Ok, so I spent this past weekend sick as hell. Basically I managed to stay awake about 2-4 hours at a time, and had a head full of mucus and cement.
Now the Geek Husband What Rules has it.
Anyway, I do one of two things when I’m sick. I either spend my awake times reading old favorite books. Or I watch documentaries.
Preferably documentaries about horror.
I think I’ve watched American Scary three times now. And the 100 Years of Horror that Christopher Lee hosted at least twice.
This weekend I found one I had not seen before. Flesh and Blood: the Hammer Heritage of Horror. Hosted by both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (his last role before he died), it talks about the founding of Hammer Studios, why they started making the movies they did, how they wrangled a distribution deal in the US with Universal, after being allowed to make their own Frankenstein and Dracula films, and their competition with AIP (American Independent Pictures).
The documentary includes interviews with film historians, former Hammer actors, directors and producers. They talk about why the Hammer films looked like they did (ready access to costumes, locations and set designs that most appropriately fit the gothic sensibility) and why the films started getting sexier and more gory.
Christoper Lee and Peter Cushing have long been two of my favorite actors. A lot of Hammer films, minus some of the blood and breasts, were broadcast as afternoon movies on the channel we got out of Detroit when I was a kid. And they also had a late night Saturday movie thing with a horror host, that my uncle would let me watch when he babysat me. Much to my mother’s annoyance. Hammer and AIP films were how I got into horror as a 7 or 8 year old.
The Hammer versions of Frankenstein and Dracula are both fantastic. Christopher Lee will forever be my one true Dracula. Frank Langella is a close second. Gary Oldman does not even touch the top ten.
Don’t get me wrong, Gary Oldman is a fine actor. But Francis Ford Coppola still owes me $8 and 2 hours of my life back.*
The stories about how Hammer were a family, and how that started to break down in the late 1970s were both heartwarming and more than a little sad. These folks lived in each others’ pockets, cranking out some really entertaining films with some really amazing talent for the budgets they operated on.
There’s an anecdote where someone talks about watching Peter Cushing doing his own stunts into his 60s, like leaping off the table to tear down the curtains in Dracula.
If you love horror films, and/or the history of film in general, I highly recommend this documentary about Hammer. It was a lot of fun to watch with some truly surprising and entertaining anecdotes about how certain things came to be.
Stay tuned for a review of the documentary about AIP I watched while I was sick, too.
*Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula was very pretty. HOWEVER, it was advertised as Bram Stoker’s Dracula and IT WAS NOT! I actually yelled at the screen a couple of times. Now, I am very forgiving of versions of Dracula that just call themselves Dracula, or XXXXX of Dracula or whatever. But if you’re going to claim to deliver Bram Stoker’s Dracula, then give me Bram Stoker’s Dracula, not whatever the hell that was. Again, very pretty. I probably would have loved it had I not been expecting a faithful retelling.
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