I had long intended to write an article on the topic on the 10 Stunning Women That Built Hammer Horror Productions. These women propelled Hammer Productions to the forefront of the British horror game. Unfortunately, news of the recent passing of Veronica Carlson just gave me an unwelcome motivation to make good on that intention. It is not an understatement to say that these women played a huge role in the success of Hammer Productions. Hammer Productions rose to its pinnacle during a transitional period in the world. The Hammer empire was built at the exact same moment that attitudes about women and their role in society were evolving.
This article will honor the women that built Hammer Horror Productions. While I have my favorites, we intentionally did not rank these women and they are listed in no particular order and this list is by no means all-inclusive.
Fantastically beautiful and stealing the audiences glance at every chance, Veronica Carlson starred in two really good Hammer horror films. In Dracula has Risen from the Grave (1968), she plays the standard role of a fiancée pulled away by the evil of Dracula. In Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Veronica is subject to an extremely uncomfortable rape scene at the hands of Victor von Frankenstein. She also starred in The Horror of Frankenstein (1970). Veronica was a class act and a torch bearer for the Hammer brand. Veronica Carlson died on February 27, 2022 at the age of 77. Thank you for all the memories!
The film Dracula 1972 A.D. (1972), features two absolutely fantastic Hammer girls, but this section is only about one. Dracula 1972 A.D. crosses the divide between The Summer of Love and the soon to be cocaine fueled 70’s. Likewise, it needed a lady that presence and high-fashion sensibilities of the day to pull off the modern day Jessica Van Helsing. Stephanie Beacham jumps off the screen in this role. As her journey through the film took her through the gaudy trappings of 70’s Satanism and old school gothic jive of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, Stephanie Beacham stands out like a fembot in an Austin Powers movie.
For the record, Dracula 1972 A.D. is underrated, so says Malevolent Dark.
Many of the Ladies of Hammer Productions were famous for being damsels in distress, or at least one of the good guys. Linda Hayden is no exception in her role as Alice Harcourt in Taste the Blood of Dracula. However, she may be most famous for her non-Hammer role in the film Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) as the leader of a satanic coven, Angel Blake. She also starred across Vincent Price in the non-Hammer film Madhouse (1974). The point being, this girl has serious horror bona-fides. Linda Hayden is stunningly beautiful and carries a strong stage presence and piercing eyes.
Valerie Leon is another Hammer horror one-timer. She went on to also appear in multiple James Bond. I guess when you think of it, being a Hammer girl shares a lot with being a Bond girls with the exception of the former being more sadistically deviant. When you watch Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, it’s pretty clear as to what the big deal is about Valerie. In a standard mummy trope, she plays dual roles. Her modern fashion sensibilities makes her portrayal of female lead Margaret Fuchs both stunning and sophisticated. But, her olive skin and intoxicating eyes combine to resurrect the exotic Queen Tera.
In the 70s, Hammer productions diversified their vampire portfolio from the tired tales of Count Dracula. They would embark on a set of films referred to as the Karnstein Trilogy. These films are especially famous for pushing the limits of vampire sexuality to include overt themes of lesbianism. Ingrid Pitt played multiple roles as Karnstein’s in the first film in the series titled, The Vampire Lovers (1970).
Ingrid would go on to star in the Hammer production, Countess Dracula (1971) detailing the alleged crimes of the real Countess Bathory. She would also star in other non-Hammer favorites such as The House That Dripped Blood (1971) and The Wicker Msn (1973). Ingrid Pitt died on November 23, 2010 at the age of 73. She was an remarkable ambassador for Hammer and the horror genre.
Madeleine and Mary Collinson
Speaking of Karnstein’s, the next Hammer girls combine to create one of the most hyper-sexualized vampire pairs in the history of cinema. I am of course talking about the Collinson twins, Madeleine and Mary. The pair play the roles of Frieda and Maria Gelhorn. Once again, Hammer horror pushes the upper limits of sexuality and horror with groundbreaking depictions of lesbianism in the film. Notably, the Collinsons would also go on to be the first identical twins to serve as Playmates of the month for Playboy Magazine.
Madeleine Collinson passed away on August 14th, 2014 at the age of 62. Her sister Mary died on November 23, 2021 at age 69.
The great and wonderful Joanna Lumely also had her brush with Hammer productions. Joanna is most well known for her career in the British sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous and later starring in The Wolf of Wall Street as Aunt Emma. For Hammer, she starred in the often maligned, but mostly underrated The Satanic Rites of Dracula as Jessica Van Helsing. While she never played the role of a Bond girl, she did get up in the crazy intersections of the CIA, MI6 and an international conspiracy to raise Count Dracula in a bid for world domination. While she would eventually go on to other things, Joanna will always be known in horror circles as a woman that built Hammer Productions.
Next up is one of the most prolific horror girls to ever come from Hammer. She only starred in two Hammer productions. In her first, she starred alongside of Stephanie Beacham in Dracula 1972 A.D. (1972). She brought a bit of mynx to Stephanie’s playful kitten. She would later star in one of my all-time favorite Hammer films, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974). She also starred alongside Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes and continued to appear in horror films well into the 80’s and beyond.
With her dark brown eyes, dark skin and long brown hair, she brought a welcomed new look Hammer’s traditional blond bombshell disposition.
In other list of Hammer girls, Jennifer Daniel often gets overlooked as one of the women that built Hammer horror, but she is absolutely wonderful in her few Hammer roles. She starred as Marianne Harcourt in the underrated Kiss of the Vampire (1963) where her sophistication and natural presence steals every scene she graces. She also starred in Terrance Fisher’s fantastic film, The Reptile (1966), as Valerie Spaldling. If you have not seen The Reptile, it has one of the iconic Hammer monsters of all time.
Jennifer Daniel passed away on August 16, 2017 at the age of 81.
Recognizing the 10 Stunning Women That Built Hammer Horror
It would be easy to dismiss these girls body of work as pretty pinup faces. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The women that built Hammer Horror were at the forefront of changing attitudes with respect to the role of women in society. Some of these women were heroes. Some redefined sexual roles. Others became movie monsters and villains. The bottom line is that Hammer Productions recognized the changing tide, and these women redefined what it means to be a horror girl. The women that built Hammer horror changed the horror game forever.
In closing, these women defined decades of early horror viewing. Sadly it is a sign of the times to see so many of these wonderful women deceased, but we celebrate their accomplishments and contributions to both the genre and cinema.
Upon the advent of the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), Malevolent Dark has been sorting through the comments, criticisms and accolades that this film received immediately upon release. The film definitely had very real problems with plot development and developing characters, but at the end of the day it really felt like an breath of fresh air. The release of this film, and the immediate blowback that it received cause me to reflect back on the sordid history of this franchise.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise Ranked
When compared to other films in the franchise, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022), actually fares quite well against the competition. We at Malevolent Dark decided to dig deep into the history of the franchise and put a stake in the ground with respect to where these films actually stack up. We proudly present our definitive list of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise Ranked. We would love to hear from our readers what they think in the comments or at @malevolentdark1.
9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)
By god and all things holy, there has never been a Chainsaw film as bad as this one. In fact, this might have been one of the easiest calls to make in a long time. This film is so putridly bad that even after all of these years, it’s barely tolerable to watch. First and foremost it presents the saddest and most impotent version of Leatherface ever depicted on film. Instead of focusing on the menace of the lumbering brute, it creates a version of Leatherface dives headlong into the gender confusion and painful whimpering.
Supporters of this travesty point to the character history of Leatherface cowering in fear in the 1974 original, but this is different and they know it, so just stop. Those traits as presented in the original were crucial to the horror. These traits presented an infantile mind in a monster’s body. As such, they were some of the most interesting in the original film. In Next-Gen, there is no horror here, just a confused and comically frightened version of a man that previously terrified us. The hulking wall of death is simply and incompetent boob.
Lest we forget the Illuminati sub-plot that painfully wedges itself between the bad and the worse. Instead of an in-bred, backwoods family of cannibals, the Chainsaw family is actually an enforcement wing of an international conspiracy to drive people into spiritual transcendence through horror. Honestly, this trope could not be more absurd. But wait, there’s more. This is the first, and hopefully the last Chainsaw film, to feature a crop-duster kill. Gawd!
It appears that there is a bit of a revival concerning this film these days. Much has been made of its self-referential criticism of its own tropes. Some claim that writer and director Kim Henkle created a brilliant commentary on the previous films by confronting our expectations. Listen, we don’t know about all of that clever subterfuge, but his intent simply did not make on the screen. As far Malevolent Dark is concerned, this one undoubtedly represents the basements of this franchise.
8. Leatherface (2017)
Let’s start with the glaring problem with prequels. This topic is especially appropriate since this franchise is host to two prequels, this topic will come up again. The problem with prequels is that by definition, they have to back into whatever creative decisions were made by their predecessors. Unnecessarily, these film often find themselves finding explanations for things that would be far better if they remained unexplained.
Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo find a way to capture lightning in a bottle for the first 5 minutes of this film. I genuinely thought that I might be in for a fantastic time as the Sawyer family dismembers a hog-thief at their dinner table. However, they then proceed clobber all hope for a decent prequel in the head with a sledgehammer. The problem with this film couldn’t be more glaring. The writer, Seth M. Sherwood were not satisfied with a horror story. They needed to be clever by sandwiching multi-state polices chase coupled with a coming of age story.
What they chose was a Breakfast Club meets Mickey narrative. Honestly. it’s insulting to think that fans would accept that the Leatherface’s legacy is a prison break that results in a police chase across Texas. If anything we gathered from the original Chainsaw, it is that Leatherface houses an infant’s brain in a monster’s body. It’s as if a backwoods cannibal family, and a 6’6″ man that wears the flesh of his victims as a mask was not crazy enough to carry a film, so we had to spice it all up.
It is all a bit of a shame. The directors do manage to create some really cool imagery. Their depiction of a young Jed Sawyer playing the carcasses of dead animals is actually pretty innovative and awesome. Verna Sawyer, the matriarch played by Lili Taylor, threatened to save this otherwise ridiculous tale. She is cunning, calculated and mean to the core. The production team simply had to recognize what was working and rolled with it.
