Category Archives: Hammer Films

Hammer Films: “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” (1960)

Hammer's Dr. Jekyll

This will be the first time I review an adaptation Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and My. Hyde, since I neglected to include 1953’s “Abbott & Costello meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” in my Universal Classic Monsters section. The reason for the omission was because it was not a classic like 1948’s “Abbott & Costello meet Frankenstein” and because Boris Karloff only played Dr. Jekyll. Due to his age, a stuntman needed to portray Mr. Hyde in a pullover mask. I also usually review films in chronological order, but I already posted an article about “The Curse of the Werewolf,” which was released a year later, so you can read this article first, then scroll down.

Terence Fisher (who else?) directed. Paul Massie stars as Jekyll and Hyde. Dr, Jekyll’s wife, Kitty (Dawn Addams), is cheating on him with Paul Allen (Christopher Lee). One of the first times since “Horror of Dracula” that Lee was cast a suave villain as apposed to a traditional lumbering brute-type monster. Unlike most adaptations, Dr. Jekyll does not become a hideous fiend, but rather a much more handsome and debonair version of himself, Mr. Hyde.

Mr. Hyde begins to socialize with Kitty and Paul, claiming to be an acquaintance of Dr. Jekyll. Hyde and Paul get into a drunken scuffle with Oliver Reed. When he turns back into Jekyll, he experiences and existential crisis. He doesn’t know who he really is and he isn’t sure if Hyde is the man he wants to be. Hyde and Paul become buddies, which makes for a bizarre love triangle. Hyde seems to enjoy that Kitty is cheating on Jekyll even though they are supposedly one in the same. Paul has great gambling debts. Hyde offers to bail him out of his financial jam in exchange for being introduced to the seedy side of life. Hyde and Paul go on a bender and they end up in an opium den. Hyde then makes an inappropriate request. He wants Paul to “lend” him his mistress. He wants his wife to cheat on him… with himself. Mr. Hyde is one sick puppy, so Paul refuses.

Dr. Jekyll needs to exercise his demons, but Mr. Hyde has other plans. He will have his revenge on behalf of Jekyll. Hyde kills Paul first with a poisonous snake, then he forces himself on Kitty. He also strangles a sexy belly dancer he has been sleeping with. Kitty awakes, dazed, perhaps drugged, and falls over a railing to her death, crashing through a glass ceiling. Jekyll finally has a conversation with Hyde via his reflection in a mirror. Something a lot of Spider-Man villains seem to do nowadays. Apparently, this town is not big enough for the both of them. Hyde fakes the death of Jekyll by burning down his laboratory. Hyde’s crimes are pinned on the late Jekyll, but after an inquiry, Hyde turns back into Jekyll. Jekyll will face the consequences for all of Hyde’s offenses, but seems confident that Hyde will not return.

Not a horror movie in the traditional sense since Mr. Hyde was more of a sexual deviant than a monster. This film was major box office bomb, but I give director Terence Fisher credit for his decision to make a thriller that would appeal to an older demographic. He also allowed Christopher Lee a reprise from being typecast.

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Hammer Films: “The Curse of the Werewolf” (1961)

Oliver Reed Werewolf

As I mentioned in my retrospective of “The Wolf Man,” this is not a remake of the Lon Chaney, Jr. film, but rather a loose adaptation of The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore. No Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Oliver Reed stars instead. Terence Fisher was in the director’s chair though, having helmed “The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll” with Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee the year before.

The opening credits are displayed over a close-up of Oliver Reed’s eyes, made up as the werewolf and he sheds a single tear. You better soak this moment in because you don’t actually get to see him as the werewolf until the climax. Keep an eye out for Anthony Dawson and Desmond Llewellyn from the 007 films in the opening sequence. A comely young chambermaid (Yvonne Romain) gets violated by a scruffy beggar who had spent decades locked away in a dungeon. She escapes, but passes away during childbirth. Her son, Leon, is raised by a sympathetic lord (Clifford Evans) and a servant (Hira Talfrey) who had cared for his mother during her final days. During his baptism, dark clouds and lighting forewarn that there is a terrible curse on this child. The holy waters boils and a demonic image is visible. The priest (John Gabriel) is disturbed by all this, but continues with the ceremony.

