Sunday, August 30, 2009

The 11 Worst Hammer Horror Films

Peter Cushing as Lorimer Van Helsing, the grandson of Lawrence Van Helsing from the last Dracula film to feature Chris Lee as the Count; the disappointing THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973)


***WARNING! This article contains pics of nudity***

This companion piece to THE 20 BEST HAMMER HORROR FILMS won't be mistaken as some of the worst of all time (a couple titles do come close), but these are what I think are the lesser Hammer productions. Some of these films I like and some I don't, so failure as entertainment is confined to a small number of the 11 films discussed below. I have detailed what is good about the pictures on this list as well as what is not. For some on this list, there is very little saving grace to warrant spending time watching. But then, one man's crappy horror movie can be another man's cinematic treasure. You be the judge, this is just my opinion. There are still a couple films to see (such as TO THE DEVIL, A DAUGHTER) that may be possible contenders for this list. If so, I will amend it accordingly.

Herbert Lom plays the deformed musical artist, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

1. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1961/released in 1962)

Hammer's attempt to film the third cinematic adaptation of Gaston Leroux's classic story of a man whose music and life is stolen relegated to live out his deformed existence in the sewers below an opera house, is a light weight affair. Terence Fisher directs and as usual, is far more concerned with the love story angle engulfed in unwarranted tragedy. It's not a bad movie at all, but Hammer fans expecting some gruesome thrills will be irrefutably dissatisfied.

Thorley Walters (left) converses with the cruel Lord Ambrose played with deliciously evil perfection by Michael Gough

The violence is minimal, yet Michael Gough, as the nasty villain, pretty much steals the picture from the Phantom in his own movie. Originally, Cary Grant was supposedly anxious to appear in one of Hammer's horror movies, and the script for PHANTOM was written with Grant to appear as the title character.

The phantom shows off his slapdash mask that was hurriedly put together in a matter of minutes by Roy Ashton when the original mask was deemed unusable after filming had already begun

Unfortunately, Grant was seemingly not serious about his intentions. Herbert Lom took the role after having some initial vacillation about taking the part. The mask used for this version of the Phantom is easily the worst created for the character and the major set piece (the big opera house finale) from the two prior PHANTOM flicks is lackadaisically created for this version. Feeling rushed in places, the film is still worth a look or two if you go in expecting little in the way of horror. The cramped sewer setting of the Phantom is glum looking and suitably seedy. Watch it for the scene chewing performance of Michael Gough even if his characters fate is the films biggest question mark.

Hammer went for a more Universal approach with arguably the weakest film in the Frankenstein franchise

2. THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1963/released 1964)

This third Frankenstein flick rivals the later HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN in utter insipidness. Peter Cushing is the sole reason to watch this clunker. His character isn't even all that evil this time out even though the same could be said for some of his other performances as the Baron. Here, the Baron comes off as an underdog, a victim of a society that doesn't understand him. This conceit is consistent from one Frank flick to the other, but here, Cushing is less villainous than in any of his other portrayals.

The Baron in a duel of words with the nasty Zoltan the Hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe)

The role of antagonist belongs to a revenge seeking hypnotist (Peter Woodthorpe) who controls the creature to kill for him. The Baron is more of an anti hero in this entry, one of only two Franky films not directed by Terence Fisher. Cinematographer Freddie Francis takes the helm and fails for the most part in delivering a product on par with Fisher's movies in this series. Even Fisher's last movie of his career, shot on a shoestring budget and the last Frankenstein picture for Hammer, FRANKENSTEIN & THE MONSTER FROM HELL (a movie that just barely misses being included on this list), is miles away better than this one.

The pitiable monster played by Australian wrestler, Kiwi Kingston covered under ineffectual make up

EVIL was the first time Hammer was granted permission to utilize makeup similar to the Karloff visage in the classic Universal FRANKENSTEIN from 1931 (the film also bears more resemblance to the Universal series). The effects used to create the creatures features are a bit sloppy and are a serious step down from the gruesome patchwork look of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Still, Peter Cushing is the one saving grace and the scene where he attempts to reclaim some of his property gives the movie some much needed comedic flair.

