My Top Ten Favorite Werewolf Movies (+1)

It’s New Year’s once again, a time to celebrate humanity surviving long enough to make one more lap around the sun. Instead of doing this by spending time with family and friends, I decided to spend my time hunched over the computer waxing poetic about werewolf movies.

I did something similar last year, compiling a list of my favorite Twilight Zone episodes. My reasoning then was that Twilight Zone marathons are a New Year’s tradition for a lot of folks (including myself), so it would be totally appropriate. My reasoning this year? Well, um… I already made a list of my favorite vampire movies, and ever since then I’ve wanted to do a list of my favorite werewolf movies.

I like talking about werewolves. Sue me.

If that’s not good enough for you, then how about this: January 1st is one of of the 12 nights of Christmas (a period which runs from December 25 until January 6; not to be confused with “The 12 Days of Christmas,” which is an irritating Christmas carol). In German folklore, it is said that a child born during the 12 nights of Christmas is cursed to become a werewolf. Boom. There you go, there’s your werewolf connection.

Also it’s Wednesday. And Wednesday starts with a W, just like “werewolf.” So there.

wolf1Ginger Snaps

“Out by sixteen or dead in this scene, but together forever.” That’s the pact made by semi-suicidal sisters Ginger and Brigitte, who abhor the monotony of “normal life.” For them, nothing is scarier than the looming inevitability of puberty, no fate more hellish than the hormone-fueled melodrama it threatens. Thus, when Ginger’s first menstrual cycle kicks in, it’s nightmare enough. Too bad it just so happens to coincide with the full moon. Too bad the smell of blood attracts a certain lupine predator. Too bad Ginger gets bit. As her sister’s body and behavior both undergo a drastic metamorphosis, Brigitte begins to suspect there’s more at play here than just coming-of-age growing pains.

Though neither the first film nor the last to use lycanthropy as a metaphor for burgeoning sexuality (hell, it’s not even the only example on this list), rarely has it been done this well. Ginger Snaps is not only a brilliant deconstruction of werewolf mythology that explores themes of female adolescence and alienation, it’s also a heartbreaking tragedy about a once inseparable bond of love slowly disintegrating into loss and loneliness.

wolf2Werewolves on Wheels

Now is that a title, or is that a title? On the opposite end of the respectability spectrum from Ginger Snaps, Werewolves on Wheels exists for no other reason than to cash in on the biker gang and occult horror cinema trends of the 1970s. Unashamed of its meager ambitions, this flick embraces the tropes of both genres wholeheartedly, enthusiastically distilling them into a heady batch of 666 proof moonshine.

Played largely by actual honest-to-hog bikers (as well as “Eve of Destruction folk singer Barry McGuire!), the Devil’s Advocates make for a motley crew of hellraising outlaws, burning daylight and rubber alike on the dusty desert blacktop, stopping only to guzzle booze, drop acid, and, uh, read tarot cards. When night falls, they stop to make camp outside an abandoned church, which is coincidentally crawling with devil-worshiping cultists (natch). Before you can say “Hail Satan,” the bikers find themselves on the wrong side of a black magic ritual, one-by-one falling to the denim ‘n’ leather skinwalkers in their midst. All this, and a trippy guitar soundtrack that accompanies some serious psychedelic cinematography! What’s not to love?

wolf3Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf

As befitting of a mythic archetype that’s existed for as long and across as many cultures as the werewolf, folklore offers up a seemingly endless list of different ways of becoming a lycanthrope: being bitten, being cursed, selling your soul to the devil, eating human flesh, etc. Some folks simply never had a chance. Some folks’ only sin was being born. Nazareno Cruz, for instance, had the rotten luck of being a widowed woman’s seventh son. It doesn’t seem like that big a deal, until the day he falls in love with a blond beauty and the devil himself comes calling. If Nazareno denies himself this chance at romance, the devil will make him rich. If not, the circumstances of his birth will turn him into a beast and his soul will be bound for hell.

A loose adaptation of the Argentian myth of Lobizón, Nazareno Cruz and the Wolf is not well-known outside its native country, despite being Argentina’s entry in the Best Foreign Film category for the 1976 Oscars. That’s a shame, because this is truly transcendent filmmaking. Moody and meditative, the picture becomes a kind of cinematic tone-poem with its oodles of atmosphere and beautiful surrealist imagery (a good chunk of the film actually takes place in the very hell that Nazareno is bound for). Its rare for a werewolf movie to embrace such an ambitious arthouse aesthetic. Rarer still for that approach to work. But work it does, and what it works is wonders.

wolf4The Wolf Man

Hardly a surprising selection, but nonetheless an essential one. Though not actually the first werewolf movie, The Wolf Man is nevertheless the prototype for all cinematic stories of lycanthropy to follow. Arguably the saddest of all Universal Monsters, the blue-collar likeability of star Lon Chaney, Jr. in the role of poor Larry Talbot makes it all the harsher when Talbot discovers that he himself is the inhuman killer prowling the forests at night, preying on innocent townsfolk. Even worse is that the only “cure” for his condition is death (a peace constantly denied him, as evidenced by Chaney reprising the role in no less than four sequels).

