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The weakest of the four by far is HORROR OF DRACULA, basically a retelling of the original but with very little energy behind it. It feels more like a walk through of the main story points, and sadly I discovered that while Christopher Lee looks great in close-up and when standing still, he actually makes for a pretty awkward looking vampire when asked to move. On the upside, geeks will get at least some joy out of watching Grand Moff Tarkin and Saruman battling it out at the end. That fight, short though it is, is pretty fun.
Next up I took on THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, which again gives us a broadstrokes origin of well known characters. What helps in this case is a complex, disturbing, and even somewhat sympathetic performance by Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein. There is also a surprisingly mean edge to the film, including a pregnant woman being coldly sent to her death.
It is when these films break from their source material and create new stories in the sequels that the strength of what Hammer Films was doing with these genre entries really shine however.
DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE gives us a tale of a cocky Monsignor who pisses Drac off and ends up the victim of a revenge scheme enacted by the vamp that includes stealing his innocent, and engaged, niece. The girl's fiance is impressively played by Barry Andrews as an agnostic whose lack of faith is sorely tested when trying to save his love from a creature who is largely fought with Christian symbols. I was also taken with Barbara Ewing as Zena, a seemingly stereotypical lusty barmaid, until her performance strips her down and shows us what a tragic, heart-breaking fate her life has in store.
The best of the collection is easily FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, the next to last entry in Hammer's long running series of films following the not so good doctor. A young couple find themselves at the mercy of Frankenstein as a result of blackmail that Frank handles with ruthless efficiency. Discovering the endgame here is too much fun to spoil, but suffice to say it will leave you, on many levels, wondering just what you would do for those you love.
While none of these films quite classify as great, they did manage to engage my interest in exploring a section of the genre that I'd previously ignored, and also did me the favor of introducing Veronica Carlson to me, who is one helluva bombshell in two of these entries.
Audio: Dolby Digital