Despite its place on this list, from a pure movie making perspective, this film actually has some things going for it. The cinematography is actually quite good throughout the film. Quite frankly, the action and violence is pretty good as well. Still Leatherface (2017) strays way to many zip codes from the core of the Texas Chainsaw Mythology. Accordingly, it ranks pretty low in this list.
7. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
Texas Chainsaw 3D is exactly what its title purports it to be. It’s Hollywood prime time for chainsaw wielding maniacs. This film became the first to fully attempt to retcon all films before it other than the 1974 original. It begins immediately after the events of that classic film. Sally Hardesty had just “broken out of a window in Hell” and had been narrowly rescued. She swiftly directed the police to the desolate farmhouse resulting in a shoot out. Marylin Burns, Gunnar Hansen and Bill Mosely of previous Chainsaw fame take Sawyer family roles in an obvious bit of fan service.
Supposedly, Leatherface escapes the shootout mayhem and is never found.
Question, who the hell are all of these people with guns in the Sawyer house? There are like 3 extra brothers, a woman and a child packed in Sawyer home. They all obviously didn’t live there during the events of the original. The retcon from consideration, the opening held a lot of promise in the same way that The Devil’s Rejects (2005) did. However, the director, John Lussenhop, quickly throws away any early successes in favor of a standard Hollywood cast of murder victims and all of the blockbuster trappings of a forgettable horror film.
The film builds on the ridiculous premise that the lead character, Heather Miller, turns out to be a long lost relative of the Sawyer family. She inherits the family house. Along with the house, she also inherits her hulking cousin Leatherface. Her Aunt, Vera Sawyer (Marylin Burns) tell her in a letter that she is to look after him. In exchenge he will protect her in an unholy symbiotic relationship. Lussenhop attempts to position Leatherface as some kind of benevolent force rather than a cannibalistic madman unable to discern human beings from livestock.
While the film has some pretty intense kills, they come with the baggage of ridiculous circumstance. Somehow a man donned in human skin with a running chainsaw can prowl around a populated carnival largely without consequence. The most egregious sin that this film makes is that it creates a storyline that can’t possibly be continued credibly, yet it really provides no closure. It’s ultimately a fate worse for the franchise than killing Leatherface would have been.
6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
The Beginning commits the aforementioned prequel crimes in spades. This specific prequel tells the events prior to the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) remake. Its insistence on explain those things that do not need to be explained cripples this otherwise decent film. It also suffers from being mostly derivative of its 2003 predecessor in very obvious ways. The sum of these misfires that detract from an otherwise beautifully photographed film that should have been pretty good prequel.
Things I either didn’t need to know, or wish I didn’t know as soon as I found out:
Leatherface wears a mask, not because he is confused by his identity and is otherwise mentally ill, but because he has a facial deformity
Leatherface was born on the production floor of a slaughterhouse before being tossed in a dumpster
Charlie Hewitt implausibly kills the real Sheriff Hoyt and steals his identity (and never gets caught)
Uncle Monty’s legs were amputated by Leatherface with a chainsaw
Charlie Hewitt turns his entire family into cannibals in a single afternoon. Cop-stew, anyone?
Now, there is a silver lining to this film. The remake of the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) introduced some salient characters that we all needed to see again. R. Lee Ermey, Marietta Marich and Terrance Evens all make a returns to their characters. R. Lee Ermey as Sheriff Hoyt/Charlie Hewitt steals every scene in a big way. Furthermore, Andrew Bryniarsky makes as good a Leatherface as as any since Gunnar Hansen. Their chemistry carries this film out of the gutter.
The movie does manage to create some entertaining moments through brutal kills and an overall oppressive atmosphere. Still it falls victim to oppressively bad story telling and uninspired writing. This film should have been great.
5. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
Directed by Jeff Burr, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre IIIis often considered to be tipping point into a multi-decade abyss of bad sequels. To be honest, I am not exactly sure why. While the film is not without sin, it actually comes with the best intentions. This film came at a time where the horror industry had reached a fever pitch. Horror franchises rallied around their murderous villains. New Line Cinema was at the forefront of this phenomenon and they needed to diversify their portfolio.
New Line purchased the franchise from The Canon Group with the intent to take the Texas Chainsaw franchise and strip away all of its extraneous trappings so that they could give Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers a run for their money. They swiftly pulled together an awesome teaser trailer and then unfortunately went on to screw a ton of stuff up. Regardless, after all was said and done, the result was a decent little slasher film.
One thing that Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III screws up is its understanding of the fanbase and this fanbases difficulty accepting change. It completely dispenses with the original family and replaces it with a new bunch of crazies. This was a necessary evil after the events of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. As far as anyone could tell, the Sawyer family was rotting under the collapsed Texas Battle Land. It just seemed a bit contrived that the Sawyer family had little enclaves of crazy dispersed all across Texas.
Fortunately the writers didn’t spend a moment trying to explain how it all came to be, because any explanation on how Leatherface survived a full-torso chainsaw through the gut could only be laughable. Whatever it was, it left our favorite killer with nary a limp.
This film is really saved by its cast. Viggo Mortensen plays a strong male lead in Tex Sawyer. Tom Everett’s take on psycho comic relief as Fredo provides enough of that dark humor to keep an otherwise bleak horror film functioning. Ken Foree was enjoying a resurgence in horror at the time. His role as Benny takes advantage of his talents and is no disappointment. Finally, Kate Hoge’s portrayal of Michelle exceeds expectations. She is clearly capable woman that believably takes matters into her own hands to survive.
It is understandable that this film might not have landed with discerning Texas Chainsaw fans upon release. However, time would prove that this film was way better than what was to come. Horror fans, be thankful for what you have sometimes.
4. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
From my window I see the glint of torches flickering off of the pitchforks of angry Texas Chainsaw franchise fans! Some of this may sound redundant as I have recently completed a full review of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022). I had thoroughly expected this film to redefine the basement of the franchise. It had way too long, and based on the success of Leatherface (2017), I thought this one had no chance of succeeding.
However, much for the same reasons I enjoyed Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, I enjoyed really enjoyed this film. I simply had to lower my defenses and accept its Hollywood glitter and circumstance. I quickly realized that this film was created for one reason, fun. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) was built to be entertaining; and it was. At the same time, it did it all without disrespecting what came before it (Well, there is that things about ignoring Chop Top that still bothers me).
To pull this stunt off, the producers went ahead and retconned a bunch of bad sequels. Unfortunately it also retconned a good sequel. But overall it did far less damage to the legacy of the franchise than others.
Now, the film has a lot of faults. If you are expecting an Academy Award Winning cast and an orchestral soundtrack by John Williams, you will be disappointed. In fact, the characters are so bad that you can hardly wait for the chainsaw to start running and the limbs to start flying. The story really doesn’t make a lot of sense and only serves to get the maximum number of people close to chainsaw laden doom as possible.
Director David Blue Garcia adequately placates the gore hounds as his film contains contains one of the most egregiously indulgent slaughters ever grace the white pleather interior of a charter bus. As gruesome as this scene is, it manages to preserve artistic integrity through fantastic cinematography and stunning lighting techniques. The producers and effects team also did a fantastic job creating a mask that actually evolves into a more terrifying version of itself as it becomes soaked in the blood of social media influences.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022) the best sequel to the franchise since 1986 and that’s a long, long time. Fans of the franchise should celebrate. Come at me Twitter!
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)
This one was so hard to place. In my heart of hearts, I want this to be the second best in the Chainsaw franchise. I love this almost as much as I loved the 1974 original. For a period of time I watched it every single night before bed. As psycho as that sounds, the soundtrack and tone of the movie has a haunting quality that might be better than melatonin. That should not be taken to mean this this film is a snooze fest. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Some people hate it, but the people that love it REALLY love it. We are talking about the single best sequel in the franchise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
To confess, in 1986, I did not know what to expect. Furthermore, I really didn’t any preconceived expectations for what a sequel should look like. However, when I saw it, immediately I knew two things: it was different and I loved it.
For starters, this is the only other film directed by Tobe Hooper (which means retconning it sucks). However, this time the writing duties were performed by L.M. Kit Carson rather than Kim Henkel. Together these guys introduced one of the most horrifically endearing characters ever to grace a Chainsaw film, Chop Top. Played by Bill Moseley, this character is one of the most intense and depraved characters in horror. He just so happens to be as hilarious as he is psychotic.
The direction toward comedy was intentional. Tobe Hooper lamented that people didn’t seem to understand his dark humor in the original 1974 film. I personally think he is wrong about that. People saw the humor, but were so disturbed by everything else that they couldn’t appreciate it. This time he decided to really ratchet up the comedy. This didn’t sit well with everyone that wanted a reprise of the 1974 formula, so it got a bit of blowback upon release. While I get the concern, when judged in the shadow of its own predecessor, the film is BLOODY brilliant.
We should note that this film features the always entertaining Dennis Hopper. The wonderful Caroline Williams plays the leading lady, Vanita “Stretch” Brock. This film is also famous for setting the time honored precedent of Chainsaw films featuring a victim having their face peeled for use as a mask. It also features some brutally violent kills and a heaping helping of guts. In my mind this is a classic and it nearly landed the number two spot.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
When I first heard the rumor of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, recoiled in fear. There was so much that could go wrong; so much that they could screw up; it could only fail miserably. How could a modern day director take source material as artistically significant at the original 1974 Chainsaw and remake it for modern audiences?
Against all odds, I was blown away by this film. I’ll say it once again, you have to be willing to accept that what you are about to see is a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. If you can find a way to accept that reality, this movie provides a mountain of horror goodness. Incredibly, the screen play by Scott Kosar stays true to the core philosophical elements of the original, but he completely remakes the Chainsaw family from scratch. This gives director Marcus Nispel a brand new creative canvas to develop brilliant characters and performances.
If you ever liked Chop Top, you’ll love Sheriff Hoyt, played by R. Lee Emery. Sheriff Hoyt is a different character for sure, but he pummels the audience with his penchant for humor while doling out extreme violence. The legless uncle Monty brings a bit menace and some mystery (until The Beginning ruins it). Luda Mae Hewitt brings her own style of backwoods, country insanity behind a kind voice and Texas Belle demeanor. Brilliantly, the production team manages to create a while new mythology that shares critical ties with its legacy, but otherwise blazes its own path.