While it establishes much of modern werewolf lore, this alone does not make The Wolf Man a true classic.  Instead, that status is guaranteed by director George Waggner’s dreamy fog-shrouded set-pieces, screenwriter Curt Sidomak’s tight and often poetic script, FX pioneer Jack Pierce’s iconic makeup design, and a top-shelf cast that teams Chaney with Claude Raines, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya, and “Queen of the B’s,” Evelyn Ankers.

wolf5La Bête

If The Wolf Man was too “safe” a recommendation for you, try this on for size: Walerian Borowczyk’s La Bête might very well be the only motion picture boasting a graphic depiction of werewolf ejaculation. At least it’s the only one I know of. Though unsurprisingly controversial at the time of its release (the film was heavily cut in most countries and came dangerously close to be prosecuted as obscenity in the UK), those who dismiss La Bête as just a collection of scandalous provocations are missing out.

Based loosely on Prosper Mérimée’s 19th century novella Lokis, itself a riff on Gabrielle-Suzanne de Villeneuve’s Beauty and the Beast (coincidentally first popularized via an abridged adaptation written by Mérimée’s own great-grandmother!), La Bête is an erotic adult fairy tale about a contentious arranged marriage between a beautiful young heiress and the disfigured, socially stunted son of a scheming marquis. Discovering a local legend about a half-human half-animal creature that once terrorized the countryside, the heiress finds herself increasingly drawn to her brutish betrothed and haunted by sexually charged nightmares in which she is ravaged by the aforementioned creature of myth. In the end, however, her own animal urges might be more than a match for both man and beast. If you’re wondering if this is basically just porn, the answer is yes. If you’re wondering if porn can be art, the answer is again yes. La Bête is both.

wolf6Kibakichi

While vampires have enjoyed a diverse bounty of characterizations—from luxuriant castle-dwelling sex-symbols and hardboiled film-noir gumshoes to trenchcoat-clad post-Matrix kung-fu fighters and gaudily-garbed comic-book superheroes—the humble werewolf has often been relegated to two modes: the uncontrollable bloodthirsty beast and the luckless sad-sack who is, well, doomed to become an uncontrollable bloodthirsty beast. Not so in Kibakichi, Tomo’o Haraguchi’s horror/fantasy/action hybrid set in medieval Japan, wherein the title character is a wandering swordsman who just so happens to also be a wandering wolf-man.

Eschewing realism, seriousness, and even good taste in favor of pure unadulterated entertainment value, this flick takes the traditional chanbara genre and pumps it up to outrageous anime-influenced extremes. It’s not enough that our hero is a katana-slashing wire-fu shapeshifter samurai; Haraguchi throws in all sorts of craziness, including anachronistic machine-gun shootouts and a bunch of rubber-suited demons plucked right out of yokai folklore. Sometimes less is more. Other times more is more. This is one of the latter times.

wolf77Werewolf Woman

With a title as straightforward as Werewolf Woman and a director like Rino Di Silvestro (Women in Cell Block 7, Deported Women of the SS Special Section) at the helm, you’d think this would be a fairly run-of-the-mill exploitation creature-feature. You’d be wrong. Though it liberally cribs imagery from traditional skinwalker flicks and also makes use of a typical revenge-film structure during its final act, as a whole Werewolf Woman is a different kind of beast entirely.

More psychological thriller than fur-flingin’ monster mash, the titular character (played with disturbing ferocity by the underrated Annik Borel) is convinced she’s a lycanthrope, frequently bedding men only to tear their throats out afterward. Did she really inherit the shapeshifter gene from some long-ago descendant burned at the stake for werewolfism, or is this all just a delusion triggered by her deeply buried childhood sexual-assault trauma crashing headlong into her own natural urges as an adult woman? Some might argue this isn’t a “true” werewolf movie, but Di Silvestro walks the tightrope of ambiguity just right. Despite its low budget and copious ham ‘n’ cheese (this is 1970s grindhouse fare, what do you expect?), Werewolf Woman stands out as a psychosexual sleaze-cinema gem.

wolf8An American Werewolf in London

Behold, the single greatest werewolf transformation scene ever immortalized on film! While special-effect legend Rob Bottin deserves credit for the bladder-based make-ups he used in the earlier released The Howling, just a few months later the equally legendary Rick Baker would raise the bar to a whole ‘nother level in An American Werewolf in London. Filmed entirely in harsh light (in contrast to Bottin’s transformations, which were partially in shadow) and using an entire FX shop’s worth of cutting-edge techniques, never before had a beast-man’s birth been realized with such torturous detail.

Facial features distort. Flesh stretches. Bones snap. The sight of it is unforgettable even in a picture already loaded with memorable moments, from the horrifying (the shockingly brutal nazi-werewolf dream sequence) to the tender (the doomed romance between leads David Naughton and Jenny Agutter) to the hilarious (the frequent visitations from Griffin Dunne’s increasingly deteriorated quip-happy ghost). An American Werewolf in London is a rare animal able to juggle a variety of moods without ever losing its gravitas. Just like The Wolf Man, this was never not going to make the list.

wolf9999The Howling II

Speaking of The Howling, Joe Dante’s tale of a resort-dwelling shapeshifter cult is itself a damn good werewolf movie, even a great one. But this isn’t a list of the “greatest” werewolf movies, it’s a list of my personal favorites werewolf movies. So while the 1981 original is probably technically a better film, it’s the campy 1985 sequel that truly deserves mention here.