The mummy is unveiled in the weakest entry in the bandaged brute series not counting the last film which didn't feature a gauze wrapped ogre of any kind


Michael Carreras directs this fitfully boring second entry in Hammer Films mummy series which got off to a blazing start with there huge hit simply titled THE MUMMY (1959). The famed horror company's Egyptian avenger quartet is the weakest series of Hammer's horror heritage. This exercise in tedium takes up 53 minutes of the viewers time before the damn mummy even begins to do his thing. By that time, there's 26 minutes left and less than half of that contains "the beat of the cloth wrapped feet" (the tagline used for the next film in Hammer's mummy cycle).

Things finally pick up towards the end in what is one of the longest 80 minutes of your life

The costume for the creature in this one is absolutely shoddy and I'm amazed that this film did as well as it did. No doubt it rode the coattails of previous Hammer hits of Cushing and Lee. Originally, the script called for a 20 foot tall mummy monster to wreak havoc until the military gets involved, but this storyline was later rejected. Alvin Rakoff, the director of the awful DEATH SHIP (1980), collaborated on the script with Carerras under a pseudonym. George Pastell plays essentially the same character he played in THE MUMMY, only here he is not the creatures cohort.

Aside from the gruesome head crushing, this is one of the funnier sequences in the film

The film begins in bloody fashion with a graphic dismemberment. During the finale, the mummy squashes a head and ends up in the sewer after battling the police. The busty Jeanne Roland in addition to the last ten minutes almost makes this miserable movie worthwhile, but it's too little, too late. The score is also good; at least the parts that aren't ported over from the previous picture. The widescreen print on the Sony two disc set is beautiful, but the film is only recommended to the most patient of Hammer fans.

Prem and his old master, Kah to Bey

4. THE MUMMY'S SHROUD (1966/released 1967)

After releasing CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB, Hammer returned to Egyptian horror with THE MUMMY'S SHROUD two years later; a lesser Hammer horror, but not without some minor interest. The story this time out is a little bit different. The typically ignorant tomb raiders remove the remains of a boy king from his resting place. Upon removing his shroud and reading the deadly inscription, this prompts his loyal guardian, Prem, to return to life and exact a brutal revenge on the desecrators.

The vengeful marauder prepares to burn one of his victims alive in one of several overly violent sequences

The film itself isn't horrible, it's just not very engaging. What the film needed was either Chris Lee or Peter Cushing to give the film some added value as all the elements are here for a damn fine motion picture. There are a few main points of interest, one being the few and far between mummy attacks. They are incredibly brutal and violent for the time period. One particular bit of nasty business was removed from the finished film involving the gruesome handiwork of Prem after pulverizing one of the tomb defilers.

The absolutely wicked Haiti, the creepiest character in THE MUMMY'S SHROUD

Another noteworthy portion of the film concerns the alarmingly ghoulish mystic, Haiti who foresees the deaths of the victims. Her presence and cackling demeanor add a macabre element to the proceedings that make the viewing worthwhile. Michael Ripper is also on hand in a larger than usual role. At least here he's far more believable and personable than in the previous mummy entry where the script tried to pass him off as an Egyptian.

Prem gets the axe during the falls-count-anywhere climax

Also the destruction of Prem is rather spectacular and unusual when compared with other films of this type. It's definitely far from the worst film on this list, but it just sort of sits there. Hammer's first mummy flick is so good, those that followed it had so much to live up to. MUMMY'S SHROUD comes the closest, but it's rendered relatively weak without stronger leads. However, it does have the most lively and kinetic finale of Hammer's mummy films. The score is also notable and the film as a whole is definitely a step in the right direction after the previous mummy fiasco. John Gilling was a bit more successful with his back to back Hammer horrors THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE (both 1966). This would be Hammer's last complete film shot at Bray before they moved to Elstree Studios.

