With the box set on its “golden age”, a look back at a time when Hammer gave new life to genre cinema

With the box set on its “golden age”, a look back at a time when Hammer gave new life to genre cinema

Movies

The British company Hammer Film Productions had made a reputation for resurrecting classic cinema monsters – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Werewolf, the Mummy, Doctor Jekyll, etc. – at the end of the 1950s. Gothic horror, anchored in a founding 19th century, was now enjoyed in color, and the blood was spread in a crimson splendor never before seen on the big screen. There was public success, which ensured that this company, created in the mid-1930s, enjoyed relative prosperity, at least until the mid-1970s, a period of fading and decadence of the myths.

Tamasa publishes a magnificent box set including seven films shot between 1966 and 1969. We can legitimately estimate that this period constituted a golden age of the company and all, among the titles offered, with the exception of the bland Raspoutine, the mad monk (1966), by Don Sharp (1921-2011), are fascinating works in the way they reread old conventions to derive new and, sometimes, very contemporary meanings.

Two filmmakers emerge from the selection. First of all John Gilling (1912-1984) who, with three titles – Invasion of the Living Dead (1966), The Reptile Woman (1966) and, to a lesser extent, In the Claws of the Mummy (1966) – identifies the horror with the return of a poorly buried colonial repressed person. The monsters (zombies from the Caribbean, a young English girl victim of a curse contracted in Malaysia, an Egyptian mummy) appear as an expression of the decomposition of the British Empire.

Horrific melodrama

The other three titles, all masterpieces, are by Terence Fisher (1904-1980), the great Hammer filmmaker. Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1966) completes a portrait of the vampire begun in 1958, with Dracula’s Nightmare , making him a creature of instinct disrupting the codes of prudish and materialist Victorian society.

Frankenstein Created Woman , in 1967, transforms the famous scientist into a superman whose knowledge places him above a mediocre, disenchanted and coldly rationalist class society. It is by manufacturing a hybrid being (transplanting the “soul” of a man into the body of a woman) that Baron Frankenstein attacks an order that is as social as it is natural. And the film, a sort of horrific melodrama (a frequent temptation in Fisher’s work), is one of its author’s most moving.

Satan’s Virgins (1968), based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley, transforms Christopher Lee into a Satanist hunter. It is undoubtedly the most theoretical of Fisher’s films, the one where evil is designated as indisputably consubstantial with the imagination itself. An obviously very paradoxical vision for a filmmaker. A whole contradiction at work in the cinema of Terence Fisher. In the supplements, Nicolas Stanzick, author of a book on the Hammer, combines facts and analysis with formidable erudition. Precious. And essential.

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