Halloween is here, and if any movie company speaks to that classic Halloween aesthetic, it’s Hammer Films. Back in the day, Hammer Films were the horror movies your parents didn’t want you to watch. With their constant bodice rippings, ample cleavage, vivid crimson blood, and lush atmospheric costumes and sets, Hammer was second only to Universal Pictures when it came to classic monsters and classic scares. Hell, they even briefly got involved in the kung fu craze.
But in addition to their dashingly handsome stars, gorgeous femme fatales, stunning musical scores, and eye popping sets, Hammer was known for its monsters!
So join us this Halloween season as we count down the thirteen greatest Hammer monsters to bite, rend, tear, stalk, pummel, and snarl their way into fans’ nightmares.
13. The Mummy
The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)
There’s a bigger, badder Mummy in the Hammer pantheon, and we’ll get to that shambling mound of bandaged death in a moment. For now, let us focus on Eddie Powell’s Mummy in 1967’s The Mummy’s Shroud. This film isn’t one of Hammer’s finest. Sure, it’s gorgeous, intensely atmospheric and fun to watch at 3:40 am in the morning while suffering from a low grade fever, but there’s just not a lot of story meat on the Mummy’s bones.
But man, does it feature one great looking lead monster. The Mummy design in this film might be my favorite looking undead Egyptian since Boris Karloff rose from his sarcophagus. In this film, a bunch of very British and very hapless archeologists find the mummified remains of a lost child prince. When ancient and darkly magical words are read from the prince’s burial shroud, a kickass looking Mummy rises from death and unleashes hell. And he looks profoundly terrifying doing it.
Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966)
I hear you. “But Christopher Lee isn’t Russian!” He wasn’t from Isengard either and I didn’t hear you bitching when Fellowship of the Ring came out so shhhh. Russian or not, Lee’s portrayal of Rasputin was glorious.
Lee was so good as the hypnotic, charismatic monk that his presentation helps you forget that this film isn’t historically accurate, not even a little bit. But it doesn’t matter, because you have a wild eyed Lee seducing, mesmerizing, and murdering his way to the top of the Czar’s court in early 20th century Russia. And it’s Hammer, so you know the courts and ladies of Russia look absolutely amazing. And so does Lee as he brings just enough monster to his portrayal of a real world madman to blur the lines between fact and fiction (well, not so much blur, but shatter into a million pieces).
11. Baron Meinster
Brides of Dracula (1960)
You guys, Terrence Fisher, greatest Hammer director of them all, you’ll be seeing his name a lot on this list. Fisher’s Brides of Dracula was a direct sequel to Hammer’s original Dracula, but with one thing missing – Dracula. Christopher Lee’s iconic Count would return in 1966’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness, but in the meantime, Hammer presented the further adventures of Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing in Brides of Dracula.
Baron Meinster (Meinster = monster, get it? Hammer was always kind of a bit on the nose) was a disciple of Count Dracula and is in the midst of killing and turning young girls into his monstrous vampire brides. When Van Helsing comes to town, Meinster (played by David Peel) and the famous vampire hunter engage in a war for these girls’ souls.
While the title of this film is a giant tease because no Dracula, no Lee, Meinster more than holds his own as a climatic bloodsucker. He’s almost as mysterious and sensual as Lee and he seems like a very worthy foe for Cushing’s Van Helsing. In fact, Meinster came closer to killing Van Helsing than Dracula ever did. In one unforgettable moment, Meinster succeeds in biting Van Helsing. The vampire hunter has to sear his wound shut with fire to avoid becoming one of Meinster’s minions.
Meister was such a cool monster that he carries another monster’s movie. By the way, Van Helsing destroys Meinster by jumping off a windmill and catching the blade on the way down which formed the shadow of a giant crucifix down below. When Meinster ran into the cross shadow, that was it for the keeper of Dracula’s brides.
10. The Phantom
Phantom of the Opera (1962)
Hey look, another Terrence Fisher movie. Like Lon Chaney Sr. and Claude Raines before him, Herbert Lom perfectly embodies the terror and the tragedy of the Phantom of the Opera. While this film is a bit short on scares, it is rich on atmosphere as Lom’s creeping killer has one of the most unique looking Phantom masks in any version of the story.
This movie may be flawed, but none of the flaws are the fault of the lead monster as this Phantom demands viewer attention in every lushly colorful frame he appears in. Hammer and the Phantom of the Opera were a match made in horror heaven mostly thanks to the understated presence and pathos of the most gothic lead Phantom of them all.
9. Countess Elizabeth Nadasdy
Countess Dracula (1971)
Based on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory, Countess Dracula stars the great Ingrid Pitt as Countess Elizabeth Nadasdy. Most horror mavens know the legend of Bathory, a rich noblewoman who sought to stay young by bathing in the blood of her young servants. Pitt and her Countess perfectly capture the horrific nature of Bathory’s real world crime in this sex filled period piece that is just so gloriously Hammer.
