We make terrible films here in the United States. Fortunately, they’re almost all remakes now, which is why I don’t feel too bad in making such a sweeping statement on the mess that comprises our current cinematic output. Ignoring promising independent talent in favor of producing quickly-produced seat fillers and buy-products leave our legacy in a sad state of disconnect. We are, however, capable of making very, very good films, and of course you need only look at American Cinematheque’s monthly offerings, or Cinespia’s summer schedule, or even your local TCM listings to see them. And therein lies my point: why feel bad looking forward when looking back feels so much better?
That said, I have a certain list of old reliables that I turn to for looking back—blaxploitation, giallos, slashers from 1961 to 1981, zombie flicks with good OST and/or bad dubbing, video nasties, most things with John Saxon, anything with Michael Ironside, Sixties sex romps, Seventies Exorcist ripoffs, Eighties films where I can root for the hot jerk (Zabka, Spader), all films made in 1980, Troma, killer tomatoes, dolls, klowns and yogurt, killer animals, films that look like Kate Bush videos (Return to Oz, Labyrinth, The Company of Wolves), horror films set in hospitals, films with rides in them (Goonies, Explorers, Temple of Doom), films culminating in a disco competition, Cronenberg and Spinal Tap, i.e., The Rutles, i.e., All You Need is Cash (1978), a.k.a. one of my favorite films of all time.
But I’ve left my Most Favorite Thing Ever off of my list because it’s the one thing I want to focus in on for this rant: Hammer. As in, Hammer Films, as in, the famed horror institution that is often imitated (Tigon) but never duplicated (Amicus). Sure, Tigon made Witchfinder General (1968), which I love and still rate as one of the most disturbing, genuinely creepy films I have ever seen (Vincent Price’s best work, IMO), and Amicus featured Hammer’s dynamic duo of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in several films, but everyone knows that Lee-Cushing did their best work for Hammer. As did most everyone who cut their teeth in the company. Terence Fisher, who directed many of my favorite Hammer films, including The Devil Rides Out (1968) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969). Ingrid Pitt, the most beautiful and alluring of Hammer women—which is saying a lot, considering that just about every woman in every Hammer film is poster-perfect. Raquel Welch in a fur bikini, anyone?
Why do I keep returning to Hammer horror? Because no other film studio has managed to make blood look so beautiful, its villains appear so effortlessly enchanting and menacing. You want Christopher Lee’s Dracula to suck your neck, and for Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein to survive the fire. Or, at least, I do. And Hammer still delivers, literally and figuratively. Sir Christopher, bewitching in the Hammer films of his youth, continues to enthrall us with the Hammer film of his prime (The Resident, 2011). And his career continues to have bite. Perhaps we’ll see another Hammer in his future—now that is truly something to look forward to.