- Hammer Film Productions
Hammer Film Productions is a film production company based in the
United Kingdom. Founded in 1934, the company is best known for the series of Gothic "Hammer Horror" films produced from the late 1950s until the 1970s. Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers and comediesndash and in later years, television series. Hammer films were cheap to produce but nonetheless appeared lavish, making use of quality British actors and cleverly designed sets. During its most successful years, Hammer dominated the horror filmmarket, enjoying worldwide distribution and considerable financial success. This success was due, in part, to distribution partnerships with major United Statesstudios, such as Warner Brothers.
During the late 1960s and 1970s the saturation of the horror market by competitors and the loss of American funding forced changes to the previously lucrative Hammer-formula, with varying degrees of success. The company eventually ceased production in the mid-1980s and has remained in effective hibernation since. In 2000 the studio announced plans to begin making films again after being bought by a consortium including advertising guru and art collector Charles Saatchi, but no films have been produced since. In May 2007 the company behind the movies was sold to a group headed by Big Brother creator
John de Mol.At least $50m (£25m) will be spent on new horror films after Hammer Film Productions was sold to Dutch consortium Cyrte Investments.The new owners have also acquired the Hammer group's back catalogue.
The term "Hammer Horror" is often used generically to refer to other films of the period made in a similar style by different companies, such as Eros Films,
Amicus Productionsand Tigon British Film Productions.
Early history (1935 to 1937)ndash Hammer Productions
In November 1934
William Hinds, a comedian and businessman registered his own film companyndash Hammer Productions Ltd. [cite book|author=Meikle, Denis|title=A History of Horrors - The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer|publisher=The Scarecrow Press|year=1996|pages=p. 3] [cite book|author=Hearn, Marcus and Barnes, Alan|title=The Hammer Story|publisher=Titan Books|year=1997|pages=p. 8] ndash based in a three-room office suite at Imperial House, Regent Street, London. The company name was taken from Hinds' stage name, Will Hammer.
Work began almost immediately on the first Hammer film, "The Public Life of Henry the Ninth" at the MGM/ATP studios, with shooting concluding on
2 January, 1935. During this period Hinds met Spanish émigré Enrique Carreras, a former cinema owner, and on 10 May, 1935they formed a film distribution company Exclusive Films, operating from a single office at 60-66 National House, Wardour Street. [cite book|author=Kinsey, Wayne|title=Hammer Films: The Bray Studios Years|publisher=Reynolds & Hearn Ltd|year=2005|id=ISBN 1-903111-44-7|pages=p. 9] Hammer produced a further four films distributed by Exclusive:
The Mystery of the Marie Celeste" (US: " The Phantom Ship") (1936), featuring Bela Lugosi
* "The Song of Freedom" (1936), featuring
* "Sporting Love" (1937)
* "The Bank Messenger Mystery (1936)
A slump in the British film industry forced Hammer into
bankruptcyand the company went into liquidation in 1937. Exclusive, however, survived and on 20 July, 1937purchased the leasehold on 113-117 Wardour Street, and continued to distribute films made by other companies. [Hearn and Barnes, "op cit", p. 9]
Resurrection (1938 to 1955)ndash Hammer Film Productions
James Carreras(son of Enrique) joined Exclusive in 1938, closely followed by William Hinds' son, Anthony. At the outbreak of World War II, both James Carreras and Anthony Hindsleft to join the armed services and Exclusive continued to operate only in a limited capacity. In 1946, James Carreras rejoined the company after demobilisation. He resurrected Hammer as the film production arm of Exclusive with a view to supplying ' quota-quickies' - cheaply made domestic films designed to fill gaps in cinema schedules and support more expensive features. [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 11.] He convinced Anthony Hinds to rejoin the company, and a revived 'Hammer Film Productions' set to work on "Death in High Heels", "The Dark Road", "Crime Reporter" and "Dick Barton Special Agent" (an adaptation of the successful Dick Bartonradio show). All were shot at Marylebone Studios during 1947. During production of 1948's "Dick Barton Strikes Back", it became apparent that the company could save a considerable amount of money by shooting in country houses instead of professional studios. For their next productionndash "Dr Morelle - The Case of the Missing Heiress" (another radio adaptation)ndash Hammer rented Dial Close, a 23 bedroom mansion next to the River Thames, at Cookham Dean, Maidenhead. ["Little Shoppe of Horrors" #4. Edited by Richard Klemensen. p. 38. Michael Carreras interview.]