When Leon is a boy, his parents keep him in a room with bars on the window to protect himself and others. Leon sports fangs and a furry brow, but never goes full on wolf-boy. Goats are killed in the vicinity, but a poor dog gets all the blame and is shot dead. The curse doesn’t reveal itself again until Leon is grown and attending a party with gypsy girls. He becomes ill when the moon is full and excuses himself. A woman tries to take advantage of him in this vulnerable state and brings her back to her room. Her passion stirs the beast within and Leon finally transforms. Only his hands (paws) are shown to the audience as he goes on a spree, killing the woman, his friend, and the owner of the dog who’d been unjustly killed years earlier.

Leon returns to his surrogate parents, bending the bars on his window, and learns of his awful curse. The priest who’d baptized Leon offers him protection at a monastery, but Leon runs off in a panic. The priest informs Leon’s love interest, Cristina (Catherine Fellar), that Leon has likely taken life through no fault of his own. Leon is jailed, but his father knows he won’t stay locked up for very long, so he tracks down a silver bullet from the gentleman who killed the dog. Leon transforms in his cell, which is bad news for both his cellmate and the guard posted outside. The audience finally gets to see what the werewolf looks like, a cross between the Lon Chaney, Jr. makeup and a gorilla.

An angry mob follows from below as Leon flees across rooftops. Leon hurls a flaming hay bale into the crowd and it appears as if some of the extras were burned. Leon is then cornered in a bell tower by his father and is shot dead with the same silver bullet that was meant for him as a boy, but used on the dog instead. Unlike most werewolf movies, Leon did not turn human again after his death. The credits rolled and there was no sequel. Leon Corledo was no Lawrence Talbot, but Hammer Films still needed one werewolf to round out their monster stable. Terence Fisher went on to direct a remake of “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1962 and several Frankenstein and Dracula sequels.

Hammer Films: “The Mummy” (1959)

Hammer-Lee-Mummy

I just can’t get all that psyched about mummies. The notion of a pharaoh’s curse is more interesting than actually seeing a mummy limping around in some scruffy bandages and strangling people. I’d like to see the “curse” as something more intangible that leads to inventive horror movie death scenes. Regardless, Hammer Films continued with their remakes of the classic monsters with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee starring again and Terence Young in the director’s chair again.

The films opens in 1895. Peter Cushing plays John Banning, who joins his father and uncle on an excavation of a tomb located in a mountainside. The filmmakers attempted to make Cushing appear as if he was young man right of university, but without much success. The tomb belongs to Ananka, High Priestess of the Temple of Karnak. John’s father Stephen (Felix Aylmer) encounters something in the tomb that no one else sees and is left in a catatonic state for the next three years.

Mehement Bay (George Partell), who is still sore about the Banning family desecrating the tomb of Ananka, uses the “Scroll of Life” to resurrect and command a mummy who emerges from a swamp. This mummy busts into a mental institution and kills Stephen. John does some research and the history of the mummy is revealed in a long flashback to the year 2000, B.C.. Here’s where Christopher Lee gets to have his face seen without all that heavy makeup as Kharis, High Priest of the Temple of Karnak. Ananka (Yvonne Furneaux), whom he loved despite it being forbidden, was taken deathly ill while on a pilgrimage. After her mummification, Kharis broke into her tomb, intent on resurrecting her. He was caught and his horrible punishment was to be mummified while still alive and cursed to guard the tomb of Ananka for all time.

Mehement Bay sends the mummy after John next. John’s wife Isobel is coincidentally a reincarnation of Ananka, also played by Yvonne Furneaux. The mummy is confused by Isobel’s presence and refuses to kill her even when ordered to do so by Mehement Bay. Mehement Bay then attempts to kill Isobel himself, but the mummy breaks him in half. The mummy takes Isobel with him back to the swamp. John leads a rescue party and the mummy is bombarded with gunfire. He sinks into the swamp, taking the Scroll of Life with him.

This film took the best elements of the first two Universal Studio mummy flicks, “The Mummy” and “The Mummy’s Hand,” so this is about as good as a mummy movie is going to get. Hammer Films made three more mummy films, but without Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Hammer Films: “Horror of Dracula” (1958)

Christopher Lee Dracula

Christopher Lee didn’t have much to do as the Creature in “The Curse of Frankenstein” since Peter Cushing as Baron Victor von Frankenstein was the true monster of the film, but now that Hammer Films was undertaking Bram Stoker’s novel, Lee was going to at least have some lines. Lee and Cushing worked with the same director, Terence Fisher, at the helm.

Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssan) infiltrates Count Dracula’s castle by posing as a librarian. This opening sequence is the only time that Dracula speaks in the entire film. Harker is soon revealed to be a vampire slayer in this adaptation, a protégé of Dr. Van Helsing. Harker is bitten by Dracula’s bride (he only has one in this version), but is sure to destroy the bride before he loses his humanity. Dracula goes in search of a new bride, targeting Harker’s fiancé, Lucy (Carol Marsh). Dr. Van Helsing arrives at the castle and puts Harker out of his misery, then joins the other characters for the remainder of film, trying his best to protect Lucy despite the ire he draws from her family.

Arthur Holmwood (Michael Gough) is the brother of Lucy as appose to her suitor as he was in the novel, and Mina (Melissa Stribling) is Arthur’s wife as appose to Jonathan’s fiancé. R.M. Renfield was left out of the film altogether. Lucy is eventually turned into a vampire, so Arthur becomes Van Helsing’s new assistant. Lucy as a vampire might be more chilling than even Dracula. Dr. Van Helsing drives a stake through her heart, then waits for Dracula to make his next move. Little does he know that Dracula has taken up residence in the cellar of Arthur and Mina’s home.

Dracula sets his eyes on Mina and takes her back to his castle. Van Helsing and Arthur give chase. Dracula buries Mina alive, then is pursued into the castle by Van Helsing. The conflict ends when Van Helsing rips the drapes off of a window and Dracula is disintegrated by sunlight. Arthur dug up Mina just in the nick of time and the curse was broken.

Only Peter Cushing returned for the first sequel, “Brides of Dracula,” which was a very misleading title as the alluring female vampires in the film had no connection to Count Dracula. Christopher Lee returned for “Dracula: Prince of Darkness,” which was like a precursor to “slasher” movies in its approach as two couples were stranded at his castle and got killed off by a silent killer. Lee played the part mute because he was displeased with his dialogue in the script. “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” was clever in that Dracula was inadvertently resurrected by an exorcism gone wrong and an atheist ends up being the one who must vanquish the evil count. Lee and Cushing were reunited as Dracula and Van Helsing in “Dracula 1972 A.D.”

Hammer Films: “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957)

Curse of Frankenstein

Universal Studios kicked off their classic monster saga with Count Dracula himself, but Hammer Films began with a darker adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel, directed by Terence Fisher. “The Curse of Frankenstein” is told in a flashback as Baron Victor von Frankenstein is about to face the guillotine for his heinous crimes.

Victor Frankenstein is just as determined and passionate as Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) in 1931’s “Frankenstein,” but nowhere near as sympathetic. Victor not only robs graves, but commits murder when necessary to obtain the body parts he needs. He also betrays his fiancé (and cousin?) Elizabeth (Hazel Court) with his chambermaid. His friend and colleague, Dr. Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart) eventually becomes disgusted with Victor and wants to walk away from him, but is worried about what will become of Elizabeth.

The culmination of Victor’s research is a soulless Creature played by Christopher Lee. There are some similarities to the Boris Karloff monster in that Lee is tall and given a green complexion. He also sports random scars, two different colored eyes, and a mop-top hairdo. Of course, the Creature escapes and crosses paths with an elderly blind man, but this Creature isn’t looking to make any friends. Paul shoots and apparently kills the Creature, but Victor insanely brings life to it yet again. Victor even uses the Creature to dispose of his mistress, who was putting the screws to him to get married.

The Creature eventually goes after Elizabeth. Victor does save her (he also accidentally shoots her) and his creation falls into a tub of acid, dissolving all traces of its existence. All of the Creature’s murders get pinned on Victor and Paul chooses to not corroborate his story. Paul departs with Elizabeth and leaves Victor in his cell to meet his fate. The films ends with the implication that Victor is beheaded.

The first sequel, “The Revenge of Frankenstein” opens with Victor being rescued from his executioners by goons looking for a payday. Dr. Stein, as he now calls himself, is eventually discovered and beaten to death, but he is resurrected by his protégé. Victor finally became somewhat sympathetic in “Frankenstein Created Woman” when his first female creature (who is quite attractive) only kills those who deserve to die. She then commits suicide and Victor actually looks disappointed by what has transpired. He goes back to being a fiend in “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed” when he blackmails a young couple into assisting him and he rapes the girl. And I think everybody knows that David Prowse played the simian like creature in “Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell.” Cushing and Prowse would famously be reunited in “Star Wars” as Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader respectively.