Intricate set pieces, vivid blood that could only come from a paint can, and low cut gowns are the order of the day as Pitt vamps it up as her Countess. But Pitt’s thespian acumen is on full display in this thriller as she is as monstrously awful as the elderly Countess as she is demonically lovely as the post-bath temptress. In truth, Pitt plays two roles as the Countess, a hag-like harridan bent on murder and a classic vampiric beauty that demands viewer attention. This film might be Dracula in name only, but because of the decadent Countess, it is still a bloody good time.
8. The Gorgon
The Gorgon (1964)
You know what the Universal cycle of horror films didn’t have? A freakin’ medusa, that’s what. But Hammer did in its 1964 pot-boiler The Gorgon.
Other than the Bride, titular female characters where a rare thing in mid-20th century horror films, but Hammer proudly presented this snake haired terror. Directed by the great Terrence Fisher (again!), Hammer’s Gorgon went up against both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing as both classic horror stars did their level best to make fans believe that the Gorgon was worthy to share the Hammer spotlight with Doctor Frankenstein and Dracula. And in truth, the movie pulls it off thanks to the great makeup that brought the Gorgon to life and the atmospheric terror that infuses every frame of this schlock fest.
The movie doesn’t give you much Gorgon, but when actress Prudence Hyman’s horrific creature slithers onto screen, the results are glorious. So here’s to the Gorgon, one of horror’s true leading ladies.
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
The Devil Rides Out was Hammer’s attempt to ride the satanic cult film craze of the late ’60s and early ’70s. It was a bold step to move the studio away from mining the Universal Films pantheon and towards presenting contemporary horror films. Based on the classic Dennis Wheatley novel of devil cults in the modern world, The Devil Rides Out features one of Hammer’s most memorable villains. Now keep in mind this is a studio that gave us all the classic monsters in modern forms, but Charles Grey’s cult leader Mocata can stand shoulder to shoulder with any vampire or werewolf.
Yes, Charles Grey, the no-necked criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, chewed scenery and terrified as Mocata, the totally immoral worshipper of Satan who could have made Aleister Crowley blush. The hero of this film is played by Christopher Lee, so imagine a cult leader villain so depraved and badass that he can stand against Lee! In a Hammer film! But that’s Mocata, the devil’s favorite son, a mesmerist and manipulator of the highest order, a rapist and murderer who is beneath contempt, and one of the most profoundly wicked villains in Hammer’s huge pantheon of perfidy.
6. Sister Hyde
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)
We all know the story of Dr. Jekyll, an unassuming young scientist who dares to invent a formula that transforms him into a being of the vilest appetites. But in Hammer’s daring Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, the famous Robert Louis Stevenson tale of the dark duality of man takes a gender bending twist. Of all the Hydes ever to appear on the silver screen, Martine Beswick’s Sister Hyde might be the most evil.
With this twisted sister, Hammer not only revisited some of the famous Victorian horrors on display in the original novel, but it also postulated that Sister Hyde was responsible for the Jack the Ripper murders. Whatever the case, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde never blinked from intensely bloody mayhem and this ahead of its time exploration into gender fluidity holds up to this day. The film is so enduring thanks to Beswick’s sultry and dark beauty, which gives an air of sexual menace to her monster. Ralph Bates also kills it as the vulnerable and confused Dr. Jekyll as Hammer presents a monster that made horror fans question which gender was the deadliest of the species.
The Mummy (1959)
Hey, look a Terrence Fisher film, I’m shocked! Said nobody ever when looking back at Hammer. Just as he did with all the classic monsters he played, Christopher Lee brought dignity and class to his Mummy. Which isn’t really easy to do considering that an actor’s features are barely distinguishable under layers of caked on makeup and tightly applied bandages. But Lee manages to infuse his time lost undead creature with human emotions and a sense of menace as the monster from ancient Egypt takes on Peter Cushing’s intrepid archeologist John Banning.
Think about it, Boris Karloff got to spend most of his time as the Mummy out of his bandages. Yes, Karloff’s Mummy was the most frightening monster to wear a fez, but Lee had to spend the entire film wrapped in the swaddling of the creature, and yet he brought a sense of awe and surprising vulnerability to the creature. Just watch the Mummy’s epic death sequence. Look in Lee’s eyes, and witness the hurt and confusion of a creature that does not understand the time he suddenly finds himself trapped in. Lee’s stiff movements and eye darting threating glares are high art, making this Mummy one of the greats.
4. Frankenstein’s Monster
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
The movie and the monster that started the Hammer cycle of horror perfection, we have Christopher Lee’s The Curse of Frankenstein. You know Terrence Fisher is all up in this one as he and Hammer redefine the monster feature for the modern world.
