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Hammer Horror, Hammer Horror - won't leave it alone
The first time in my life I keep the lights on to ease my soul...
The Hammer Horror films were a series of Gothic Horror movies made by the British company Hammer Film Productions between the 1950s and the early '70s. The name is sometimes applied to similar films from the same era made by other small (often British) companies.
Most were distributed by Universal Pictures. The films mostly re-invented the 'classic' horror movie characters previously given form by Universal themselves in the 1930s and '40s (Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Werewolf, The Mummy, Jekyll and Hyde), putting them into colour (often very lurid colour) and adding some new twists. The reinventions were so popular that the public image of many of these characters has some Hammer elements. For example, the popular conception of Dracula, as seen in so many cartoons, wears full evening dress and talks with a Hungarian accent, like Bela Lugosi's portrayal for Universal, but he is also over six feet tall and lean with red eyes, long fangs and a widow's peak, which more closely resembles Christopher Lee's Hammer Dracula.
The Hammer films included a "stable" of regular actors, one or two of whom (at least) would appear in each major performance. The most famous of the stable were Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. The style was well plotted but still reassuringly predictable. As Terry Pratchett put it, "You knew just what you were going to get." Just to add to the confusion, other Brithorror studios, notably Amicus Productions and Tigon British Film Productions, borrowed actors from Hammer (as well as other staff such as cinematographer/directer Freddie Francis).
A common assumption was that Vincent Price did Hammer horror as well. In fact his films were for other studios (such as his popular Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, made for Roger Corman and American International Pictures), though he did star alongside Lee and Cushing in many other films, and was good friends with them. He was also born on the same day as Lee, and a day after Cushing. Eerie.
Terry Pratchett's love of Hammer films was a source of much inspiration for the Discworld country of Uberwald, where every count is a vampire, every baron a werewolf, and every doctor is a Mad Scientist, and each of them is served by a specimen of The Igor clan. You can also see many of the old clichés lovingly spoofed in Aardman's animated Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Guillermo del Toro, who is planning on directing his own version of Frankenstein, has cited Christopher Lee's as his favourite interpretation of the Monster. His version will star Doug Jones.
Early films in the series were basic, Universal-type horror stories done in colour, but as time went on the studio found themselves in greater competition with American studios who had bigger budgets and better special effects. Hammer retaliated by increasing the sex content of their films so that starting in the late '60s and continuing into the mid '70s Hammer films had more nudity than most horror films even today. The contrast can be seen in their two adaptations of Dennis Wheatley black magic tales. In The Devil Rides Out (written 1963, released 1968) the satanic orgy features characters robed from neck to ankle dancing in a manner no wilder than teenagers at a modern nightclub, To the Devil, a Daughter (1976) features full-frontal nudity, sex scenes (including a middle-aged Christopher Lee's bare behind) and a gory birth scene, all in an attempt to win back an audience who had seen Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and wouldn't be impressed by counts in coffins any more. It didn't really work. Hammer stopped making movies after that and went on to their two '80s TV series'. Hammer House of Horror and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense.
Another cute feature of the series was that they never just numbered the sequels, instead they thought of an ever more lurid title: Horror of Dracula was followed by The Brides of Dracula, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Satanic Rites of Dracula, etc.
Hammer Horror Has Risen from The Grave
Like its most famous character, you can't keep a movie studio dead. A new Hammer horror has been produced, to briefly see the light of day in 2011. They also produced Let Me In, a remake of Let the Right One In.
As of 2012, their latest project is a new adaptation of the infamously chilling novel The Woman in Black, starring none other than Daniel Radcliffe. Other projects from the new Hammer include The Resident (which features Hammer alumnus Christopher Lee in a supporting role) and Wake Wood.
The films contained examples of such tropes as:
- Absolute Cleavage: Shows up sometimes, as in Dracula A.D. 1972. Cleavage in general is a Hammer staple.
