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Case Number 19812: Small Claims Court

Buy TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Hammer Horror at Amazon

TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Hammer Horror

The Curse Of Frankenstein
1957 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Horror Of Dracula
1957 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
1969 // 92 Minutes // Rated G
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
1969 // 358 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Released by Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // October 1st, 2010

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All Rise...

When Judge Jim Thomas received this set, he said "Stop! Hammer Time."

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (published June 2nd, 2004) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (published July 16th, 2004) are also available.

The Charge

Two franchises. Four classics.God, I love my job.

The Case

Back in the day, Hammer Films was cranking out decent horror movies almost as fast as McDonalds cranked out hamburgers. While the scripts were, on occasion, a tad weak, they compensated with strong production values and quality talent on both sides of the camera. Hammer's initial success was based on two major franchises, Frankenstein (seven films between 1957 and 1974) and Dracula (eight films between 1958 and 1974, nine if you count Brides of Dracula, which only has Dracula in the title). TCM gives us a taste of each franchise with TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Hammer Horror.

Horror of Dracula
The first in Hammer's Dracula series is a somewhat free adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel. Jonathan Harker has taken up a position as librarian in the home of Count Dracula (Christopher Lee); in reality, he is there to destroy the vampire. Things turn out poorly for Harker, and his friend Abraham van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is forced to put his soul to rest. Dracula, however, has decided to take revenge on Harker by claiming his fiancé Mina as his bride. Van Helsing, however, has other plans.

This movie balances Lee's tall frame and imposing presence against Cushing's energetic intellectualism. While the plot has more than a few holes, brisk pacing, and Terence Fisher's strong direction keep you engaged, right up to one of the best finishes in vampire film history.

Dracula Has Risen From the Grave
Ten years after Dracula's demise in Dracula, Prince of Darkness (which takes place between these two movies), Monsignor Ernest Mueller (Rupert Davies, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold) arrives in the little village of Kleinenberg to discover that the town still suffers. During his last reign of terror, Dracula desecrated the church; as a result, the villagers shun Mass and the local priest has succumbed to despair and alcohol. To allay their fears, Mueller takes the priest and sets out for Dracula's castle to perform the rite of exorcism. While Mueller completes the rite, sealing the castle with a giant cross, the priest panics and flees down the mountain, but a misstep sends him tumbling onto a frozen river. The impact gashes open his head and cracks the ice above the frozen prince of darkness; some blood drips down…and you can see where this is heading. When Dracula returns home to discover the cross, he vows revenge, quickly targeting the monsignor's beautiful niece, Anna (Veronica Carlson, The Horror of Frankenstein). It is up to Mueller and Anna's boyfriend Paul (Barry Andrews) to save Anna and destroy Dracula.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave stands out from other vampire films because the role of religion—no, make that the role of faith—is made central to the proceedings. Not only do you have the contrast between Mueller and the town priest, whose lack of faith makes him susceptible to Count Dooku's Jedi mind tricks (sorry, had to be done), but in one of the more clever revisions of vampire lore, the movie posits that staking a vampire isn't sufficient to kill a vampire; you also have to pray over the staked vampire, bringing the weight of your faith to bear on the evil undead. This requirement puts Paul in a dire predicament indeed; he's an atheist. The result is a classic sequence.

hammer horror dracula

Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Francis's direction is taut and effective, using colored gels when Dracula is on screen to emphasize his otherworldliness. There are continuity errors aplenty, and a stalking scene that appears to take place in broad daylight, but as with most Hammer classics, mood and pacing—not to mention some Technicolor blood—make it work.