Prior to playing the Dark Lord of the Sith, Dave Prowse toiled away in blackly humorous stinkers such as this


Totally horrible series entry is essentially a blackly comical redux of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Only here, the producers wanted to go with a younger Frank. Cushing was out (good for him) and Ralph Bates was in. It's not a total loss, though, as the film has some choice moments; Kate O'Mara being one of them. There is an increased slant towards sex this time out and while Bates is good in the role, the film as a whole is right forgettable. It's yet another attempt by Hammer to inject some new life into their floundering horror product.

The monster goes on the required rampage to give bored viewers some of their money's worth

Even the added nudity and violence was doing very little to hold interest in their horror pictures. Hammer's most successful film, ON THE BUSES (1971) wasn't even a horror movie, but a comedy. The company was so good at producing a certain type of product, ie the horror genre, that when change was inevitable, Hammer couldn't seem to adjust to the shift in audience tastes. At this point, most everything Hammer did was a disappointment for them and they would soon no longer have the luxury of a major studio to back them for financing, nor for overseas distribution.

Ralph Bates gets to play doctor in a role made popular by Peter Cushing in six films

Instead, their films were often picked up by obscure companies who barely released the pictures at all and sometimes several years after the films had played their native territory. HORROR OF FRANKENSTEIN also marks the first of three appearances by weightlifting champion, Dave Prowse. Some of the black humor works, but the film as a whole is mundane and pretty forgettable.

Mircalla is resurrected once more in the nadir of Hammer's vampire movies, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE

6. LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1970/released 1971)

A major league mistake in Hammer's non-Dracula vampire series. After the stylish, yet risky endeavor that was THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, the studio unleashes this bizarre and largely redundant second entry in their Karnstein trilogy. There is virtually nothing of interest save for a haunting and sometimes beautiful score by Harry Robinson. The slender and tantalizing frame of Yutte Stensgaard is a plus, but not enough to keep this unexciting lesbian vampire non epic afloat.

Ralph Bates inverts his cross to profess his (un)dying love for Mircalla

Originally titled TO LOVE A VAMPIRE, the emphasis is placed on the doomed relationship between schoolteacher Lestrange and the vampire Mircalla. If original director Terence Fisher had not fallen ill, perhaps the film would have been more successful. Peter Cushing was also cast as a lecherous nutcase, but was unable to participate due to his wife's illness. Ralp Bates replaced him in what was already a very unflattering role. The film lost some of its scenes of violence, but it is highly unlikely that the picture would be improved had they been included.

Lestrange and Mircalla embrace the last time in LUST FOR A VAMPIRE

Towards the end, there's even a scene where the entire film crew is visible to the left of the screen for close to ten seconds. Speaking of showing off the crew, you can see a number of technicians including the director in the door of a coach during the opening moments. Mike Raven as Count Karnstein is obviously having a grand time doing his best Christopher Lee impersonation (some close up shots from one of Lee's previous Dracula movies are used at one point), but he was incensed upon learning his voice was dubbed by someone else. A serious low point in Hammer's history. If you're a fan, you'll still want to see it, but be prepared to be disappointed.

Ingrid Pitt in her one lead role. A shame it was such a lousy movie

7. COUNTESS DRACULA (1970/released 1971)

One of the most incredible missed opportunities in horror history. Hammer, the studio that was struggling to find themselves amidst their dwindling target audience, totally missed the boat with this dry, bland and nearly bloodless production. About one of the most sadistic and bloodthirsty bitches in all of humanity's savage history, the producers at the famed house of horror decided to fore go the reality of Erzsebet Bathory's vile catalog of cruelty and instead focused on one of the Countess' "less ferocious" practices.

Well, there's one reason to sit through COUNTESS DRACULA

Even still, Ingrid Pitt is great as the Blood Countess and she is obviously enjoying the chance with her meatiest role. For whatever reason that still boggles the mind, her voice was dubbed without her knowledge after the film was completed. The film mixes fantasy with reality in that the Countess bathes in the blood of virgins to remain youthful and at the end, as she is to be married to her handsome groom, she begins to age rapidly. The final moments are true to what became of the real 'Blood Countess'. Had the real exploits of this insane feral female been filmed, even today the production would easily have obtained an 'X' rating.