12 February, 1949Exclusive finally registered "Hammer Film Productions" as a company with Enrique and James Carreras, and William and Tony Hinds as company directors. Hammer moved into the Exclusive offices in 113-117 Wardour Street, and the building was rechristened "Hammer House". [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 13.]
In August 1949, complaints from locals about noise during night filming forced Hammer to leave Dial Close and move into another mansion,
Oakley Court, also on the banks of the Thames between Windsor and Maidenhead. [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 16.] Five films were shot there: "The Man in Black" (1949), " Room to Let" (1949), "Someone at the Door" (1949), "What The Butler Saw" (1950), "The Lady Craved Excitement" (1950). In 1950, Hammer moved again to Gilston Park, a country club in Harlow Essex, which hosted "Black Widow", "The Rossiter Case", "To Have and to Hold" and "The Dark Light" (all 1950).
In 1951, Hammer began shooting at its most famous home, Down Place also on the banks of the Thames. The company took out a one-year lease and began its 1951 production schedule with "Cloudburst". The house, a virtual derelict, required substantial work, but it did not have the kind of construction restrictions that had prevented Hammer from customising its previous homes. A decision was therefore made to turn Down Place into a substantial, custom-fitted studio complex. [Kinsey. "op cit" pp. 20-22.] Its expansive grounds were used for almost all of the later location shooting in Hammer's films, and are a key part of the "Hammer look".
Also during 1951, Hammer and Exclusive signed a four-year production and distribution contract with
Robert Lippert, an American film producer. The contract meant that Lippert and Exclusive effectively exchanged products for distribution on their respective sides of the Atlanticndash beginning in 1951 with "The Last Page" and ending with 1955's "Women Without Men" (AKA "Prison Story").Kinsey. "op cit" p. 22.] It was Lippert's insistence on an American star in the Hammer films he was to distribute that led to the prevalence of American leads in so many of the company's 1950s productions. It was for "The Last Page" that Hammer made one of its most significant appointments when it hired film director Terence Fisher, who went on to play a critical role in the forthcoming horror boom of the 1950s.
Towards the end of 1951, the one-year lease on Down Place expired, and with its increasing success Hammer looked back towards more conventional studio-based productions. A dispute with the Association of Cinematograph Technicians, however, blocked this proposal, and instead the company purchased the freehold of Down Place. The house was renamed Bray Studios after the nearby village of Bray and it remained Hammer's principal base until 1966.
1952 brought the first of Hammer's science fiction films: "
Four Sided Triangle" and " Spaceways".Hammer Horror people
"Directors and writers"
Michael Carreras, sometimes as Henry Younger - writer and director of "The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb"
Terence Fisher- director of "Dracula", "The Curse of Frankenstein", "The Mummy" and others
Freddie Francis- director of "The Evil of Frankenstein" and "Dracula has Risen From the Grave"
Tudor Gates- writer of "The Vampire Lovers", "Lust for a Vampire", and "Twins of Evil"
John Gilling- writer and director of " Shadow of the Cat" ( 1961), " The Plague of the Zombies" ( 1966), " The Reptile" ( 1966) and " The Mummy's Shroud"
Anthony Hinds, as John Elder - writer of "The Brides of Dracula", "The Curse of the Werewolf" and others
Jimmy Sangster- writer of "Dracula", "The Curse of Frankenstein" and others; director of "The Horror of Frankenstein" and "Lust for a Vampire"
Peter Sasdy- director of "Taste the Blood of Dracula" and "Countess Dracula"
Harry Robertson- musical director of "Countess Dracula", "Twins of Evil" and others
The scores for many Hammer horror films, including "Dracula" and "The Curse of Frankenstein", were composed by
James Bernard. Production designer Bernard Robinsonand cinematographer Jack Asherwere instrumental in creating the lavish look of the early Hammer films, usually on a very restricted budget.
Hammer's horror films featured many of the same actors in recurring roles; these actors are sometimes called the "Hammer repertory company".
