr. Peter Tompson.

The Curse of Frankenstein one sheet posterThe Curse of Frankenstein 1957

Despite being a fairly well-known and established narrative, Frankenstein had never been adapted in quite this way before. The Curse of Frankenstein was the first time that horror film icons Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were paired on screen together and the result is extraordinary.

In rich, graphic color, the threat of violence in the film is palpable and the lingering shots of blood splattered scenes are still shocking to watch today, especially considering the original release date when colour was still a new form of cinema. Keep this in mind as you watch it: The Wizard of Oz (which I consider one of the very first films to make effective use of color) had been released less than 20 years prior to The Curse of Frankenstein.

Horror of Dracula one sheet posterHorror of Dracula 1958

Vampires have become a huge trope in cinema in recent years, but the obsession started decades ago. Well, perhaps centuries ago if we look at all media. From their origins in the Renaissance period, the vampire has appeared throughout the ages, with the most famous coming in the modern form of Dracula by Bram Stoker.

The seminal piece of literature had been adapted in film before Hammer, but never in such an overtly erotic way. Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the vampire undoubtedly lead to the sexualization of vampires in today’s popular culture and completely changed the cinematic face of the monster.

In Horror of Dracula, Lee plays Dracula, who is pitted against young doctor Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen), who finds his fiancée’s family attacked by the vampire. Harker calls Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) to help out, establishing some of the major characters that will continue through vampire movies for decades to come.

Whichever Hammer horror film you choose, you’re in for a good time watching classic scary movies. Keep an eye out on Turner Classic Movies too, as they play a lot of these late at night (good use for a DVR), and there are many boxed sets of Hammer films available through Amazon.com and other video outlets.

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