The last scene is historically accurate in depicting the 'Blood Countess's' fate

It's a grand shame that Hammer failed to capitalize on what could have been the horror tale they needed to procure some of their disinterested audience. As it stands, it's a somewhat boring affair that fans will still want to have a look at for posterity. Ingrid Pitt is a stunner and this is her movie, so that in itself is reason enough to give the film at least one view. The US dvd contains both this film and Hammer's VAMPIRE LOVERS, so out of the two, you get at least one good movie on the bill.

Queen Tera (Valerie Leon) having just been resurrected battles against Valerie Leon and Andrew Keir


Hammer's last mummy movie isn't really a mummy film at all. Based on Bram Stoker's 'Jewel of the Seven Stars', it's a failed, yet more adult approach to their style of horror film. Peter Cushing was cast in the supporting role as the archeologist, but had to exit the film after only one day because his wife had become deathly ill. Not only that, but the director, Seth Holt, died of a heart attack before the film was completed. Some other directors were considered to take over, but Michael Carreras decided to handle the duties himself later claiming the picture was in extreme disarray and even contemplated starting over from scratch.

Twice the Valerie Leon as she not only walks around in a nightgown for much of the film, she also plays the "sleeping" Queen Tera

In yet another attempt by the company to give new life to a tired formula, audiences both in the UK and abroad were not interested. The film bombed terribly and this was the last movie in their mummy series despite the production not featuring a gauze wrapped avenger from centuries past. However, the last scene contains a mummy of sorts in what comes off as something of an injoke. The Stoker story was made again in 1980 as THE AWAKENING starring Charlton Heston and Stephanie Zimbalist. That one wasn't much better, but benefited from some OMENesque style death scenes and a shock ending, something Hammer's version lacks.

The only reason to ever sit through this film a second time...well, two reasons

Two words make BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB somewhat worthwhile; Valerie Leon. She had appeared in a number of the CARRY ON films and her gravity defying assets coupled with her seductive beauty are reason enough to give this misleadingly titled horror hokum at least one look. Even still, all desecrators of this unearthed on DVD humdrum horror sans its title shambler should proceed at their own risk.

Count Dracula as Mafia boss demands you kiss his hand from DRACULA AD 1972

9. DRACULA AD 1972 (1971/released 1972)

After the huge success of AIP's COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970), Hammer decided it was time they transplanted the King of Vampires to modern day London. Well, once he got their, they did little to nothing with him. After a stunning opening, the film loses lots of steam and never regains momentum till the finale draws near. Lee as Dracula again has very little to do and the character is relegated to a dilapidated old church, the only tie to the Gothic style of Hammer's bygone days.

Christopher Neame as Johnny Alucard, the anxious and evil disciple of Dracula

Another character, Johnny Alucard (Christopher Neame), takes center stage for much of the picture when the film should be focusing on Dracula. Like a lot of Hammer's Dracula movies, the name 'Dracula' is in the title and the character should be the main emphasis. Some films had an excuse, this one doesn't. I do like the movie and it benefits from a dynamite opening and overly bloody ending battle between Van Helsing and the Lord of the Undead as well as a strong and vibrantly forceful score by Michael Vickers of Manfred Mann fame. Also of particular interest is the participation of the alluring beauty of Stephanie Beacham.

Calm down, Dracula isn't shunning the bountiful beauty of Stephanie Beacham, but a cross that's around her neck.

Upon release, the film failed to garner much audience interest and the production was further hindered when the producers decided against using Rod Stewart and his band, The Faces for the party sequence, deciding instead on the wonders of the unknown band Stoneground. Once again Chris Lee was vehemently against the dialog he was given, yet he didn't mind uttering essentially the same shit for the follow up modern day Drac attack, SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA.

The Count has Van Helsing and his granddaughter right where he wants them during the finale of the last film to feature Lee as the Master of the Damned

10. THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1972-'73/released 1974)

Woefully uneven entry in Hammer's Dracula series and the last to feature Chris Lee as the Count. By this point, Dracula has suffered the indignity of being staked or impaled on various implements, burned by the suns rays, drowned by running water, killed by Christ and here, silver bullets and thorn bushes play a role in the death of the ruler of lost souls. Speaking of Dracula's demise, the one featured here is totally abrupt and seems rushed as if the filmmakers had to wrap things up in a hurry. Dracula doesn't even appear till late in the flick and the bulk of his footage doesn't come till the end.

