The success of the Frankenstein and Dracula films led Hammer to produce their own takes on three other classic monsters. While these met with mixed success, one spawned yet another series of sequels, which we’ll get to shortly. But since the first three were single, stand-alone movies, let’s start with them. They also did not feature Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing as the title character, which is unusual for a Hammer production.
‘The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll’ (1960) does co-star Christopher Lee, but he is cast is the Doctor’s “friend” Paul Allen, who constantly hits Jekyll up for money and is sleeping with Jekyll’s wife. The rest of the story is the usual Jekyll & Hyde stuff, with two interesting exceptions.
First, this is one of the very few versions of the story where Jekyll does not die at the end.
Also, Dr. Jekyll, played by Paul Massie, is old and bland while Hyde, rather than being repulsive and monstrous, is young, handsome and charming – and very evil. This is a radical departure from both the original book and most other film versions, although something similar was done in a later TV adaptation starring Jack Palance and the film version of ‘Mary Reilly’ which features John Malkovich as an aging Dr. Jekyll and a young and darkly charismatic Edward Hyde. In any event, Hammer’s Jekyll and Hyde movie is often overlooked.
‘Phantom of the Opera’ (1962) owes less to the Gaston Leroux novel and is instead based on Universal’s 1943 film starring Claude Rains, which was a remake of the silent Lon Chaney masterpiece – making the Hammer movie a remake of a remake! The names of the characters have been changed and the location moved to the fictional London Opera House in 1900.
The story is basically the same as most versions of the Phantom, but with a few twists. The Phantom is once again a composer whose work was stolen and who became disfigured by acid. This concept originated in the 1943 movie. He is still obsessed with a young singer named Christine, although not quite as much as usual. The major difference in this version is that the Phantom is almost the hero of the story, rather than the villain, with most of the crimes attributed to him being actually the work of an evil dwarf. You read that right – an evil dwarf.
In fact, the Phantom dies saving Christine from the inevitable chandelier!
Herbert Lom’s sympathetic portrayal of the Phantom is widely praised by critics, but sadly, this movie is also largely overlooked except by hardcore Hammer or Phantom devotees. That being said, it’s a pretty decent little flick and well worth a look-see.
No list of classic monsters would be complete without at least one lycanthrope, so in 1961, audiences were treated to ‘Curse of the Werewolf’ starring Oliver Reed. The story is loosely adapted from Guy Endore’s novel ‘Werewolf of Paris’, but is set in Spain. Of course, this being a Hammer movie, everyone sounds very English!
Oliver Reed portrays Leon and frankly, Leon’s life makes Lawrence Talbot seem like a crybaby. He is the result of a serving girl’s rape by a madman in a dungeon, born on Christmas Day (which is considered a bad omen). Leon is raised by Don Alfredo and the Don’s housekeeper, Teresa, who try to give him a happy life, overlooking little oddities such as the holy water boiling at Leon’s baptism and they boy’s tendency to roam the night slaughtering animals. Maybe it’s a Spanish thing, I dunno.
In any event, Leon grows up, then grows hairy and dangerous, with the usual werewolf movie plot from then on, meaning Leon does not get a happy ending.
This is one of my absolute favorite Hammer films AND favorite werewolf movies. It truly lives up to the “Curse” part of the title – Leon is not bitten or transformed into a monster like most movie werewolves, but instead is born with it, due to the sins of others. That’s heavy. The werewolf makeup is also good; Reed is a grey-furred, shirtless brute. It’s very different from the Universal design, but still effective.
The very nature of ‘Phantom’ and ‘Curse’ precluded any sequels, although one wonders what could have been made of a series of werewolf movies had Leon survived.
Moving on to the other successful film series – although this one is rather different. It starts off with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but after the first entry, a new cast is needed every time. This is because Hammer’s Mummy films are not sequels, per se: they are merely a number of unrelated movies about killer mummies.
‘The Mummy’ (1959) is another remake of the Universal version. But as remakes go, it’s pretty mixed: it borrows some elements from the original Mummy film with Boris Karloff but is more a remake of the Kharis films, mixing and matching bits from each into one story. And it works!
Cushing plays John Banning, the protagonist (in an unusual departure from the original films, Kharis the Mummy does not have a limp – but Banning does!) while Christopher Lee is the Mummy. A VERY BIG Mummy.
The story is the basic formula: Mummy gets up and starts making mischief, some evil guy in a fez is on the Mummy’s side and/or controlling it and eventually the Mummy is defeated. It is a satisfying movie and a worthy addition to the Hammer lineup.
Now, rather than bring Kharis back, Hammer came up with an original story (well, ‘original’ for a Mummy movie) with each new film. This leads to the impression that England was just chock-full of mummies and that there were a LOT if ways to get said mummies up and about, menacing the countryside, as mummies are wont to do. Still, each one is pretty fun in itself to watch.
So 1964′s ‘Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’ has the mummy of Ra-Antef roaming about and killing until finally destroyed, while ‘The Mummy’s Shroud’ (1966) features the mummy Prem, um, roaming about and killing until finally destroyed. Prem is actually a pretty nifty-looking mummy; his wrappings are based more on how actual Egyptian mummies were handled, giving him a distinctive appearance.
The final entry in Hammer’s Mummy movies is 1971′s ‘Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb’. This one is actually based on ‘Jewel of the Seven Stars’ by Bram Stoker, who also gave us Count Dracula. This movie is radically different from the others. For one thing, the villain is female, an evil Egyptian princess named Tera. for another, there really isn’t a mummy in it. The Princess’s body is somehow perfectly preserved, so she’s not some bandaged thing lurching about. In fact, she’s not really up and about at all until the final scene – instead, Tera’s evil spirit begins to take control of a young woman named Margaret, played by the sane actress.
So that about covers the rest of the classic monster stable as far as the Hammer films are concerned. They did make other horror films, such the Karnstein vampire trilogy and the great ‘Vampire Circus’ and ‘Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter’. They also released ‘Plague of the Zombies’ which came out in 1966, two years before Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’! While the pacing of these films nay seem a bit slow to modern viewers, Hammer’s use of mood and style (also, sex and violence) made their films strongly influential an earned Hammer a place in any discussion of classic horror cinema.