In another pro move, Nispel enlisted the assistance of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) cinematographer, Daniel Pearl. Famous for the incredible truck shot that slithers under the the swing behind Pam as she sashays to her doom, Daniel Pearl’s work is well recognized in horror circles. You can almost hear him say, “hold my beer” as he outdoes his self with a stunning zoom shot that pulls the audience through the shattered skull of a recent suicide. This isn’t fan service, this is a masterclass on how to one-up a well revered classic scene.
Incredibly, there are some in the horror community that will swear that this is the BEST film in the Chainsaw franchise. I think those people are nuttier than a cannibal family in an old Texas farmhouse, but they got one thing right. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) is a damn fine horror remake.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Anyone that knows anything about my work knows that we would ultimately end up here. Not only is the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) the best film in the Chainsaw franchise, it’s arguably still the best horror movie ever made. With this film, Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel created an artistic masterpiece deserving of its current praise. Anyone that dismisses it as less simply didn’t watch it close enough.
Again, this films artistic merits can not be overstated. Daniel Pearls camera work far outshines what a film its budget deserves. In this article we have mentioned the classic truck shot for sure. But Daniel Pearl’s influence infects every single shot in the film. The shot framing at the cannibal dinner table demonstrate a master case-study in shot framing. Where Pam sits tied to chair at the dinner table, Daniel Pearl creates a sense of doom thick enough to slice with a knife. In support of the camera, cutting edge editing perfectly depicts Sally Hardesty as she descends into the “mad and macabre”.
All of this fantastic technical work gets creative support from the Art Director, Robert Burns. As a brilliant artist and set designer, Burns creates some of the most grisly and grotesque set pieces in the history of cinema. To be clear, we are not simply talking morbid objects, loose teeth and broken bones. Burns fashions the most morbid of materials into a bazaar of the grotesque and insane. He offers a glimpse of what it really must have been like in the insanely depraved mind of the Butcher of Plainfield, Ed Gein.
Strangely enough, the original Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is also famous for being the least bloody of the entire franchise. Let that sink in. The audience literally leaves the theater, broken, twisted and shaken. Yet, they have seen barely a smattering of blood. That goes to show how psychologically impactful The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is.
Tobe Hooper pulled epic performances from actors we have never heard of. Jim Siedow, Edwin Neal and Gunnar Hansen combine to create one of the most maniacal bands of sick and twisted brothers ever. Sally Hardesty, however meek and unassuming, shows us exactly what terror looks like. It’s impossible not to cheer her on as she trips, stumbles and is nearly sliced to ribbons as she narrowly escapes the Sawyers with her whole life and just a shred of sanity.
This is the not only the best Chainsaw entry, but it is considered the greatest horror film of all time by Malevolent Dark. It’s legacy may never be toppled and it it continues to serve as an icon for bloodthirsty horror fans around the world. This film launched a franchise that, despite its stumbles, is still relevant nearly 50 years later.
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It’s not often that the world bestows upon us a fantastic film by one of our favorite directors that has heretofore been buried by time and dust. The Amusement Park, by George Romero represents of of those rare moments. Allegedly, this film was commissioned by the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania for the purpose of revealing the hidden struggles of the elderly in modern society. As with everything that Romero touched in the 70’s he attacked this subject with deep and profound social commentary. At the time, the Lutheran Service Society wasn’t in the market for an art film, so they shelved it for being far heavier than they had ever imagined.
For decades, many considered the film lost forever, but in 2017 a print was discovered and restored.
Romero taps Lincoln Maazel for the lead
For many the name Lincoln Maazel doesn’t turn heads. During his very long life of 106 years, he earned only two film credits. Both of these were at the hands of George Romero. The Amusement Park would be his first. He would again work with George Romero in the 1978 vampire classic Martinas the the world weary grandfather Cuda. In that film he would utter one powerful word, “Nosferatu”, before putting a bloody exclamation point on one of George Romero’s most chilling endings.
In The Amusement Park Lincoln puts on a much more nuanced role as an elderly man suffering at the hands of the world at a local amusement park. The amusement park serves as a running metaphor for the challenges faced by an aging society. George Romero makes absolutely clear that society fails to value the lives of the elderly. Clocking in at just over 53 minutes, Romero gets right to business of crafting his societal analogy.
A man in an all white suit in an all white room
Romero begins the film with a brief monologue from Lincoln, undoubtedly at the direction of the film’s investors. Lincoln Maazel eloquently describes the plight of the elderly. He finishes by politely reminding the viewer that they too will one day be old.
Romero then cuts to a white room with a beaten, bandaged and exhausted Lincoln Maazel resting on a bench. He wears a suit of all white that’s soiled in dirt and blood. Just then, a glowing and pristine version of himself arrives on the scene to engage in conversation. The whole scene reminds me a bit of when John Hammond engages in discourse with himself on the stage at Jurassic Park. Romero likely intended this to represent the innocence of his lead as he prepares for an idyllic day at the park. The downtrodden man warns his fresh faced doppelganger of terrors of the outside world, but his words come upon deaf ears.
Fresh and clean, Lincoln Maazel sets off to enjoy a day at the amusement park.
Disorienting and Cruel
George Romero’s first shot across the bow of society depicts a line of elderly people wanting to buy tickets to enjoy a day at the park. They bring watches, rings and family heirlooms to the ticket-master in hopes of trading their treasures for a day fun. In all too familiar circumstances, the young man plunders their wealth right before their eyes as they beg for a few dollars more.
One of the best scenes occurs in the bumper car pavilion. An elderly man and woman drive circles in the bumper car pit as the camera bounces around creating feelings of confusion. Just then, none other than George Romero himself makes a left handed signal before making a right handed turn causing an accident. As lawyers, insurance men and police descend on the scene, they bombard the couple with prejudice born of their status as senior citizens. Lincoln Maazel bears witness to the event, but the police dismiss him for failure to wear his prescribed eyeglasses. The whole scene would be absurd in any other context, but somehow Romero makes his analogy work.
George Romero also makes it a point to call out that old age doesn’t affect us all the same. The elderly business man smoking a fat cigar lives high on life while the elderly dregs of society pillage for scraps.
Romeo refuses to spare the young from metaphor. When a young pair of lovers employ the services of a fortune teller they are greeted with images of their inevitable descent into the pains of being elderly and infirm. Now an old woman, she pleads with doctors for sympathy as her husband deteriorates in his bed, stricken with dementia. The doctors can’t be bothered as they dole out off-the-shelf meds to their easy customers. Eventually, the young couple recoil in horror to the visions of their future.
Romero continues to ratchet up the madness ever so brilliantly until Lincoln Maazel runs in terror to the white room where it all began. Once again, bandaged and exhausted. Again, a brand new version of himself arrives in the white room, ready to start the cycle again as if to describes the daily grind of the elderly in modern society.
Brilliant Execution from a Master Architect
Certainly The Amusement Park fails to achieve the lofty heights of some of Romero’s best films. But, it’s not a question of quality. In fact, this may be one of George Romero’s most inspired works. Amazingly, Romero recycles the amusement park metaphor over and over without it getting stale. While this movie isn’t a horror movie, as a PSA it certainly has plenty of horrifying moments. Using masterful camera movement, George Romero makes the most basic of scenes wholly disorienting and unsettling. All the while, Romero evokes strong feeling of sympathy.
Long lost, this film fills an important void in the progression of George Romero. He proves conclusively that his ability to create horrifying art-work transcends the shambling walking dead. Quite frankly, Romero’s execution not only delivers on the original intent of the commissioned film, but does so in a way that resonates deeply with the young people that it seeks to change. It’s nearly impossible not to superimpose the images of our mothers, fathers and grandparents on the characters in the amusement park.
George Romero delivered one of the most compelling public service messages in the history of mass communication. What the Lutheran Service Society of Western Pennsylvania held in their hands was a piece of persuasive art far beyond what they could have ever hoped for. Unfortunately, art lies in the eyes of the beholders, and they were unable to realize the eloquent message so crafted by the director. Instead of confronting the socio-economic oppression that plagues the elderly, Romero’s films sat on a shelf collecting dust.
The Amusement Park may not be every horror buffs cup of tea, but it is essential viewing for anyone delving into the storied careers of master George Romero.
Driller Killer (1979) has been in the Malevolent Dark archives for years. Over the course of decades, I probably walked by it 100 times at the video store. I scooped a VHS transfer years ago, but it continued to collect digital dust for years. The word “atrocious” best describes the audio and visual quality of this thing. However, if we could stomach the trash that is the Desert Island release of 3 on a Meathook, this eventually deserved a spin. What we found a was a cool little psycho drama that just barely fails to break through its low-budget confines. Directed and acted by Abel Ferrara, Driller Killer found its way to the public domain several years ago.
The Horrors of the Public Domain
While many would expect a films appearance on the public domain to amount to a magical breakthrough of viewing pleasure and freedom, that is usually not the case. What actually happens is that the studios that have the resources to restore and remaster the existing copies refuse to make the investment because they are unable to protect it. Garage-based opportunists figure out a way to create the cheapest reproductions of the film. Malevolent Dark has found on more than one occasion retail DVDs ripped from poor VHS source, tracking lines and all.
The copy of Driller Killer that we watched was brutally bad. The source was grainy and dim. The digitization shows blocky compression artifacts. Worst of all, the sound of dialog is muffled and difficult to discern, yet the abrasive sounds of the noise-core music from the fictional band Rooster burns like highly amplified molten glass poured into the ear canal.
Supposedly, there are higher quality Blu-Ray versions out there, so hopefully your mileage varies.
The Unraveling of a Driller Killer
Driller Killer plays out like psycho-drama biopic. The main character Reno, played by director Abel Ferrara, falls into the archetype of the starving NYC artist painting his next masterpiece that will solve all of his problems. He struggles with the arrangement with his girlfriend Carol (Carolyn Marz) and her lesbian affair with their roommate Pamala (Baybi Day). Reno also deals with the high demands of his agent. Things for Reno get worse when post-emo-punk-noise-core band Rooster moves in next door making it impossible for Reno to focus on his art.
Reno struggles with visions of himself bathed in blood as he takes out his aggression on people with an electric drill. It would only be a matter of time before his vision becomes a reality.
