Follow TV Tropes


Film / Hammer Horror

Go To

"Hammer Horror, Hammer Horror — won't leave it alone
The first time in my life I keep the lights on to ease my soul..."

The Hammer Horror films are a series of Gothic Horror movies made by the British company Hammer Film Productions between The '50s and the early '70s. The name is sometimes applied to similar films from the same era made by other small (often British) companies.

The films were distributed by studios including Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures, and Universal Pictures. The films mostly re-invented the 'classic' horror movie characters previously given form by Universal themselves in the 1930s and '40s (Dracula, Frankenstein and his Monster, The Werewolf, The Mummy), putting them into colour (often very lurid colour) and adding some new twists. The reinventions were so popular that the modern public image of many of these characters has kept some Hammer elements. For example, the popular conception of Dracula, as seen in so many cartoons, wears full evening dress and talks with a Hungarian accent, like Bela Lugosi's portrayal for Universal, but he is also over six feet tall and lean with red eyes, long fangs and a widow's peak, which more closely resembles Christopher Lee's Hammer Dracula.

The Hammer films included a "stable" of regular actors, one or two of whom (at least) would appear in each major performance. The most famous of the stable were Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed and Ingrid Pitt. The style was well plotted but still reassuringly predictable. As Terry Pratchett put it, "You knew just what you were going to get." Just to add to the confusion, other Brithorror studios— notably Amicus Productions and Tigon British Film Productions— borrowed actors from Hammer (as well as other staff such as cinematographer/director Freddie Francis).

A common assumption was that Vincent Price did Hammer Horror as well. In fact his films were for other studios (such as his popular Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, made for Roger Corman and American International Pictures), though he did star alongside Lee and Cushing in many other films, and was good friends with them.note  Price did do a few British horror films, notably Witchfinder General for Tigon, and Scream and Scream Again (a Tigon/AIP co-production).

Terry Pratchett's love of Hammer films was a source of much inspiration for the Discworld country of Überwald, where every count is a vampire, every baron a werewolf, and every doctor is a Mad Scientist, and each of them is served by a specimen of The Igor clan. You can also see many of the old clichés lovingly spoofed in Aardman's animated Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. One of the most fondly regarded periods of Doctor Who is the "gothic" period of Season 12-14 (with Tom Baker), which swiped Hammer Horror tropes and monsters and Doctorised them. Tobe Hooper's vampire flick Lifeforce (1985) was dreamed up as a "70mm Hammer Film" and Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999) is basically an American equivalent, even featuring Christopher Lee and Michael Gough. Dracula: Dead and Loving It pays loving tribute to Hammer the way Young Frankenstein did the Universal films, and the Fright Night (1985) films are more serious, though still tongue-in-cheek homages with Roddy McDowall as an extremely Peter Cushing-esque vampire hunter. Guillermo del Toro is a lifelong Hammer fan and admitted to styling his gothic ghost films The Devil's Backbone and especially Crimson Peak as throwbacks. Steve Coogan, a horror nerd, created the Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible to Pastiche Hammer films, as well as similar ones by their rival Amicus Productions. Meanwhile in Japan, Vampire Hunter D and Castlevania draw strong influence from Hammer's stylings and traditions. In fact, Hammer Horror was so popular in Japan that Toho ended up making its own Hammer Horror derivative series of Vampire movies, known informally as the "Bloodthirsty" trilogy (the first of which was The Vampire Doll). On the other hand, The Wicker Man (1973) was essentially made as an anti-Hammer film, deliberately shying away from onscreen gore or stereotypical gothic scenery despite featuring Hammer regulars Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt.

Early films in the series were basic, Universal-type horror stories done in colour, but as time went on the studio found themselves in greater competition with American studios who had bigger budgets and better special effects. Hammer retaliated by increasing the sex content of their films so that starting in the late '60s and continuing into the mid '70s Hammer films had more nudity than most horror films even today. The contrast can be seen in their two adaptations of Dennis Wheatley black magic tales. In The Devil Rides Out (written 1963, released 1968, based on Dennis Wheatley's 1934 horror thriller) the satanic orgy features characters robed from neck to ankle dancing in a manner no wilder than teenagers at a modern nightclub, To the Devil, a Daughter (1976) features full-frontal nudity, sex scenes and a gory birth scene, all in an attempt to win back an audience who had seen Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and wouldn't be impressed by counts in coffins any more. It didn't really work. Hammer stopped making movies after that and went on to their two '80s TV series, Hammer House of Horror and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense.

Another cute feature of the series was that they never just numbered the sequels, instead they thought of an ever more lurid title: Horror of Dracula was followed by The Brides of Dracula, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Satanic Rites of Dracula , etc.

