31 Spooky Movies in October: 2012 Edition, Part 9 – Hammer Special Report
I’m generally a big fan of British studio Hammer Films’ run of horror films from the late 50s into the early 70s. They mix period Gothic horror, action, gore, and varying degrees of sex to create fast-paced entertainments that are equally suited for both late-night revelry and Saturday morning relaxation. For this year, I decided to watch three Hammer films I’d never seen before… to decidedly mixed results.
23. The Gorgon (Terence Fisher, 1964)
This one is a good example of what the earlier style of Hammer horror films do well. It’s almost… respectable, even? Almost. Anyway, the story is little more than a spruced up werewolf yarn, with one of the Gorgon sisters (of whom Medusa is the most famous) turning hapless townspeople to stone. Peter Cushing is the local doctor who, suspiciously, doesn’t seem too concerned. Christopher Lee (in a rare good guy mentor role) is a professor called in to investigate the death of one of his colleague’s sons. And since this is a Hammer film, everything ends with a wild sword-fight action sequence.
The Gorgon doesn’t do anything special with the Monster-Stalks-An-Inhospitable-Village sub-genre, but it’s a quality piece of filmmaking that a lot of Hammer fans hold in high estimation. A slower pace lets the human interest develop, and the script is up to creating a few characterizations that are a bit more nuanced then the typical Hammer outing. Cushing even plays a bad guy who isn’t unambiguously evil! Imagine that.
I also appreciate the unique choice for a monster in the Gorgon, although it’s worth noting that her make-up is pretty terrible. This movie also has one of Hammer’s earliest (and fakest) beheadings.
SCORE: 8 conveniently-placed mirrors out of 10
24. The Revenge of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher, 1958)
Baron Frankenstein, after being sent to the guillotine at the end of Curse of Frankenstein, escapes and sets up shop in a hospital for the poor, harvesting their limbs for a new creature. This time he has a brain he can trust; a paralyzed assistant wants a new body, and at first it seems that the operation is a success. Of course, it all goes wrong.
A perfunctory franchise entry, this movie exists purely to set up the future Hammer Frankenstein sequels (although weirdly, none would logically follow the preceding movie after this one). The new spin on the monster is interesting and Michael Gwynn does a good job in the role, but he’s just not given enough screentime or enough to do. In fact, there’s a lot of interesting ideas (including a development in literally the last 5 minutes that would make Frankenstein himself a monster), but nothing is delved into very deeply and most of the subplots don’t come to much.
The only thing saving it from being totally dull are a couple well-done scenes (like the sequence involving a mechanical brain and a tank of eyeballs) and the fact that Terence Fisher is able to keep things looking nice. In fact, this one is visually much better than Curse, with a lot of moody darkness, nice compositions, and those color gels I love so much.
SCORE: 5 more Frankenstein sequels out of 10
25. Frankenstein Created Woman (Terence Fisher, 1967)
I was looking forward to this one the most and… wow. Maybe I’m just burned out on Frankenstein in general for this year, but this was a big disappointment.
Peter Cushing has somehow managed to avoid dying at the end of the last movie and is back to his old tricks. I guess he is, anyway. Frankenstein himself doesn’t really do much in this movie, especially compared to the wildly evil routine he keeps to in the other Hammer flicks. Eventually a story gets going and Cushing puts the soul of his executed male assistant into the body of a crippled girl he surgically makes hot via dying her hair. But then, the soul of the assistant drives the female body to murder the three fops who caused his false arrest! This all makes less sense in the movie.
There’s not much to compliment in this one. I am amused how the three cane-wielding are basically portrayed as 1950s street toughs, and there’s exactly one moment of nice exaggerated lighting (that spot of red on the meat cleaver). But the movie does nothing with its gender-bending premise and the flat, brown visuals are a low point for Fisher’s mise en scéne. What a depressing end to this month’s Hammer movies…
SCORE: 3 inspirations for Alex in Clockwork Orange out of 10