The birth of Hammer Horror (1955 to 1959)
Hammer's first significant experiment with horror came in the form of a 1955 adaptation of
Nigel Kneale's BBC Televisionscience fiction serial " The Quatermass Experiment", which was directed by Val Guest. As a consequence of the contract with Robert Lippert, American actor Brian Donlevywas imported for the lead role, and the title was changed to " The Quatermass Xperiment" to cash in on the new X certificatefor horror films. The film was an unexpectedly big hit, and led to an almost equally popular 1957 sequel " Quatermass 2"ndash again adapted from one of Kneale's television scripts, this time by Kneale himself and with a budget double that of the original: £92,000. [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 50.] In the meantime, Hammer had produced another " Quatermass"-style horror film, " X the Unknown", originally intended as a full part of the series until Kneale denied them the rights.cite book|title=The Quatermass Collectionndash Viewing Notes|last=Pixley|first=Andrew|year=2005|location= London|publisher= BBC Worldwide|id=BBCDVD1478|pages=p. 18] At the time, Hammer voluntarily submitted its scripts to the British Board of Film Classification(BBFC) for comments before beginning production. Regarding the script of "X the Unknown", one reader/examiner (Audrey Field) commented on the 24 of November:
:"Well, no one can say the customers won't have had their money's worth by now. In fact, someone will almost certainly have been sick. We must have a great deal more restraint, and much more done by onlookers' reactions instead of by shots of 'pulsating obscenity', hideous scars, hideous sightless faces, etc, etc. It is keeping on and on in the same vein that makes this script so outrageous. They must take it away and prune. Before they take it away, however, I think the President [of the BBFC] should read it. I have a stronger stomach than the average (for viewing purposes) and perhaps I ought to be reacting more strongly." [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 41.]
The Curse of Frankenstein
As production began on "Quatermass 2", Hammer started to look for another U.S. partner willing to invest in and handle the American promotion of new product. They eventually entered talks with Associated Artists Pictures (AAP) and its head, Eliot Hyman. During this period, two young American filmmakers, Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, submitted to AAP a script for an adaptation of the novel "
Frankenstein". Although interested in the script, AAP were not prepared to back a film made by Rosenberg and Subotsky, who had only one film to their credit. Eliot Hyman did, however, send the script to his contact at Hammer. [Hammer's entry into the gothic period horror market was, therefore, built (albeit loosely) on the work of Subotsky and Rosenberg who would go on to found Amicus Productionsndash a company that would, in later years, become a rival to Hammer. Rosenberg would often claim he "produced" "Curse of Frankenstein", an exaggeration repeated in his obituary. ]
Anthony Hinds was unsure about the script, as
Universal Pictureshad already made a series of successful "Frankenstein" films. Although the novel by Mary Shelleywas long since in public domain, Subotsky's script adhered closely to the plot of the 1939 Universal film " Son of Frankenstein", featuring a second-generation Frankenstein emulating his father, the original monster-maker. This put the project at risk of a copyrightinfringement lawsuit by Universal. In addition, a great deal of polishing and additional material was needed as the short script had an estimated running time of only 55 minutesndash far less than the minimum of 90 minutes needed for distribution in the UK. Accordingly, comments on the script from Hammer's Michael Carreras were less than complimentary:
:"The script is badly presented. The sets are not marked clearly on the shot headings, neither is DAY or NIGHT specified in a number of cases. The number of set-ups scripted is quite out of proportion to the length of the screenplay, and we suggest that your rewrites are done in master scene form."ndash Michael Carreras' letter to Max Rosenberg. [ Kinsey. "op cit" p. 51.]
Further revisions were made to the script, and a working title of "Frankenstein and the Monster" was chosen. Plans were made to shoot the film in Eastmancolorndash a decision which caused further worry at the BBFC. Not only did the script contain horror and graphic violence, but it would be portrayed in vivid colour. [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 80.]
The project was handed to Tony Hinds who was even less impressed with the script than Michael Carreras, and whose vision for the film was a mere black and white 'quickie' made in three weeks. Concerned that Subotsky and Rosenberg's script still had too many similarities to the old Universal films, Hinds commissioned Jimmy Sangster to rewrite it as "
The Curse of Frankenstein". Sangster's treatment impressed Hammer enough to rescue the film from its place on the 'quickie' treadmill and restore it as a colour shoot.
