Founded in 1934, prolific British studio Hammer Film Productions is synonymous with gothic horror movies of the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as making Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee household names.

Putting a distinctly British stamp on classic Universal monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy, ‘Hammer Horror’ became a colloquial term for the studio’s gothic output, which began with 1958’s Dracula and reached its apogee during the 1960s and early ‘70s.

So, whether you’re well versed in Hammer lore or think the name relates to a tool used to hit a nail, here are five reasons to love the glorious output of Hammer Films:

Much like the Carry On films established their own repertory group of actors, you’ll find a lot of the same faces popping up frequently throughout the Hammer Horror cycle. The great Peter Cushing has played Baron Victor Frankenstein six times and vampire hunter Van Helsing a total of five, while esteemed contemporary Christopher Lee is best loved for creating arguably the definitive Count Dracula, as well as the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster and Rasputin the Mad Monk. Other regular players include Ralph Bates, Michael Ripper, Barbara Shelley and Darth Vader himself, David Prowse. Many directors also returned for multiple Hammer films, with Jimmy Sangster, Terence Fisher and Roy Ward Baker delivering some of the studio’s best and most enduring movies.

Peter Cushing in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Hammer is famous for casting glamourous actresses as vampires, victims and reincarnated Egyptian queens, and counts several Bond girls in the mix including The Spy Who Loved Me stars Caroline Munro (the only actor signed to a long-term contract with the studio) and the voluptuous Valerie Leon, who made Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971) a Hammer fan favourite. And let’s not forget the regal Ingrid Pitt, who played Countess Dracula in the 1971 film of the same name and one of The Vampire Lovers (1970), and Raquel Welch in cavegirl skins in One Million Years B.C. (1966).

Hammer Films captured a bona fide English style, mood and aesthetic that influenced a plethora of future filmmakers and was instrumental in the success of British films in the international market. The movies are a time capsule of London’s swinging sixties and seventies, and Kate Bush even wrote a tribute song, Hammer Horror, in 1978. Moreover, the gothic atmosphere and crumbling castles are the perfect companion on a cold, wet, winter’s night with a piping hot cup of tea.

Boasting vivid Technicolor, strong production values and a wardrobe of period costumes, Hammer Films scrub up beautifully in HD. And it’s a great time to be a Hammer fan, or a newbie ready to delve into the studio’s vast filmography for the very first time, with a great range of classics available locally on Blu-ray. Imprint Films’ recent Limited Edition Hammer Horror box set includes early ‘70s essentials Countess Dracula, Hands of the Ripper, Twins of Evil (featuring a fearsome performance from Peter Cushing as a witchfinder) and Vampire Circus, while Universal are set to re-release a number of must-haves in October including the brilliant Quatermass and the Pit (1967), The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966).

Hammer closed the door on horror in 1976 with To the Devil… A Daughter, an adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s occult novel that introduced a 15-year-old Nastassja Kinski to moviegoers. But that wasn’t the end of Hammer Horror – the studio returned in 2009 with the thriller The Resident, featuring Christopher Lee, followed by Let Me In (2010), The Woman in Black (2012) with Daniel Radcliffe, and most recently, the creepy thriller The Lodge (2019).