In what feels like a the result of some producer taking a completely unrelated script and hastily replacing every use of the word “vampire” with “werewolf,” The Howling II (AKA The Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf AKA The Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch) sees a bored-looking Christopher Lee on a quest through Transylvania to slay the centuries-old Queen of the Werewolves, played by grindhouse goddess Sybil Danning. Lots of lasers, exploding eyeballs, and hairy lycanthrope threesomes ensue. ProTip: Stick around for the end credits, where some new-wave band you’ve never heard of belts out the surprisingly catchy Howling II theme song while a greatest-hits clipshow of the movie you just watched plays onscreen (one infamous shot of Danning doffing her top is hilariously repeated no less than 17 times).

wolf100The Werewolf Vs. Vampire Woman

While Lon Chaney, Jr. will always be pop culture’s alpha wolf-man (and deservedly so), eternally snapping at his heels is Spain’s homegrown creature-feature icon, Paul Naschy. Naschy not only starred in but also wrote, directed, and produced dozens of horror films, spanning from the late 1960s until his death in the early 2000s. Of all the characters he portrayed, however, none is more beloved than long-suffering lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky, essayed by Naschy in no less than 12 movies. My favorite of these is The Werewolf Vs. Vampire Woman (also known as Walpurgis Night, Werewolf Shadow, Night of the Bloody Witches, The Black Mass of Countess Dracula, and about a hundred other titles).

A brooding monster-mash steeped in gothic eroticism, occult imagery, and gratuitous gore, this film affects you in a way I can only liken to getting stoned while listening to a playlist of drone metal and old Halloween sound-effects records. And snarling at the center of it all is Naschy, imbuing Chaney’s tragic lupine archetype with a muscular savagery sure to leave even the fiercest Universal Monster quaking in terror.

wolf11The Company of Wolves

Unlike vampires, who have a canonized literary legacy dating all the way back to the 19th century contributions of John Polidori and Bram Stoker, werewolves have their roots more in folklore than in fiction. Simply put, fewer werewolf books exist. Which means fewer classic werewolf books exist. Which means fewer movies based on classic werewolf books exist. It’s notable that, unlike the Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal’s The Wolf Man was not based on a work of preexisting literature but was instead created whole-cloth for the screen; much of today’s popular werewolf mythology—the full moon, the vulnerability to silver, etc.—owe its codification to The Wolf Man.

I’m not here to talk about The Wolf Man, though. I’m here to talk about one of the few werewolf movies that actually is based on a great work of literature, and which is in turn pretty damn great itself. Neil Jordan’s 1984 film The Company of Wolves adapts several stories from The Bloody Chamber, a collection of revisionist fairy tales by Angela Carter. The result is a lavish, lyrical, lycranthrope-laden anthology. The main narrative, a twist on “Little Red Riding Hood,” sees a young girl visiting her forest-dwelling grandmother, who relates a series of surreal and sexually charged parables about the beasts which lurk inside of men. The question becomes: What sort of beasts lurk in women? Like the aforementioned Ginger Snaps, The Company of Wolves is an allegory for sexual awakening. However, it benefits from a much greater scope and a intentionally artificial, ethereal aesthetic that proves equal parts menacing and mesmerizing.

In Stefan’s House: A Weird Fiction Tribute to Stefan Grabinski is Here!

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This one has been in the works for a while! Now available from Dunhams Manor Press, In Stefan’s House: A Weird Fiction Tribute to Stefan Grabinski is one of the most personally signficiant anthologies I’ve ever been involved with. Why? Because of the man who inspired it.

Stefan Grabinski has often been called “the Polish Poe” and “the Polish Lovecraft,” and while those comparisons properly evoke the enormity of his talents and the level of renown he should have had, they don’t really do justice to how unique his work really was. Grabinski’s “psychofantasy” or “metafantasy” stories (as he liked to call them) were informed by his lifelong interest in mysticism, demonology, and the occult, as well as by his dueling emotions of awe and anxiety towards industrialization (manifested most notably in the author’s many depictions of thunderous, fuming, untamable steam engines). These are stories that are both folkloric and psychological, obsessive and inquisitive, erotic and surreal.

And yet, within his lifetime Grabinski achieved only modest success in his native Poland, and not much at all outside of it. He was summarily forgotten, for the most part, following his death in 1936. I can’t say I remember how I first heard about him, but I’m thankful that I did. He’s become one of my all-time favorite writers, easily among my top five. In recent years, there’s been a small but noticeable upswing in Grabinski appreciation. Though he remains somewhat obscure, his work has come to mean a lot to me over the years, so it’s energizing for me to see him slowly but surely receiving the acclaim he is long overdue.

It’s even more energizing to think I might get to play some small part in that process.

In Stefan’s House has been a labor of love a long time in the making. My story, “The Witch Engine,” is an attempt is to look at some of Grabinski’s major recurring themes through the lens of my own experiences as a child of the modern age. To Grabinski, locomotives were the vessels of the future. To me, they are relics of the past. With “The Witch Engine” I wanted to explore the tension that lies between those two perspectives. I hope I managed to do the idea at least a small measure of justice.