Sangster submitted his own script to the BBFC for examination. Audrey Field's report on the
10 October, 1956read,Kinsey. "op cit" p. 60.]
:"We are concerned about the flavour of this script, which, in its preoccupation with horror and gruesome detail, goes far beyond what we are accustomed to allow even for the 'X' category. I am afraid we can give no assurance that we should be able to pass a film based on the present script and a revised script should be sent us for our comments, in which the overall unpleasantness should be mitigated."
Regardless of the BBFC's stern warnings, Hinds supervised the shooting of a virtually unchanged script.Kinsey. "op cit" p. 63.]
The film was directed by Terence Fisher, with a look that belied its modest budget.
Peter Cushing's performance as Baron Victor Frankenstein, and Lee's as the imposingly tall, brutish monster provide the film with a further veneer of polish. With a budget of £65,000 and a cast and crew that would become the backbone of later films, Hammer's first Gothic horror went into production. The use of colour encouraged a previously unseen level of gore. Until "The Curse of Frankenstein" horror films had not shown blood in a graphic way, or when they did it was concealed by monochrome photography. In this film, it was bright red, and the camera lingered upon it.
The film was an enormous success, not only in Britain, but also in the
USA, where it inspired numerous imitations from, amongst others, Roger Cormanand his American International Pictures. It also found success on the European continent, where Italian directors and audiences were particularly receptive.
The huge box office success of "The Curse of Frankenstein" lead to the inevitable desire for a sequel in "The Revenge of Frankenstein", [The original title of the script was "Blood of Frankenstein".] and an attempt to give the Hammer treatment to another horror icon. Dracula was yet another successful film character for Universal, and the copyright situation was even more complicated than Frankenstein. A full legal agreement between Hammer and Universal was not completed until
31 March, 1958ndash after the film had already been shotndash and was 80 pages long. [The agreement was between Cadogan, a Hammer subsidiary, and Universal. Kinsey. p. 86.]
Meanwhile, the financial arrangement between AAP and Hammer had broken down when money promised by AAP had not arrived. Hammer began looking for alternatives, and with the success of "The Curse of Frankenstein" signed a deal with
Columbia Picturesto distribute the sequel "The Revenge of Frankenstein" and two films from the defaulted AAP deal "The Camp on Blood Island" and "The Snorkel". Hammer's financial success also meant the winding down of the parent film distribution company Exclusive, leaving Hammer to concentrate solely on filmmaking. [Kinsey. "op cit" pp. 67, 91.]
Work continued on the script for "Dracula", and the second draft was voluntarily submitted to the BBFC. Audrey Fields,
8 October, 1957,
:"The uncouth, uneducated, disgusting and vulgar style of Mr Jimmy Sangster cannot quite obscure the remnants of a good horror story, though they do give one the gravest misgivings about treatment. [...] The curse of this thing is the Technicolor blood: why need vampires be messier eaters than anyone else? Certainly strong cautions will be necessary on shots of blood. And of course, some of the stake-work is prohibitive." [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 94.]
Despite the success of "Curse of Frankenstein", the financing of "Dracula" proved awkward. Universal was not interested, [Universal itself was having financial difficulties at the time. The talent agency MCA would buy out the company in the early 1960s..] , and the search for money eventually brought Hammer back to AAP's Eliot Hyman, through another of his companies, Seven Arts. Although an agreement was drawn up, the deal was never realised and funding for Dracula eventually came from the
National Film Finance Council(£32,000) and the rest from Universal in return for worldwide distribution rights. [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 92.]
With an eventual budget of £81,412, Dracula began principal photography on
11 November, 1957. [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 96.] Peter Cushing starred as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, with direction by Terence Fisher and set design by Bernard Robinson that was radically different from the Universal adaptationndash so radical, in fact, that Hammer executives considered paying him off and finding another designer. [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 99.]
