Saturday, October 11, 2008

Don't Hurt 'Em, Hammer!


This month, Amazon.com (God bless 'em) is having a sale on horror movies. Obviously, the economy is a little unpredictable right now and nobody really knows what the future holds but it's hard to be especially frugal when my favorite web site is dangling such tasty tidbits in front of my face. 

I'm finding it hard to resist, in particular, their selection of Hammer Films. As we enter the era of Blu-ray, a lot of Hammer films are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain on DVD. Many were never released to begin with and a lot that were are out of print. To get them, you have to be willing to part with some cash. For now, I'm going to pass on such high-dollar gems as The Abominable Snowman (the inspiration for this post's rather disappointing sketch) and The Reptile and head straight for quantity over quality.

This set is one I passed on a few years back when money was tight (we'd just bought a house) and I've regretted it ever since. Costco had it for around $50 or $60. Now Amazon has it for $16. That's too good to beat. It has two films I'm especially interested in. Curse of the Werewolf and Brides of Dracula. Curse was a film I never saw as a child but I had seen numerous stills in the backs of Marvel's horror magazines and a wonderful Skywald comic adaptation. I was always intrigued by the creature design. I ended up picking up a VHS copy of the movie as an adult and remember being disappointed by it. For one thing, the werewolf was barely in it and for another, when it was, it sounded more like a horny cat than a wolf. I ended up giving the movie away. (I KNOW!) But my tastes have matured a little and I can't wait to give it another go. Brides is another film I didn't see until adulthood and also remember seeing stills of in the backs of Marvel's mags. It was the direct sequel to Horror of Dracula, Hammer's adaptation of Stoker's novel but strangely did not feature Lee as Dracula. 

Hammer films hold a special place in my heart. I may be committing heresy, but I've always preferred them over the Universal versions. They were more more lurid, less sophisticated and certainly more overtly sexual. There was something grimy about the sets that really grabbed me as a kid. And as an adult I can really appreciate the Hammer trademark...the heaving bosoms of the damsels in distress. One actress in particular seems to epitomize the Hammer feminine ideal...Valerie Gaunt. Her only two Hammer films were Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. I remember liking her very much when I was a kid. She had many attributes of which I came to consider "my type" if there is such a thing. Dark, lustrous hair. Arched eyebrows. Lots of curves. Sadly, she appears to have given up acting after Horror of Dracula as there are no further listings on her IMDB page.

When we were kids, Mike and I used to stay up late on Friday nights because that was when the local CBS affiliate would run horror or sci-fi movies on the late show. Sometimes it would be a couple episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker or the Planet of the Apes TV shows mashed into a single "movie." But sometimes we'd luck out and get another Hammer film.  If it was winter, we'd lay under a blanket on the living room floor, propping our faces up with cushions from the couch and try to stretch a corner of the blanket over the heat vent to trap the warmth. Usually, I'd make it almost to the end before falling asleep. Sometimes Mike would take pity on me and wake me up for the "good" parts. 

I've been buying up a lot of those old favorites over the last few years and I'm really gaining a true respect for the outstanding quality of them. Yes, some of them bordered on exploitation, but there was a certain charm to them and everyone involved seemed to be taking their work seriously. Peter Cushing in particular. To this day, seeing the word "Hammer" written out sends a little thrill through me that folks today, post-M.C. wouldn't understand. If you haven't tried any of these movies yourself, I highly recommend you head straight to NetFlix and do yourself a favor. The early Dracula's, Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy and the Quartermass films should be at the top of the list.

Oh, and Christian recommends Plague of the Zombies. Right, Christian?

9 comments:

Warren said...

I used to stay up to watch "Dead Ernest", the local late-Friday-night horror movie host back in the late 60's and early 70's so I could see the Hammer films. Watching them now, I realize how cheezy the stories were, but the actors (as you said) took them seriously. They sold these movies by their performances (esp. Cushing and Christopher Lee) and that they are still entertaining today is a tribute to the performances of the actors.

Also, IMDB has One Million Years B.C. listed as a Hammer production. I don't remember that, but if IMDB has it thusly, it must be true. Which makes Hammer even more awesomer. Raquel Welch in a leather bikini. Best movie poster ever.

Warren said...

P.S.
I think your drawing is great. It's all right for you to be your own worst critic, but it's not healthy to have a critical vendetta against yourself. :)

Craig Zablo said...

I prefer the Universal monsters, but the Hammer creatures weren't bad by any means. And there's no denying that the Curse of the Werewolf design is by far the best wolfman design of all. [My feelings on the movie are the same as yours... and I, too, would love to see it again.]

Thanks for the tip about the discount movies and for posting your drawing. It's a good un!

Leanne said...

Thanks for the tip on the Hammer films, Matt! I just caved and bought it after seeing that Brides of Dracula was in the mix. I love that film (despite the absence of Christopher Lee).

I grew up with the Universal monsters, but Rod introduced me to the Hammer films a few years ago. And now I'm kind of hard pressed to decide which I like better. The Hammer films just have this really classy feel to them that I love. And I absolutely adore Peter Cushing as Van Helsing-- Brides of Dracula cemented that for me. A few years ago (before it was released on DVD), we found someone selling an out of print (expensive) VHS tape of Brides and we caved in and bought it. So I'm looking forward to having it on DVD along with the others. We haven't seen Curse of the Werewolf yet, either, so that'll be fun.

Love the sketch, by the way. You shouldn't be so hard on your work-- I dig it! I always look forward to your new sketches :)

Matt Wieringo said...

Sweet! Welcome to the fold, Leanne! And congrats on the DVD set. I can't wait for mine to get here. (Along with the WOLFMAN LEGACY COLLECTION from Universal.) Hey, I said I preferred Hammer, not that I didn't love Universal too!

Christian D. Leaf said...

Yeah, I recommend "Plague Of Zombies" for a few hours of sleep. Worked like a charm for Mafus two Turkey Days back. He was sawing wood in the first 20 minutes.

I'm on board for anything Hammer or horror in its title. Watched some cheeseball flick before heading to the beach Friday: "Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer." Total cheese with Robert Englund thrown in for good measure. Definitely worth a NetFlix. Got a new batch of horror arriving Tuesday along with "Dead Space" for the 360. Be prepared for a big movie night, Mafus.

donssword said...

I still have your Hammer Werewolf VHS if u want it back to preview before you drop cash on the DVD... it is somewhere in all my mess.

And, where the hell are you finding Cushing's Quartermass? All's I can find is the BBC show. I really would like to see the one where they dig up the ancient spaceship.

donssword said...

http://flickr.com/photos/poletti/sets/72157604767547323/

Gotta love Flickr: Hammer Hotness

DonsSword said...

http://www.amazon.com/Hammer-Glamour-Marcus-Hearn/dp/1848562292/ref=pd_bxgy_b_text_b

Think you can give me this one as a b-day present so I can get it by the wife?