My fellow contributors for this anthology include such humblingly talented individuals as Brian Evenson, Steve Ransic Tem, Michael Faun, Christian Wiessner, C.M. Muller, and more. To preview the entire contributor list, and to buy yourself a copy, go to the Dunhams Manor Press webstore. Paperback editions are just $15. If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, though, a very limited edition hardcover version will soon be available for $45, featuring new cover art and original interior illustrations by artist Mutartis Boswell. Down below you’ll see a jaw-droppingly gorgeous piece that accompanies my story. If you want to see the rest, buy the book!

boswell

Behold the Undead of Dracula is Now Available!

undead

Halloween is fast approaching. What better way to spend the coming weeks than delving deep into a macabre universe of classic movie monsters… with a twist? Lucky you, Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror is now available!

An affectionate tribute to the crumbling castles and lysergic psychedelia of ’60s and ’70s creature features, this new anthology from Muzzleland Press features the kind of bawdy, bloody tales that would make Peter Cushing, Roger Corman, and Mario Bava proud, but filtered through a modern lens. From straightforward homage to postmodern revisionism and self-aware metafiction, the stories in Behold the Undead of Dracula read like descriptions of lost Hammer Pictures productions that never existed, couldn’t have existed, should have existed.

My own contribution, “Diabolus in Musica,” is a riff on Dennis Wheatley’s devil-worship potboilers. It features a b-movie music composer who finds himself the victim of hellish visions and satanic machinations while trying to finish his latest film score. Check out the full table of contents down below for a taste of what the rest of my creepy compatriots have in store for readers.

Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Muzzleland Press bookstore. Buy it so I don’t starve!

“Go to the Devil” by Matthew M. Bartlett

“Over the Violets There That Lie” by Gwendolyn Kiste

“George Strait and the Black Orchard Grimoire” by Mer Whinery

“Vengeance of the Blood Princess” by Dominique Lamssies

“Diabolus in Musica” by William Tea

“Taste of Fear in the Night (European Release Title: Curse of the Mountain Witches)” by Tom Breen

“You Should Smile More: The Blood Coven of Arkana” by Heather L. Levy

“Mina’s Castle” by Sean M. Thompson

“Cleaver Castle of Carnage Presents: The Coven Strikes Back” by Christa Carmen

“The Bloody Cask of Rasputin” by Thomas C. Mavroudis

“The Filthy Creation of Frankenstein” by Gemma Files

R.I.P. Sid Haig

ripsid

Like many horror movie fans who frequent the convention scene, I’m happy to say I had the very good fortune of meeting  Sid Haig. I actually did so multiple times over the years, because he was just so damn fun to talk to. Sid was a convention regular and always seemed happy to hang out with his fans. Above is a photo of him and I from back when I was a baby-faced college freshman.

Though best known these days as the crude serial killing clown Captain Spaulding from Rob Zombie’s movies House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and the recently released Three From Hell, Sid was an insanely accomplished character actor with a resume longer than John Holmes’ third leg. He was in such cult-classic flicks as THX-1138, Spider Baby, Galaxy of Terror (a major personal favorite), Foxy Brown, Coffy, The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Jackie Brown, Hatchet 3, The Lords of Salem (another big favorite of mine), and Bone Tomahawk. .

Suffice to say, the man was a true workhorse. The quantity of his performances was matched, however, by their quality. Whether it was a Filipino women-in-prison b-movie or a Quentin Tarantino-directed Hollywood blockbuster, whenever Sid was onscreen you paid attention. Though some of his parts were small, even the biggest pictures he was in would’ve been noticeably worse without his presence.

Likewise, the world in which we live is noticeably worse now that he’s gone.

Con Report: Things I Did at (and After) NecronomiCon 2019

pvd

H.P. Lovecraft’s birthday has come and gone again once again, and with it another trek to NecronomiCon Providence, a biannual convention for writers, readers, artists, and academics working in and around that tentacle-wrapped eldritch realm known as weird fiction.

This year I not only attended the con but also visited with some close friends who live in the area, and I took my mother with me for the purpose of treating her to a post-convention mini family vacation in New England. Altogether I was in Rhode Island for about a week, seeing the sights, eating delicious food, talking horror, blowing money on things I absolutely cannot afford, and just generally having a good time. I thought I’d share some of that with you now.

But first a note: Back when I went to NecronomiCon 2017, I wrote an exhaustive two-page write-up about the entire event. I’m pretty sure no one bothered to read it, and anyone who did was probably bored out of their mind. So for that reason, for NecronomiCon 2019 (and likely any literary cons I blog about in the future) I’m going to use the same format I used for my blissfully short StokerCon 2018 report.

Besides, let’s face it, my life sounds a lot more interesting as a series of out-of-context bullet points.

That said, here’s what I did at (and after) Necronomicon 2019:

I…

…picked up my contributor’s copy of Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror from Muzzleland Press.

…talked Zardoz, ethical cannibalism, and obscure leprechaun movies with Scott R Jones, Sonya Taaffe, and Teri Zin over steaming plates of spicy squid and pork belly at Mokban.

…got to meet (and hug!) Farah Rose Smith, who is not only one of my favorite writers working today but also one of my favorite human beings living today.

…bought a Deep One fetus in a jar from sculptor Joe Broers.

…shared burgers and milkshakes at the Haven Bros. Diner with Christopher Ropes and Barry Lee Dejasu.

…rambled on about my love for the novel F4 to its author, the incredibly talented and kind Larissa Glasser.

…paid my respects to Sam Gafford and Wilum H. Pugmire at a special memorial event.

…met Mississippi Bones frontman Jared Collins, who inflated my already swollen ego by telling me he liked my story “Reset” from Terror in 16-Bits.