"Dracula" was an enormous success, breaking box-office records in the UK, the United States (released as "Horror of Dracula"), Canada, and across the world. On
20 August, 1958the "Daily Cinema" reported,
:"Because of the fantastic business done world-wide by Hammer's Technicolor version of Dracula, Universal-International, its distributors, have made over to Jimmy Carreras' organisation, the remake rights to their entire library of classic films" [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 144.]
With the agreement in place, Hammer's executives had their pick of Universal International's horror icons and chose to remake "The Invisible Man", "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Mummy's Hand". All were to be shot in Technicolor at Bray Studios, by the same team responsible for "Dracula", "Curse of Frankenstein" and "Revenge of Frankenstein". "The Mummy" (the title used for the remake of "The Mummy's Hand", which also incorporated significant story elements from that film's sequel, "The Mummy's Tomb") was made in 1959, "The Phantom of the Opera" followed in 1962, but "The Invisible Man" was never produced.
Principal photography for "The Mummy" began on
23 February, 1959and lasted until 16 April, 1959. It starred both Peter Cushing (as John Banning) and Christopher Lee (as the Mummy, Kharis), and was again directed by Terence Fisher with a screenplay from Jimmy Sangster. "The Mummy" went on general release on 23 October, 1959and broke the box-office records set by "Dracula" the previous year, both in the UK and the U.S. when it was released there in December. [Kinsey. "op cit" p. 166.]
During the period 1955-1959 Hammer produced a number of other, non-horror films, including "The Hound of the Baskervilles" starring Peter Cushing as
Sherlock Holmes, and comedies such as "Don't Panic Chaps!". Nevertheless, it is the three films, "The Curse of Frankenstein", "Dracula" and "The Mummy" that set the direction and provided a template for many future films, and for which the company is best known.
equels (1959 to 1974)
Hammer consolidated their success by turning their most successful horror films into series. Six sequels to "The Curse of Frankenstein" were produced between 1959 and 1974:
The Revenge of Frankenstein" (1959)
The Evil of Frankenstein" (1964)
Frankenstein Created Woman" (1967)
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" (1969)
The Horror of Frankenstein" (1970)
Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell" (1974)
Peter Cushingas Baron Frankenstein, except "The Horror of Frankenstein" (not a sequel, but a tongue-in-cheek remake of "The Curse of Frankenstein"), where Ralph Batestook the title role. "The Evil of Frankenstein" stars Cushing but has a re-telling of the first film in flashbacks and a Baron Frankenstein with a very different personality and thus it isn't really a sequel. [ [http://www.horror-database.co.uk/reviews/gothic/hammerfrankenstein.html#Evil%20of%20Frankenstein Hammer Horror Frankenstein Series ] ]
Hammer also produced a half-hour pilot titled "
Tales of Frankenstein" (1958) that was intended to premiere on American television; it was never picked up but is now available on DVD. Anton Diffring played Baron Frankenstein.
Hammer also produced eight other "Dracula" films between 1960 and 1974:
The Brides of Dracula" (1960)
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" (1968)
Taste the Blood of Dracula" (1969)
Scars of Dracula" (1970)
Dracula AD 1972" (1972)
The Satanic Rites of Dracula" (1973)
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" (1974)
The first four were direct sequels to the original film. "Brides of Dracula" did not include Dracula himself, but
Peter Cushingrepeated his role as Van Helsing to battle vampire Baron Meinster ( David Peel). Christopher Leeas Dracula returned in the following six films, which employed much ingenuity in finding ways to resurrect the Count. Hammer upped the graphic violence and gore with " Scars of Dracula" in an attempt to re-imagine the character to appeal to a younger audience. The commercial failure of this film led to another change of style with the following films, which were not period pieces like their predecessors, but had a then-contemporary 1970s London setting. Peter Cushing appeared in both films playing a descendant of Van Helsing.
It is worth noting that while the contemporary films featuring Dracula star both Lee and Cushing, they are not the same series due to the lack of correspondence to the Victorian/Edwardian era films; the first film is set in the 1880s whereas the flashback sequence of the last battle between Van Helsing and Dracula is set in the 1872 - long before the first meeting of Van Helsing and Dracula in "
Dracula (1958 film)".
