For those who are unfamiliar with Hammer, let me give a quick outline of who they are, or really who they were. Hammer Film Productions is a British film company that gained notoriety in the 1960s and '70s with its take on Gothic horror stories and classic monsters that Universal Studios had popularized in the 1930s such as Dracula, The Mummy , and Frankenstein. Hammer upped the ante with its monster movies by featuring ample cleavage and a stylized and bloody violence which helped set the stage for the more graphic horror and grindhouse movies of the 1970s and early '80s. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were the two leading men during this time in Hammer's history with Cushing often playing the cerebral vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing to Christopher Lee's menacing lady-killer reinvention of Dracula.
However, by the early 1970s the popularity of Hammer films began to wane in light of a new wave of gritty realism in American and Italian cinema. New grindhouse horror films like Lucio Fulci's Don't Torture a Duckling and Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were more concerned with the real-life, deranged horrors hidden in our own modern society than fictional monsters from the 19th century. Hammer futilely tried to adapt to these changes. Dracula A.D. 1972 brought Christopher Lee's vampire lord into groovy modern England, while The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires threw Peter Cushing's Van Helsing into the orient to battle Dracula with kung fu an an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the Shaw Brothers martial arts movies. Other films, such as Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil and Lust for a Vampire, went beyond the standard Hammer cleavage and occasional topless scene and featured increasing levels of sexuality and nudity. However, none of this was enough to prevent Hammer from ceasing movie production by the early 1980s. The Hammer era of horror had come to an end.
For those who would like to learn more, a detailed account of the history of Hammer films as well as a complete filmography can be found at www.hammerfilms.com.
So, welcome to Hammer Horror week here on Beasts in Human Skin! I'll be featuring some of these Hammer hits and misses all week long.