Television Series

Hammer produced a series of thirteen hour-long horror stories Hammer House of Horror for British television in 1980. Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense followed in 1984.

Hammer Horror Has Risen from The Grave

Like its most famous character, you can't keep a movie studio dead. A new Hammer horror has been produced, to briefly see the light of day in 2011. They also produced Let Me In, a remake of Let the Right One In and second adaptation of Let the Right One In.

In 2012, they released The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Other projects from the new Hammer include The Resident 2011 (which features Hammer alumnus Christopher Lee in a supporting role) and Wake Wood. In 2014, they produced The Quiet Ones.

In early 2016 Titan Comics announced it would be producing comics based on the Hammer horror titles.

Hammer Horror works with TV Tropes pages:

    List of Hammer works with pages on this wiki: 

The remaining films, or the franchise as a whole, contained examples of such tropes as:

  • Adaptational Badass: Van Helsing is still a scholar, but also a vampire hunter. This expands to all the family.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and the Mummy are considerably weaker here than in their Universal Horror versions, where they are harder to kill.
    • Dracula can't transform into a bat, mist, fog and wolf in the Hammer movies. He is also killed in simpler ways (in the sequels) than the Universal's ones.
    • Frankenstein's Monster in Hammer is vulnerable to normal weapons, and at the endings, the (many) monsters are dead.
    • The Mummy (or mummies) were more like unstoppable undead. Kharis, while more agile, is easily killed by shotguns. The Universal Kharis is invulnerable to shots, or even fire. The most nearby character to a mummy-lich like Imhotep, is Queen Tera.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology: Dinosaurs and man alongside each other in One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Creatures the World Forgot shows why the trope is necessary — if you think being slightly more realistic makes it better than the others, seek medication.
  • Badass Normal: Peter Cushing is the reason that Dr. Van Helsing is now thought of as a Hunter of Monsters, instead of the weird old Dutch physician he was in the book.
  • Back from the Dead: Again and again and again...
  • Behind the Black: In The Kiss of the Vampire, Marianne is running along a deserted road in the countryside in broad daylight. As the camera follows her, she suddenly screams as she runs into a man standing there, even though she could not possibly have failed to see him before.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Compared to the Universal Horrors, at any rate. Tame though they look now, contemporary critics were taken aback.
  • Bottle Episode: Defined much of the studio's philosophy starting with The Curse of Frankenstein, which used a tiny cast and took place almost entirely in a single location, lacking even the traditional villagers with Torches and Pitchforks because Hammer couldn't afford to build a village set or hire that many extras. Once they started making money they were able to get more ambitious but even then, most of their 1960s productions were designed to be very cheap and efficient, reusing the same sets, props, filming locations and a regular troupe of actors more consistently than some television shows do.
  • Break the Cutie: Anna in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
  • Briefer Than They Think:
    • The classic image from Hammer horror was Peter Cushing’s Professor Van Helsing battling Christopher Lee's Dracula in Victorian-era Europe, but that particular combination occurred only twice (out of sixteen vampire movies the studio produced), in Horror of Dracula and briefly at the beginning of Dracula A.D. 1972. For the rest of the latter movie, and its sequel, The Satanic Rites of Dracula, Cushing plays Van Helsing’s 70s-era Identical Grandson, Lorrimer. Other films had one or the other character, or sometimes neither. (The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires was the only movie to have one of the two characters not played by those actors; Cushing's Van Helsing fought a Dracula played by John Forbes-Robertson.)
    • More generally, Hammer's horror golden age only lasted about a decade after Curse of Frankenstein put them on the map in 1957 (compare that to Universal, who dominated the genre from the early 1920s to the early 1950s). Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) are often said to be the last really good entries in their Dracula and Frankenstein series, and The Devil Rides Out (1968) was their last really successful standalone film. The remaining Dracula and Frankenstein films fall under Contested Sequel or So Bad, It's Good territory and while some of the studio's 70s films are fondly remembered cult classics, none of them were big hits or got much critical appreciation in their time.
  • Broad Strokes: The Evil of Frankenstein follows the basic idea of The Curse of Frankenstein and The Revenge of Frankenstein, that the baron has created monsters and is now on the run, but alters many of the details. The rest of the movies seem to continue on from Evil normally.
  • Brother–Sister Incest:
    • Demons of the Mind. We only actually see kissing, but Emil and Elizabeth are obsessed with each other, and their father is willing to do anything to keep them apart (up to and including killing them).