Christopher Lee grew increasingly disillusioned with the way the character was being taken, and with the poor quality of the later scripts - although he did improve these slightly himself by adding lines of dialogue from the original novel. (Lee speaks at least one line taken from Bram Stoker in every Dracula film he has appeared in, except for "Prince of Darkness" - in which the Count does not speak at all.) He was also concerned about typecasting. After "Satanic Rites", he quit the series.
Further "mummy" movies were unrelated to the 1959 remake and one, "
The Mummy's Shroud", was relegated to second feature status. The films were " The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb" (1964), " The Mummy's Shroud" (1966) and " Blood from the Mummy's Tomb" (1971). The latter was a modern day version of Bram Stoker's " The Jewel of Seven Stars" and featured Valerie Leonas a reincarnated Egyptian Princess, rather than an actual mummy. The same novel also served as the basis for the 1980 Charlton Heston film " The Awakening".
From the mid-1960s, the "Mummy" films and some of Hammer's other horror output were increasingly designed for double-billing. Two films would be shot back-to-back with the same sets and costumes to save money. Each film would then be shown on a separate double-bill to prevent audiences noticing any recycling for example "
The Plague of the Zombies" and " The Reptile" (both 1965),
Hammer also made occasional one-off forays into new territory, such as the 'cave girl' series directed by Michael Carreras:
One Million Years B.C." (1966), with Raquel Welch.
Slave Girls" (1968)
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" (1970)
Creatures the World Forgot" (1971)
Hammer's briefly fashionable cavewoman genre was parodied in "
Carry On Up the Jungle" (1970) [Sinclair McKay (2007): "A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films": 105]
Running alongside production of the Gothic horror films, Hammer also made a series of what were known as "mini-Hitchcocks" mostly scripted by
Jimmy Sangster, and directed by Freddie Francisand Seth Holt. These very low-budget suspense thrillers, often in black-and-white, were made in the mould of "Les Diaboliques", although more often compared to the later "Psycho". This series of mystery thrillers, which all had twist endings, started with " Taste of Fear" (1961) and continued with "Maniac" (1963), "Paranoiac" (1963), "Nightmare" (1964), "Hysteria" (1965), "Fanatic" (1965), "The Nanny" (1965), "Crescendo" (1970) and " Fear in the Night" (1972)cite book |last=Hardy|first=Phil|authorlink=Phil Hardy (journalist)|Phil Hardy|coauthors= |title=Encyclopedia of Horror Movies|year=1986|publisher=Octopus Books|location=London|id=ISBN 0-7064-2771-8|edition=1st|pages=137]
Other films include:
The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll" (1960), a version of Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde
The Curse of the Werewolf" (1961), Oliver Reed's first starring role
* "The Phantom of the Opera" (1962), starring
* "She" (1965), based on the novel of the same name by
* "The Witches" (1966)
* "The Anniversary" (1968), with
29 May, 1968, Hammer was awarded the Queen's Award to Industryin recognition of their contribution to the British economy. The official presentation ceremony took place on the steps of the Castle Dracula set at Pinewood Studios, during the filming of "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave". [cite book|author=Rigby, Jonathan,|title=English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema|publisher=Reynolds & Hearn Ltd|year=2000|id=ISBN 1-903111-01-3]
Market changes (early 1970s)
As audiences became more sophisticated in the late 1960sFact|date=October 2007, with the release of artfully directed, subtly horrific films like
Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby", the studio struggled to maintain its place in the market. It responded by bringing in new writers and directors, testing new characters, and attempting to rejuvenate their vampire and Frankenstein films with new approaches to familiar material.
While the studio remained true to previous period settings in their 1972 release "
Vampire Circus", their "Dracula AD 1972" and "The Satanic Rites of Dracula", for example, abandon period settings in pursuit of a modern-day setting and "swinging London" feel. These films were not successful, and drew fire not only from critics, but from Christopher Lee himself, who refused to appear in more Dracula films after these. Speaking at a press conference in 1973 to announce "The Satanic Rites of Dracula", then called "Dracula is Dead... and Well and Living in London", Lee said:
:"I'm doing it under protest... I think it is fatuous. I can think of twenty adjectives - fatuous, pointless, absurd. It's not a comedy, but it's got a comic title. I don't see the point." [cite book|author=Haining, Peter|title=The Dracula Scrapbook|publisher=Chancellor Press|year=1992|id=ISBN 1-85152-195-X]
The film itself also indulges the turn toward self-parody suggested by the title, with more humour appearing in the script, undercutting any real sense of horror.