…attended a surprise late-night event by Matthew M. Bartlett and Jon Padgett, where the pair took turns reading the entirety of their new collaborative novelette, The Latham-Fielding Liaison (available for preorder now from Nightscape Press).

…geeked out about Japanese mushroom-monster b-movies with kindred monster-kid Orrin Grey.

…took a tour of the Lizzie Borden murder house, which is now a combination museum and bed & breakfast.

…went comic book-hunting at a local indoor flea market (I found some nifty ol’ Atlas/Seaboard issues for hella cheap).

…stopped off in New Haven, Connecticut, to indulge by pizza obsession by eating the famous coal-fired “tomato pie” at the original Pepe’s Pizza location on Wooster Street.

…made a new friend:

deadward

My Top Ten Favorite Hammer Horror Movies (+1)

We’re just days away from the NecronomiCon debut of Behold the Undead of Dracula, a new anthology from Muzzleland Press that acts as a lurid love-letter to the tawdry Technicolor terrors of ‘60s and ‘70s genre cinema. And I’m happy to say it features a new story from yours truly, “Diabolus in Musica.” It’s about an English film composer pushed to the bleeding edge by the demands of his producers, his own insecurities, and, oh yeah, the forces of Hell itself.

My biggest inspiration in writing this piece? The stiff-upper-lip gothic pulse-pounders of England’s iconic house of horrors, Hammer Film Productions.

Starting in 1957 with The Curse of Frankenstein and ending in 1976 with To the Devil a Daughter, the company drip-fed audiences both young and old a steady diet of bloodsuckers, graverobbers, and devil-worshipers. While the Hammer style was often copied, few production houses succeeded in replicating that perfect balance between the pomp ‘n’ propriety of Victorian literature and the sex ‘n’ violence of the penny dreadfuls. The fact that said violence was presented for the first time in (un)living color made it all the better. Finally cineastes and sadists alike could gorge themselves on scenes of carnal carnage in full gory glory.

Not since the original Universal Monster days had a single film company been so synonymous with the macabre. Indeed, only the Universal Monsters themselves overshadow Hammer’s stable in terms of lasting impact. When people think of Dracula, if they don’t think of Bela Lugosi then they probably think of Christopher Lee. Being the second most iconic film studio in horror history might not sound as good as being number one, but it’s better than being third… or fourth… or fifth… or…

So draw the curtains, light a candelabra, and pour yourself a glass of red wine (or cranberry juice if you’re a teetotaler like me). These are My Top Ten Favorite Hammer Horror Movies (+1)…

hammer (2)

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave

No list of Hammer horrors would be complete without at least one Dracula flick and one Frankenstein. Not only were these the properties that propelled Hammer (as well stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing) into genre immortality, they were also the company’s longest-running and most bankable franchises. So let’s get both out of the way right off the, ahem, bat. In the interest of shining a light on some of the less-lauded entries that I love, I’m going to forgo the first installments of both series. You probably don’t need me to tell you that Horror of Dracula is a must-see classic. Instead, permit me to explain why Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is equally as great.

The storyline is simplistic but solid: While the Count is away on vacation (AKA being dead) a priest comes and consecrates Castle Dracula. Returning home from his latest date with oblivion to find out some asshole has locked him out of his own crib, Big Bad Vlad is understandably pissed, embarking on a campaign of petty revenge against the holy man and his beautiful daughter (played beautifully by the beautiful Veronica Carlson, who is beautiful). In a twist, it turns out the girl’s boyfriend is an atheist, rendering him powerless against Hammer’s strictly satanic iteration of Dracula. Meanwhile, director Freddie Francis serves up a sumptuous soufflé of style-over-substance. From the Count’s bloodshot (and occasionally bleeding) eyes to the candy-colored gels which soak the screen in lysergic hues, Francis embellishes the foreboding atmosphere with a proto-Argento panache. It may not be as tasteful as previous entries, nor as trashy as later ones, but Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is doubtlessly the franchise’s visual zenith.

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Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Now that I’ve pissed off all the purists who prefer Terence Fisher to Freddie Francis, how about I take off the kid gloves for real? Often singled out as the worst in Hammer’s long-running Frankenstein franchise, 1973’s series swan-song Frankenstein & the Monster from Hell is actually pretty damn great. Sure it’s kind of inconsequential, less interested in pushing forward the larger narrative than in rehashing a bare-bones plot that can be summarized as “Victor Frankenstein builds yet another monster, because why not? The monster goes on a rampage, as usual. The monster gets killed, as usual. Frankenstein cleans up the mess and gets back to work. The end.” It’s not the broad strokes that make Monster from Hell stand out, though. It’s the stitched-together pieces.

To wit, this entry takes place almost entirely in an insane asylum, where Peter Cushing’s aging Baron has continued his fruitless experiments in secret. The grim setting establishes an oppressive mood, underlining the tragedy of Frankenstein’s life of obsession and failure. Having burned his hands to the point of virtual uselessness (one memorable scene sees him operating on a blood-dripping artery with his teeth), the not-so-good doctor seeks the aid of Simon, a recently committed fledgling bodysnatcher. The dynamic between the men adds a deeper dimension of horror to the otherwise fantastical costume melodrama. The characters serve as dark mirrors of one another; Simon reflects Frankenstein’s youthful sins back at him, while the haunted, withered Baron is a warning of what Simon could someday become. Like its namesake creature Monster from Hell may be a flawed patchwork, but as a whole it’s far greater than the sum of its parts.

