Nicole Cushing: Vampire Circus (1972)
Why? Well, for me, a successful horror film plucks the same nerves as a nightmare. It doesn’t necessarily have to make sense. It just has to make enough sense that it doesn’t lose you. In this movie Hammer gives us nineteenth century vampires who: (A.) form a traveling circus, in which some of them (B.) shape shift into circus animals, and (C.) use a magical mirror to kill townspeople. Somehow, Hammer manages to sneak eroticism into the midst of all this. Oh, and the whole thing takes place during a plague! It’s a mosh pit of decadence, decay, and delight.
Johnathan Raab: The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Christopher Lee is at his best, playing the hero Duke de Richleau this time, spouting pseudo-metaphysical occult nonsense and casting spells in his quest to deliver his friend from the clutches of satanic evil. Everyone is taking the creaky, goofy supernatural proceedings extremely seriously, which makes for a fun romp as the ghastly magic and ghouls serving the Goat of Mendes show up. Reading the book might help you understand the truncated ending, but I don’t recommend it—just follow Sir Christopher down the black magic rabbit hole and enjoy Hammer at its silly and spooky best.
Amy Vaugh: Straight on Till Morning (1972)
In the first half of 2019, I watched all 54 Hammer horror films. I wrote about it for Ginger Nuts of Horror. Of all of them, the weirdest, most disturbing, most memorable to me is Straight on Till Morning. This movie tells the story of a naïve young woman looking for someone to father the child she desperately wants. The man she decides on is a Peter Pan-like serial killer who brutally murders any woman who gets close to him. There’s a merciless off-kilter tension created by the juxtaposition of their childishness and the gravity of the situation.
Straight on Till Morning may not be a great movie. It may not even be representative of what most people think of as the Hammer genre—being much more like Die! Die! My Darling or Crescendo than like Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde or Dracula A.D. 1972—but damn if it isn’t one of the creepiest films ever to come from the House of Hammer.
Sam Richard: To the Devil a Daughter (1976)
Christopher Lee, Natassja Kinski, and Richard Widmark star in this adaptation of the Dennis Wheatley novel. Literally what’s not to like? Hallucinatory and dreamlike plus it boasts amazing music, this would be the last Hammer film until the studio returned in 2011. Not typically a fan favorite, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this one when it was over. Often overlooked which is a shame because it’s worth it for the performance alone.
Garrett Cook: Night Creatures (1962)
My favorite Hammer film features no real monsters but greed. It’s a swashbuckling adventure featuring Peter Cushing as a swashbuckling “reverend” with a secret. We’ve got fake ghosts, Oliver Reed and Cushing putting Errol Flynn to shame. Night Creatures is infectiously charming and shows the class, integrity and personal power of a brilliant actor.