5 Hammer Recommendations Minus Lee and Cushing
Here’s a collection that was part of the Halloween celebration last month I guested on over at Lance Writes …..
Time to turn my thoughts once again to the films we love to revisit during the Halloween season. Last year, Lance Lumley, invited me over to his site, Lance Writes, as a guest blogger and has kindly done so once again for the 2019 season. For my previous entry I focused on my five favorite duets of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Feel free to check them out here.
As Mr. Lee and Mr. Cushing are quite often associated to the Studio That Dripped Blood, Hammer Films, I thought I’d shine the light on some other titles from the studio that did not star either one of the dynamic duo of horror. To do so I reached for my handy copy of Hammer Films : An Exhaustive Filmography from writers Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio from McFarland Publishing.
Let the debates begin but here are five titles I’ve come up with for today. Ask me tomorrow and I may change my tune and after thumbing through that book I’m not sure how I’m going to narrow this to five so you can definitely expect some honorable mentions at the bottom of the page.
Here we go in no specific order…..
Plague of the Zombies (1966)
Directed by John Gilling and starring the very dependable Andre Morell, this Hammer outing was like discovering a new flavor of ice cream when I first saw it thanks to it’s release on VHS tape via Anchor Bay in the clam shell case. I guess one could argue that Morell scores the Cushing role as a man trying to find out what is terrorizing a small community while John Carson scores the Lee role. Meaning he’s the villain who has been dabbling with voodoo dolls and raising the dead.
The production has that gorgeous Hammer look and feel to it that fans have come to recognize and of course character player Michael Ripper makes his customary appearance to give us that warm and comfortable feeling. Highly recommended if you’ve somehow missed this one that I think has gained in popularity thanks to the home video market. Oh, and I’m totally convinced if this had starred either Lee or Cushing or better still, both, it would have been one of Hammer’s more popular titles looking back.
One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Another outing from 1966 proved to be a memorable one for different reasons. As a kid there’s no doubt that it was the special effects of stop motion master, Ray Harryhausen. Any film that turned up on TV featuring his amazing work was always a reason for celebration and would cause this young hockey player to forgo the neighborhood road hockey game to stay indoors and watch the Saturday matinee on TV. The teen years hit and you’d still be forgoing the road hockey match because you wanted to watch Raquel Welch parading around in a caveman era bikini. Now that I’ve aged into fatherhood I’m not sure which reason becomes more prevalent. Harryhausen or Welch?
Either way this one is worth looking into for both reasons though it’s all rather silly in the end. Still, a must see for the work of Harryhausen. A true genius of whose importance to cinema goes far beyond the films of Hammer thus making my list of films to see.
Hammer dabbled in a number of Psycho like tales once Hitchcock unleashed the story of Norman Bates upon the world. For this effort from director, Freddie Francis, making his debut for the studio, a suitably brooding Oliver Reed has been cast in the lead role playing a troubled young man awaiting an inheritance to finally be awarded to him. His parents are long dead as is a missing brother who supposedly committed suicide years ago. Problems arise when the long thought dead brother arrives at the estate shortly before the money is handed over to the alcoholic Ollie.
Ollie an alcoholic hellraiser? Perish the thought!
I’ve always liked this one and that’s in large part because I’ve always been a fan of the cinema’s number one badass, Reed. Director Francis would go on to do a number of Hammer films including both a Frankenstein and Dracula title as well as guiding a number of Amicus titles starring both Peter and Christopher.
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)
Bizarre twist on the famous Stevenson tale has the perfect casting. Ralph Bates as the good Doctor and look-a-like Martine Beswick as the murderous Hyde. Roy ward Baker takes the directing duties for this colorful tale of Victorian England that the studio excelled at. There’s not a lot to explain here. If you know the story of Jekyll and Hyde (assuming you have a pulse then you should know it) then the title gives all the plot points you’ll need to understand about what’s going to be happening to poor Ralph Bates.
Exploitative? You bet and by this time the studio had been dabbling in lesbians vampires and nudity. No lovely vampires cross over into the Jekyll story but Miss Beswick does offer up some skin for those looking to get a more intimate look at one of Sean Connery’s Bond girls.
I know it’s a Halloween theme but I can’t list my Hammer favorites without including this superb police drama starring the one and only Stanley Baker…..
Hell Is a City (1960)
Baker is a precursor to Dirty Harry as a cop looking to take down a murderer on the loose in Manchester. To do so he plays it mean and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The killer is effectively played by John Crawford who has escaped from prison and managed to pull off a heist. What Baker doesn’t yet know is all the crimes committed in the story are connected but with some forceful interrogation of key suspects he’s going to begin to connect the dots.
The film also stars Billie Whitelaw and in his only appearance for Hammer, Donald Pleasence. One would think that Donald should have been a sure fit for the studio’s many thrillers but it wasn’t meant to be.
This is another film that I had no idea of it’s existence until Anchor Bay released it on VHS for home video. Funny thing is I remember putting off purchasing it till I had all the other releases first. The reason? Cause it wasn’t a horror film and Hammer for me had always represented horror. As the years and film studies would go by I’d learn that they had a number of Noir tales in the books as well prior to Curse of Frankenstein that changed their fortunes and direction for the years ahead.
Be sure to watch this one. A solid gangster film and one that’s worthy to make a best of list when it comes to naming top British gangster pictures. Having already spotlighted this one as part of a Stanley Baker fest feel free to click here to learn more.
I know, I know, where’s Captain Kronos? Tell me about it, that one’s got Caroline Munro! And how could you totally ignore Countess Dracula and the Quatermaas films? Honestly when it comes the Quatermaas films, I really like the first two but am less then enamored of the third film which seems to be the one most others like the best. On that note, X-The Unknown is also a good one alongside The Snorkel starring a deadly Peter Van Eyck. For a dose of real terror that was years ahead of it’s time one should check out Never Take Sweets From a Stranger. A chilling studio entry that’s just as relevant today as it was then.
I guess the bottom line is I would encourage one and all to look beyond the usual titles and films that featured Lee and Cushing. Hammer fans will of course be familiar with all the titles above but for those that are not then hopefully I’ve given you something to track down and enjoy. Thanks to Lance for having me over to share some fun titles for the pumpkin season.