You may be asking yourself, how does Reno pull this off? Does Reno carry an extra long extension cord? Hilariously, Reno sees an advertisement for the “Porto-Pak” battery pack. Amazingly, this pack costs a meager $19.95 in 1979. Knowing the state of technology in 1979, a high amperage battery that could sustain a power drill for any meaningful amount of time in 1979 would weigh no less than 50 LBS, but somehow Reno manages to lug one around invisibly in his red nut-hugger pants.
This is a great place to call out that 1982’s Slumber Party Massacre ignored the explanation of how the killer powered the drill. Director Amy Holden Jones made a pro-move with this decision.
The Driller Killer is a Maniac
In strict narrative and pacing, Driller Killer looks a lot like the film Maniac that would be released the following year. The major exception being that the character of Frank Zito rightly possesses serious psychological problems from the mental and physical abuse of a prostitute mother. Poor Reno just suffers from poor career and relationship decisions. Still, much of the film revolves around the psychological pressures that Reno faces day-to-day rather than actual murder by power drill.
Additionally, the seedy backdrop of 1970’s New York City provides another parallel to Maniac. But, to be completely fair to Maniac, it enjoys a significant boost in quality across all aspects of film. Lest we forget that Maniac stars the ever-fantastic Caroline Munro.
As previously alluded to, the production values of Driller Killer leave something to be desired. This goes beyond the lack of effort in the DVD release. These flaws are deeply rooted in the movie itself. However, it’s not all bad. Abel Ferrara and cinematographer Ken Kelsch manage interesting visual perspectives. The audio of the film must have been intended to be abrasive. The film begins with the directive “THIS FILM SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD” in bright white letters. This absolutely would make the muffled vocals audible while also allowing the sounds of both the drill and the Roosters to shatter the brain.
While these things may have some artistic merit, none of these change the fact that Driller Killer ultimately fails to be be entertaining. At the conclusion of the film, including the cliff-hanger ending, the audience remains left with only a distant feeling that they just witnessed an mildly interesting curio. It all makes sense when Reno’s agent says, “The worst thing that can happen to a painter is happening to you, you’re becoming simply a technician”.
Driller Killer’s performances vary greatly, but honestly could be worse in many cases. Abel Ferrara’s acting gets the job done in a “Hey Maaaaaaaan” kind of New York way. Carolyn Marz’s portrayal of Carol works well enough. Never missing a chance to dis on the Roosters, they couldn’t be more ridiculous. Possibly, that was what Ferrara was going for.
The Gore Quotient
Certainly a film called Driller Killer drips with blood and gore, or not. DrillerKiller is not totally devoid of the red stuff, but I can assert with absolute certainty that Lucio Fulci did the drill better in The City of the Living Dead in 1980. Most of the kills are distant and can be summed up with a spot of red on the shirt of the victim. Many of the attacks involve minor wounds to the stomach, many of which would be questionably lethal. In one scene Reno inexplicably is able to use a drill to affix a mans hands to a brick wall.
Abel Ferrara does manage one really good kill scene in which a homeless man takes a drill bit to the skull in a up-close and personal perspective.
So, Is it Good?
It’s not that Driller Killer is an altogether bad movie. It’s more of a decent try movie that fails to be good. As stated before, it’s a damn sight better than trash like 3 on a Meathook. Periodically, Malevolent Dark reviews bad movies that still MUST be seen. We don’t think that Driller Killer meets that mark either. As Dr. Ian Malcom once put it, had this film slipped through our blood-soaked fingers, “Life finds a way”. Regardless, vintage horror fans may be able to make good use of Ferrara’s screen-time. Abel Ferrara did create art on an extremely limited budget, but its more like a still-life of a pack of cigarettes and 70’s pornography on a dirty table.
Italian horror master Lucio Fulci directed Don’t Torture a Duckling in 1972. While not his first giallo film, it does mark the first time that Lucio Fulci broke with the stylistic approach of his peers in favor of a gritty and realistic tone. Don’t Torture a Duckling also demarcates Lucio Fulci’s turn towards more visibly shocking violence. The change in tone was a welcome addition to the giallo genre at the time, but different does not always mean good. Hordes of Fulci fans revere this film, but whether or not it’s deserved remains a legitimate question.
The Murders of Accendura
The films premise surrounds a series of child murders in a small town in southern Italy called Accendura. Accendura rests on the line between the old world and the new. While big enough to sustain complicated politics, it also retains ties to old world mysticism and witchcraft. Accordingly, Accendura lays claim to several odd and eccentric characters that all draw suspicion at various stages. Fulci leverages this dynamic to keep the audience in a constant guessing game for the duration of the film.
Small Town, Big Politics
One of the more interesting angles that Fulci takes with Don’t Torture a Ducking concerns the transformation of a small town into a powder keg. The townspeople attack the government. The government attacks the police. Everyone is against the press. It really paints an interesting continuum from naive village politics to big-city apathy. What lies in-between is little-big-town rage when a malevolent force descends on the town.
Witches, Idiots, Clergy and Fancy Women
The film begins with the disappearance of a young man named Bruno. The town idiot, a man named Giuseppe, quickly finds himself under suspicion when he finds Bruno’s body. Instead of reporting the body to the police, he tries instead to extract a ransom from the family.
Lurking behind the scenes, a local witch named La Maciara, played by the extraordinary Florinda Bolkan, plunges pins into voodoo dolls. She believes that she can punish the townsfolk through her witchcraft.
A wealthy woman named Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) resides in Accendura as she tries kick her drug habits. Her fancy lifestyle conflicts with the local blue-collar sensibilities, but it is her overt sexuality towards pre-pubescent boys that really should be the concern.
While fear and danger overtakes the town, a local catholic priest, Don Alberto Avallone, cares for the sons of Accendura. He seemingly has the boys best interest at heart. He tries to protect the boys through this ordeal.
A Murderer in Plain Sight
Fulci takes the audience on several twists and turns through the film. He intentionally plants false flags in various places to keep the audience guessing at the identity of the murderer. I think the key difference in Fulci’s approach with Don’t Torture a Duckling is that standard giallo films hide the identity of the killer, but are satisfied with simple visual obscurity through mask and gloves. Fulci takes the active approach of casting suspicion across multiple characters with the intent to deceive the audience.
For the most part this approach succeeds in its intent; however, it all feels a bit contrived and predictable. Like a game of Clue, the cards in the manila envelope are easily guessed through the process of elimination. I can’t say anymore about the finale without ruining the delivery. Let’s close on this, the surprise is that there is no surprise.
Fulci – An Escalation of Violence
Up until this point, Fulci, like most giallo directors at the time were far more focused on suspense and cinematography. Even Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, directed by Lucio Fulci just a year prior was tame by later giallo standards. In Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Fulci implies much of the violence, leaving much of the gore off-screen. Fulci changes up the game with Don’t Torture a Duckling. More interesting is the selective way that he choses to do it.
The majority of the violence in Don’t Torture a Duckling concerns young male children. For the most part, Lucio Fulcio leaves these murders to the imagination. Fulci does not hesitate to show their lifeless bodies, but he at least leaves the act of murder off of the screen. Unfortunately for Lucio Fulci, this approach eliminates a large portion of the impact. The lack of believable emotion from the grieving parents further erodes the impact. As disturbing as violence to children can be, for some reason Fulci’s fails to evoke enough anguish to makes it feel real.
Lucio Fulci Loves the Ladies
Instead, Lucio Fulci unleashes on his female lead, Florinda Bolkan. As her character, La Maciara, is released from police custody, the townsfolk choose to take their pound of flesh. A group of men corner her alone and attack her on the outskirts of town. The men beat her mercilessly with hands and chains. Fulci creates a spectacle of the brutality as a radio cycles through its regular programming. “Crazy” by Wess and the Airedales and “Qeui Giorni Insieme a Te” by Ornella Vanoni bellows as La Maciara succumbs to her wounds. For Fulci, La Maciara’s death is matter of fact and cold.
Often, Lucio Fulci gets remembered, even criticized for repeated themes of misogyny and violence towards women. Certainly, many directors join him that aspect. Fulci seems to draw this criticism more than most. Don’t Torture a Duckling does paint a damning case against him. The film offers so many opportunities to depict graphic violence; however, he eschews these opportunities in favor of a more implied approach. Instead, Fulci zeros in on this specific act of violence, and he relishes the prolonged and graphic attack on La Maciara. Furthermore, he cements it as the centerpiece for the film. This would define a trend many brutal deaths on film for many women to come.
Don’t Torture a Duckling – The Technicals
Many critics of Don’t Torture a Duckling claim that it represents some of the best cinematography in his catalog. Certainly, Sergio D’Offizi shows professional aptitude in his work. The films location helps considerably. The shots of the sprawling hills surrounding the town of Accendura offer a awesome glimpse of Italy’s hillside beauty. If anything, his photography evokes the feeling of a modern Spaghetti Western. D’Offizi’s work certainly doesn’t detract from the film in any way, but at the same time, nothing makes this film spectacular. Possibly it does represent some of the better executions in a Lucio Fulci film, but it’s not in league with contemporaries like Argento and Bava.
Riz Ortolani provides the soundtrack for Lucio Fulci in Don’t Torture a Duckling and it falls into a similar vein. Ortolani doesn’t hurt the film, but it also doesn’t imprint the signature style that would appear on later films. His contributions to the mondo genre of Italian films like Cannibal Holocaust cut much more deeply. However, Ortolani’s musical selections during the lynching of La Maciara add an artistic touch to an otherwise horrible event. In whole, his contributions prove competent, yet forgettable.
Torturing the Duckling
Malevolent Dark will make a break with the commonly held opinion that Don’t Torture a Duckling amounts to a giallo masterpiece. Lucio Fulci tries to entangle the viewer into a multi-layered mystery, but the cumbersome nature of the narrative tips his hand far too early. Additionally, the film overstays its welcome for about 20 minutes. None of this should be construed as a recommendation not to see the film. Put simply, expectations should be managed. While not a masterpiece, the film still retains merit and provides enough entertainment to be worth a watch.
