Lockdown Movie Musts: 1960s Creature Features (...But Made By British People)

(L-R) 'The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb' (1964); 'The Brides of Dracula' (1960); 'The Curse of the Werewolf' (1961).

Welcome to week seven of Lockdown Movie Musts! Featuring weird subgenres of yore that’ll make you go, “Hey. At least a 3,000-year-old dude isn’t trying to make out with me right now.”

This week, we’re crawling through caves, humping in dungeons and howling at the moon with 1960s creature features! ... Only they’re all super low-budget and uncomfortably British, on account of my childhood being both of those things.

That’s right! I have reached that point in shelter-in-place where I've started revisiting Childhood Things in order to feel better. And unfortunately for you, I spent a sizable portion of my first decade on the planet watching “Hammer Horrors”—schlocky creature features made by Hammer Film Productions in ’50s, ’60s and ’70s England. Come along for the ride, won’t you? It’s very bumpy and includes some terrible sound effects. Just like the BART tunnel between Embarcadero and West Oakland. (In case the absence of regularly experiencing that is a void you need filling.)

Given the time and the place, we might as well start with the movie with the worst bat PR: 1960’s The Brides of Dracula. At its core, this movie is essentially a manual detailing the worst possible decisions you could ever make as a lone female traveler.

Here are some of the ones that our "heroine" Marianne makes:

  1. Accepting the offer of free room and board from a mysterious old lady who lives in a castle and looks like “Mom” from Futurama.
  2. Assisting the escape of an imprisoned maniac from the castle, on the grounds that he's a bit of a hottie.
  3. Leaving her worldly belongings behind at the castle, while she goes off to her new teaching job at the local girls' school. (Don't you need clean underwear, Marianne?)
  4. Agreeing to marry the maniac after 10 minutes of knowing him, even though both “Mom” and a babe from the local village die within 24 hours of him getting out. (Change your underwear, Marianne!)
  5. Never ever taking any responsibility at all for indirectly causing the deaths of at least three people. (Maybe you don't deserve clean underwear, Marianne!)

Don’t get me started on Peter Cushing's Van Helsing, a vampire-hunter who stops chasing vampires the second old ladies stand in the way, or women faint in the vicinity. A “hero” who tells sick women he’s a doctor, despite having zero medical qualifications. A guy who desperately needs a crucifix to do his job, but never carries a spare. (You’ve got, like, eight pockets bro!)

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Best we move swiftly on to 1961’s The Curse of the Werewolf. A movie that answers that age-old question: What happens if a “beggar” who’s been in prison for 15 years rapes a mute woman who then gives birth to the resulting infant on Christmas Day? The answer of course is that the child turns into a werewolf who can only be cured by the love of a good woman. (Talk about emotional labor, ladies!)

For some reason, The Curse of the Werewolf is based in Spain. We know this because all of the very English actors in it are called things like "Pepe" and "Rico" and everyone says the word “señor” a lot. Also, when they go to bars, there is a fair amount of flamenco dancing involved. And you just don’t see that in many pubs in London, so sure. Spain it is!

You might be surprised to find out then, that The Curse of the Werewolf lets Spain off easy compared to the variety of nations flagrantly stereotyped in 1964’s The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb. This is a film in which French women are unfaithful hussies, the English working classes all call everyone “Guv’na!” and Americans are money-grabbing loudmouths who talk about “sarsaparilla” and (oh, dear God) “cotton pickin’.”

Worst of all, 99% of the Middle Eastern characters in this film are played by white dudes and—I cannot complain about this enough—some of them are wearing bronzer. In case the brownface isn't enough to convince you that this movie is racist, two of the four black people who appear here play statues. Actual, guarding-a-tomb, supposed-to-be-marble, statues.

So yeah, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is even more problematic than all of Scarlett Johansson’s 2019 interviews combined—and that is saying a lot. No one comes out of this thing looking good, but as a vehicle for forgetting about the pandemic and yelling at your TV? Highly effective.

Here are some other things in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb that are worthy of a "WTF?":

  • Superficial stab wounds that cause instant death.
  • Hands that can be cut off in one swift motion using teeny-tiny daggers.
  • Ancient artifacts that are built out of Styrofoam and/or papier mâché.
  • The fact that the mummy is bulletproof.
  • The fact that the mummy can be immediately stopped if you dangle the right necklace—or lady!—in front of him.
  • The fact that the mummy has a penchant for destroying really nice window dressings. (Rude!)
  • The fact that any time anyone says anything dramatic, the whole cast stops and does what Joey from Friends once memorably called “Smell the fart acting.”

Even 6-year-old me knew these movies were incredibly silly, but I had not realized how much unintentional comedy gold was in them until now. So until next week, stay safer than all of the idiots in these movies, and keep sheltering.

For other Lockdown Movie Musts, click here