Hammer Horror
Box set I

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Robert Urquhart & Michael Gough
Warner Home Video

RRP: £29.99

Certificate: 15
Available now

Once upon a time there was a small UK studio which made B movies and TV adaptations, such as big screen versions of the BBC Quatermass series, that shot to international success with its interpretations of classic Hollywood horror movies, in the process creating many of the conventions that still epitomise the genre more than 40 years on. That studio was Hammer, and the blood it spilt, often on the smallest of budgets, helped create a movie legend. And what better way to introduce Hammer than with its first three monster hits, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy.

These early, and arguably best, Hammer's works paired up the horror double bill to end 'em all: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Between them, the two actors largely carried the studio's output for over a decade. And even when the movies were bad - and they often were - Lee and Cushing would still emerge victorious. But there was nothing wrong with The Curse of Frankenstein.

The classic James Whale adaptation for Universal of the Mary Shelley novel helped create the iconography of the classic monster movie, but it was Hammer that imbued the story with bloody sadism - in the process turning a misguided man of medicine into a monster as revolting as his creation. The Curse of Frankenstein is every bit as potent today as it ever was.

Dracula - or Horror of Dracula as it was called for its US release - is just as good, albeit for very different reasons. Here, for the first time, the vampire Count is portrayed as charming and erudite which not only surprised audiences at the time of its release, but also still helps to heighten the tension leading up to his first act of bloodsucking evil. Make your baddie interesting and he becomes harder to resist.

For this DVD release the box says Dracula although the version of the movie, and its trailer, are both taken from a US print and therefore carry the title Horror of Dracula. And while this is not really a problem, this is a UK film getting a UK release so why not the UK version? That minor quibble aside, this is simply fantastic stuff.

The third, and final, of the original classic trilogy is The Mummy. And once again Peter Cushing is fighting ancient evil - Lee bandaged up as a mummy brought to life to avenge the desecration of an ancient tomb. And although it's not as good as the previous two films - it does sag in the middle - it is still a very enjoyable romp that once again turns convention on its head by making the monster sympathetic. And it is Lee's ability to impart pathos that makes his final destruction that much more powerful.

Put simply, if you are a fan of the horror genre then this set of three discs is nothing short of essential. And for those new to Hammer, don't watch 'em alone.

Anthony Clark

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