Hammer Horror Films: The British Invasion!
October 10, 2012
With Halloween fast approaching, I've been thinking a lot about scary movies. In our last post, we looked at the classic Universal Pictures monster movies. By the 1950s, however, science fiction films had overtaken monster movies at Universal Pictures. Things looked bleak for Frankenstein et al, as they’d been reduced to being co-stars in comedy films. But in far-off Britain, the folks at Hammer Films were about to give the monsters a new lease on life.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Hammer Films put out a series of very successful horror films, many revisiting the classic movie monsters Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Mummy. Far from being stereotypically reserved, the Brits at Hammer Films would take an approach to horror that was far more lurid than the Americans’ Universal monsters, placing a much higher emphasis on violence and (gasp!) sexuality. Unlike the understated B&W Universal monster movies, the Hammer Films reveled in bright red Technicolor blood.
Just like Universal Pictures, however, Hammer Films' success had a lot to do with great actors, in this case Sir Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Both of these actors are well-known to today's audiences: Lee portrayed the turncoat wizard Saruman in the Lord of the Rings films, and both he and Cushing had roles in the Star Wars films. At the age of 90, Sir Christopher Lee is still active as an actor and musician today, with his latest outing being a "symphonic heavy metal" album based on the life of Charlemagne. Rock on, Sir Christopher!
Hammer Horror's run of success was to end in the 1970s with the rise of the slasher films, and with it came the end of what I consider to be "classic" horror films. Even the most lurid Hammer Horror film seems quaint and a bit campy compared to the unsparing brutality and gore of something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Last House on the Left. The classic monsters had been replaced by psychopathic mass-murderers. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger became the new faces of horror. I'd let my 14-year old son watch any classic Hammer Horror film. Not so with the slasher films.
Of course, we have some of the classic Hammer Horror films at MCPL. And, after being down for the count for about 30 years, Hammer is making a comeback with the films Let Me In, The Resident and The Woman in Black. I expect Hammer to make a major play in the thriller/horror cinema market, and I hope they succeed.
Having covered the Universal and Hammer films, I feel that we've left out a lot of great classic "scary movies" that didn't fall into either category. In particular, we've totally overlooked one Mr. Vincent Price. We'll visit him next.