Hammer was more than just a collection of films; for many, it was the cinematic equivalent of a repertory theatre with a trusted company of actors, directors and writers working together on a regular basis. Here are just a few of the 'usual suspects':
Christopher Lee is, in many ways, the face of Hammer, having starred in all bar one of Hammer's Dracula movies as well as playing both their first Frankenstein's monster (1957) and their first Mummy (1959). Ironically, for a man with such a recognisably rich voice as Lee, many of the characters he played for Hammer were mute (although in the case of his Dracula sequels, this was a decision on his part to register his dissatisfaction with the scripted dialogue).
Away from Hammer, Lee appeared in many other horror films, including the British classic The Wicker Man, and indeed, the actor boasts that he has more film credits to his name than any other living actor. Among his other credits, Lee can lay claim to playing both Sherlock Holmes and his smarter brother, Mycroft, and in the recent adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, Lee was the only member of the cast or crew to have met JRR Tolkein before the author's death.
Like Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing's name is forever linked to Hammer thanks to starring roles in some of their biggest releases. Curse of Frankenstein saw him star as the Baron with a Prometheus complex (a character he'd play in but one of Hammer's Frankenstein films); In The Abominable Snowman he recreated a role he'd previously played in the 1955 BBC version of the same story, while in Dracula, he played the vampire's enemy, Dr Van Helsing1. Cushing appeared in a number of other Hammer productions, including The Hound of the Baskervilles (as Sherlock Holmes), but the ill health and subsequent death of his beloved wife Helen came as a great blow to the actor and his appearances for Hammer grew more and more infrequent.
Cushing died, aged 81, on 11 August, 1994.
An early example of 'Hammer glamour', Barbara Shelley impressed audiences as the more acceptable face of The Gorgon, a vampire in Dracula - Prince of Darkness and a victim of Rasputin The Mad Monk among a number of other projects for the company. Quatermass and the Pit brought an end to her association with Hammer.
With a name like that, it won't come as any surprise to anyone to learn that Michael Ripper was Hammer's most prolific regular actor. A personal friend of producer Anthony Hinds, he appeared in over 30 Hammer films, from The Dark Road with Exclusive/Hammer up to the 1970s slapstick comedy film That's Your Funeral. He was invariably cast as the landlord of the village inn in pictures such as The Reptile and Scars of Dracula. Michael died in 2000.
The notorious hell-raiser more famous for his antics off-screen, Oliver Reed started out as one of Hammer's brightest young stars. Broody and with a threat of violence in his eyes, Reed appeared in 11 Hammer pictures, though he is best-known for playing the eponymous tragic beat in Curse of the Werewolf. Reed died in 2000 while making Gladiator.
One of a number of glamorous women to have worked for Hammer, blonde beauty Veronica Carlson epitomised the sexuality that the company tried to push in the 1960s. After an all-too-brief cameo in The Vengeance of She, Veronica went on to appear in Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and The Horror of Frankenstein.
Ralph Bates was brought in initially to replace Christopher Lee when it looked as if Lee was going to turn down Taste the Blood of Dracula. Bates starred in Jimmy Sangster's Horror of Frankenstein, as well as Lust for a Vampire and the psychological thriller Fear in the Night. It was on the set of Dr Jekyl and Sister Hyde that Bates met his future wife, Virginia Wetherall. In later life, he achieved fame thanks to the hit BBC sitcom Dear John. Bates died in 1991.
Surprisingly, despite a career that's been rooted in horror, Ingrid Pitt made only two films for Hammer, The Vampire Lovers and Countess Dracula (Hammer's take on the legend of Elizabeth Bathory). Ingrid came to Hammer at the start of their more sexually overt phase; both of her films for the company have strong lesbian undertones. This, coupled with her natural enthusiasm for her fans, has ensured Ingrid's place in fans' affections. Appearances in The Wicker Man and The House That Dripped Blood have confirmed her as one of the horror genre's best-loved 'scream queens'. In addition to acting, Ingrid has also written a number of books, including her autobiography.
Other Entries in this Project
- Hammer - the Birth of a Studio
- The Hammer Filmography
- Hammer Horror
- What Makes a Hammer Horror Film
- Hammer Television
- Hammer Films - the Final Years
- Hammer Today