Lucio Fulci does manage to pull together a great cast of individual character actors. Barbara Bouchet and Florinda Bolkan are exquisite in their roles. Marc Porel as Don Alberto Avallone also works very well and Tomas Milian’s role of outside reporter and full-time Burt Reynolds fan, Andrea Martelli, adds some grit to an otherwise clean-cut cast. While each individual character excels in their role, Fulci fails to create a compelling dynamic between them. Their interactions and relationships feel clumsy and poorly conceived.
More interesting that any one of Lucio Fulci films is the evolution of his film making. Don’t Torture a Duckling sits in a critical place in that continuity. Fans of Lucio Fulci should watch this film. If for nothing else, the viewer will be rewarded with an ending that any Fulci fan would love.
Those familiar with the Malevolent Dark’s work fully understand that the original Tobe Hooper classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, occupies a very special place on-top of a very high pedestal. To this day, many films still imitate aspects of that film. Yet, no film has come close to replicating the raw insanity and stark realism of the original. Once again, a brave troop of producers prepare to unleash a sequel upon the world. All we know at this point is that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021 will be a direct sequel of the 1974 original.
What the World Needs Now is Another Retcon, Like I Need a Hole in the Head
For the most part, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise fumbles through endless continuities, reboots and retcons. Much like the Halloween 2018 bid to cast all of its ugly history aside, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021 will ignore its legacy, both the good and the bad, to establish a new continuity. Let’s be honest, the series carries a ton of dead-weight, so the idea of shedding some dead-weight holds bit of wisdom.
Having said that, some things are sacred. Disregarding good sequels birthed by the original visionaries feels a bit disrespectful disrespectful. Tobe Hooper created a sequel in 1986. It’s a great movie. The director shoved a running chainsaw through Leatherface’s gut and blew him up with a grenade. Sorry for inconveniencing you. Quite frankly, it’s sacrilege.
The disingenuous part comes in with stated motivations. Danny McBride said that we wanted to bring the Halloween franchise back to its roots. He wanted to take us all back to why it was scary. I have news for McBride, the 1981 Halloween II is a better movie than anything that had been created since. At least Rob Zombie was straight up and rebooted the whole thing with a fresh coat of paint. He stood on the shoulders of John Carpenter to re-imagine the series rather than fix the past by ignoring canon.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021 faces the exact same problem that that McBride faced. In previous sequels, the visionaries that created the monster had decided that it was time to destroy what they had created. In John Carpenter’s case, he delivered two gun shots to the eyeballs and flaming explosion to kill Michael Myers. Again, this ending for Michael Myers is certainly inconvenient for people wanting to capitalize on others work. Maybe it should serve as a signal. What’s done is done.
The goal of this rant, and it certainly is a rant, is not to cast aspersions on the producers of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021. In fact, Malevolent Dark’s hope is that Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021 provides a long needed kick on the pants for the franchise. However, the situation warrants serious skepticism. The last time the series tried a retcon, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, the fiasco turned out to be utterly ridiculous in the worst ways.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021 – The Upside
Fede Álvarez produces Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021. Most recognize Fede Álvarez as the director of Evil Dead 2013. Malevolent Dark gave Evil Dead 2013 a middling review. The movie suffers from substantial flaws, but Álvarez does display a measure of flamboyance in his reboot. He ultimately falls victim to a lifeless cast and a subservience to the machine. To use a twisted quote from the movie, “I can smell your filthy [Hollywood] soul”.
Let’s just say that Fede Álvarez’s aptitude is apparent, and therein lies hope for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021. Kim Henkel, the original author of the screenplay, also assists with production. Could this be a bastion of light, or a harbinger of doom? Lest we forget Henkel’s unforgivable debacle, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation.
Early trouble seems to have crept into the early production. Andy and Ryan Tohill began directing the film through the first weeks of shooting, but were promptly let go when their wares did not meet the expectations of Fede Álvarez. Possibly this ‘trouble’ is a positive sign because Fede Álvarez won’t accept sub-par work. Fede Álvarez replaced the pair with cinematographer David Blue Garcia in the directors chair. Hopefully David Blue Garcia meets the lofty expectations of the teeming Texas Chainsaw fans.
An Intriguing Premise?
The Legendary films makes the following claim:
“The new film, a continuation of Tobe Hooper’s shocking 1974 seminal horror classic, marks the return of Leatherface, re-introducing one of the most iconic villains of the horror genre to a whole new generation.”
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2021website offers the foreboding statement:
In 1974, the world witnessed one of the most bizarre crime in the annals of American History. In 2021, the face of madness returns.
So far, what the world knows of the returning madness is that the film is a direct sequel to the 1974 original. It takes place in real time, 47 years later than the horror that befell Sally Hardesty and her companions. This time, a woman and her invalid sister take a business trip to Texas. For them, an idyllic business trip to Texas became a nightmare. The events of that day would lead to the craziest 60 year old chainsaw wielding maniac in the annals of American history.
That plotline can be read one of two ways. Malevolent Dark prefers the way that inspires hope for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.
A Fun Little Concept Trailer
The following concept trailer is a fan film. It in no way represents the work of Legendary pictures and has no affiliation to Texas chainsaw Massacre 2021. Still, it’s a pretty fun concept trailer considering it’s cobbled together with stuff we have already seen. Check it out! Here is a shout out to Rafael Araujo who made the video.
The broken and bloody corpses of bad sequels litter the horror movie landscape. So often studios grab any director and any screenplay in hopes of slapping a giant ‘2’ on something to make an extra buck before it is too late. Somehow, every once in while a franchise manages to avoid getting ground up in the chipper-shredder. However, among the dead bodies are some killer underrated horror sequels that deserve recognition. This list names 6, but many more underrated horror sequels exist.
If a movie you love didn’t make this list, be sure to check the other reviews and articles to see if the film was covered there. The 6 killer underrated horror sequels are listed in no particular order.
The Fly II (1989)
David Cronenberg did not direct The Fly II. Nor did The Fly II star everyone’s favorite insect hybrid Jeff Goldblum. The suggestion that the The Fly II is not as good as the it predecessor is true. However none of the means that the movie isn’t be good. This film stars Eric Stolz as Martin Bartok, the biological son of Seth Brundle. Daphne Zuniga portrays Beth, an employee at Bartok Industries. For those that don’t remember, Bartok Industries funded the original teleportation exploits of Seth Brundle in the first film.
The Fly II, directed by Chris Walas, begins with the birth of Martin via a chrysalis pulled from the womb of his mother. Unfortunately, his mother does not survive the childbirth. Anton Bartok agrees to adopt Martin. At first Martin shows genius level intellect and accelerated growth. Eventually, Martin’s reality sets in. His gift is actually a curse. Martin slowly begins the descent into transforming into an insect hybrid. Bartok’s good graces eventually run dry when his true intention to revive Brundle’s teleporters becomes clear.
Nobody will confuse this film with Cronenberg’s original. However, Eric Stolz manages to play Martin Bartok well enough to evoke sympathy for his character. The Fly II tells a decent story while maintaining good continuity with the original film. The Fly II entertains much more than its 29% on Rotten Tomatoes would suggest. Walas concludes the film with Martin getting a delightful revenge on Bartok. The Fly II is a good movie and a worthy placement on the underrated horror sequels list.
Halloween II (2009)
Sequels must always fight against the film that came before. Even harder is fighting against an entire franchise that came before. Rob Zombie found himself in this situation as he tried to reboot the Halloween franchise in 2007. Predictably, Rob Zombie failed to covert every rabid Halloween to his vision. To be honest, the fans levied fair criticism against Zombie’s 2007 remake. Malevolent Dark found that the 2007 reboot of Halloween followed too narrowly in John Carpenter’s footsteps during the kills scenes. Regardless, Zombie took a significant risk getting into Michael Myers’ head and he added an entirely new dimension to the character.
Here is something that Zombie’s franchise did well, casting. Malcom McDowell as Dr. Loomis and Brad Dourif as Sheriff Brackett elevated the supporting cast. These characters continue in Halloween 2 (2009) and they effectively carry the film during slow sequences. This headroom allows zombie to spend sufficient time developing the psychological unraveling of Laurie Strode.
Now for the bad, the white horse. The white horse narrative provides a zombie a metaphorical outlet to artistically describe Michael’s unquenchable rage. Its not the symbolism that abrades the experience. The continual white horse interludes take away from the violence and gritty tone of the rest of the movie. It honestly feels like another way to shoe-horn Sheri Moon Zombie into a more prominent role. Sheri Moon’s proves critical in the final stand-off with Myer’s and Loomis, balancing out her presence. Taken in stride, the whole thing isn’t enough to derail this otherwise powerful movie.
Rob Zombie also released a Director’s Cut of the film that includes 14 minutes of additional footage. The Director’s Cut improves on this. Certainly, some will disagree, but Rob Zombie chooses to have Michael Myers speak. He utters the word “DIE”, but the impact is profound. All along Zombie’s arc, he emphasized one critical aspect of Michael Myers. Michael Myers is human, nothing more, nothing less. The rage and the strength and even his emotional sense of self are merely human traits and nothing more. With one word, Zombie cements that idea inextricably in the heads of the audience.
Halloween II (2009) sits at a paltry 21% on Rotten Tomatoes and is a perfect candidate on the list of killer underrated horror sequels.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser burst onto the horror scene like cold chains erupting from Lemanchard’s Box. Barker forged one of the few truly original storylines in the entire horror genre. Based upon his novella “The Hellbound Heart”, Hellraiser introduced the iconic horror movie monsters, the Cenobites. Pinhead, continues to provide a face for the entire horror genre. Following up on a film of such integrity would be be difficult for sure.
One of the things that works in favor of Helllbound: Hellraiser II is that Clive Barker remained connected to the franchise. He did give up the directing reigns to Tony Randel, but together they could continue to work towards a common vision. Often with sequels, the second film diverges too far from that path set by the earlier film. Hellbound enjoys tight continuity by taking place immediately after the events of the first film.
