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Hammer Bits Part 1

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Posted 22nd April 2009 at 09:27 AM by Sam@Cult Labs

Plague of the Zombies

Although not as well known as the studio's Dracula and Frankenstein movies, Hammer's Plague of the Zombies rates as one of their most satisfying productions, managing to balance the delightful camp that we all ironically enjoy 40 years after the fact with some real chills.

Opening on some stereotypical voodoo rituals*, we move swiftly on to James Forbes, a medical professor who has received a letter from a former student, Dr Peter Thompson, who works in a Cornish village and is at a loss to explain a spate of mysterious deaths. The professor's daughter is friendly with the wife of his ex-student so the two of them decide to make a holiday of it and travel down to investigate the odd occurrences.

When they arrive they discover that things are weirder than they could possibly have imagined. The citizens hide dark secrets. People are dropping like flies, only to rise up again as shadows of themselves, grey and hungry for human flesh. This creepy, Gothic take on the undead myths bridges the gap between the hokey old poverty row racism of 1930s films like "Revolt of the zombies", when dark Haitian voodoo men enslaved people and only heroic white guys could save the day, and the next generation of gut munching atrocity flicks like the work of Romero and Fulci. Plague's zombies feel more like possessed people than rotted cadavers but this adds a creeping extra note of horror to the proceedings. This is great 60s horror film-making and still packs an eerie punch today despite it's age.

*These are mildly racist in a "boy's own adventure serial" fashion. The kind of savages you'd see in Tarzan or a similar Z-grade jungle matinee adventure.

Scars of Dracula

Hammer lost the plot a little in the 1970s when the quality control definitely started to slip a little. This is good news for me as I favour a high cheese count in my old retro horror titles and Scars of Dracula delivers the silliness in spades.

This production saw the famous horror studio falling back on tried and tested Gothic formulas to produce an entertainingly daft slice of schlock that hits the ground running when a rubbery bat spits blood over the evil counts remains, thus reviving the Prince of the Bloodsuckers.

Dracula is played yet again by Christopher Lee but this must be one of the movies he refers to when he said that he grew weary of not being taken seriously as a an actor. Within the first few minutes local yokels are setting about torching the castle after a local girl is found dead. Lucky for us, Dracula survives with the help of his servant, ex-Doctor Who actor, Patrick Troughton.

Later a skirt happy young man on the run after bedding the daughter of a village elder stumbles upon the vampire's castle and falls victim to the curse of Dracula. Can the man's brother (Dennis Waterman, who presumably didn't write and sing the theme tune for this one...) find the count and get his revenge???

This is 'by the numbers' horror but still good entertainment despite some ropey sets and fake looking effects. Strong performances from an excellent cast lift it out of the mire but it's not Hammer's finest hour. Fans of the studio such as myself will love watching it again though.

The Devil Rides Out

'Don't look at the eyes Rex!'

Hammer's late 60s adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's classic occult novel, The Devil Rides Out is a very different animal from a lot of the standard fare churned out by the studio, as it replaced Victoriana, fake Eastern European locales, hammy vampire thrills and titillating bodice ripping for intrigue and atmosphere, a move that catapults this movie into the top end of 60s horror films.

Duc de Richleau (Christopher Lee as the good guy for once...) and Rex Van Ryn travel to the home of their friend Simon Aron for a spot of dinner. Simon has forgotten about their arrangement and is instead holding a meeting of his "astronomical society", a not so well disguised front for a coven of satanists led by actor Charles Gray, who went on to play the narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. De Richleau and Rex subdue Simon and get him away from the rite but the satanic leader has Simon under an evil spell and draws him back to the coven. Simon's friends again conduct an heroic rescue but now the cult leader and his cronies have declared occult war on De Richleau and his friends...It's going to be a long night.

Although lacking the crimson gore of other Hammer productions, the oppressive atmosphere of the magical ceremonies, especially when "The Goat of Mendes...The Devil himself!" makes an appearance, compensates for the bloodless horror and Christopher Lee clearly relishes the chance to play on the side of good for a change.

A Hammer Horror classic.
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  1. Old Comment
    cloud's Avatar
    Excellent, I absolutely adore Hammer films, they had such a unique way of making films and whether they were good, bad or mediocre they'd always be made with the right intentions in mind and that was to make an entertaining picture.
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    Posted 22nd April 2009 at 02:21 PM by cloud cloud is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Sam@Cult Labs's Avatar
    I draw the line at the On The Buses movies but aside from that, I'm a sucker for them...
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    Posted 22nd April 2009 at 02:24 PM by Sam@Cult Labs Sam@Cult Labs is offline
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