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Hammer Films on DVD

The Curse of Frankenstein
Horror of Dracula
Boxed Set

The Curse of Frankenstein

The Curse of Frankenstein

While Universal Studios began the tradition of releasing great (or at least great attempts at!) horror movies back in the 1930’s, Britain’s Hammer Films took up the baton in the 1950’s and ‘60’s with a series of movies that not only gave “scare starved” kids a new outlet, but which helped make stars of such journeyman actors as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

They’re generally pretty good flicks, too, made in widescreen with “blood curdling” color and larger than life stories.

The Curse of Frankenstein is the film that started this resurgence, and it’s a dandy.

Cushing stars as Baron Victor Frankenstein who, at movie’s opening, befriends one of his former teachers, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart). Though fascinated by the potential of Frankenstein’s experiments at bringing life to dead matter, Krempe eventually gets cold feet and refuses to help with Frankenstein's experiments on humans.

Cushing’s Frankenstein is the real monster here. He’s the coldly rational scientist turned cold-blooded criminal as his ambition-blinded campaign to recreate life leads to him commit murder. Lee, on the other hand, is a sympathetic character, the pitiable and frightened creature who is more innocent than monster, despite his grotesqueness. Thanks to his outstanding makeup, he acts mostly with his eyes and through gestures.

Cushing and Lee are both great; in fact the whole cast does a wonderful job. Cushing’s Frankenstein is sinister but understandable while Lee brings new life to the man given new life.

The DVD is also very good. The anamorphic widescreen presentation (16x9 TV compatible) is bright and mostly sharp, and the lurid colors of the production itself help contribute to the film’s mood. Audio is Dolby Digital mono, not surprisingly, and its quality is fine considering the original source material.

Extras are limited to a short text essay "Hammer Creates a Monster," some cast/crew info and the theatrical trailer.

The Curse of Frankenstein, from Warner Home Video
83 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital mono
Starring Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart, Christopher Lee
Executive Producer Michael Carreras
Written by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Terence Fisher

Horror of Dracula

Horror of Dracula

Christopher Lee may not get star billing, but he was made a star after Horror of Dracula, his first Hammer Films appearance as the Dark Lord.

There's no Renfield in this version, despite it being based on the original Bran Stoker novel, though not strictly. It opens with Jonathan Harker (John Van Eyssen) turning up at Dracula's castle, a vampire hunter after the biggest prize of all. He doesn't get it, of course, or there'd be a darn short movie.

But he does manage to stake his claim on one of Drac's ladies of the night, sending the Count into a vengeful fit that not only sees him enslaving Harker to his vampire's ways, but setting his sights on his fiance back in England as well. Enter Peter Cushing as Professor Van Helsing, who's determined to prevent Dracula from getting his bloody sacrifice.

While we lose bats and wolves - and, it appears, Transylvania - we do get Dracula as the erotic dark lord who seduces women into baring their necks for him. The sex, though merely implied, was probably quite daring for 1958, though it's ultra mild by today's standards - and this is actually to the film's benefit because it leaves more to the audience's imagination. And while there's enough blood to be convincing, it doesn't flow excessively (and it's so bright red it looks like "Hollywood" blood).

Lee is terrific as Dracula, even though he isn't around on screen that much. As with Bela Lugosi, he brings charm and strength to the role, while Cushing moves his intelligent scientist from the madness of Dr. Frankenstein to the crusader bent on saving the world from a horrible force.

It's a fun horror movie in the grand tradition (in fact, it helped create that grand tradition) suitable for just about everyone.

The DVD's pretty good, too. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, the picture is a tad soft but on the whole eminently watchable. The "old fashioned" color image is mostly sharp and bright, with cinematography that adds to the mood. Audio is Dolby Digital mono and is unremarkable.

Extras are limited to a short text essay "Dracula Lives Again," some cast/crew info and the theatrical trailer.

Horror of Dracula, from Warner Home Video
81 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital mono
Starring Peter Cushing, Michael Gough, Melissa Stribling, Christopher Lee
Produced by Anthony Hinds
Written by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Terence Fisher

Hammer Horror

Hammer Horror Classics on DVD

If you grew up as a horror movie fan during the late 1950’s or the 1960’s, you probably remember the films in this collection with fondness. They aren’t the scariest flicks around, but they’re fun horror, beautifully produced and filmed, and even if generally lightweight they still brought some class to the genre.

Anyone who only remembers Christopher Lee as Saruman or Count Dooku will enjoy watching him become a star as probably the best Dracula since Bela Lugosi, while those whose memories of Peter Cushing are limited to his portrayal of Governor Tarkin in Star Wars Episode 4 are also in for a treat.

The six disc set features six of Hammer’s best, all featuring anamorphic widescreen video (of varying quality, alas) and is an excellent introduction to the franchise.

In Chronological order, the films are: The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) and the racy Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970).

The Curse of Frankenstein (see review above) is Hammer’s retelling of the classic Mary Shelley tale, featuring Cushing as the title character whose obsession with creating a human life runs him afoul of pretty well everyone from those closest to him to God himself.

Horror of Dracula (1958) is the same thing (see review above), but remakes the Bram Stoker Dracula legend instead. Lee and Cushing are both excellent here, Lee as the undead Count and Cushing as vampire hunter Van Helsing.

The Mummy (1959) sees Lee cast as the bandaged beast and while some might argue the quality of his performance compared with Karloff’s Universal original, he manages to be both dynamic and forceful with no dialogue to speak! Guess the horror really is unspeakable…

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) was Christopher Lee’s third Dracula flick. It’s an exciting and fast-moving tale that boasts some pretty neat visual images and a pretty neat story.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) brings surprising complexity to the Cushing-portrayed doctor. Depending on the situation, he can be charming, evil, cunning – a tribute to Cushing’s thespian skills as well as the literacy and imagination of the screenwriter.

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) presents the full 95 minute cut that was apparently never seen before in the U S. It’s the only R rated film in this set, thanks to bits of nudity and violence. Lee is his typically commanding self as Dracula though he isn’t here as much as in other outings. Geoffrey Keen and Ralph Bates co star in what turns out to be a clever and interesting vampire tale.

The DVD’s are all presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is generally very good. Curse of Frankenstein looks the worst of the bunch (it’s also the oldest), but it’s still quite watchable.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono and is unremarkable.

Extras are few and far between with these DVD’s. You get some trailers, but that’s about it.

The Hammer Horror Classics Collection, from Warner Home Entertainment


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Updated May 13, 2006