    • In These Are the Damned, King's overly protective behavior towards his sister Joan is implied to be due to incestuous desire.
  • Burn the Witch!: Twins of Evil.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: In the thriller Cash on Demand, a man posing as a representative of an insurance company, supposedly checking the bank's security, tells one of the workers that it would take a "very clever fellow to rob this bank," even as he himself is secretly robbing it.
  • Christianity is Catholic: The Dracula films.
  • Cobweb Jungle: Many of the sets.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Generally, a lesser vampire will get a simple stake through the heart, while Dracula's deaths will be more elaborate and brutal.
  • Damsel in Distress: Frequent, especially in the colored films with a historical setting. In the contemporary black and white thrillers, the damsel does often end up saving herself and others.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • Compare the sophisticated Count of Bela Lugosi with the barely controlled feral madness of Lee's version.
    • Cushing's Baron Frankenstein is far more arrogant and murderous than his counterpart in the Universal Horror films.
  • The Dulcinea Effect:
    • In These Are the Damned, Joan sets up Simon Wells to be mugged and beaten by her brother's gang, but that doesn't stop him from helping her escape them later. Wells is undergoing a mid-life crisis, so lust and loneliness are implied to be a factor.
    • Gender-flipped in Lust for a Vampire, in which Richard is in love with Mircalla, but Janet has noticed that everyone who gets close to Mircalla ends up dead. Janet tries to get Richard to stay away from Mircalla. When he asks why she cares, she says she's in love with him — even though they've barely spoken in the movie before then, and most of their conversations seem to consist of him blowing off her concerns.
  • Evil Is Petty: Baron Frankenstein, who goes out of his way to demean and order around those he considers his inferiors, especially in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Count Dracula and other villains played by Christopher Lee.
  • Evil Twin: Freida from Twins of Evil is hedonistic, mean and selfish. She's the vampire while her sister Maria is the virgin.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Baron Frankenstein can be quite charming when necessary. Goes to Affably Evil in the middle of the franchise, and then back to this towards the end.
  • Feminist Fantasy: The Witches (1966) carries strong feminist themes; the protagonist is a woman recovering from mental illness who has to deal with her suspicions being dismissed as 'feminine hysteria'. The villain of the film wants to sacrifice a young girl but not out of a desire to become young and beautiful again - but to expand her knowledge of the world.
  • Fictionary: A primitive language was designed for When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.
  • Final Girl: Rather uncommon; Hammer females tended more towards Screaming Woman and Damsel in Distress roles, although they are frequently plucky. Margaret in Blood from the Mummy's Tomb got to outlive all the men, though.
  • Foreign Remake: Many of their more famous films are remakes of American horror films.
  • The Fundamentalist: Mrs. Trefoile, of Die! Die! My Darling!, is a fanatically extreme example. In fact, the film's original UK title is Fanatic.
    • The Brotherhood in Twins of Evil. They spend a good portion of the film hunting witches and target women who are less than sexually pure. Gustav is particularly fanatical at the beginning as he uses corporal punishment to 'beat the devil' out of his nieces. It's hinted they target women because they're too scared of incurring the wrath of the Emperor if Count Karnstein is harmed.
  • Genre Shift: Occasionally, Hammer folks did non-supernatural psych thrillers like Paranoiac and Nightmare. Despite the title, though, Night Creatures was more of a 1790s crime thriller than a horror movie.
  • Genre Throwback: The Evil of Frankenstein is basically a 1940s Universal Horror film in color, with a relatively light tone and lots of old-school cliches like an evil hypnotist and exploding lab equipment in place of Hammer's own usual trappings like bloodshed and sex appeal. This was likely by design given that Universal distributed the film.
  • Good Shepherd: Most of the priests in the Dracula films.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold:
    • The caveman epics often differentiate between tribes by hair color, and the blondes will generally be nicer and smarter than the brutish brunettes.
    • Generally speaking, the more virtuous a Hammer heroine, the more likely she will be blonde.
  • Handicapped Badass: Harry in The Devil-Ship Pirates.
  • Hero Antagonist: Professor Van Helsing in most of Dracula films.
  • Hollywood Darkness: You never saw such night-time visibility!
  • Hotter and Sexier:
    • The sexual attraction between Dracula and his female victims is clearer than it was in earlier films.
    • The vampiric sexual attraction above made the genre Hotter and Sexier, but Ingrid Pitt as a Lesbian Vampire and others in her wake brought this to a whole new level.
    • Not to mention the victims getting more gorgeous than before at the turn of The '70s, played by the likes of Madeline Smith.
    • The Horror of Frankenstein remade The Curse of Frankenstein with a greater emphasis on the Baron's love life.
    • Also the whole series of movies were Hotter and Sexier than most of the Gothic Horror films that came before them.