Barker and Randel maintain momentum by bringing critical members of the original cast back together. Ashley Lawrence and Clare Higgins return to their roles as Kirsty and Julia. Doug Bradley returns as as Pinhead. In another fantastic casting decisions, Kenneth Cranham portrays the diabolical Dr. Channard, a villain even more depraved than brother Frank.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II takes a more ambitious approach than the original. The majority of the first film occurred in the confines of a single home. The setting of Hellbound includes the posh home of Dr. Channard, the catacombs of a mental institution and an in-depth look into the massive hell-world of the Cenobites. This ambition allows ample room to expand upon the mythology of the Cenobites. The revelation of the mythology only raises more questions, “like what is Leviathan?”
Hellbound: Hellraiser II arguably tells a much more profound story that the original. Yet, it maintains the status quo with respect to the tone, effects and music. This ensures tight integration with the original. With a Rotten Tomato score of 50%, this film didn’t get panned as hard as some, but clearly it deserves more consideration than it received. In addition to proudly adding Hellbound to the underrated horror sequels list, Malevolent Dark considers Hellbound: Hellriser II to be superior to the original.
Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm snuck onto the scene in 1979 and largely caught the horror industry on its heels. This low-budget movie combines a spooky surreal environment, an iconic bad guy and legitimate scares and chills. The bad-guy, The Tall Man, played by Angus Scrimm, carried with him a set of sentient spheres packed with mechanical implements of death. Finally, Coscarelli punctuated it with a fantastic, and presumably conclusive, jump scare ending. That marked the last time anyone heard of Phantasm for 9 years.
Malevolent Dark always likes to give a shout-out to Saturday Night Shockers on KPLR 11 for bringing this national treasure to late night public television.
In 1988, Coscarelli decided to resurrect the franchise. To the dismay of fans, Coscarelli was not able to bring back A. Michael Baldwin, to play the lead Mike Pearson. Fortunately, he was able to again obtain the services of Reggie Bannister to play, who else, Reggie. The film beings immediately after the events of the original film. Truthfully, it’s a bit hard to handle the actor shift for Michael especially since the film makes use of flashbacks from the original. However, this pain fades quickly enough.
Don Coscarelli decided to take this film in a different direction than the original. Rather than two guys on the run from evil, Reggie and Michael decide to take to the offensive. They track The Tall Man on his tour of destruction across the country. They take up a variety of comically self-assembled weapons. Likewise The Tall Man upgrades his arsenal of spheres. This results in a zany extravaganza of guns and destruction. The whole things works way better than it might sound.
With Phantasm II, Coscarelli took a step beyond horror and instead tried make an action movie anchored on the legacy of a horror movie. It ditches the ethereal tone of the original in favor of a more direct and in-your-face style. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t proper horror moments. All of the hallmarks from the original film make a comeback. In fact, the one of the sphere-kills sets the bar for super-cool and gory kills. It currently sits at 38% on the critics list at Rotten tomatoes. Clearly those critics don’t know what time it is. Phantasm II absolutely deserves an entry on the list of killer underrated horror sequels.
Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives
The Friday the 13th series has its ups and downs, and Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives marks the precipice of the decline that the franchise would ultimately take. To say another way, it’s all down hill from here. Jason Lives is notable because it marks the return of Jason Voorhees. The franchise temporarily replaced Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning to the disappointment of fans. For the record, Malevolent Dark loves A New Beginning and would like to have a word with those fans.
The story begins with Tommy Jarvis, played by Thom Mathews. Tommy, still suffering flashbacks, must confront Jason at his grave to ensure that he is really dead. After exposing the corpse, Tommy impales Jason several times with a steel picket from the cemetery fence. In an unfortunate twist of fate, lightning strikes the metal pole, bringing Jason back to life. You heard that right. As a fan, this is the moment of truth, you are either in or you are out. If you can hang with the electrically revived corpse of Jason, the rest of the movie is actually pretty fun.
Director Tom McLoughlin chose to migrate away from the gritty and serious tone of the previous installments. The comedy that he infuses isn’t side-splitting, but it still marks a departure from the status-quo. McLoughlin also introduces a more complex plotline. Previous films lined up teenagers at Summer camp and mowed them down. The director introduces more conflict with David Kagan as Sheriff Mike Garris. Garris has it out for Tommy. Finally, rock and roll ghoul Alice Cooper offers several time appropriate contributions to the soundtrack.
Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives provides a fresh take on the series. McLoughlin makes good casting decisions that provide character dynamics that go beyond predator and prey. As far as pure horror movies are concerned, Jason Lives leave something to be desired. Fortunately, the sacrifices made in the horror department pay dividends in the entertainment department. Truth be know, Jason Lives did get some love from fans upon its release, but the critic score on Rotten Tomatoes stands at 50% qualifying it as another key entry on the killer underrated horror sequels list.
Damien: The Omen II
The Omen (1976) painted a chilling portrait of an aristocratic family unwittingly raising the son of Satan. Released during a rash of successful movies centered around Satanic plots and conspiracies, The Omen frightened audiences with tales of biblical evil. The Omen also laid claim to several brutal and iconic kill scenes. The film ends with Robert Thorn, played by Gregory Peck, being shot and killed by police just before killing Damien with the fabled daggers of Megiddo. Damien survived, making a sequel inevitable.
Damien: The Omen II follows the child Antichrist as he navigates adolescence into adulthood. In that sense, The Omen II presents a diabolical world-ending coming of age story. Robert Thorn’s brother, Richard, takes in Damien after Robert’s death. Damien grows up with Richard’s real son Mark Thorn and both boys attend military school together. There they find a agent of Satan waiting to take Damien under his protection in order to usher in the apocalypse.
Damien: The Omen II really ratchets up the biblical threat level. Son of Satan or not, nobody fears a 3 year old. In The Omen II, The audience can see the transformation from the cherubic young man into the realized potential for global domination.
The Omen II also continues the trend set by its predecessor for creative and anxiety inducing kills. Those with claustrophobia will squirm as two men are slowly buried under collapsing earth. Those same people will writhe as they watch a man trapped under ice. The elevator scene could is arguably be among some of the best movies kills of all time. Finally, the transformation into world conqueror completes when Damien must kill his lifetime companion, Mark, when he learns the truth about Damien.
Damien: The Omen II outshines its predecessor. That is not to say that the original doesn’t satisfy, but at the end of the day, the first film was a film about a family. The Omen II is the turning point of a story about the end of the world. Damien: The Omen II scores a disappointing 44% on Rotten Tomatoes as if to say “screw these guys for actually trying create a cohesive storyline across a trilogy of movies”. The bottom line is that Damien confidently holds its ground on the list of killer underrated horror sequels.
The Horrible Mentions…
This list by no means represents the totality of killer underrated horror sequels. In fact, this list doesn’t even contain what I was able to scratch out on a notepad before writing this article. This is simply a list of 6 killer underrated horror sequels that didn’t get crossed off for other reasons. Most of those reasons had to do with spreading the love across other franchises and not writing again about something already reviewed in full on Malevolent Dark. The long-list of underrated horror sequels includes:
– Amityville II: The Possession
Truly underrated and possibly the better of the first films. Click Here!
– The Exorcist III
Possibly ones of the best franchise recoveries of ALL time. The Exorcist 3 is a legend among underrated horror sequels. Click Here!
– Friday the 13th Part 5
I get it, no Jason. But if you pretend that the guy behind the mask is Jason, this is one of better Friday films. Click Here!
– Halloween III
I said it before and I will say it again. This movie was never as bad as everyone said and it deservedly is having a resurgence. Click Here!
Malevolent Dark is taking charge and compiling the definitive Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982. Overall, 1982 didn’t blow us away across the board, but a couple of widely held classics entered the horror lexicon in 1982. In addition, a few obscure low-budget flicks popped on the scene. The Italian horror machine continued to run at full speed and predictably contributed to the big list. A few long-awaited franchise sequels also debuted in 1982.
In addition to laying down the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982, Malevolent Dark will also unveil one of its favorite 1982 turds! Maybe, along the way there might be some honorable mentions. Let’s get started!
10. Friday the 13th Part 3
Coming off the heels of two really good opening salvos in the Friday the 13th Franchise, the third installment debuted to very high expectations. Franchise character Jason Voorhees dons his signature hockey mask for the very first in this film. Unfortunately, for director Steve Miner and producer Frank Mancuso, they struggle to recreate the magic of the previous entries. Truth be known, Friday the 13th Part 3 turns out to be one of the weaker of the franchise through the first 7 episodes.
This film suffers from several things. For starters, the film tried to capitalize on the popular 3D craze that was popping off that year. Accordingly, this approach requires in your face shots that sacrifices pragmatism and style for a momentary sight gag. Years later when the producers release the film on VHS, the gag vanishes to leave only the corny cinematography.
Additionally, this marks the first film in the series that literally parades the cast in front of the camera like lambs to the slaughter. Sure, in other films we knew the characters were in for death sentence, but at least they cared whether or not we liked the a bit first. It wouldn’t be until Jason X that the series would pay less regard to their cast.
Regardless of its weaknesses, the film still features Jason Voorhees. It is iconic for its role in developing sporting goods into murder gear. Friday the 13th Part 3 barely sneaks onto the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982.
9. Alone in the Dark
Alone in the Dark is a lesser known film from 1982. It is much too good not to get a mention. Alone in the Dark marks the first entry into the New Line Cinema horror Catalog. The decision to place this film on the list rests solely on the director Jack Sholder’s casting decisions.
Starring Jack Palance, Martin Landau and Donald Pleasence, Alone in the Dark unleashes a supernova of fantastic talent into a densely packed film. The film concerns an escaped band of lunatics on a revenge mission against their doctor. Not generally aligned to the horror genre, Landau proves incredibly creepy as an escaped lunatic. He is joined by Jack Palance and two others as they converge on the families home during a power outage. Alone in the Dark manages to sneak a little double-dealing twist in the end.
Skipped over by many, Alone in the Dark incorporated a great cast and some wacky violence to earn its place on this list.
8. Basket Case
Directed by Frank Henenlotter, Basket Case could easily be mistaken for low-budget fiasco. The plot couldn’t be more ridiculous. A man named Duane walks the streets of New York with a large basket under arm. Eventually, he finds a cheap hotel to call his home. Unbeknownst to the landlord, he took on two tenants that day. The wicker holds his deformed brother, Belial. A surgically removed co-joined twin, Belial wants revenge on the doctors that separated him.
