Collins’ Crypt: More Hammer Horror, Please!

Scream Factory has started releasing Hammer films on special edition discs - could these titles someday join them?

Earlier this month, Scream Factory bulked up their Hammer library with releases of Dracula Prince of Darkness and Plague of the Zombies, and then announced they'd be soon joined by a pair of more obscure titles from the venerable studio: The Vengeance of She and The Witches, both making their Blu-ray debuts as far as I can tell. Naturally, I don't expect these titles sell as well as their big gets like the John Carpenter or George Romero films, but I sincerely hope that they move enough units to keep chasing after the rights to put out more. None of these titles are exactly the creme of the Hammer crop, but they gotta start somewhere; I mean technically their first Carpenter acquisition was Elvis (via their parent Shout! Factory), long before they got their mitts on the likes of The Thing and Halloween.

Plus, Plague was a fun choice for me personally, because it was the first Hammer film I ever saw - almost twenty years ago exactly, in fact. During my freshman year Christmas break between '98 and '99, I picked up four Hammer VHS releases from Anchor Bay (remember those black clamshell cases?) and brought them back to school with me, choosing Plague to start with and... well, I was kind of bored with it, to be honest. I was still learning my horror history at this point, so I don't think I realized that pre-Romero zombie films were the drone kind, not the flesh-eating types, so even by "old movie" standards there wasn't much action as I was hoping for. Even now, knowing (slightly) more than I did then, I wouldn't say it's one of their best efforts - it looks nice and has some great bits, but it's strangely treated like a mystery even though the villain's identity is clearly given away early (via a ring that gets a closeup on its owner after we've seen it on the masked bad guy), so it's a bit frustrating at times as you just want them to get on with it.

But over time I've warmed to it a bit, and even then I liked it enough to keep seeking more Hammer films out over the years. I'm not an expert, I assure you; there are still plenty for me to see, but I saw enough (largely thanks to Horror Movie A Day) to recognize a number of their heavy hitter directors (Freddie Francis, Jimmy Sangster) and find a few true favorites among them. Alas, thanks to those aforementioned availability issues, I don't own any of the ones I really like - the DVDs are either out of print or not worth tracking down (in Plague's case, it's both - the long OOP DVD from Anchor Bay was hideous), and many have yet to hit Blu-ray in the US, if at all. I've purposely kept myself from getting an all region player to avoid late night bad decisions with my credit card (my eyes are much, much bigger than my bank account), so import discs aren't really an option until I find myself in a better financial situation. Therefore, I figured I'd present my "wishlist" just in case Scream Factory needs some help in knowing which titles to go after!

(They don't. Not from me, or from you. They know what they're doing. But this could double as a recommendations list for those of you who DO have all-region players (or simply live in the UK) and haven't seen too many films from the legendary studio!)

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)

This is possibly my favorite Hammer movie, because it's just so damn fun - it's an adventure/mystery/horror blend concerning our title character trying to figure out who is behind a recent string of deaths where the victims are drained of their blood, and unlike Plague it's actually a real mystery! There's lots of action (swordplay!), some lovely ladies, and a great hero in Kronos (Horst Janson), the sort of guy you'd want to see again and again. Back in the early 2010s, when the Hammer brand was revived, this was one of the titles they said they'd be looking to reboot, but alas it never happened. And that bummed me out for a couple reasons, one being that Kronos could easily be a franchise (the original never got a sequel) that got right what Van Helsing got so very, very wrong. The other is that it might encourage other distributors (i.e. Scream Factory) to get a hold of the original for release here; the film got an Australian Blu in 2011 with a pair of audio commentaries, but as far as I can tell it hasn't been re-released since and the transfer was (per a review) passable if not exactly exemplary. Granted, the film is so fun that it'd play well even on a washed out VHS, but given how snobby some folks can be I know its best chance of being seen is a pristine new high def disc, preferably with a new transfer and a couple bonus features to sweeten the deal.

Quatermass And The Pit (1967)

This was released as Five Million Years To Earth in the US, and is the third and final feature adaptation starring the popular Quatermass character (there are also serials from the BBC, including another with the same title, so it gets a bit confusing trying to track them down). I am usually a stickler for continuity and watching a series in order, so normally I'd be pushing for The Quatermass Experiment here, which was released in 1955. And it's a decent enough movie, sure, but this one is better, and has a new actor playing Quatermass (Andrew Keir, replacing Brian Donlevy who played him in the two earlier films), making it a perfectly acceptable jumping on point. More sci-fi than horror, it's got enough creepy moments to qualify, and this one also has the best (if still imperfect) FX of the lot which goes a long way towards selling its more out there ideas. It was a big influence on Lifeforce, so fans of that one would definitely be excited to check it out, but like Kronos the only Blu was from Shock Entertainment in Australia, and given its relative obscurity probably hasn't been blind bought all that often. A SF release would change that!