- When Steve Coogan set out to lovingly parody the Hammer style for Doctor Terrible's House Of Horrible, in the beautifully titled episode "Lesbian Vampire Lovers Of Lust", said title appears over a shot of generous cleavage generously spattered with drops of blood. It was probably that, or show a shot of an actual hammer.
- Adaptation Distillation: Hammer's The Mummy condenses the overarching plot of Universal's films The Mummys Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, and The Mummy's Ghost into one movie while removing some major plot holes from the originals.
- Badass Normal: Peter Cushing is the reason that Dr. Van Helsing is now thought of as The Hunter, instead of the weird old Dutch physician he was in the book.
- Back From the Dead: Again and again and again...
- Behind the Black: In The Kiss of the Vampire, Marianne is running along a deserted road in the countryside in broad daylight. As the camera follows her, she suddenly screams as she runs into a man standing there, even though she could not possibly have failed to see him before.
- Blood Bath: Countess Dracula was about the Trope Maker, Elizabeth Bathory, bathing in blood.
- Bloodier and Gorier: Compared to the Universal Horrors, at any rate. Tame though they look now, contemporary critics were taken aback.
- Broad Strokes: The Evil of Frankenstein follows the basic idea of The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein, that the baron has created monsters and is now on the run, but alters many of the details. The rest of the movies seem to continue on from Evil normally. Dracula A.D. 1972 uses the premise that Van Helsing and Dracula fought in the 1800s like in Horror of Dracula but changes the date and place and ignores the numerous sequels to Horror.
- Chekhov's Gun: When listing the ways vampires can be defeated in The Satanic Rites of Dracula, Lorrimer Van Helsing mentions that they are vulnerable to hawthorne, from which Christ's crown of thorns was made. Later on he uses this particular thing, unmentioned in any movie before this, to get the better of Dracula.
- Circus of Fear: Vampire Circus.
- The Dulcinea Effect: Gender-flipped in Lust for a Vampire, in which Richard is in love with Mircalla, but Janet has noticed that everyone who gets close to Mircalla ends up dead. Janet tries to get Richard to stay away from Mircalla. When he asks why she cares, she says she's in love with him -- even though they've barely spoken in the movie before then, and most of their conversations seem to consist of him blowing off her concerns.
- Enforced Method Acting: Christopher Lee had an extreme phobia about spiders, so in The Hound Of The Baskervilles, when the tarantula is crawling up his arm, he's not really "acting" terrified.
- Fictionary: A primitive language was designed for When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.
- Foreign Remake: Many of their more famous films are remakes of American horror films.
- Genre Shift: Occasionally, they did non-supernatural psych thrillers like Paranoiac and Nightmare. Despite the title, Night Creatures was more of a 1790s crime thriller than a horror movie.
- One of the most bizarre examples was The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (also called The 7 Brothers meet Dracula), a film that attempted to combine Hammer's standard Gothic horror with the Wuxia genre. This resulted in a plot where Dracula joins forces with a tribe of Chinese vampires who all know martial arts, and Van Helsing must team up with a family of Chinese martial artists to stop him.
- Gorgeous Period Dress
- Hair of Gold: The caveman epics often differentiate between tribes by hair color, and the blondes will generally be nicer and smarter than the brutish brunettes.
- Handicapped Badass: Harry in The Devil-Ship Pirates.
- Harryhausen Movie: One Million Years B.C. featured Harryhausen animation.
- Hero Antagonist: Professor Van Helsing in most of Dracula films, and Father Sandor in Dracula: Prince of Darkness.
- Hollywood Darkness: You never saw such night-time visibility!
- Hollywood Voodoo: Plague of the Zombies.
- Hotter and Sexier: The Horror of Frankenstein remade The Curse of Frankenstein with a greater emphasis on the Baron's love life.
- Also the whole series of movies were Hotter and Sexier than most of the Gothic Horror films that came before them.
- Kensington Gore
- Kill'Em All: Almost nobody makes it to the end of The Viking Queen or Vampire Circus alive.
- Ditto for Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
- Large Ham: Oliver Reed could get pretty over-the-top at times, especially in Curse of the Werewolf.
