A Messy List of My 10 Favorite Hammer Horror Films

I’m not a fan of making Top 10 Lists because setting anything in stone—unless you’re a gorgon—is only asking for regrets later. Favorites are fluid, and personal tastes fluctuate. But readers like lists, as do search engines, so for my Happy Halloween post, I’ve put together a sloppy list of my favorite horror movies from Hammer Film Productions during their original years.

Hammer movies are my horror brand. They’re what I think Gothic horror should be. They’re my constant companions each October. And here are ten, listed alphabetically so I won’t get into fights with myself over ranking, that I think represent the best of the studio during its grand era.

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Before The Wolf Man: Man Made Monster (1941)

A minor film taken on its own, Man Made Monster introduced movie audiences to two of the major stars of the 1940s Universal horror movie factory: actor Lon Chaney Jr. and director-writer-producer George Waggner. Chaney Jr. (born Creighton Chaney) became Universal’s primary monster performer for the rest of the decade thanks to his success in the title role of The Wolf Man. George Waggner also rode the success of The Wolf Man as its director and rose to be the studio’s go-to producer and director for the remainder of the classic horror cycle.

Before the two hit their heights, they had a low-budget trial run with this little electrical SF horror movie.

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The Price of October: The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

In 2013, a mere million years ago, Shout! Factory delivered to the world one of the most delightful October movie packages: The Vincent Price Collection, a Blu-ray set with six classics, including four from the Edgar Allan Poe/Roger Corman/AIP series. (The Haunted Palace is based on a short novel by H. P. Lovecraft, but AIP slapped the title of an obscure Poe poem onto it to make it another entry in the cycle).

Horror movie expert Brian Collins has said that if you go all of October without watching a Vincent Price movie, you’re doing it wrong. I won’t issue an absolute like that—and Collins has admitted he’s gone at least one October without Price—but it makes sense. Price as a persona matches the season: he combines sinister evil, charm, and the feeling of quality company. Halloween should feel sinister and cozy. It’s a holiday after all, meant to be fun, and Vincent Price invites us with his dulcet tones and long, gray face to enjoy ourselves for a few spooky hours and leave with good memories. 

And the best Vincent Price films for the season are the AIP-Poe films, which started with The Fall of the House of Usher. This was the first film I watched off the collection when I got it in 2013, and it was the Price film I chose this October to fill my quota.

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Another VHS Cover Disappoints: The Nesting (1981)

The haunted house movie The Nesting reached a few screens in limited release in 1981. But then Warner Bros. Home Video picked it up for one of its famous clamshell case VHS releases and hung haunting artwork on the cover. Suddenly, The Nesting achieved fame—not as a movie people watched and remembered, but as a spectral and sexy image on video store shelves that entranced youngsters who either weren’t allowed to watch horror films or were too scared to watch them. 

Could a film like The Nesting live up to such evocative, moody artwork? Of course not. I didn’t need to watch the movie to discover this, but I did anyway because it was on Amazon Prime and I’m easy prey for haunted house films, even rotten ones. I was once one of those kids in the video store and I wanted answers from that cover.

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It! (1967): The Golem Movie That Time Forgot

What if Norman Bates gained control of the Power of God, and the British military had to use a nuclear warhead to stop him? You don’t have to imagine too hard, because it happened … in It!

Two decades before the novel It monopolized the neuter pronoun for horrordom, a British film starring Roddy McDowall and a giant raisin-textured statue tried to copy the style of Hammer’s Gothic horrors and the characterization of Psycho. It is as weirdly entertaining as it sounds, a deep-cut from the Anglo-horror cycle that deserves more attention than nothing at all, which is where it currently is. The film has also gone under the alternate titles Anger of the Golem and Curse of the Golem to make its central monster clearer. If only the filmmakers knew Stephen King would use a similar title years later, they could’ve stuck with one of those alternates and avoided search engine confusion. 

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