TCM Greatest Classic Movies Collection: Hammer Horror

TCM Greatest Classic Movies Collection: Hammer Horror
When it comes to classic horror movies, it's hard to think past the great black and white films that Universal made during the '30s because they almost single-handedly created the versions of Dracula, Frankenstein and the other monsters that most people still picture. Yet while that studio faltered during the transition to colour, the British Hammer Studio went from strength to strength, creating a string of equally influential films that also served to revive the ailing studio's fortunes. The four films collected here ― 1957's The Curse of Frankenstein, 1958's Horror of Dracula, 1969's Dracula Has Risen From The Grave and 1970's Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed ― are excellent examples of what Hammer did so well. They created films that were more like character studies and high on atmosphere, plus they were also fortunate enough to have some great actors starring in each film. Peter Cushing plays Dr. Victor Frankenstein as a driven, focussed man completely oblivious to the abhorrent nature of what he's trying to do. It is because of this that the Hammer Frankenstein films are so different from the earlier ones ― they focus on the creator rather than the monster and they are much more disturbing as a result. The Curse of Frankenstein is the stronger of the pair; it was one of the first horror films made by the studio, and it's still very chilling after all these years, especially the scenes at the start when Dr. Frankenstein and his colleague successfully reanimate a dead dog. The second film is notable for the callousness of Cushing's character; it is an unrelentingly bleak film, although it was director Terence Fisher's favourite in the series. Just as Cushing made Dr. Frankenstein his, frequent co-star Christopher Lee became the quintessential Count Dracula. He manages to combine charm and menace to create a very memorable character that's always captivating onscreen, even if the script wasn't always fantastic, as is the case with Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. Horror of Dracula, on the other hand, is an absolute classic; it stays relatively true to the original novel, but hurtles along with great momentum to a grand climax. While these films might be a little tame when compared to the level of gore in current horror, they were all given the most restrictive rating possible upon their release. And there are some unsettling scenes and more blood than was fashionable at the time. But all four possess a sinister undertone that makes them effective as horror films even today. The one complaint is that there are some better movies in the Hammer archives, such as The Devil Rides Out, but hopefully TCM are saving those for a second collection. The four films are presented on two double-sided DVDs and apart from the original theatrical trailers for each and a couple of short text essays, there isn't anything in the way of extras. That's too bad because this groundbreaking period of British horror cinema deserves a good, solid documentary about the challenges the filmmakers faced and the Hammer legacy. (Warner)