Dracula AD 1972 (1972)

I know this is no one's favorite entry in the series, and unlike the others  I've mentioned it actually has a Blu-ray via Warner Archive, but dammit I think this movie's a blast and deserves more attention! It brought Peter Cushing back into the fold (as a descendant of Van Helsing, who he played in the first two entries), and there's no greater joy than watching him on-screen in these movies. I also enjoyed the scenes involving the man Dracula turns into a vampire (as opposed to the usual "Hammer Glamour" lady), as they led to a fun twist and helped change the formula up even more than the groovy setting. Plus, WA's disc is barebones (offering just the trailer), and Scream Factory would likely fix that as they did a great job with Dracula Prince of Darkness (which was also an improvement on a previous Blu from another company). In addition to interviews from surviving cast/crew, they tend to get a few historians for these releases, and on Plague they actually put three of them (Steve Haberman, Constantine Nasr, and Ted Newsom) together for a track, which is rare as they're usually solo efforts. And it was a great decision, one I hope they repeat for future releases, because the solo historian tracks tend to be a bit dry to listen to - the info is interesting, but the speaker often feels like he's reading from a manual. On that track, the three men engage in conversation and occasionally even make light of some of the film's shortcomings (not MST3k-ing it, just being honest about this or that blemish) while still offering up plenty of historical information about the production and the people who made it. For a film like AD 1972, which is an acquired taste to be sure, this sort of track could be just as fun as the film itself.

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964) / The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Because of my preference of Cushing to Lee, it's no surprise I generally enjoy their Frankenstein series more than the Draculas, since Cushing only appears in a few of those. This was the first of the series I saw (it's 3rd in the sequence) and remains one of my favorites, but it's sadly only available in a boxed set along with seven other movies, some of which I don't particularly care for (like their obligatory Phantom of the Opera entry and the snoozer Night Creatures). The only other movie in that set I'd really want to keep forever is Curse of the Werewolf, which was - quite shockingly - the only werewolf movie Hammer ever made. Which is a shame, because the only real issue with this one is that it takes too long for the lycanthrope (Oliver Reed!) to show up, something a sequel wouldn't suffer from. Neither of these films deserves to be shoved onto an expensive barebones set with a bunch of others - it's time they got their proper due.

Wake Wood (2009)

While the legacy stuff is their bread and butter, SF has also released plenty of modern films, such as Trick r Treat and the [Rec] series. So it'd be nice to see them give Wake Wood a second chance, as it kind of went under the radar when released by Dark Sky in 2011. Sort of a folk horror spin on Pet Sematary, it gave Aiden Gillen a rare sympathetic role to play and was by far the best of the new Hammer's output, which was otherwise spotty (Quiet Ones or The Resident, anyone?) and curiously never used their own expansive library as a source, opting to remake other studios' movies (Let Me In and The Woman in Black) rather than dust off their own properties. Plus, the Dark Sky disc had some deleted scenes but nothing else, while other territories got a making of featurette - it'd be nice to hear from the filmmakers on this one and see the behind the scenes material we were denied for whatever reason.

Now, just to be clear - I'd be just as happy with any of SF's competitors putting out proper releases; Synapse has done some nice work with the likes of Hands of the Ripper, for example. But one thing SF has proven to excel at over the past six years is a seemingly superhuman ability to work with the major studios to obtain the licenses for their films, which would be a necessity in this case. Since Hammer is a UK studio, ownership of these films for US distribution can be a messy and confusing affair - the Dracula series, for example, is spread over at least four studios here in America, making any sort of collection a likely impossibility. But I said the same thing about Halloween, and now I have a boxed set on my shelf, so if anyone could manage to pull that off, it'd be them. Some studios seem to still be content to leave money on the table and let their libraries collect dust, but with recent partnerships with Sony and WB (along with their ongoing relationships with Universal and MGM) I'd like to believe it's only a matter of time before the others relent and join the Scream Factory party. Paramount (one of those aforementioned holdouts) actually has the rights to Captain Kronos - do you honestly think they're going to do anything with them on their own? Here's hoping these and your favorite Hammer films see proper release in the US before we've moved on to yet another format and left more films potentially forgotten.

NOTE - I did my best to track down the history of these films' Blu-ray releases here in the US, but there still could be errors. If so, feel free to correct in the comments, but don't be a dick about it.