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The Lost Continent

Okay, now that we’ve tackled Hammer’s two most famous properties, let’s take a look at one of its lesser-known oddities. If the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises are the equivalents of greatest hits records, then The Lost Continent is a b-sides/rarities collection unto itself. A quirky mishmash of the company’s less popular non-gothic offerings, this adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s novel Uncharted Seas is part historical actioner (à la Captain Clegg), part fantasy adventure (à la One Million Years B.C.), and part drive-in creature-feature (à la The Quatermass Xperiment).

When the one-two punch of a violent hurricane and a smuggling scheme gone awry strands a tramp steamer in the middle of the mystery-shrouded Saragasso Sea, the vessel’s ragtag assortment of passengers must contend with glowing-eyed octopuses, flesh-eating seaweed, prehistoric crab-monsters, a pre-Star Wars Sarclacc pit, and a time-lost sect of Spanish Inquisitors led by the Napoleonic boy-king El Supremo! If you’re wondering who spiked your drink right now, you’re not alone; The Lost Continent is easily one of the most WTF indulgences in Hammer’s vast and varied library. It fluctuates between unintentional hilarity and ominous otherworldliness (the dirty orange skies above the shipwreck-strewn Saragasso are an especially eerie touch). As the ancient maps often warned, “here there be monsters.”

The Vampire Lovers 3

The Vampire Lovers

The recipe for a truly classic Hammer horror is simple enough, but requires a few key ingredients in precisely the right amounts. Supernatural forces are a must, as are opulent manors, questionable haircuts, and gallons of stage blood so bright it’s practically fluorescent. Oh yeah, and some gorgeous women in frilly Underoos. That last one is non-negotiable. Taking its cues from Britain’s other major silver-screen export, James Bond, Hammer always saved room for at least one slice of cheesecake. If you’ve got a sweet-tooth for that ol’ “Hammer glamour,” then 1970’s The Vampire Lovers will send your blood sugar into diabetic meltdown.

The cast-list for this one is absolutely stacked (in more ways than one) with wide-eyed, well-endowed beauties in diaphanous gowns: Madeline Smith, Pippa Steel, Dawn Addams, Kate O’Mara, Kirsten Lindholm. Some of them are predators, most are prey. All are stunning. And presiding over this sex-kitten litter like a sultry succubus queen is Ingrid Pitt, here playing the title character from Sheridan Le Fanu’s prototypical lesbian-vampire novella Carmilla. Considering Carmilla gets my vote as the best bloodsucker book of all time (outranking even Bram Stoker’s Dracula), it’s gratifying to see The Vampire Lovers hew so close to its source material, achieving a similarly enigmatic, ethereal, and erotic effect. What’s more, Pitt’s onscreen presence is so strong that despite starring in only two movies for Hammer (this and the following year’s Erzsébet Báthory-inspired Countess Dracula), she’s rightfully become as synonymous with the company as her male counterparts, Cushing and Lee.

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Vampire Circus

I already talked about Vampire Circus back when I did my list of favorite vampire films (which ironically had less movies with the word “vampire” in their titles than this list does), but I never really went in-depth as to what makes the movie so exemplary. By far the most iconoclastic of Hammer’s many, many undead chillers, this one departs from the studio’s standard Victorian fare in favor of something more like a fairy tale: “Once upon a time there was a vampire whose favorite food was children. When a mob of townsfolk finally slayed him, he put a curse on their village with his dying breath. In time, a plague spread through the village, cutting it off from the rest of the world. Only a colorful troupe of clowns, acrobats, and strong-men dared to cross the quarantine, but it was more than fun and games that this circus brought to town.”

Playing fast and loose with nosferatu lore, Vampire Circus defies expectations on multiple levels. A Hammer film where bloodsuckers can morph into panthers and travel through mirrors proves as wondrous a novelty as the sensual, show-stopping dance routine performed by a naked woman in tiger-stripe body-paint. The envelope-pushing doesn’t stop at the carnivalesque, however. This is a movie with a mean-streak, and I’m not just talking about blood ‘n’ guts (although this flick is impressively gruesome). Genuine depravity lurks between the lines, with taboo-busting subtext evident in everything from the aforementioned dance scene’s less-than-subtle allusions to bestiality to the villains’ predatory preference for very young children. Such a dichotomy between the transgressive and the sublime is discomforting, but also fitting. After all, even the most sanitized Grimm tale was once something far grimmer.

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The Plague of the Zombies

In 1968, my kindred Pennsylvanian spirit George A. Romero directed Night of the Living Dead, a film which signaled a sea change in genre cinema. Studio-produced gothic period-pieces were out. Independently made interrogations of contemporary anxieties were in. No one knew it at the time, but that was the beginning of the end for Hammer. Less than ten years later, the company would close its doors after an artistically fruitful but financially ruinous bid to hold onto a sharply shrinking market. A bitter irony, then, that two years prior Hammer had released its own living-dead nightmare, one which can today be seen as a missing link between the Haitian exploitation of early poverty-row shockers like White Zombie and Romero’s shambling hordes of greasepainted poli-sci allegories.