The Curse of Frankenstein
From a prison cell, Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing, The Skull) relates his story to a priest. Frankenstein and his mentor, Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart, 55 Days at Peking), successfully brought a dead dog back to life. Krempe wants to present their work at an upcoming medical convention, but Frankenstein wants to take the next step, creating life from scratch. Krempe is reluctant, growing fearful of just how far Victor will go in pursuit of his obsession. Frankenstein succeeds, of course, but that darnned Abby Normal results in the creature (Christopher Lee) being a wee bit violent.

hammer horror frankenstein

In sharp contrast to the Universal films, which kept the focus squarely on the monster, this movie is more about Frankenstein's moral descent, as we watch Frankenstein change from a driven man of science to a cold-blooded murderer; the creature (who only turns up in the last thirty minutes or so) is little more than a metaphor for his creator, destroying almost everything it touches. Universal famously refused Hammer the right to use Jack Pierce's iconic flat-top creature design, so Hammer had to go in a completely different direction. Christopher Lee manages a surprisingly pitiable performance despite the layers of makeup. Robert Urquart and Hazel Court (The Raven) offer nice turns in supporting roles, but this is Cushing's vehicle from start to finish.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Frankenstein (Cushing) is searching for the secret to long-term preservation of the human brain after death. A colleague, Dr. Brandt, has solved the problem, but has gone insane, leaving the solution trapped in his mind. Determined to learn the secret at any cost, Frankenstein blackmails the owner of a boardinghouse and her boyfriend doctor (Veronica Carlson and Simon Ward, The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers). Frankenstein intends to spirit Brandt away to the boardinghouse and perform brain surgery to cure Brandt's insanity, all in order to gain that elusive secret. Complications set in when Brandt suffers a heart attack, forcing Frankenstein to take extreme measures to save Brandt.

Three movies—The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), and Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)—come between the two films in this set, but these two movies make a good pair, if for no other reason than they show Frankenstein at his most ruthless. In the second movie, he starts off with a cold-blooded murder and proceeds to become the most cruel bastard imaginable. (In contrast, most of the other sequels portray Frankenstein more as a misunderstood man of science.) Peter Cushing carries both films admirably; his ability to shift gears between charm and viciousness in an instant demonstrate why he was such a perfect choice for Governor Tarkin in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Freddie Jones (Dune) turns in a subdued, touching performance as Brandt, who awakens from surgery to discover that he's no longer the man he once was. The pacing of the Frankenstein films is more deliberate than the Dracula films.

Trivia: It was only in 1964's The Evil of Frankenstein, co-produced with Universal, that Hammer was able to use the "classic" Frankenstein makeup.

Video quality is pretty good, all things considered. Some film damage is evident, particularly in Horror of Dracula, and there's a fair bit of grain in the two early films, but not enough to distract. On the plus side though, the detail is astonishing for such old films, and the Technicolor all but explodes off the screen. Better still, we get anamorphic transfers—my older edition of Horror of Dracula is non-anamorphic. The weakest video of the set is Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, which suffers from a relatively soft image and inconsistent colors. One annoyance, though, is that while the two early films were shot in 1.66:1, they have been matted to 1.78:1; heads tend to get cropped in close and medium shots. The later films are matted down from 1.85:1, but that difference is minimal.

Audio's a little more problematic. In Dracula Has Risen From the Grave, the sound and the picture aren't perfectly synchronized, and in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, the sound mix itself is unbalanced—sound effects are too loud, musical cues and dialogue mix together, etc.

Extras are minimal, with theatrical trailers, and a couple of text features reviewing Hammer's Dracula and Frankenstein films.

The Verdict

While it would have been nice to have all of these films in their original aspect ratios, this remains a great set of films.

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice, The Curse Of Frankenstein

Judgment: 87

Perp Profile, The Curse Of Frankenstein

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic (matted)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Curse Of Frankenstein

• Trailer
• Text Overview

Scales of Justice, Horror Of Dracula

Judgment: 91

Perp Profile, Horror Of Dracula

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic (matted)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1957
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Horror Of Dracula

• Trailer
• Text Overview

Scales of Justice, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave

Judgment: 89

Perp Profile, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated G

Distinguishing Marks, Dracula Has Risen From The Grave

• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 358 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

• Trailer








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