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September 30, 2019 4:02 PM   Subscribe

For Spookymonth, I'd like to watch about half a dozen of the most iconic Universal Pictures and Hammer horror movies. Which ones make the cut?

I'm looking to be entertained, yes – but I know that some of these films established tropes and conventions that endure to this day, so I'm hoping for a bit of cinematic education too.
posted by escape from the potato planet to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Hammer made 9 Dracula movies all together, all but one of them featured Christopher Lee as Drac. If you need to winnow down that list, start with the original Dracula from 1958 which introduces Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, then skip most of the sequels and watch Dracula AD 1972, which is less outright horror and more about a perfect time capsule of a studio trying to capture the zeitgeist of what young people wanted to see in movies.

If you have room for one more, make it The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974), where Cushing returns (without Lee) in a story co-produced by Hammer and Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers -- Van Helsing is escorted to a remote Chinese village by seven kung-fu brothers to liberate their town from vampire influence. It's ridiculous and unique and I once programmed it for a film festival I worked at.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 4:33 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Dracula (1931): this is a bit creaky but is the first of the Universal Monster movies, so... Also Bela Lugosi is quite good. You might also check out the Spanish Dracula, which was filmed on the same sets at night. It doesn't have Lugosi or Dwight Frye, so it's missing the best bits of the English version, but the plot hangs together a bit better and it's slightly less creaky and stagebound.

Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935): Bride is more fun, IMO, but they're both good.

The Invisible Man (1933) Fun sense of humor and excellent special effects for the period.

The Wolf Man (1941) Goofy, but not bad, and a source for a lot of common werewolf "lore".

Other super iconic Universal monster movies include Phantom of the Opera (1925), Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) (both silent) and The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) but instead of any of those, I would recommend The Black Cat (1934) - you get both Karloff and Lugosi, satanism, necrophilia, the lingering influence of the terror of WWI, the line "Even the phone's dead," and no important cats to speak of. It's great.
posted by darchildre at 4:53 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

No Halloween film festival is complete without Young Frankenstein (1974).
posted by TrishaU at 5:02 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I forgot The Mummy (1932)! Which is possibly the first instance of "the monster's love interest from the past has been reincarnated in the present!" on film. It has many of the same supporting players as Dracula, playing basically the same roles, but is a more competent film in many ways and Karloff is great in it.
posted by darchildre at 5:03 PM on September 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

One of the local TV channels was showing classic horror - what about Vincent Price in The Masque of the Red Death or Cushing in Twins of Evil?
posted by fiercekitten at 5:19 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Horror of Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein are really the key Hammers.
posted by praemunire at 6:07 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is extremely classic Universal and includes Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's monster.
posted by rhizome at 6:55 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since you are seeking education, I would recommend this four-film sequence: Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Son of Frankenstein, and then Young Frankenstein. Bride of Frankenstein is one of those rare classics that surpasses the original, and it has an interesting sense of humor for its time. Son of Frankenstein isn't actually all that good, but the cinematography is amusingly pretentious. Just put it on in the background while you do the laundry or something. Young Frankenstein, while a great comedy on its own, has layers of parody that are only apparent after watching the first three films (which is why I recommend it, despite it not being exactly what you asked for).
posted by Comet Bug at 8:26 PM on September 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ah, Yes, there's also the classic Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Edger Allan Poe films for AIP from the early 1960s. They're good. Start with House of Usher...
posted by ovvl at 8:56 PM on September 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding the 1932 Mummy. It's atmospheric and beautiful to look at in it's (pre)noirish way. I haven't seen another Mummy film that isn't based on it.

Speaking of noir, I Walked with a Zombie (1943), Night of the Demon (1957) Cat People (1942) and The Leopard Man (1943) are all directed by Jacques Tournier and thus even though B Movies are proper auteur stuff. Zombie and Night of the Demon are my favorites and Leopard Man is the most minor of them and all are worth watching.

Hammer: The Devil Rides Out (1968.) Have you read any Dennis Wheatley? Well this film is so much better than the novel it is based on. Again, it's beautifully filmed and acted and above all beautiful to look at. Recommended. It's a classic.

Hammer again: Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter, 1974. I love this film for it's depiction of an approaching vampire encounter. Also it has Benedict Cumberbatch's mum in it and he looks just like her.
posted by glasseyes at 2:44 AM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

You may find the Hammer Horror Podcast helpful.
posted by JawnBigboote at 6:35 AM on October 1, 2019

* Rolls up with her classic film blog *

Hi there.

Others have already mentioned the big classics - Dracula with Bela Lugosi, Frankenstein with Karloff, The Wolfman.... I concur, and I tip my hat to the person above who recommended the Karlof-Lugosi film Black Cat because that's way funky - and not just because of the whole "eee Karloff and Lugosi together!" angle, but because it actually has some interesting commentary on the fallout from World War I, I felt.

Also, there's the silent film Nosferatu, which you may even be able to find free online.

What may be really interesting for you, though, is to not just study the films themselves, but how the films have dealt with adaptations; that's a bit of a mental rabbit-hole I found myself going into after watching the Universal Dracula and Frankenstein, because I had also in my life seen the 1990s adaptations of both those books as well, and I found myself thinking about all of those films a lot as a compare-and-contrast kind of exercise. And that all would make for a really, really interesting grouping:

* Nosferatu, the 1930s Dracula and the 1990's Bram Stoker's Dracula were both ostensibly based on the same source, but are both very different films - and not just because Francis Ford Coppola had more of a budget to work with. The different eras chose to emphasize and de-emphasize different things, and that can make for an interesting comparison.