Hennenlotter manages to take his ridiculous just seriously enough to maintain the horror motif. Yet, he understands that story wanders well outside the bounds of what should be taken seriously. Packaged in this low-budget monster movie are some compelling practical effects as well as some laughable but lovable stop-motion scenes. Surprisingly Basket Case even pulls on the heart strings a bit by casting Belial and his love for his bifurcated relationship with his brother in a sympathetic light.
Basket Case performs well above its expectations and deservedly sits on the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982.
7. Q: The Winged Serpent
Those familiar with my writing will periodically see references to the local horror show growing up, Saturday Night Shockers. As a kid there was so much that I didn’t know about what was happening, and I depended on that show to bring me the blood. Q: The Winged Serpent served as one of those deliciously bloody monster movies to fill an otherwise boring Saturday Night.
Directed by Larry Cohen, Q: The Winged Serpent stars Cohen staple Michael Moriarty as tough-luck small time crook Jimmy Quinn. Malevolent Dark favorite David Carradine stars as Detective Shephard. An ancient Aztec god in the form of a winged monster named Quetzalcoatl terrorizes New York as it broods its flock. In parallel, strange Aztec rituals and strange cult-oriented murders confound the police.
By today’s CGI standards, Q looks campy and dated, but at the time this films actually did really solid job using practical effects to create a Godzilla like threat to civilization. Additionally, the film exhibits some pretty gnarly murder scenes including a man relieved of all his skin. Q: The Winged Serpent retains a bit of that hokey late night cable mystique, but at the same time delivers a really cool little horror film.
6. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
I know some of my people are going to hear my words and exclaim, “Preach Brother”. Halloween III: Season of the Witch not only isn’t a bad movie, but it’s a pretty damn good movie, and it always has been. Haters hate. But seriously, I couldn’t be more happy that modern audiences are dusting this film off and re-evaluating it outside the shadows of Michael Myers. People don’t like change, and the obviously the film-going audience of 1982 was ill prepared to let go of the past.
Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, Halloween III completed ditched the slasher idea in favor of a Celtic plot to unleash ancient magic to take over the world. This plot concerns a company named Silver Shamrock that produces Halloween masks that respond to signals sent over the air-waves. These waves trigger a microchip that an attacks anyone wearing the mask, turning their corpses into deadly bug factories.
The ever-awesome Tom Atkins plays the lead protagonist. He and Stacey Nelkin work to uncover the evil plan. What could be more horrific than a sinister plot to murder all of our children on Halloween night? That’s right, not much. Sure the movie meanders a bit. Some of the special effects border on lame. Regardless, Malevolent Dark proudly includes Halloween III: Season of the With on the list of Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982.
Tenebrae may be the most accomplished film on the list of Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982 when judged purely on artistic merit. Directed by the great Italian director Dario Argento, Tenbrae delivers a standard Italian giallo film while also making a profound statement concerning the duplicity of society.
Tenebrae, packed with fantastic cinematography is replete with deep contrast and visually stunning, and totally dated, sets. Fulfilling its destiny as an 80’s Italian horror film, Tenebrae comes complete with a period correct European synthesizer soundtrack. Adding generous splashes of deep crimson, Argento creates kills that are as beautiful as they are brutal. In true giallo form, he does it while also juggling a complicated murder mystery that doesn’t reveal itself until the final frames.
Argento’s Tenebrae is a classic example of highly stylized Italian horror and a fantastic movie. True cinephiles may find that this film ranks higher in their personal list than it ranks on this list.
Written by Stephen King and directed by George Romero, Creepshow creates the childhood excitement of horror comics and transposes it to the screen. The film compiles 5 individual stories, and loosely anchors them on a loose narrative that involves a boy, his magazine and disapproving parents. Tom Atkins makes his second appearance on this list as the boy’s disapproving father.
Romero employs several tactics that would be recreated in later comic book films like Dick Tracey and 500. First, he employs lots of background colors to emulate comic book frames. Second, he transitions seamlessly from animated sequences to reality, further pushing the comic book metaphor. Finally, usually to punctuate the demise of a character, Romero uses a wide frame portrait shots that again mimic a comic book frame. These techniques are used individually and together to create a very cool effect for the time.
Tom Savini performed the practical effects for this film. Most of the effects are fantastic, but the stand-out creation is a monster named Fluffy. Fluffy appears in the short-story “The Crate”. For anyone that grew up in the era of the news-stand and the horror comic, Creepshow really brings child-like wonder to the screen. Romero did this in a highly artistic and highly stylized way that still catering to the weekend movie-goer of the time. Did I mention that the wonderfully awesome Adrienne Barbeau stars in “The Crate” as well?
Some of you may think that Creepshow scores a bit high on the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982, but in Malevolent Dark’s book, this film really nailed what it means to be a horror fan. It completely deserves its place on this list.
3. Amityville II: The Possession
We had to keep our bearings as we plowed through the list. The goal is a list of the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982, all factors considered. If it was a list of scariest films of 1982, Amityville II: The Possession might have topped it. Whether the horror of a man murdering his whole family while they sleep, or the incestuous undertones of a brother and sister or demons slowly shambling towards a broken clergy man, this film creeps us out.
Truth be know, this film triumphs over all other Amityville episodes including the original. Shockingly, the world doesn’t always agree with Malevolent Dark, as evidenced by its low scores on Rotten Tomatoes. Here at Malevolent Dark, we can only lead people to the cold black waters of the fountain of knowledge. We can’t always make them drink.
In truth, there are some problems in this one as well. About two-thirds of the way through the film, the film makes a hard left-hand turn from a supernatural murder story to a Blatty-like exorcism plot. Both pieces are independently effective, but possibly it is too much for one film. The transition is clumsy, and quite frankly the film would have been better had it just ended after the first piece.
This film ranks high on the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982 simply because it scared the hell out of me and never left my mind after 38 years of its existence.
Written by Stephen Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, Poltergeist has everything from Hollywood glitz, astounding special effects, supernatural horror and even a smattering gore. The producers wrap all of this in a warm blanket with Heather O’Rourke, JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson.
In addition to being an exquisite horror film, Poltergeist carries a heavy emotional element. One can’t help but to love the innocence of Carol Anne Freeling, played by Heather O’Rourke. When abducted by malevolent spirits living in the Freeling’s home, the families reaction is appropriately anguished, and Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams sell every bit of that emotional peril. It all enforces the steadfast belief that some of the best horror movies are just regular movies cut with an especially deep slice of darkness. It is horrifying, yet beautiful.
Finally, is there a child that wasn’t permanently damaged by the thought of clowns ever since they saw Poltergeist? Not Likely. Deservedly, Poltergeist sits high on the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982.
1. The Thing
Here we are, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, number 1 on the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982. That movie is none other than John Carpenter’s The Thing. The Thing may very well find itself on the list of Top 10 Horror Movies of all time. John Carpenter’s The Thing is arguably the best sci-fi horror film ever made. I’m not trying to pick a fight with Alien(1979) fans, but the conversation is legit.
What about The Thing horrifies us so? It starts with claustrophobia. A team of men are hopelessly lost and without assistance on their Antarctic research station. There is nowhere to run and they need each other to survive. They must live on-top of each other, yet the monster hides among them. They can trust no one. The cast on this icy rock is outstanding. Kurt Russel plays R.J, MacReady, the prototypical anti-hero. Keith David plays Childs, another strongman foil to Russel. Wilford Brimly, Charles Hallahan and others round out the fantastic supporting cast.
The Thing has a bit of sci-fi, a bit of monster movie and a bit of psychological horror all wrapped in to one package. This burning ember of horror goodness gets a heaping helping outstanding practical effects created by Ron Bottin. John Carpenter wraps it with an ambiguous ending that says, everything is okay, right?
Honestly Alien can lay claim to many of the accomplishments of The Thing except one. The Thing gets in your face, and stays in your face for the duration of the film. The audience has to deal with the monster face-to-face and the monster is relentless. It really is a triumph and wholly deserves to be at the pinnacle of the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982.
The Films that Missed the Cut
There are only so many spots on the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982, so somebody has to lose. Still, there are a few other decent horror movies that didn’t make the list that are still worth watching.
Pieces is a little story about a boy with a bad relationship with his mother. After dismembering her, it turns to a life-long obsession with piecing together human remains in a life sized jigsaw puzzle. As far as low-budget horror movies go, its pretty decent. It struggles under the weight of poor dialog and poor production, but it is still a decent pull for horror fans, just not fit for the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982.
Slumber Party Massacre
The release of Slumber Party Massacre made a definitive statement to the horror movie industry, “We aren’t trying to tell a story anymore”. Slumber Party Massacre simply rounded up a group of young co-eds and slaughtered them with an industrial size power drill. Regardless, anyone that saw this film at 2:00AM on Cinemax remembers it. The drill is iconic and the film brings a sense of nostalgia. Don’t get me wrong, its an enjoyable watch, but simply doesn’t deserve to share any list with The Thing.
This film tells the story of Madman Marz. Marz went crazy one day and murdered his family with an axe. He escaped the clutches of law enforcement and has been hiding in the woods around a local campground ever since. Unlike Slumber Party Massacre, the producers opted to wrap this generic slasher with a bit of mythology. It all works okay, but overall the film is rather plain. Madman is notable for starring Gaylen Ross of Dawn of the Dead fame. I hear all the time that Madman is criminally underrated, but Malevolent Dark thinks it should sit right about where it is.
Again, it’s still a fun little horror movies, but lacks the chutzpah to be considered for the Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982.
The 1982 Golden Turd Award goes to…. Parasite!
Sometimes I wonder why I have it out for Parasite so much. Actually, I do know, I hate this movie for looking so cool when I was a kid and being so bad when I finally got around to watching it 30 years later. I wrote in a previous blog, “If you like Parasite, you like shamelessly bad movies“. The story is bad, the acting is worse. The special effects are embarrassing.
Parasite tells the tale of a scientist commissioned to create a deadly parasite. The parasite looks like what a fishing lure would look like if the optimal configuration for a fishing lure were a foot-long turd. The parasite burrows into humans to gestate before erupting violently from the chest. The scientist accidentally infects himself, and must escape to find a cure. Amazingly enough, this film features the debut of Demi Moore. Sadly, she fails to save this burning dumpster.
