Icons of Horror: Hammer Films
Britain’s Hammer Films endeared itself to ’50s scary-movie brats with a surefire scheme: Update Universal’s stable of monstrosities and add numerous scenes of decapitations and displayed décolletage. The Eros-Thanatos combo worked like gangbusters, though Hammer would eventually repeat its Hollywood ancestor’s mistakes and franchise fan favorites into the ground. While this two-disc set culls from the less fertile middle period of the company’s reign as the king of U.K. horror, anyone who grew up devouring the vintage Gothic-Guignol reimaginings on late-night Monster Chiller Horror Theater will still get a nostalgic rush out of this quartet. There’s nothing here on the level of a lurid masterpiece like The Devil Rides Out (1968), but even the studio’s second-tier entries have a ghoulish, giddy charm.
Only one of the four selections features Hammer’s holy trinity of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and director Terence Fisher—The Gorgon (1964), in which a rural village is haunted by a reincarnated Medusa. The Gorgon promises audiences they’ll be terrified by the film’s “startling realism,” which is an odd description for a movie featuring a woman with rubber snakes in her hair. Neither this toe-dip into Greek mythology nor The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) rises above the level of mere competence, yet the other two inclusions balance out quantity with quality. The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960) offers an intriguing tweak on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel by making Paul Massie’s good doctor a swarthy recluse and his evil alter ego a handsome, dashing killer. The best of the bunch, Scream of Fear (1961), makes Susan Strasberg endure some horrific psychological torture as her relatives literally try to scare her to death.