* Then, you have the 1930's Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, and then the 1990s Frankenstein from Kenneth Branagh. Those are all also ostensibly based on the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly work, but Branagh's work is much more closely following the original, and it's interesting to see what they changed for the 1930s Frankenstein. Bride of Frankenstein claims to also have been based in part on Shelley's work, but it's really its own kind of slightly batshit work. And Hell, even throwing in Young Frankenstein could be good because Mel Brooks' work is so grounded in the original tropes of the 1930's Frankenstein movies.

* And for a bit of fun, two of those films suggest other films that play with "backstage" for the classics a bit - Nosferatu may make a really interesting double-feature with Shadow Of The Vampire, a 2000 film that's a what-if about Nosferatu's filming and suggesting that the actor playing the vampire really was a vampire. And then the Bride of Frankenstein would make a great double-feature with Gods and Monsters, a beautiful film about the last days of Frankenstein's director James Whale.

So...for your full festival, I suggest:

* The classics: Nosferatu, the 1930 Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Bride of Frankenstein

* Supplementary extra credit: The Black Cat, Shadow Of The Vampire, Gods and Monsters, Young Frankenstein

....There are a couple of other older horror films I could suggest, but I think that they may be a little too esoteric for what you're seeking.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:51 AM on October 1, 2019 [5 favorites]

* Smacks forehead * I also concur about I Walked With A Zombie and Cat People.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 AM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I hope this isn’t too off-topic, but if you were interested in some supplemental reading, I was fascinated by Lady from the Black Lagoon. It’s a biography of the woman who designed the creature from the Black Lagoon, and how her department superior attempted to erase her achievements from cinematic history, as well as to a lesser degree the author’s experience in the horror movie industry as a producer today.
posted by skycrashesdown at 7:18 AM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

The core Universal films are Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Wolf Man (1941), Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954). I think the Invisible Man & Mummy sequels are fairly poor overall and fairly missable. The Dracula and Frankenstein sequels can be fun though diminishing returns. I have a soft spot for House of Frankenstein (1945) which is sort of a battle royale of monsters. The Creature sequels I think get weirder as they go along which is a benefit. As others have mentioned there's good stuff that's not as well known. The most important if you're looking at them from a historical perspective the Old Dark House (1932 - James Whale), the Black Cat (1934 - by Edgar G. Ulmer) and the Raven (1935) but Mad Doctor of Market Street (1942 - by Joseph H. Lewis) and Mad Ghoul (1943) are entertaining. Surprisingly the Abbott & Costello Meet the Monster movies are all interesting in different ways and depending on your tolerance of the comedy duo worth a look.

The core Hammer films are basically just gorier remakes of the Universal films: Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959). While those are really the first batch of films that launched their horror cycle I think some of the later films are more interesting. Sticking to just the Dracula films with Christopher Lee would be a pretty satisfying watch. Worth a look - Abominable Snowman (1957 - written by Nigel Kneale), The Witches (1966), Captain Kronos, The Vampire Lovers (1970), Vampire Hunter (1974) and the non-horror Captain Clegg (1962), Quatermass and the Pit (1967), and Lost Continent (1968). There are a lot of interesting ones though, the later ones usually have more sex and heaving bosoms in them if that's an issue.

Roger Corman's Poe Cycle films are a fun bunch and made fairly camp by the presence of Vincent Price and are all mostly well shot. The stand outs are House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Premature Burial (1962), Raven (1963), Masque of the Red Death (1964) and the weaker ones Tales of Terror (1962), Haunted Palace (1963), Tomb of Ligeia (1965) are worth it only if you want more. All but Premature Burial have Vincent Price.

The Val Lewton produced horror films are all really interesting: Cat People (1942 - Jacques Tourneur), I Walked with a Zombie (1943 - Jacques Tourneur), The Leopard Man (1943 - Jacques Tourneur), The Seventh Victim (1943 - Mark Robson), The Ghost Ship (1943 - Mark Robson), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945 - Robert Wise with Karloff), Isle of the Dead (1945 - Mark Robson with Karloff), Bedlam (1946 - Mark Robson with Karloff). The Tourneur directed ones are easily the best but the Mark Robson ones have a kooky charm.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:44 AM on October 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

Maybe a Folk Horror marathon? The original core of that genre are Witchfinder General (1968), Blood on Satan's Claw (1971), and Wicker Man (1973) - all are worth your time.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:50 AM on October 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I love the way your question has provoked themed programming suggestions, OP. (Also, I have a treasured picture from when I was first learning photoshop which has my face inserted into Bela Lugosi's figure when he's emoting all over some strange machinery with his hair flopping over his brow in The Black Cat.)

Another theme suggestion: Nosferatu of 1922 (an expressionist film) followed by Shadow of the Vampire (2000) which is described as a metafiction based on the making of Nosferatu and is kind of a silly film, followed by Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979). The last one of these is immensely powerful and will not, imo, leave you with the warm fuzzies.

The 1922 Nosferatu couldn't use any of Bram Stoker's character names or descriptions for copyright reasons and thus was forced to become it's own even weirder thing.

Also, OP, you don't want to get spoiled for the films you want to watch that you're not familiar with, so don't go looking them up first.
posted by glasseyes at 11:24 AM on October 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Vincent Price in "Theater of Blood" is great campy dark comedy/horror.
posted by SoberHighland at 7:45 AM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I recently read a book of monster movie reviews that the author collected from a local paper he wrote the reviews for. One movie he really liked was the 1945 House Of Dracula, which is available in full on YouTube. It features vampire, wolf man, and a little bit of Frankenstein. But the monsters are approached in a quite atypical way. I dont want to say more to spoil the surprise, but I found it very entertaining.
posted by wittgenstein at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2019

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