Thorns aid in the destruction of the Count in the monotonous and sometimes dreary final Chris Lee Dracula flick

Incredibly, Lee gets more dialog than he did in SCARS OF DRACULA (1970), but only by a few lines. What little the film has in its favor is a unique plotline with Bondian style elements that encoring director, Alan Gibson fails to capitalize on. Even still, it's a decent film, but one of the lesser entries in this series. The film went through a number of title changes and Chris Lee had a lot of disdain for even having been signed to do the picture and soon vowed he would never again don the Count's cape.

Cushing gets a little too close to a Bubonic Plague infected victim

The film didn't appear on North American shores till 1978 under the title COUNT DRACULA & HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE. For continuity purposes, it's a direct sequel to the previous modern day Dracula movie. Cushing also returns, but sadly, the gorgeous Stephanie Beacham does not. Instead, she is replaced by Bond girl, Joanna Lumley. Despite its fascinating storyline, Lee's bloodsucker swan song is mostly an exercise in tedium.

Horst Janson, John Cater & John Carson in one of the more ingenious and funny scenes in the low rent CAPTAIN KRONOS, a failed attempt at starting a new franchise in the bloodsucker sweepstakes

11. CAPTAIN KRONOS, VAMPIRE HUNTER (1972/released 1974)

The inclusion of this fan favorite will no doubt ruffle some feathers, but the poorly staged "sword fights", the poverty row cardboard sets and the stiff lead hero found in Horst Janson keep this far down my rewatch list. Especially disappointing is the final fight between Kronos and Hagen. It's the one decent fight in the picture, yet the filmmakers couldn't be bothered to compose a piece of music for this sequence to heighten the action. The latter half of the duel has music, but it doesn't contain the swash of buckles that the bombastic main theme possesses.

Kronos battles Hagen played by William Hobbs, the fight choreographer. Had the other fights been as good as this last one, the film would have been a bit better

The sets are rather bland and to quote Jon Pertwee in the fourth story in the Amicus anthology, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, "It's so flimsy you could shoot peas through it!" Nearly the entire film is shot in daylight (an unusual choice) and it's rife with bizarre touches here and there, but the whole exercise is brought down by a totally anemic (and dubbed) lead actor. Janson speaks clear English so why would they dub him? Who knows, as Hammer was privy to dub any of their lead performers of their choosing at random intervals.

The pub scene which tries and fails to mimick similar scenes in Japanese Chambara movies. Perhaps it was supposed to be badly done on purpose?

The producers claimed they wanted someone who could fight and handle a sword. Well, the tight shooting schedule must have kept them from looking for very long as the quick cuts and close ups mask the deficiencies inherent in anyone wielding a blade, save for the semi exciting final fight between Kronos and the villain Hagen. Janson had also played a villain in the spaghetti western obscurity LONG LIVE YOUR DEATH (1974) starring Franco Nero, Eli Wallach and Lynn Redgrave.

Janson and the gorgeous and seductive Caroline Munro

What CAPTAIN KRONOS does have are some quirky characters, some interesting mythology (the vamps here suck away your life essence instead of blood), a great score and the perky and sensual talents of Caroline Munro, a gorgeous actress who simply didn't get enough roles in movies. Director Brian Clemens envisioned a series of films wherein Kronos would travel through time encountering a different type of creature or supernatural foe.

Kronos and his sidekick, Grost after the dead have been dispatched

The film was barely released and disappeared quietly with little to no fanfare. With its minuscule budget, KRONOS has a TV movie of the week look about it. I can't understand for the life of me why this film gets so much attention while the superior action horror hybrid, LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES often gets overlooked or snubbed at and it actually had a budget to work with as well as some rousing action set pieces. That's one thing KRONOS lacks is rousing action, but it does have imagination. If only the budget and schedule allowed it to breath and run a little bit wild.
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