Many horror filmmakers today will claim that they were inspired by ’80s slasher classics. Freddy, Jason, and Michael all have some influence on many modern horror movies. What about the filmmakers who predated the slasher craze? Their inspiration was the classic Universal Monster movies. Although still very influential today, horror filmmakers of the 50s, 60s and 70s probably grew up when these classic chillers first hit the big screen.
These influences played a key role in the rise of British film studio Hammer. Hammer sought to take these classic horror films and apply an exploitative style to them. These films boasted of bright red blood, gratuitous sexual content, and most importantly, scares. Hammer films have had such an impact that the word Hammer is often used to describe a subgenre as opposed to a studio. For those horror hounds looking to bite into those classic films, here are ten of the best the studio has to offer.
10/10 Let Me In (2010)
Most people think of the 60s and 70s when they talk about Hammer, and for good reason. The studio was then in its heyday and finally stopped making films around 2000. In 2007 they finally restarted. Most of these modern-era films aren’t so affectionately discussed, except for one. This one is 2010’s Let Me In, a remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In.
The film revolves around a bullied boy who falls in love with a young vampire girl. The film stars Chloë Grace Mortez as young vampire Abby, in one of the roles that made her a household name. The film isn’t as graphic as previous Hammer films, but doesn’t shy away from showing blood and gore when the occasion calls for it. The film revisits the classic vampire love story trope and makes it both sweet and intense. The film is one of the few modern-era Hammer films to have hints of the classic era. The film was expertly directed by Matt Reeves, who recently found success with The Batman.
9/10 The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)
If someone were to bring up a conspiracy involving martial arts, vampires, and sexual exploitation, many would assume they were referring to a movie gag in a Quentin Tarantino movie. The thing is, it’s a very real movie and as entertaining as it sounds. Hammer Films has always been one to experiment with their movies, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was one of their little experiments.
Christopher Lee had been playing Dracula for the studio since 1958, and he had had enough. Their response was to team up with the Shaw Brothers to make a vampire movie so crazy audiences wouldn’t notice it was missing. The plot again follows Peter Cushing in his famous role of Van Helsing as he attempts to stop a reincarnated Dracula and his army of vampires. This film is the perfect definition of a cult classic. It’s cheesy, absurd, bloody and fun. It’s the perfect movie to play in the background at a Halloween party, and guests are sure to have a blast.
8/10 The Reptile (1966)
The Reptile was Hammer’s response to films such as The Creature From The Black Lagoon. This creature feature follows a man who travels to find out what happened to his late brother. In a small village, he learns that his brother’s death is one of many, and that something inhuman is the culprit. While not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, The Reptile is still a chilling time.
The plot is a slow burner, keeping the titular creature invisible for most of the runtime. The makeup effects on the creature are still quite impressive, if a bit cheesy by today’s standards. The movie even ends with a confrontation in a burning building, reminiscent of the classic Universal Monster movies. This film doesn’t break new ground, but it remains a valuable addition to any Hammer marathon.
7/10 The Devil Goes Away (1968)
Terence Fisher is one of Hammer’s most famous directors, and many agree that this is one of his best films. The Devil Rides Out features Hammer mainstay Christopher Lee as he discovers his protege has been caught up in a satanic cult. The film was released during one of the first satanic panics of the 20th century and was very controversial. It contains heavy satanic imagery, violence, and even a chilling apparition of the devil himself. This film isn’t as in your face as some of the others, but it’s still a disturbing film that remains effective today. Christopher Lee was usually the bad guy in the Hammer movies, but here he shows he can lead the good guys too.
6/10 The Abominable Snowman (1957)
The Abominable Snowman is one of the Hammer movies that comes closest to the classic Universal Monster movies. For starters, it’s black and white. There is also no excessive violence or sexual content. The film follows a doctor, played by Peter Cushing, as he joins an expedition to find the legendary Yeti. The film is creepy and slow-burning, and full of atmosphere (completed by the beautiful setting).
The film is different from typical Hammer fare and that works in its favor. This movie was released the same year as Hammer’s first Frankenstein movie, which was full of color and full of gothic Hammer goodness. It’s interesting how quickly Hammer changed gears. This movie may be tamed out of compassion for other Hammer works, but it’s still worthy of the name and must be watched by any Hammer fan.
5/10 The Zombie Plague (1966)
George A. Romero was responsible for creating the zombie genre as we know it with Night of the Living Dead in 1968. That’s not to say he didn’t have inspirations, one of which was Plague of the Dead. Zombies. Before Romero changed the game, zombies were usually people under some sort of voodoo spell, as opposed to corpses reanimated by a virus. This film bridges that gap, as it has a bit of both.
A bizarre plague appears to be killing the villagers. Upon further inspection, a local squire practices voodoo magic to create a plague that kills people and turns their bodies into puppets under his control. The movie doesn’t have zombies rising from the grave and eating brains, but it’s the stage before Romero fully wraps up the zombie trope known today. The film is scary and intense, the perfect mix for a good Hammer film.
4/10 The Mummy (1959)
The 1932 Mummy has been the source of several remakes, the most successful being Universal’s own remake starring Brendan Fraser. The most infamous being Universal’s failed attempt at its Dark Universe. Somewhere in the middle is the Hammer remake. While the title suggests a direct remake of the 1932 film, it’s closer to a remake of Universal’s later titles, The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, and The Mummy’s Ghost.
The film stars Christopher Lee as the titular mummy and Peter Cushing as the protagonist. The film was directed by Terence Fisher, completing Hammer’s trifecta. The Hammer version is more violent than Universal’s Mummy series, but not the worst Hammer has produced. The Mummy is very atmospheric and is one of the best mummy movies ever made.
3/10 Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Unlike other universal classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein, The Wolf Man was an original story. Because of this, Hammer couldn’t do it again, so instead they produced The Curse of the Werewolf. Instead of the classic ways of being bitten by a werewolf, this film’s titular creature is cursed from birth.
As with any good werewolf tale, this one is tragic and heartbreaking (helped by an incredible performance from Oliver Reed). The movie deals with heavy stuff, which caused it to be heavily censored originally. While some scenes may be difficult to watch, this is still a worthy and chilling film in Hammer’s catalog.
2/10 The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
We often discuss who the real monster is: Dr. Frankenstein, or the creature he created. When looking at Hammer’s Frankenstein, the answer is clearly the doctor. The first film in Hammer’s Frankenstein series stars Peter Cushing as the titular doctor and Christopher Lee as the monster.
Contrary to other interpretations, this Dr. Frankenstein is not a good person at all. He will do whatever it takes to make sure his experiments succeed, even kill. This movie is brimming with gothic goodness and has some of the best lab scenes in any horror movie. Dr. Frankenstein gets more and more evil as the series goes on, but here’s just one bad guy. This movie demands to be seen by anyone who claims to be a horror fan.
1/10 Dracula Horror (1958)
When fans think of Hammer, the first thing that comes to mind is Christopher Lee as Dracula. Horror of Dracula is where it all started and where Hammer proved himself. The plot is the basic Dracula story with a few twists. The film is filled to the brim with gothic imagery and is beautiful to watch. From cemeteries to huge castles, it’s all there.
Christopher Lee stars as the titular vampire while Peter Cushing plays his nemesis, Van Helsing. The film has plenty of bright red blood to satisfy even Drac’s own appetite. This movie is what Hammer is. If only one Hammer movie should be watched, let it be this one. It’s one of the scariest and best Dracula movies of all time.