Don’t Take My Word for It
While doing research for this article, I ran across “My Top 10 Horror Films of 1982” written by a fellow blogger and Internet friend Alex Vorkov. Alex also writes horror and science fiction novels. Be sure to check out his work. You can find him @AlexVorkov on Twitter. It was interesting to see where he and I overlap and where we disagree.
Notably, Alex mentions one of two Lucio Fulci films to be released in 1982, The New York Ripper. While not a favorite of mine, don’t sleep on it if you are on a Fulci binge and need another fix. Fulci also release Manhattan Baby the same year, but I am unable to comment because I have yet to watch it.
Thanks for reading Malevolent Dark’s Top 10 Horror Movies of 1982 list. We’ll bring more chills, spills and kills soon! Azrael, out!
Growing up in the 70’s, one name in horror riveted me to the chair and relentlessly fed me steady doses of terror on film. This article lays to bare the very best that British horror studio Hammer Film Productions ever released, so says Malevolent Dark!
Hammer Film Productions produced some of the best vampire and Frankenstein movies ever. They gained momentum and synergy by repeatedly leveraging proven horror icons Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Hammer defined the role of the Scream Queen and established some of the most memorable in cinema history. Hammer established British horror as the defacto leader in the 60’s and 70’s. All of these films all have the familiar Hammer horror patina; the look, feel and color that hangs on their films like cheap cologne.
Away we go!
5. The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Depending on who one asks, The Devil Rides Out is considered by many to be the finest Hammer horror films directed by Terrance Fisher. Terrance Fisher shows up on this list three times, so that clearly constitutes a very strong compliment. Hammer adapted this film from the written work of Dennis Wheatley, “The Devil Rides Out“. Wheatley became famous as a prolific contributor to British horror literature. Many of his novels focus on the black arts and the occult. I disagree that this is this is Fisher’s finest Hammer horror work, but suitably, it ranks high in conversation.
The Devil Rides out introduces the character of Nicholas, Duc de Richleau, played by Christopher Lee. Duc de Richleau investigates the activities of a friends son named Simon. Duc de Richlieau quickly deduces that Simon is involved in the occult. The situations quickly spirals into a direct confrontation with witchcraft and the Satanic followers of a mysterious man named Mocata.
The Devil Rides out enjoys another top-notch performance by Christopher Lee. The role allows Lee to explore much more nuance than previous roles as Dracula. His character is progenitor of characters like Constantine from “Hellblazer”. Charles Gray also puts on an outstanding performance as Mocata, the leader of the Satanic cult. Grey has a natural ability to cast menace simply through his piercing blue eyes and chiseled chin. He later exercises these qualities as the Bond Villain, Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever.
The movies Satanic imagery excels. Graphically, The Devil RidesOut literally goes for the throat gepicting a satanic sacrifice. For the time, this explicit reference to animal sacrifice was not very prevalent. The iconic depiction of The Goat of Mendes foregoes the man in a red cape and ditches the pitchfork in favor of more detailed recreation of the Sigil of Baphomet. Musician, Glenn Danzig would later heavily use this image to promote his band in the 90’s.
The Devil Rides Out, while landing at five on this list, is a fantastic movie released at a pivotal point in British horror history. The gas had run out on recycling old tropes left over from Universal Studios monsters. This film propelled the Hammer horror catalog into new territory.
4. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
On thing that Hammer horror films excel at is breaking the proverbial mold when it comes to classic tales. In Frankenstein Must be Destroyed, Terence Fisher takes advantage of the groundwork that he laid with Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Because the Monster does not constitute the centerpiece of the narrative, this film is not beholden to another yarn about a raging monster on the loose. This film provides a backdrop to further explores the depraved mind of Victor Frankenstein. Likewise, it provides another canvas for Peter Cushing to paint his flagship character to disgusting new depths.
There is no monster in the film, just a former partner of Frankenstein, Dr. Fredrick Brandt, played by George Pravda. I an attempt to retain Brandt’s brilliance after a heart attack, Frankenstein transplants the brain of Brandt into the head of another man. The drama revolves around the cruel deception by doctor Frankenstein and the unraveling of the truth. And, the corollary is that Frankenstein corrupts everything he touches. Truly, Frankenstein Must be Destroyed presents a new Hammer horror tale woven from the fabric of Mary Shelley’s epic novel.
Freddie Jones plays the recipient of the transplant, professor Richter. Much of the drama surrounds his unwelcome attempts to reconnect with the wife that he loves. Of course, she will have nothing to do with him as his mind wears another mans face. Ultimately, he plots his revenge on Frankenstein.
Frankenstein Must be Destroyed also contains the controversial scene where Victor Frankenstein rapes, Anna Spengler, played by the beautiful Veronica Carlson of Hammer Films fame. Rumor has it that Carlson, Cushing and Fisher argued with the Hammer Films producers to leave the scene out. The scene was not seen as essential for British horror fans, but added to appease the American audience. In this case the producers were right. This exemplifies the perverse depths that Frankenstein is willing to go to feed his megalomania.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed demonstrates just how deep the concepts in Mary Shelley’s story can go. For those have read the novel, Dr. Frankenstein is the real monster. Cushing plays that monster as diabolical as they come. Hammer Films was one of the first studios to really expand on that aspect of the mythology. This film finds its greatness in its willingness to be unique.
3. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)
Another example of non-standard Hammer Films monster fare, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter gives a new look to tired Van Helsing archetype. Kronos, played by Horst Jansen, is a dashing swashbuckler, quick with his tongue and his sword. Not only does he fight vampires, but he defends his honor against brigands and bar fighters. Also, he proves to be quite a cocksman by putting serious moves on Caroline Munro, high-priestess of Hammer horror queens (so says Malevolent Dark).
The genius of this film incorporates scenes and plots devices from the spaghetti westerns that were popular at the time. When coupled with the vampire trappings, the result feels like a prototype for what the Blade series would become. Rather than recycle another tired Dracula tale, Hammer Films went for something completely unique.
Additionally, this film expanded the vampire lore by explaining that there are many species of vampire. Likewise, there are many different ways of dispatching them. In a disturbing yet somewhat comedic scene, Kronos and his partner test different methods of killing on Kronos’ recently turned friend, Marcus, to figure out which species of vampire they are dealing with. It all feels very fresh.
These vampires depart from the standard blood sucking master of the night. These vampires have neither the taste for blood nor the fear of a stake in the heart. They do not drain the victim of their blood, but rather their youth. This is a plot device that would be recycled by Tobe Hooper in 1985’s Hammer films tribute, Life Force. Directed by Brian Clemens, Captain Kronos is classic Hammer Horror.
Again, Hammer breaks it own mold to create a unique take on the vampire genre. I find it thoroughly entertaining for all of my favorite Hammer reasons.
2. Vampire Circus (1972)
Hammer Film Productions gained notoriety by making Dracula movies, but their best vampire movies fall outside of that mythology. This story involves a small European town, quarantined due to a local plague. A small roaming circus comes to town to entertain them, but the circus hides a very dark secret. The circus is a band of roving vampires that have come to avenge the death of their master, Count Mittenhouse 15 years prior.
Directed by Robert Young, Vampire Circus adds an element of wonder to tired old Dracula tropes. In addition to the standard vampire powers, each circus act has another talent. Some transmute into panthers. Others are half-vampire and half-tiger. David Prowse makes an appearance as the vampire strong-man. Vampire Circus has a great story and revels in all of the British horror and sex appeal that makes these films wonderful.
Again, much of the success of this film lies in its imagery. Vampire Circus treats the vampires as extremely alluring but equally evil creatures. In many cases, they seduce the townspeople to their doom. While not overly gory, Vampire Circus has its moments. In one simple effect, a shower of crimson splatters the pristine greenery of the forest, nothing more nothing less. It proves a very effective use of a simple pint of stage blood. The score of this film does not get enough credit as it is seamlessly interwoven into the action and subtly provocative.
Had I not taken historical significance into account, Vampire Circus may very well have topped this list of top 5 Hammer horror films.
1. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
This is the film that built the house of Hammer Films.
This film proved to the archetype for Hammer Films to follow. This film set several precedents. The Curse of Frankenstein firmly establishes Peter Cushing as the diabolical Dr. Victor Frankenstein. This is a role that Cushing will repeat with zeal over several films. It may be the most quintessential character in all of British horror. What director Terence Fisher anchors the entire movie around the depravity of Frankenstein’s character. The Monster becomes a rather gruesome side-topic. That is not to say that the Monster is not fantastic. The Monster absolutely is fantastic.
One of the keys to creating a great Frankenstein’s Monster is the ability to juxtapose the Monster’s capability for destruction with its ability to demand, and deserve, sympathy. Terence Fisher astounds with his ability to glean that from from the source material and execute so flawlessly against Shelley’s original vision.
This film Marks Christopher Lee’s only performance as Frankenstein’s Monster. The portrayal falls much more in-line with that of the original Mary Shelley novel. Lee plays the role much more nimbly and capable than Lon Chaney Jr. did. Additionally, the monster is cunning and manipulative. Make up artist Phil Leakey created a horrendous version of Frankenstein that amazingly still elicits sympathy from the audience. To date, this stands as the best rendition of the Monster ever.
The historical significance of this film can not be overstated. Astonishingly brilliant for 1957, this film set in motion the blueprint for many of our favorite British horror films. It set the precedent that Hammer Films would successfully repeat over and over again. Peter Cushing’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein is one for the age. The Curse of Frankenstein stands atop of the list of Malevolent Dark’s Top 5 Hammer Horror Films.
But wait, there’s more
When I set out on this endeavor to enumerate the best Hammer Films, it turned out to be a more emotional process than I anticipated. This British horror factory created so many wonderful films. I wanted to make a Top 10 list, but quickly came to the conclusion that the article would either be to long, or the commentary on each film too brief. Decisions were made, but not made lightly. The following is a list of other essential Hammer Films in no specific order.
– Plague of the Zombies
Haitian black magic and the living dead!
– The Brides of Dracula
More and Cushing and lovely Hammer Films lady vampires!
– The Curse of the Werewolf
Oliver Reed, do I need to say more?
– The Reptile
One of the more clever and iconic monsters in British horror history!