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The Cat's Cradle: Hammering horror home

Horror is one of the most inaccessible genres, due to its reliance on scares and tension to motivate a plot. Though not all horror is tension, it often takes on an atmosphere or visual style that evokes a specific mood or feeling, two things Hammer Studios prides itself on.

Hammer Studios has been immortalized in its violent content, successful revivals and references in popular culture, such as Kate Bush’s “Hammer Horror.” The Studio began by adapting popular radio plays and murder mysteries to film. The studio found success in the release of The Quatermass Xperiment, a monster feature in the style of a classical universal film. 

The success of The Quatermass Xperiment marked a market shift. The classic movie monster had slowly moved from the zeitgeist, being replaced by atomic age creatures like Godzilla. While, the last Universal Monster, Creature from the Black Lagoon bookended the Universal Monster genre. 

In this vacuum, the gothic-horror of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelly went unadapted. Classic monster features like Dracula and Frankenstein moved to the periphery of horror consciousness. Through Hammer, these classic films were re-made to great critical panning and audience approval. 

Quaint by modern standards, The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula (1958) marked a new kind of horror. Violent and sexualized, the classic stories were brought to film with the acting talents of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who brought a charisma to the screen that lasted throughout the duo’s career. 

In time, Hammer developed a distinct visual style. Most of the films take place in Victorian Era England with reoccurring actors like Oliver Reed, Peter Cushing and Sir Christopher Lee, to name a few.

The films had low budgets, which leaned to a visual language associated with Hammer. Most of the films being shot around their studio in the country home, Bray. The following are three films demonstrating the range of Hammer horror and the tone, effects and atmosphere found throughout their films. 

Dracula (1958) is the well-shot rendition of the Stoker classic. Bright colors and a stellar performance by Christopher Lee as Dracula make the film a stand-out. Specifically, Christopher Lee provides a menace to the character that is absent in the Lugosi performance. Tall and brooding, Christopher Lee cemented himself as Dracula for decades to come.  

The Mummy (1959) adapts elements form the Universal Mummy sequels “The Mummy’s Hand,” “The Mummy’s Tomb” and “The Mummy’s Ghost,” respectively. The story follows the excavation of an Ancient Egyptian site which leads to the Mummy’s transport to England and the revenge exacted by his master. The film stands out for its effects and makeup. Christopher Lee is unrecognizable beneath layers of bandage and the action effects are creative, in a horrific way. 

Finally, Plague of the Zombies is a must-watch for fans of horror and non-horror alike. Atmospheric and occasionally violent, the story follows a Doctor coming to a small village where a series of strange murders occur around an abandoned Silver mine. Hint: it’s zombies. 

Coming in pre-Romero zombie, the undead on display look more like monks than the shambling dead. No one gets eaten — a product again of the Romero era. Plague of the Zombies is the last of the classic Hammer film, before a larger shift in the late ‘60s to early ‘70s.

Hammer has left a notable mark on the horror landscape. Their revival of classic movie monsters maintained their legacy, while shock values and adult content has lead into modern horror film making. Though, Hammer films are more camp and antiquated ideas, there is still something to love in a good Gothic story. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him be425014@ohio.edu.

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