Hammer Horror

When it comes to classic Horror films, some will always swear by Universal. That was the studio that gave us Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster. But for my dime, my heart belongs to Hammer. Every year around this time, I like to review a few favorites, revisit some I might’ve given a bum rap to, and even try to catch some I hadn’t seen before. I’ll tell you what I think about a few of my favorites.

The key to Hammer was that they managed to hire great actors, real Shakespearian thespians looking for quick and easy work in the off seasons. To them, the stage was the thing, and anything else was slumming. Movies weren’t so interesting to them, but as true dramatic actors, playing literary characters in genre movies was a smooth proposition. That’s Christopher Lee as Dracula. True to Bram Stoker’s vision he played the Count as something of a gentleman, practicing a brand of evil that is almost subliminal.

Although Mr.Lee played the immortal count a number of times, I can only heartily recommend the first Dracula feature, entitled Horror Of Dracula in the US to avoid copyright issues with Universal. A relatively loyal retelling of the essence of Bram Stoker’s story, Lee faces off against Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, taking turns chowing down on the scenery until their final face off, which is as memorable a piece of celluloid action as scenes that cost literal millions more to make. The trouble with each subsequent Dracula feature was that he was revived and perished again every time out for each cash grabbing sequel, leading to an impression that he just couldn’t get anything right.  in my imagination there’s a great unmade Christopher Lee Dracula flick in which the consummate bloodsucker successfully conquered the world, but since it doesn’t exist, I just stick to the first one and recommend that you do the same.

Another tremendous Hammer offering was The Curse of Frankenstein. In a bit of role reversal, Christopher Lee played the sympathetic monster and Peter Cushing portrayed Dr.Frankenstein. Unlike Universal’s version or even the original novel, Cushing as Frankenstein was an awful, demented bastard. A twist of obvious brilliance, because really, wouldn’t it be a pretty ghoulish entity that would stitch corpses together and presume to create life in such a manner?

Every bit of suave sophistication Christopher Lee brought to Dracula was completely absent in the misbegotten creature he portrayed here. The scene in which he has first gotten loose -a stumbling, horrifying thing that looks every bit like you would imagine living death- is one of the most fantastic depictions of a monster you could ever find. Although the make up is obviously dated, it’s all in the way that Lee moves, utilizing his training as a mime.

1961’s Hammer entry Paranoiac doesn’t feature a conventional villain at all. In fact, it’s a bit hard to determine who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist. Oliver Reed brilliantly plays an angry young man swinging out of control, but it would seem that he could be the (anti)hero of the thing. You don’t know for sure until the final real.

Hammer Horror is notable in that it avoids schlock. You would expect elements of camp, which are completely absent from the better ones. That’s certainly true here. Paranoiac deserves to be regarded in the rarefied critical air of Psycho. And like Psycho, the less you know going in, the better.


Reed also starred in my absolute favorite Hammer production: Curse Of The Werewolf. As a tragic figure, Oliver’s misbegotten man spited by God has no equal. Born under a bad sign and sordidly tragic circumstances, he never has a chance, and in the hands of a great, criminally underrated actor, you hope that the swarthy and sympathetic orphan might make good. Alas, Hammer didn’t really make those kinds of movies…


36 Things I Know At 36


If it’s your birthday and you’re an adult, it’s probably going to be largely up to you to spend the day doing something you enjoy. That said, I’ve been to about 12 surprise birthday parties in the last couple years. Guess it’s a big thing on Pinterest or something.

Thirty six isn’t old. I get tired of hearing people talk like it is. Listen to kids talk. You don’t want to go back there, believe me.

Being male and following whatever urges strike you, that makes you an animal. Having standards, taking responsibility, that makes you a man.

In any dispute, take the high road. It might feel wrong at the time, but in the long run you’ll be proven correct.

Music is like food, and you wouldn’t just eat egg salad sandwiches for the rest of your life.

A sure sign of untreated mental illness is wearing clothes entirely inappropriate to the weather.

I’m haunted by how casually cruel I was in my youth. I wonder if that’s common or not. Before my frontal lobe finished forming, I was pretty goddamn mean a lot of the time, for no good reason. I try to impart the idea of that eventual remorse in kids and young people I encounter. Maybe they will make better choices. Maybe they won’t. Shit catches up with you.

It’s better to be for anything than against something.

In cases where the two are mutually exclusive, it’s better to be loved than get laid.

You can never be lazy when it comes to your friends.

Clothes are one of the greatest forms of self expression.

Karma may or may not be real as a cosmic concept, but consequence is no coincidence.

First impressions are usually correct.

Being friends with people you really admire is a rich and rewarding experience. You’re continually cognoscente that they loom larger in your life than you do in theirs, but they provide the strongest advice…if only because you’ll actually listen to them.

It’s actually better to fade away than to burn out. Whoever said the opposite can only measure their self worth in the eyes of other people.

Life is too short for a job you hate.

No matter what anyone will tell you, no matter what they tell themselves, people do what they want to do and don’t do what they don’t want to do.

Some things are better left unsaid.

Why don’t I have that drink? Maybe I’ve had enough.

When someone is silent or says little, or even if they just say things that aren’t expected of them, others will tend to project their own subconscious will, or desires, or insecurities upon them. It’s a funny trait of human nature.

If you’re not killing or abusing other people, you’re probably doing alright.

Sleeping and eating are two of the best things in life.

Idealism is dangerous, but you’re not better off without it.

I used to like to say “Ambition is poisonous.” Now I just say it can be.

If you’re not ready to pay for something, you’re not ready to have it.

The answer to all unanswered questions could be presumed as “no.”

There’s no mental “closure,” everything you experience you take with you forever.

Evolution over Revolution.

A person evolves until they die.

Nobody truly knows what happens when we die.

You can’t choose to believe things. You do or you don’t.

Everything good should be savored.

Life is too short to live in fear or to be intimidated by those who would try to make you afraid.

Never be told what you want or need. You must be your own best advocate.

In the end, all you truly have is your character.

There’s what I think, there’s what you think, and there’s the truth.