Who put the horror in horror? Hammer put the horror in horror! But if Hammer put the horror in horror, was the Hammer in the horror, Ham... and oh… wait, now I've gone cross-eyed.
Beginning its life in the early '30s with films such as The Mystery of the Mary Celeste, Hammer Films (named after a cinema in Hammersmith, London) had ventured into production many times before it became the world renowned company famous for making Frankenstein's monster even more horrifying. Hammer's decision to move into the horror genre during the '50s became the most lucrative choice that the company ever made. Beginning with the release of The Curse of Frankenstein, they were to change the face of the horror movie forever.
While obviously quite tame by today's standards, Hammer's particular emphasis on moody gothic settings, a smattering of gore and heightened suspense had audiences absolutely terrified at the time. The introduction of the mountainous Christopher Lee, who performed astonishing duties within a role that was traditionally typecast for Boris Karloff, was almost too gruesome for people to handle. And what of Peter Cushing? Often playing the hero to Lee's monster, Cushing's gaunt, haggard features were often interpreted as even more terrifying than the evil he was facing. The result was a cinematic horror duo that could barely put a foot wrong in terms of performance.
The Hammer Horror Collection contains the following three films:
The Curse of Frankenstein
Upon discovering the secrets to re-animation, Baron Victor Frankenstein sets about testing his theory upon a human subject. His obsessive nature, however, will not settle for just any human. Much against his assistant's protests, Frankenstein begins assembling his subject from the parts of the deceased.
The first fully-fledged horror feature from Hammer Films made an impact on the industry like a lightning strike. Not only were audiences left with a severe case of the spooks after witnessing Christopher Lee's startling reveal of Frankenstein's Monster, but Peter Cushing's strangely sympathetic performance as Baron Victor Frankenstein also gave them a double-dose of head games to contend with. Many people were also horrified by the small, yet vivid gore content of the film, often labelling it as "disgusting", "exploitative", or sometimes even worse.
In reality, the 'gore' content doesn't add up to much by today's standards. A brain here, some eyeballs there, most of it will be nothing viewers haven't seen before, but it's the subtle and clinical way it was executed that remains eternally creepy. There's just something about the way Peter Cushing handles a set of eyeballs that still makes one shiver. And Christopher Lee's incarnation of Frankenstein's Monster is still one of the screen's most visually nauseating.
The Horror of Dracula
Dracula leaves his castle in Transylvania for the bustling smorgasbord of London. Upon arrival, he begins to chow down on the local selection like a kid in a candy store. Tracking Dracula's movements, however, is Dr. Van Helsing, a scientist who takes it upon himself to eliminate this ancient evil. Necks are bitten, stakes are driven and vivid sunlight death are just some of the fun and games that follow.
Originally titled simply Dracula (the name was altered for American audiences), this film is often regarded as Hammer's finest hour. With its supremely eerie gothic setting and terrifying soundtrack, the gripping fear is almost relentless. Also, in terms of gore, Dracula's full colour, full view vampire staking segments were yet another notch on Hammer's belt of pioneering shock tactics.
Not so much of a 'hide in the shadows' type of vampire, more of a 'don't look behind you because I’ll be standing right there' kind, Christopher Lee's interpretation of Dracula solidified his reputation as a monster of all trades, and a damn fine actor to boot. Yet again, Peter Cushing's performance as Dr. Van Helsing is fantastic. This is truly a stand out title amongst the veritable sea of Dracula films out there.
Years after disturbing an ancient Egyptian tomb, archaeologist John Banning will finally come to understand the mad ravings of his father about 'The Mummy'. Seeking revenge for the disruption of his beloved Princess Ananka's tomb, Kharis the mummy stalks the hills of Victorian England to eliminate each and every member of the excavation team.
This was the film that pretty much sealed the quality reputation of Hammer Films. The box-office success alone for The Mummy was impressive enough without focusing on the film's other achievements. Yet again the film's score oozed with suspense, to which many still argue is one of Hammer's finest.
While not as bloody as the previous ventures, The Mummy still had its fair share of shocks, all of them owing to a superbly mummified and particularly threatening Christopher Lee - and he never utters a word.
This is a truly a fine collection of films worthy of any horror fan's investment. What Warner have delivered in this package are the three essential Hammer films, and for that reason alone the package is highly collectable and supremely entertaining.
Wow, I mean... wow! Looking at the presentation of these three films, you would never guess that they are all pushing 50 years old. Well, actually you would guess it, but that doesn't stop all three of these films looking cleaner than Nikki Webster's bedroom.
The Curse of Frankenstein
In a word, stunning! Painstaking restoration efforts have resulted in this transfer looking almost completely newborn. Almost all film artefacts have been removed from the feature, and the ones that remain are absolutely tiny and so infrequent that they are borderline impossible to spot. The image throughout is also amazingly crisp and the colours are also very well saturated. The only minor problem is the small lack of detail in shadows, however it's really nitpicking for a film this old.
The Horror of Dracula
Unfortunately this transfer isn't quite as impressive as The Curse of Frankenstein, nevertheless it is still of remarkable quality. The image is a little soft overall in comparison, and in terms of film artefacts, there are significantly more present here. Regardless, this is still a fantastic transfer for such an old film, and should satisfy even the most discerning DVD enthusiast.
This one scrubs up a little better than Dracula in terms of colour and sharpness, however it's still a bit short of the quality of Frankenstein. The only real problem here is the film artefacts, but they're not really much of a distraction as it is simply a little bit disappointing that it's not up to the standard of the first film in this collection. Oh, and another thing, the format of DVD doesn't exactly benefit those hilariously fake Egyptian sets.
All three films are presented in a 16:9 enhanced ratio of 1.85:1.