The ongoing adventures of Scott Weinberg, a friendly yet annoyingly opinionated guy who does nothing but watch movies and then write about them.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

HHX Update #1

Yes, yes, despite the fact that I often get these stupid little ideas and then never do a damn thing about them, I'm actually going ahead with the Hammer Horror Xperiment. I certainly hope the nine of you reading this thing aren't expecting full-bore reviews for these movies, because that's what they'd be: boring! Bahaa, jokes are fun.

Anyway I started off poorly, seeing that The Quatermass Experiment (1955) is presently unavailable. No biggie, although I do plan to see this entire trilogy some time soon.

I kicked things off with X: The Unknown (1955), which is a very dry mixture of Alien and The Blob -- only it came out before both of those movies. Definitely not a bad movie, but certainly not the colorfully pulpy sort of Hammer flick I was looking for. Then it was time for The Abominable Snowman (1957), which (again) is very chat-heavy, but it benefits from a fine Peter Cushing performance and a boisterous one from Forrest Tucker. I noticed that even in a horror flick this old, you'll still find the cleverness: It's a movie about a potentially deadly creature, but our main characters have a lot more trouble dealing with A) mother nature, and B) human nature. Still, not the Hammer I had in mind when I started this project, but you gotta start somewhere.

Because of a shipping snafu, I was dealt road-block #2. I'd received the second Dracula flick (Brides of Dracula), but I hadn't watched the first one (Horror of Dracula) yet. (Truth be told, I've seen the '58 Dracula, but it's been way too long.) Annoyed at having to watch part 2 before part 1, I watched part 2 anyway. (Sue me, this stuff's not brain science.) Seeing as how this flick is the old Hammer Dracula flick in which Christopher Lee doesn't appear, I'm guessing that Brides of Dracula (1960) is sort of the Halloween 3 of the series -- but I kinda liked it. The head vampire is (of course) very stagy and goofy, but there's tons of that darkly vibrant Hammer color palette I was looking for. A fun entry, but (I'm sure) not a superior one.

So let's extend that Halloween comparison: Michael Myers returned in Halloween 4, which kinda stunk, and Christopher Lee returned in Dracula 3 -- Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966) -- which also isn't so good. It's got Lee and Cushing, which makes it intermittently fun by default, but the plot is a toothless and anemic thing indeed. (Yes, two vampire puns for the price of none.)

And then a few days later I got re-acquainted with the very cool Horror of Dracula (as it's known here in the states), the 1958 (loose) adaptation that's every bit the classic those crazy Brits think it is. Many liberties have been taken with the source material, but meh, who cares? (Director) Terence Fisher and (screenwriter) Jimmy Sangster retain just enough of the story to keep the fans happy, but they also head off on their own tangents, too. It's during this movie that I start to get it: Somehow the Hammer guys were re-inventing the classic horrors, and doing so with typically British production design, preparation, and work ethic -- but the filmmakers were also intent on keeping the tone semi-light. Even with its over-red gore, the movies feel a lot like the comic books that inspired Creepshow.

Ah, I forgot. I was also able to catch Curse of the Werewolf (1961), which was Hammer's first and only entry on a lycanthropic level -- and for good reason. The movie has a very blocky structure, with an overlong prologue that goes absolutely nowhere and then an overlong wait for the mayhem to begin. It's still got a great look, and you simply haven't lived until you've seen Oliver Reed suffer the agonies of werewolfism.

On the docket: Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), Night Creatures (1962), Kiss of the Vampire (1963), Phantom of the Opera (1962), Nightmare (1964), Paranoiac (1963), and The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) -- which is annoying because that's Frankenstein Part 3 and I haven't tackled Frankenstein 1 or 2 yet. (Although I get the impression that "franchise continuity" was not of utmost importance at the Hammer House.)

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