The five Hammer Films-produced horror movies everyone should see


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This past weekend’s premiere of “The Woman In Black” marks the return of famous British studio Hammer Films to the world of horror movies — a genre the studio helped define during the 1950s, and then throughout the ’60s and beyond.

While “Harry Potter” franchise star Daniel Radcliffe stars in the terrifying new film by Hammer, the studio has played a role in launching the careers of many notable actors over the years, especially those of award-winning cinema veterans Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Whether the studio was tackling well-known characters like Dracula and Frankenstein or putting their own spin on lesser-known objects of terror, Hammer Films built a legacy out of pushing the boundaries and giving theater audiences nightmares.

Earlier this month, we took a look through the Hammer Films archive via the recently released book Inside the Hammer Vault, and now that “The Woman In Black” is finally hitting screens, it seems like a good time to list the five films everyone who wants to know what all the fuss is about should see.

“Horror of Dracula” (1958)

Considered by many to be the best film ever made by Hammer Films, this was the project that made household names of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. In the film, Lee plays the lord of the vampires, who decides to leave Transylvania for England and proceeds to bite, stab, and rip a bloody path through England’s nightlife. Cushing plays Dracula’s nemesis, Van Helsing, kicking off an on-screen pairing that would persist throughout many more Hammer Films projects. While other vampire movies portrayed Dracula as a subtle, seductive villain, this film was one of the first to present the Prince of Darkness as a ferocious, demonic force of otherworldly nature. “Horror of Dracula” is widely considered must-see material for horror movie fans, so if you haven’t watched it yet, do so.

“The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957)

One of the first breakout movies for Hammer Films on both sides of the Atlantic, “The Curse of Frankenstein” was also one of the first pairings of Hammer’s celebrated duo of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. In the film, Cushing plays Victor Frankenstein so memorably that many consider this the character-defining portrayal of the the mad scientist. Meanwhile, Lee’s debut as Frankenstein’s monster will likely surprise modern audiences with how graphic it was for the time. While often overshadowed by Boris Karlof’s lumbering take on the creature, Lee’s version of the sewn-together monster will give you nightmares even today.

“The Gorgon” (1964)

Yet another pairing of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing with “The Curse of Frankenstein” and “Horror of Dracula” director Terence Fisher, this film diverged from the classic Universal Monsters fare by featuring an unlikely villain: a snake-haired woman whose gaze turns subjects to stone. Barbara Shelley plays the title character to terrifying perfection, while Lee and Cushing put in the now-expected amazing performances. without revealing any spoilers, the film also features one of the most bleak endings you’ll ever see in a film.

“The Plague of the Zombies” (1966)

Several years before George Romero put his stamp on zombie cinema, Hammer Films released this bizarre film that clearly influenced the work of Romero and many subsequent undead-friendly filmmakers. Rather than present the zombies as barely moving, minimal threats, “The Plague of Zombies” had them chasing down victims and wreaking some serious havoc on the living. While the notion of brain-munching hadn’t entered the zombie scene yet, director John Gilling took big steps in this film toward making the cinematic version of zombies closer to what it is today.

“The Curse of the Werewolf” (1961)

In this often overlooked film, award-winning British actor Oliver Reed played one of the most tragic incarnations of the Wolfman ever brought to the screen. “The Curse of the Werewolf” unfolds after a jailed, bestial beggar rapes a mute servant girl, who then gives birth to the lycanthropic title character, played by Reed. It’s one of the more disturbing entries in the werewolf genre, and the first and only Hammer Films project that deals with werewolf lore. As Reed’s character struggles to deal with his curse and hopes to find an end to it through true love, the audience is carried along on an adventure filled with impressive highs and terrifying lows. Not only is the film filled with excellent performances by all involved, but the makeup effects on Reed are years ahead of their time.

What are some of your favorite Hammer Films horror movies? Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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