The duo of Lee and Cushing make their Hammer debuts as Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Cushing) and the Frankenstein Monster (Lee). Sadly, in the other Frankenstein films, Cushing’s not-so-good doctor would create other corpse constructed monsters, but the first film in Hammer’s Frankenstein cycle sees Cushing build the classic creature feverishly dreamed up by Mary Shelley so long ago. Despite being covered in darkly affecting make up, Lee’s Monster carries every scene he is in with his emotion filled eyes. As the Creature, Lee conveys hatred, sadness, pain, pathos, and love, and does Boris Karloff proud in every second of film he appears in. The moment where the Monster’s bandages are removed and Lee’s horrific visage revealed is just as startling as the unmasking scene in Lon Chaney’s silent Phantom of the Opera. Lee brings the make up to life with jerking body movements and unrivaled power.
By the time Lee played the Frankenstein Monster, the bolt necked behemoth was a staple of pop culture somewhat drained of its dark potency. But Lee brought the horror back to the Frankenstein legend and became one of the greatest cinematic monsters of all time.
Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Surprisingly, Hammer only produced one werewolf movie, but what a werewolf movie it was! Directed by Terrence Fisher (because of course it was), Curse of the Werewolf presents an intense period drama with the same tragedy and savagery as Universal’s classic The Wolf Man. In fact, Oliver Reed’s werewolf is even more bestial than Lon Chaney Jr.’s tragic creature. And look at that creature makeup.
Hammer’s werewolf has to be the most unsettling and savage of any movie lycanthrope in the pre-Howling, pre-American Werewolf in London era. The matted fur, the rabid eyes, the raw power, all make Reed’s man wolf one of cinema’s greatest were-beasts. Combine that with the tragic backstory of Reed’s Leon, a tale of brutality, murder, depravity, and corruption, and you have a were-tale to truly sink your teeth into. And it all came alive thanks to Reed’s monster’s animalistic intensity. Bark at the moon, baby!
Dracula aka The Horror of Dracula (1958), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), Scars of Dracula” (1970), Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972), The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)
Christopher Lee’s Dracula stands as the figurehead of Hammer Films, a bloody, fanged monument to the great legend of both Lee and Hammer. When Terrence Fisher’s Dracula (known as Horror of Dracula stateside) first hit British theatres in 1958, it would have been hard to imagine any actor replacing Bela Lugosi in the hearts of monster lovers. But with his sheer charismatic dynamism and intense sexuality, Lee did it. Who can forget those red rimmed eyes, that huge beckoning hand, that inhuman expression that just screamed Dracula?
Lee starred in seven Dracula films and while a few of the later ones suffered from strange story choices and haphazard plots (we’re looking at you Dracula A.D. 1972, what with your not being at all gothic, your odd duck soundtrack, and your fur vested minions), Lee’s Dracula still stands as a monster for the ages. Heck man, there’s few of these films where Lee barely appears and even one where Dracula has no dialogue (Dracula: Prince of Darkness), but even a few seconds of Lee’s perfect Prince of Darkness is worthy of a late Saturday night rewatch.
Lee has chemistry with every Hammer starlet he shared the screen with, he towered over and dominated every male that dared face him, and his interactions and conflicts with his constant co-star and real life best friend Peter Cushing is the stuff of horror legend. Has there ever been a greater pair of protagonist/antagonists than Lee’s Dracula and Cushing’s Van Helsing? The answer to that is a blood curdling no.
So this Halloween, we pay tribute to Christopher Lee’s Dracula, a cinematic fiend and celluloid nightmare of the highest order who dragged horror cinema kicking and screaming into the next generation.
1. Doctor Frankenstein
Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)
Yessir, we’re daring not to make Lee’s Dracula our number one Hammer monster. Are we mad? No, we’re not mad, but Peter Cushing’s Doctor Frankenstein sure is. So mad, that he is indeed the greatest monster in Hammer history.
Lee’s Dracula is truly a thing of horror transcendence, but a few of his films suffer from haphazard plotting and, the greatest sin of all, not enough Dracula! But Cushing’s Doctor Frankenstein is front and center in every Hammer Frankie film, a Victorian age Doctor Mengele that will commit any crime, break any taboo, to expand the boundaries of science and sanity. Cushing’s Frankenstein will stop at nothing to achieve his goals of resurrection and reanimation including murdering anyone who gets in his way. And those he murders usually end up sewed together in some kind of grotesque parody of life.
A few of these films portray Frankenstein as an anti-hero, but the films that hit the hardest do not flinch away from the depravity and joyous chaos that is birthed to unlife on Frankenstein’s operating table. Cushing’s Frankenstein is the greatest monster in the Hammer pantheon because this monster is human and so willing to greedily destroy anything that stands between him and his monsters.