Set in a foggy 19th century Cornish hamlet, Plague of the Zombies pits a rationally minded doctor against a black-magic blue blood who uses secrets learned during his travels in the Caribbean to knock off his enemies and put their blank-eyed corpses to work in his tin mine. In stark contrast to Hammer’s usual aristocratic pretensions, the film’s caustic criticisms of exploitative capitalism are barely obscured behind director John Gilling’s skewed camera angles and artful shot compositions. Oh, and if the Romero connection weren’t enough, I personally am convinced that Lucio Fulci saw this movie at some point. I’d even go so far as to say he consciously referenced it in his surreal Lovecraftian epic The Gates of Hell (AKA City of the Living Dead). Do I have any hard evidence to back this up? No. But watch the fiery subterranean climaxes of both movies back-to-back and try to deny the similarities. Even if you think I’m talking out of my ass, at least it’ll make for a ghoulishly good double-feature.

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Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter

First there was Dracula and his brides. Then Dr. Ravna and his cult. Then Carmilla and the Karnstein clan. Then Count Mitterhaus and the Circus of Night. In the sixteen years since Christopher Lee had first donned the velvet cape and plastic fangs, Hammer’s house of horrors had its halls overrun by sinister sanguinarians. Come 1974, it was time to call an exterminator. Enter Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. Custom-built for Hammer by Brian Clemens, writer-producer of The Avengers (Steed and Peel, not Stark and Rogers), Kronos is a swashbuckling swordsman wandering Europe with his scholarly hunchback sidekick, in the process rescuing/romancing damsels and re-deading the undead.

Canonizing Hammer’s infamously inconsistent vampire rulebook, the movie reveals that there are hundreds of different bloodsucker breeds, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. So when he’s called upon to help a village besieged by a very different kind of vampire, one that feeds on youth, Kronos has to employ every nosferatu detection (and destruction) trick he’s got to put the kibosh on the big bad’s nosh. Despite its inventive combo-platter of action, horror, mystery, and comedy (one mordant scene features a suicidal vamp begging for death, only for repeated execution attempts to fail), poor distribution resulted in Captain Kronos flopping upon release, foiling Clemens’ obvious sequel ambitions. Since then, however, the picture has become a fan favorite, recognized as a pulpy precursor to the monster-slayer template later made famous by Buffy and Blade.

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Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb

Mummies, ya gotta love ‘em. They’re the underdogs of the creature-feature pantheon, silent servants covered in decaying bandages that only barely mask their hideous scarab-eaten skull-faces and… uh, wait… is that Valerie Leon? Okay, I can see why some folks don’t consider Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb a “real” mummy movie, but the truth is such flicks tend to be samey as hell. Swapping out the typical gauze-wrapped galoot for a perfectly preserved Egyptian witch-queen who psychically assaults an archaeologist’s comely daughter is a welcome change. Besides, I’m not going to argue with someone who looks like that in a pharaoh’s headdress. If Valerie Leon says she’s a mummy, she’s a mummy. Shit, she can be my “mummy” if she wants. I mean… oh god, forget I said that.

Apparently a victim of a curse itself, the troubled production saw Peter Cushing bow out when his wife’s health took a nasty turn, director Seth Holt suffer a fatal on-set heart attack before he could finish filming, and producer Michael Carreras scramble to shoot enough footage to assemble a passable cut. Despite all that, the final product is more than merely passable. It’s exceptional. Sure it’s awkward and uneven in fits, but it’s also dreamlike, sexy, and fun. Maybe it’s the source material, this being an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of the Seven Stars. Or maybe it’s the juxtaposition of the ancient with the modern, as Hammer uncharacteristically eschewed a period setting in favor of swingin’ ’70s London. Or maybe it’s that evil ambulatory severed hand crawling about, oozing gore from its ragged stump. Whatever it is, something about Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb just clicks. Honestly, my money is on Valerie Leon in dual roles. Two Valerie Leons at the same time? Someone’s been reading my diary.

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The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires

By 1974, Hammer horror was in dire straits. Despite releasing some of its best movies (including the aforementioned Vampire Circus and Captain Kronos, as well as lesser-known gems like Demons of the Mind, which came very close to making this list), the ’70s were not a profitable time for the company, with audiences moving onto the more visceral, contemporary thrills of The Exorcist and The Last House on the Left. In a last-ditch effort to rejuvenate its increasingly anemic bloodsucker formula, Hammer decided it needed a heady dose of Asian action. Picture a room full of stuffy Brits sipping tea and grumbling about box office receipts before finally proclaiming “Chop-sockey pictures, that’s what kids like these days! I say we bloody well give ‘em one! Pip pip! Jolly good! Bangers and mash!”

Taking a little from Column A and a little from Column B, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires drops Peter Cushing smack-dab in the middle of Hong Kong to hang out with Shaw Brothers Studio, a company that was much to kung-fu what Hammer was to horror. The resulting culture clash pits Cushing’s Van Helsing and a family of martial-arts masters (including cult actor David Chiang) against an army of sword-swingin’ rot-faced nosferatu (some of whom constantly hop up and down in accordance with Chinese folklore). Plot is almost nonexistent, consisting of little more than characters beelining from one frenetic fight scene to the next. Nevertheless, the briskly paced go-for-brokeness proves insanely charming and charmingly insane. It’s also one of Hammer’s most stylish efforts, bathing Buddhist temples in Bava-esque red and green lights. It’s hard to believe The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires hit theaters the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that just adds to its flamboyant, fang-flashing, fury-fisted fun.