- Lesbian Vampire: This trope was employed a number of times in the The Seventies, most famously in The Vampire Lovers.
- Life Drinker: Countess Dracula: a film about Countess Elizabeth, who stays young by bathing in the blood of virgins. Countess "Dracula" is a nickname she gets after she's found out. Based loosely on the Real Life case of Elizabeth Bathroy.
- Madwoman in the Attic: Count Meinster in "Brides of Dracula" fits this trope pretty well even though he's not outwardly deformed (and is male).
- Mad Scientist: Usually played straight, but deconstructed in The Evil of Frankenstein, along with the idea that Science Is Bad.
- Medusa: The Gorgon.
- Missing Episode: Hazel Court allowed a topless scene to be filmed for 1959's The Man Who Could Cheat Death. It was only included in prints distributed outside the U.S. and England. It appears this footage has been lost forever, although Court did put a still from it in her autobiography. (Let it never be said that she didn't appreciate her fans.)
- Ms. Fanservice: Yvonne Romain, who made Jessica Alba look like Wayne Knight.
- Mood Lighting: Why else would there be bright green electric light inside an ancient Egyptian tomb?
- Never Trust a Title: Guess who doesn't appear in The Brides of Dracula.
- Nubile Savage: Found frequently in She, Vengeance of She, One Million Years B.C. Prehistoric Women, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, The Viking Queen, and Creatures the World Forgot.
- One Million BC: Hammer made a trilogy of films that may be the Trope Codifier, One Million Years B.C. (a remake of a 1940 film), When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, and Creatures the World Forgot.
- Our Vampires Are Different: The rules seemed to change in each film, even ones with the same character!
- This is actually a major plot point in Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: In Curse of the Werewolf, the moon doesn't always trigger a transformation, feelings like rage, hatred, or stress can trigger it. Inversely, emotions like happiness, kindness, and most importantly, love can stop a transformation and possibly even cure a werewolf.
- Plucky Girl: Candy in The Snorkel, who resolves to prove the guilt of her mother's murderer.
- Psychotic Smirk: Paranoiac
- Rape as Drama: Leon's mother in The Curse of the Werewolf by the Marques, Anna by the Baron in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
- In the latter example, the scene was added after shooting was nearly complete and at the last minute by studio head Sir James Carreras, who thought the film was lacking in "sex". Peter Cushing deplored the inclusion of the scene and even apologized to Anna's actress Veronica Carlson. The director, Terence Fisher, filmed the sequence under protest. Ironically, the scene comes across as horrific instead of titillating and ends up contributing strongly to theme of the Baron's moral descent in this film as well as the deterioration of Anna's mental state.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: When Dracula was really in bloodlust mode his eyes would get extremely bloodshot.
- Religion of Evil: The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter and The Satanic Rites of Dracula.
- Same Content Different Rating: The explicitly gory Dracula Has Risen From the Grave was given a G rating in the U.S., and this was around the same time the MPAA rating system was established and before the G rating was truly codified as "kids stuff".
- Screaming Woman
- Uberwald/Ruritania: Even when it was stated to be Transylvania, the setting was just Generic Central Europe.
- Villain Protagonist: The Baron in the Frankenstein series, though sometimes he crosses into Anti-Hero. Also Count Dracula.
- Wag the Director: Christopher Lee refused to speak any of the lines of his character in Dracula: Prince of Darkness because he found them terrible. This is why Dracula is silent in the entire film.
- Wanting Is Better Than Having: No matter what hot ass vampire chick Dracula already has under his thrall, there's always some other maiden he wants more.
- Wet Sari Scene: The Viking Queen, made just before real nudity started to show up, has a scene where the title character, wearing a white top, falls in a lake.
- Wolf Man: Curse of the Werewolf.
- Wrongful Accusation Insurance: In Maniac, the main character helps his new girlfriend spring her husband from an insane asylum, and another man is killed in the process. Once he realizes his girlfriend is playing him, he helps the police get the goods on her. This apparently exonerates him for his earlier crimes, even though he was most decidedly not innocent of them.