Wednesday, August 23, 2017

HAMMER movie reviews

I've been addicted to a lot of Hammer horror lately; secretly wishing for a Gothic horror revival.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell – Someone is burning the midnight oils, following in the ghastly footsteps of the infamous Baron Victor Frankenstein.  Soon an English bobby man runs amok of his experimentation, discovering a jar full of eye balls in his care, the frightened police man promptly arrests him on charges of black magic when the man calmly explains he is trying to resurrect the dead.  Simon Helder is committed to an insane asylum for his crimes, something he seems to take in stride until arriving at the asylum and receiving his first fire hose shower.   Baron Victor Frankenstein, now under the assumed alias of Dr. Carl Victor, rescues the aspiring surgeon from being severely beaten and tormented by the guards, recruiting him to assist in his new creation; a monster created from the dead body parts of select patients around the asylum.   The good doctor begins scavenging the body parts he covets for his monster; the hands of a sculptor, the mind of a great mathematician, the body of a powerful Neolithic throwback of a man.  As the suspicious deaths start mounting so does Simon Helder’s conscious, soon enough he is questioning if the doctor has gone too far with his mad experiment, but he is too curious to stop him.  When they finally complete the monster he goes on a blood thirsty rampage, tearing people apart with his bare hands until the orderlies turn the asylum loose on him.  The creature is ripped apart piece by piece by a frenzied mob, although Victor doesn’t seem concerned.  He is already thinking about his next experiment, and who next to donate to the cause….

Frankenstien and the Monster from Hell has the distinction of being a bit more gory than its predecessors, focusing on body horrors such as dissection, and surgery on the eye.  It moves at a fairly brisk pace, Peter Cushing once again delivers a perfect performance as the cold and calculating Victor Von Frankenstein.  Besides the brightly colored blood additional eye candy comes in the form of a mute but busty and alluring assistant to Victor a girl named “Angel”.  She catches the creature’s eye a few times, able to woo him where the sight of others caused him to go into a ravenous fury.  The description of the creature enjoying cutting people’s faces with glass is a particularly gruesome addition.        

The Horror of Dracula – The Christopher Lee classic; this is the one that started it all.  It’s a relatively straight forward adaption of Bram Stroker’s work, with a few twists thrown in to keep things fresh.  This is another version of Dracula where Jonathan Harker is doomed and the action focuses more on Van Helsing; no complaints from me.  Peter Cushing plays a perfect foil to Christopher Lee’s blood dripping eyeballs.    

The Vampire Lovers – An ancient lesbian nympho vampire stalks old Europe spilling innocent nubile blood across the countryside.  Count me in; this is a movie that wrestles with horror and my crotch.  There is actually a lot more gore and horror than what I originally suspected; I thought this would be a softcore porn with zero plot, but that wasn’t the case.  The Vampire Lovers is loosely based on one of the first vampire stories ever found, Carmilla, and kicks off a trilogy of lesbian vampire movies (the Karlstein trilogy) from Hammer, all full of cleavage, decapitations, and gore.  In this entry Carnilla the ancient vampire charms her way into household after household, preying on the young women within.  Of course nobody suspects the innocuous Carmilla (who assumes many false identities) as being the cause of these young women’s listlessness, their night terrors and mysterious dual puncture wounds found on their breasts, but soon enough a vampire hunter searching for revenge puts it all together.  Somehow Peter Cushing is again called in to perform the coup de tat to the ravenous undead.  After decapitating Carmilla with little adieu her portrait slowly ages into a skeleton. 

The Fearless Vampire Killers – A Hammer inspired comedy directed by Roman Polansky; co-starring his future wife Sharon Tate.  The kooky Professor Abronsius and his bumbling assistant Alfred are on the hunt for the undead deep within the heart of Transylvania.  They shack up in a local lodge to escape the snow-swept tundra outside and discover the locals hanging garlic all over the lodge and with stern warnings against visiting the local castle.  This of course makes Professor Abronsius rather happy as it seems like a likely setup for vampires; Alfred however is more interested in the bathing beauty of the lodge, young Sarah.  Sarah is eventually taken by the vampire Count von Korlock while bathing at night.  The fearless vampire hunters track Sarah to the local castle where they are openly greeted by the Count, who exhumes a sense of charm and dignity that the Professor has a hard time wrapping his head around.  He seems rather impressed by the Count’s aristocratic ways and intelligence but is still determined to end his dastardly existence for the greater good or perhaps just to get proof to his intellectual peers that vampires really do exist.  The duo search the castle for the vampires but are split up when Alfred shimmies down a hole too small for the Professor to fit through.  Alfred finds the grave of the Count but is too cowardly to stick a stake through his heart, much to the chagrin of the nutty Professor who is stuck half frozen in a hole.    Alfred goes to rescue the Professor from his hole outside but runs into Sarah on the way, who reveals that the count is having a huge ball at midnight then disappears as if into thin air.  Alfred rescues the Professor, bringing him news of the ball, but the Counts foppish homosexual son attacks them, cornering them behind a locked door to freeze or starve to death.  Much to their horror they witness multiple vampires emerge from their tombs below, the Counts annual ball is in full swing.  The fearless vampire hunters escape their confines by cleverly blowing down the door with a cannon turret. They mingle and dance with the vampires at the ball by pilfering some old raggedy dust worn Victorian outfits, but their cover is blown when out of the entire ballroom of undead fiends they are the only ones to show up in a the grand mirror circling the ball room.  Quickly they snatch up Sarah and make way for the snowy mountains on a sleigh, but little do Alfred and the Professor realize Sarah is already infected with the vampire virus, and by escaping with her they really exposed the rest of Europe to the vampire disease.

The Fearless Vampire Killers is a beautifully shot film with a dreamlike quality that sticks with you after watching the film; like a living fairy tale full of vampires and busty bathing buxoms.  Alfred and the Professor stumble about each scene in a cartoonish fashion that isn’t as funny as it is endearing to fans of the cinematic absurd.  The movie was later followed around by the dark cloud of the real life murder of Sharon Tate by despicable scumbag hippies operating under the cult like influence of Charlie Manson, but in terms of Hammer-esque gothic horror productions it sits as one of my personal faves.