So this week on MNM, we’ll be looking at some Hammer/Amicus films of note. Each of them classics in their own right, these films are awesome not only because of delightful acting performances by the incomparable duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, as well as other favorites of mine like Donald Sutherland, but because of these movies’ innovative, unflinching, and perhaps more direct approach to that often underlying, subtle, or suggested horror of the Gothic tale. The cinematography (elements of style, color, camera angles, and the like always appeal to me from an analytic perspective) also gives me warm fuzzies.
1) Die, Die My Darling (1965) – Like a number of Hammer/Amicus films, what is frightening about this story is the depth of depravity that a single-minded obsession with an idea can trigger, especially when something about another character draws him/her right in the line of fire. Interestingly enough, this film went through a series of title changes, from Nightmare to Fanatic to its current title. This movie, Tallulah Bankhead’s last, is based on a 1962 novel (Nightmare by Anne Blaisdelle), which was adapted for film by Richard Matheson.
2) The Devil Rides Out (1968) – This movie delights me the way tentacled cosmic horror delights me. Which is to say, a lot. I love the half-terror, half-campiness of most Satanic cult movies of that era. Based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley (with screenplay also by Richard Matheson), this movie features Christopher Lee battling the ultimate forces of evil for the souls of initiates that Satanic cultists want to corrupt and possess in order to summon the angel of death. There are psychic trances, black magic and white magic spells, and all kinds of demonic funstuff in this movie.
3) Horror of Dracula (1958) – If you have ever read an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland or Fangoria, I’ll bet you’ve seen stills or promo pics from this movie at least once. Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing — this is a horror classic. Directed by Roger Corman, this is a loose interpretation of Stoker’s novel, but a worthy contribution to the cannon of the vampire legend, in that Dracula’s reputation as both powerful and seductive is reinforced. This is also one of those films I mentioned whether the level of gore/intensity of violence was notable for its time.
4) Torture Garden (1967) – Unlike the name suggests, this movie, if I recall, isn’t one of those that focuses particularly on torture. It is structured in segments — Tales From the Crypt-esque in that regard — where characters are shown the evil they will do in the future by a man whose name quite literally suggests his real identity. And there are performances by Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, and Peter Cushing for added squee-factor.
5) Asylum (1972) – This one is by far my favorite of the lot. This manages, IMHO, to transcend the jaded perspective of subsequent horror movie eras and remain eerie in places, particularly the end. Also, I’m as much a sucker for horror with mental institutions/asylums as I am for monsters. Also structured in that TftC/Creepshow anthology style of loosely related segments, there are some genuinely chilling aspects to the patient’s stories regarding their stay at the asylum “for the incurably insane.” The quality of the segments is no doubt a result of psychological suspense master Robert Bloch’s adapting them from some of his own short stories.
6) The House that Dripped Blood (1971) – Also a favorite, this has all the golden goodies an Amicus movie can offer — Robert Bloch writing and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee acting (as well as Denholm Elliott and Ingrid Pitt), and the anthology-style format offering cool, creepy segments about what happened over the years in a currently untenanted old house. And a sense of humor: (character Paul Henderson:) “That’s what’s wrong with the present day horror films. There’s no realism. Not like the old ones, the great ones. Frankenstein. Phantom of the Opera. Dracula – the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow.”
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll consider checking out some of these horror movie classics. Next week: movies you may not have seen but should.