Not only did Anchor Bay empty the vaults of the Italian masters, but they also set their sights westward, targeting Europeís most famous horror studio: Hammer Films. During a five year period from 1998 to 2002, Anchor Bay released entries from Hammerís two most famous franchises, Dracula and Frankenstein, along with an abundance of one-off films from the studio as part of The Hammer Collection.
The ball got rolling with the release of the first Dracula sequel to star Christopher Lee, Dracula: Prince of Darkness. After the previous film eschewed him in favor of his Brides, Leeís Dracula made his return with a gloriously bloody resurrection scene. Unfortunately, thatís the filmís biggest highlight, as the rest of the film is a bit of a disappointing and drab-looking effort by Hammer standards. Dracula himself is notably silent since Lee refused to read the dialogue that was written for him, which tells you all you need to know about this one. The sixth entry in the series, Scars of Dracula, fares much better and is arguably the best sequel in the franchise after Brides. Featuring an abundance of buxom babes and gore, this one also gives Leeís Dracula one of his most sinister presences, as heís more verbose than ever and performs a variety of supernatural feats. He also meets a glorious and inventive demise in this one thatís among the best death scenes for a horror icon.
Anchor Bay was also responsible for treating fans to Leeís Dracula swan song; though The Satanic Rites of Dracula would be available on dozens of public domain sets (usually under the title Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride), Anchor Bay would do right by the title by giving it a solid presentation. A direct sequel to the previous film, Rites finds Dracula still stuck in 1970s London, once again scrapping with another Van Helsing descendent. All told, itís a disappointing send-off for one of horrorís great icons, as it plays as more of a spy thriller than a horror film. There is a fun bit of cinematic reflexivity when Lee channels the performance of Bela Lugosiís Dracula in an attempt to fool Cushingís Van Helsing. Cushing actually would return in the follow-up to this film, The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a martial-arts/horror hybrid courtesy of Hammer and Hong Kong's famous Shaw Brothers studio. The film is an obvious departure for the series, as it features more kung-fu choreography than stakes through the heart. The end result isnít the best product, but the climactic showdown between the seven martial arts brothers and Draculaís minions is entertaining to watch. Anchor Bay went all out with this one, as they even featured the filmís American edit, The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, which trims 20 minutes of the filmís run time.
While they didnít release as many Frankenstein entries, Anchor Bay was charged with presenting two of the more unique entries in that franchise. The first was 1967ís Frankenstein Created Woman, which is anything but a rehash of Universalís Bride of Frankenstein. Instead, itís a sublime journey into metaphysics with a fairy-tale sort of aesthetic. Playboy Playmate Susan Danberg plays the title character, a tragic figure who commits suicide after her loverís execution. The two literally become one when the loverís soul finds his way into Danbergís body. A more philosophical and cerebral effort, Frankenstein Created Woman is one that stands out in the franchise for all the right reasons. Conversely, Anchor Bay's other Frankenstein release, Horror of Frankenstein stands out as being ďthe one without Cushing.Ē Indeed, Ralph Bates steps into the role of the mad doctor in this quasi-remake that seemingly was an attempt by Hammer to reboot their famous franchise (despite the fact that it referenced previous films). Featuring a rather plain-looking creature and some off-putting and bizarre black humor, this one almost plays out as a parody at times. The tongue-in-cheek affair is a mostly forgettable effort, and Hammer must have seen the writing on the wall when Cushing returned one last time in Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell.
The rest of the company's Hammer offerings were a grab-bag effort, featuring everything from creature features to zombie films. One release, The Devil Rides Out, features a British horror staple in the form of a demented, Satanic cult and gives fans the rare opportunity to see Christopher Lee on the side of good. With Satanic rituals and a weird-looking goathead demon, this one manages to be one of Hammerís better one-shot efforts. 1966ís The Reptile takes fans into creature feature territory. Itís a middle-of-the-road Hammer effort that boasts a freaky looking titular character and some nice, gothic atmosphere and visuals. The film plays out as more of a mystery and is relatively goreless. Plague of the Zombies is another strong non-franchise Hammer film, featuring a diabolical plot involving voodoo zombie slaves working in a tin mine. Beating George Romero to the social commentary punch by a couple of years, Plague is an obvious allegory for colonial exploitation. As a horror film, its vibrant imagery is a Hammer hallmark, and the film is legitimately creepy despite the low amount of real zombie action.
Anchor Bayís Hammer Collection would also boast the likes of Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Fear in the Night, The Mummyís Shroud, Blood from the Mummyís Tomb, and Lust for a Vampire. The company also had the distinction of releasing the last ďHammer Horror,Ē To the Devil A Daughter, which saw Christopher Lee back on Satanís side in this cult thriller. This collection of titles from Britainís seminal studio is a must for any serious horror collector; Anchor Bay would make this even more easy and affordable in the coming years, as bigger and better bargains were yet to come from the studio.
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