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The Devil Rides Out

Crowned the “Prince of Thriller Writers” in life and in death (the epithet is actually inscribed on his tombstone), Dennis Wheatley was basically England’s homegrown Stephen King back in the day, selling over 50 million books in almost 30 different languages. One enthusiastic peer called his 1934 novel The Devil Rides Out “the best thing of its kind since Dracula.” His work has not aged well, however. Though entertaining as pure pulp fiction, much of his oeuvre is shot through with overt racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, imperialism, and a kind of shrill conservative Christian alarmism. Fortunately, the same could not be said about Hammer’s adaptation of The Devil Rides Out, which glosses over the worst of Wheatley’s above-listed prejudices and actually makes a virtue of that last one.

Starring Christopher Lee in a rare heroic turn as steely occult-adventurer Duke de Richleau, The Devil Rides Out (the first of three Wheatley adaptations Hammer produced, the others being the previously discussed The Lost Continent and what would be the studio’s final horror film, To the Devil a Daughter) sees Lee butting heads with a devil-worshiping secret society’s high priest (played by Charles Gray, who Rocky Horror fans will recognize for his lack of neck). The Duke ends up staring down a gauntlet of spiritual threats, including a giant spectral tarantula, a goat-headed demon, and even the Angel of Death itself, before the conflict resolves with a literal deus ex machina. Crap climax aside, The Devil Rides Out has a lot to recommend it: Terence Fisher’s elegant direction, Lee and Gray’s antagonistic chemistry, enough hocus-pocus hokum to fill a hundred heavy-metal records, and a screenplay by none other than Richard F’N Matheson, who manages to keep the story from feeling like a sermon (at least until the last few minutes). Watch this one while hailing Satan for best results.

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Twins of Evil

As noted throughout this list, one of Hammer’s defining characteristics was a penchant for casting eye-catching beauties, initially in secondary roles (such as Veronica Carlson in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) but increasingly as top-billed leads (such as Ingrid Pitt in The Vampire Lovers and Valerie Leon in Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb). Not too proud to pat itself on the back, the studio made a habit of promoting its films with self-congratulatory boasts about every “hot new discovery.” One of the hottest of Hammer’s new discoveries was actually two discoveries: Mary and Madeleine Collinson, who’d made history in 1970 as Playboy’s first ever identical twin centerfolds. Hammer produced Twins of Evil a year later specifically as a vehicle for the sisters.

This final entry in the Karnstein trilogy (following The Vampire Lovers and its so-so sequel Lust for a Vampire) brilliantly combines the lesbian-vampire and witchfinder subgenres. As a fanatical Puritan on a quest to immolate anyone unlucky enough to own a vagina, Peter Cushing is even scarier than the requisite bloodsuckers. When his archnemesis, a fanged libertine under royal protection, sets his sanguinarian sights on those beautiful, bouncy Collinson cuties, the result is much girl-on-girl neck-nuzzling, dripping wet penetration (of the arterial kind; get your mind out of the gutter), mistaken-identity mishaps, and scenes of incest both implicit and explicit. At the staked heart of Twins of Evil is a war between repression and debauchery, embodied by Cushing’s torch-bearing zealot and his libidinous adversary, as well as by the titular sisters themselves. Providing more than just verboten sex-appeal, the Collinsons’ mirrored features allow them to be understood as two halves of a larger whole, initially inseparable but fatefully fragmented by religion’s assault on their natural curiosities and desires.

Behold the Undead Dracula Gets Its Own Soundtrack!

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Hey now, here’s something cool that doesn’t happen to a schmuck like me every day. Remember that upcoming anthology I recently posted about having a story in, the one kick-assedly titled Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror? Well, in keeping with its cinematic theme, the book is getting its own official soundtrack album, comprising an all-original score by Black Mountain Transmitter.

Below are the full details, as announced on the Muzzleland Press website. And because editor Jonathan Raab is straight-up one of the most fun people working in genre fiction today, he wrote it up as if “Behold the Undead of Dracula” were a real long-lost forgotten monster movie. Who knows? Maybe it is.

The dread count has risen from his grave and teamed up with a mad descendant of Baron Frankenstein to raise an army of ghouls augmented with the power of forbidden science!

Graphic, gothic, sensual, lurid, and banned in twelve countries, Behold the Undead of Dracula is an infamous, blood-drenched, and lurid forgotten classic of the gothic revival period. Overtly weird and violent, with cosmic horror elements fused into the classic vampire tale, it terrified and confused audiences during its early 1970s debut, only to be forgotten shortly after its release… until now.

The film’s official soundtrack has been discovered in a secret chamber of a cursed film studio vault deep within the dark woods of Northern Ireland, and is available now for the first time since its aborted vinyl release in 1974 (all copies having been destroyed in a fire that preceded the filmmakers’ grisly murder-suicide pact). The mad musician behind Black Mountain Transmitter will be handling distribution of the digital and physical copies!

Get your copy of the soundtrack FREE with your purchase of our new anthology, Behold the Undead of Dracula at NecronomiCon Providence August 23-25 (vendor/dealer’s room)! Limited to the first 100 copies sold. After the convention, the remainder of the initial run will be available on our storefront exclusively, and will include download codes!