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October 12, 2010

Hammer Films Month Midnight Top Five - Awesome Hammer Films Alumni (Not Named Lee or Cushing)

Everybody loves Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and they're right to do so.  But a lot of people who we know and love cut their teeth in Hammer Films before they made it big.  This Midnight Top Five shall bring light to their contributions at Hammer, and show off some of their later achievements.  Let's get at it!

 Oliver Reed - Reed is probably the most famous star of Hammer that isn't Lee or Cushing, appearing in 116 movies throughout his career.  Hammer fans know him as a leader of former MMOTW Curse of the Werewolf and the Psycho tinted Paranoiac.  Reed appeared in six films for Hammer between 1961 and 1963, including roles opposite both Lee (The Pirates of Blood River) and Cushing (Night Creatures).  He also appeared in the well-regarded sci-fi flick These Are The Damned during this stretch.
Reed went on to become one of Britain's most loved actors, and transitioned to Hollywood roles too.  You've probably seen him in his final film, Gladiator, one of two films he appeared in to win an Oscar for Best Picture (Oliver! was the other.)  He also appeared in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen for Terry Gilliam, the rock musical Tommy, and The Three/Four Musketeers films of the mid '70s.  Horror fans also know him from Dan Curtis' Burnt Offerings and Ken Russell's controversial The Devils.

Caroline Munro - Someone who needs no introduction at FMWL is Caroline Munro, one of The Mike's greatest loves.  At the beginning of her career, Munro appeared in two very different vampire films for Hammer.  In Dracula A.D. 1972, Munro plays a free-spirited young woman who willingly offers herself to Lee's Dracula.  In the other, Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter (another former MMOTW!), she teams up with the undeniable Horst Janson to take on a family of undead youth-suckers.
Originally a model, Munro would get into plenty of film roles throughout the 1970s and 1980s.  At the same time she was with Hammer she also popped up in both Dr. Phibes films as Vincent Price's late wife, and got to go swashbuckling on The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.  She would become a Bond girl in The Spy Who Loved Me (beating out the stunning Barbara Bach for the "Hottest Gal in the Film" Championship), and then led the epic sci-fi cheesefest Starcrash.  She would hit horror hard in the early '80s, starring with Joe Spinnell in Maniac and The Last Horror Film, and appearing in Slaughter High.

Raquel Welch - A lot of people forget the fact that the iconic image of Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. was produced by none other than Hammer Films.  Welch had already made a name for herself - slightly because of her appearance in Fantastic Voyage, primarily because of her looks - but it was most certainly that production photo turned best-selling poster that really earned her sex symbol status.

Welch wasn't done acting, though, and would carve out a nice career for herself in the last '60s and '70s.  Notable titles include the spy comedy Fathom, the western 100 Rifles (opposite NFL star Jim Brown, whom she shared a controversial kiss with), police comedy Fuzz (starring Rifles co-star Burt Reynolds), Myra Breckinridge (in which she played a transsexual lead that audiences laughed at), and the roller derby drama Kansas City Bomber (which The Mike totally loves).

Michael Gough - Alongside Cushing and Lee in Hammer's first Dracula film (Horror of Dracula, to be exact) was Michael Gough, a proper actor who excelled in genre films of the era.  Gough also co-starred in another Hammer adaptation of Universal's work, The Phantom of the Opera, in 1962.  Between these Hammer films, Gough also appeared in Horrors of the Black Museum and the King Kong ripoff Konga.

Gough would go on to star in a lot of films later in his career (TROG, anyone?), but would become most famous as loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth in Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher's Batman films.  Gough's Pennyworth, without question, was a young The Mike's absolute favorite things about these movies (except for when Val Kilmer was there, because Val Kilmer rules).  I remember being physically upset when Gough's life was threatened in Batman & Robin, and still proclaim that this was that film's biggest crime against cinema.  Oh, and if you want more horror, Gough appeared uncredited in The Legend of Hell House, showed up in Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow, and re-teamed with Burton on Sleepy Hollow, too.

Charles Gray - OK, Charles, you do know that there's such a thing as "bad touching", right?  HANDS TO YOURSELF!

That said, I've never hid the fact that my favorite Hammer film is The Devil Rides Out (or, The Devil's Bride, depending on who you ask).  (Oh, and that was FMWL's first Midnight Movie of the Week!)  Gray stars as the wicked cult leader Mocata opposite Lee's heroic lead, and harnesses the same skills he would use in two different James Bond films, You Only Live Twice and (my personal favorite Bond) Diamonds are Forever, where he plays the super-villain Blofeld.

Of course, Gray is probably most famous for his brief role in the '70s cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. (He also returned for the "sequel", Shock Treatment).  Gray hit a few more big films during the 1970s, playing Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft in the out-of-print The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, plus showing up opposite Vincent Price in Theatre of Blood and opposite Cushing in The Beast Must Die.

There are plenty of other fine actors and actresses I could list that starred in Hammer Land, but I'll save them for another day.  For now, let us remember these fine folks, and the impact Hammer had on their careers!  Here's hoping the new Hammer Films regime can do the same for a new generation of stars!


Andreas said...

Charles Gray was in Theatre of Blood? Wow, I don't remember him and I feel like I've seen that movie about a zillion times. Notably, he was also in some Bond movies: first, as a helpful presence in You Only Live Twice, then as Blofeld himself in Diamonds Are Forever.

Those are some fun facts about Gough and Reed, too; something tells me I'll be checking out some '60s Hammer movies with them this month...

The Mike said...

Yeah, I didn't think about it when I posted, but I didn't remember him either. Turns out he was just an uncredited voice in the film.

Tollywood said...

Great to share.