  • Kensington Gore
  • The Kindnapper: Die! Die! My Darling!
  • Locked Room Mystery: The Snorkel, though it has the slight variance in that the audience is shown in the opening sequence exactly how the murder is executed and disguised as a suicide (and who does it). Only one character, the victim's daughter, Candy, suspects what really happened, and the suspense comes from whether or not she'll be able to figure out the method before the killer targets her.
  • Mad Scientist: Usually played straight, but deconstructed in The Evil of Frankenstein, along with the idea that Science Is Bad.
  • Mood Lighting: Why else would there be bright green electric light inside an ancient Egyptian tomb?
  • Ms. Fanservice:
    • Yvonne Romain, who made Jessica Alba look like Wayne Knight.
    • Ingrid Pitt seemed to be Hammer's equivalent to Scarlett Johansson. She was an accomplished writer too but is best remembered for her sex symbol status.
    • The Hammer Hotties list at names a full 79 candidates.
    • Special mention must go to Raquel Welch; the image of her in a Fur Bikini from One Million Years B.C. is arguably more famous than Hammer Studios itself.
  • Nubile Savage: Found frequently in She, Vengeance of She, One Million Years B.C. Prehistoric Women, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, The Viking Queen, and Creatures the World Forgot.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The rubber bats used in films like The Kiss of the Vampire were sometimes bought in bulk from grocery stores.
  • One-Steve Limit:
  • Only Sane Man: Karl in Demons of the Mind, quite possibly Hammer's strangest movie. Pretty much everyone else in the story is completely nuts.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The rules seemed to change in each film, even ones with the same character!
  • Pinball Protagonist: Richard in Lust for a Vampire occupies what would normally be the hero role, but he accomplishes nothing in the story except mooning after Mircalla.
  • Plucky Girl:
    • Candy in The Snorkel, who resolves to prove the guilt of her mother's murderer.
    • The Hammer heroines in general are as plucky as they are beautiful.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: In Twins of Evil, Maria (Mary Collinson) is kind and sweet-natured, while Freida (Madeleine Collinson) is mean and cares only about herself and her own pleasures.
  • The Power of Blood: Blood revives Dracula in several of the sequels.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: To the Devil... A Daughter, the last film in Hammer's original period, actually did very well at the box office, but because all the profits went to the movie's German backers, Hammer was forced to close its doors shortly thereafter.
  • Rape as Drama: Anna by the Baron in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. The scene was added after shooting was nearly complete and at the last minute by studio head Sir James Carreras, who thought the film was lacking in "sex". Peter Cushing deplored the inclusion of the scene and even apologized to Anna's actress Veronica Carlson.note  The director, Terence Fisher, filmed the sequence under protest. Ironically, the scene comes across as horrific instead of titillating and ends up contributing strongly to theme of the Baron's moral descent in this film as well as the deterioration of Anna's mental state.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When Dracula was really in bloodlust mode his eyes would get extremely bloodshot.
  • Religion of Evil: To the Devil a Daughter.
  • Screaming Woman: Too many to count. Hammer generally let the men handle all the action, which left the job of being terrified to the women.
  • Sequel Escalation: The Frankenstein and Dracula films became gorier and more sexually explicit over time.
  • Sex Equals Death: The more promiscuous a character is, the less likely he or she is to survive until the end credits.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: The Viking Queen, made just before real nudity started to show up, has a scene where the title character, wearing a white top, falls in a lake.
  • Smug Snake: Baron Frankenstein.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: The Lost Continent. It's not initially clear whose funeral, though.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Common in earlier Hammer films, such as Rasputin the Mad Monk, along with Dress Hits Floor.
  • Triads and Tongs: The Terror of the Tongs.
  • Überwald / Ruritania: Even when it was stated to be Transylvania, the setting was just Generic Central Europe.
  • Undead Barefooter: Some female vampire brides and Queen Tera are barefoot.
  • Villain Protagonist: The Baron in the Frankenstein series, though sometimes he crosses into Anti-Hero. Also Count Dracula.
  • Wanting Is Better Than Having: No matter what hot ass vampire chick Dracula already has under his thrall, there's always some other maiden he wants more.
  • Wham Line: Scream of Fear. ( "Mrs. Appleby, surely you must know your stepdaughter Miss Penelope Appleby committed suicide three weeks ago in Switzerland.")
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: In Maniac, the main character helps his new girlfriend spring her husband from an insane asylum, and another man is killed in the process. Once he realizes his girlfriend is playing him, he helps the police get the goods on her. This apparently exonerates him for his earlier crimes, even though he was most decidedly not innocent of them.