Hammer films had always sold themselves, in part, on their violent and sexual content. After the release of films like "Bonnie and Clyde" and "
The Wild Bunch", audiences were increasingly able to see more explicit gore, more expertly staged, in relatively mainstream films. " Night of the Living Dead", too, set a new standard for graphic violence in horror films. Hammer tried to compete as far as possible - " Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell", for example, features a scene where the Baron kicks a discarded human brain - but realised quickly that, if they couldn't be as gory as new American productions, they could follow a trend prevalent in European films of the time, and play up the sexual content of their films.
The Karnstein Trilogy
Karnstein Trilogy, based loosely on J. Sheridan Le Fanu's early vampire novella" Carmilla", Hammer showed some of the most explicit scenes of lesbianismyet seen in mainstream English language films. Despite otherwise traditional Hammer design and direction, there was also a corresponding increase in scenes of nudity in the films during this era. The "Karnstein Trilogy" comprises:
The Vampire Lovers" (1970), featuring Polish actress Ingrid Pitt
Lust for a Vampire" (1971)
Twins of Evil" (1972)
These three were written by Hammer newcomer
Tudor Gates, who was recruited at about the same time as Brian Clemens(creator of "The Avengers"). Clemens wrote two unusual films for Hammer. " Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde" (1971) featured Ralph Batesand Martine Beswickand " Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter" (1974), which he also directed, were not successful at the time, but have since become cult favourites. The experimental films of this period represented a genuine attempt to find new angles on old stories, but audiences did not seem interested.
Final years of film production (late 1970s)
In the latter part of the 1970s, Hammer made fewer films, and attempts were made to break away from the then-unfashionable Gothic horror films on which the studio had built its reputation. Neither "
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires" (1974), a co-production with Hong Kong's Shaw Brotherswhich attempted to combine Hammer's Gothic horror with the martial arts film, nor " To the Devil a Daughter" (1976), an adaptation of the Dennis Wheatleynovel, were very successful. The company did, however, have some surprising commercial success with the 1971 film version of the ITVsitcom " On the Buses", which was popular enough to produce two sequels, "Holiday on the Buses" (1972) and "Mutiny on the Buses" (1973). Hammer's last production, in 1979, was a remake of Hitchcock's 1938 thriller "The Lady Vanishes", starring Elliot Gouldand Cybill Shepherd. The film was a failure at the box office and all but bankrupted the studio.
The Hammer Horror films were often praised by critics for their visual style, although rarely taken seriously. "Altogether this is a horrific film and sometimes a crude film, but by no means an unimpressive piece of melodramatic storytelling" wrote one critic of "Dracula" in
The Times( May 28, 1958, p10). Terence Fisher's direction has been praised, however, in, for example, Richard Roud's "Cinema: a Critical Dictionary". Critics who specialise in cult films, like Kim Newman, have praised Hammer Horror more fully, enjoying their atmosphere, craftsmanship and camp appeal.
Television series (1980s)
In the early 1980s Hammer Films created a series for British television, "Hammer House of Horror", which ran for 13 episodes. In a break from their cinema format, these featured
plot twists, which usually saw the protagonists fall into the hands of that episode's horror. These varied from sadistic shopkeepers with hidden pasts, to witches and satanic rites. The series was marked by a sense of dark irony, its haunting title music, and the intermingling of horror with the commonplace.
Notable episodes include:
* "The House That Bled To Death", in which a young couple and their daughter move into a new home, unaware that its previous tenant murdered his wife. Achieved mild notoriety for a children's birthday party scene during which blood gushes from the overhead pipes.
* "The Silent Scream", in which Peter Cushing plays an apparently personable pet shop owner working on the concept of "prisons without walls" whilst harbouring a dark secret.
Brian Cox, later the first actor to play Hannibal Lecterin Michael Mann's "Manhunter" was the guinea pig.
* "The Two Faces Of Evil" - a surreal episode, featuring forced camera angles, stylized sets, bizarre perspective shots and a plot revolving around dopplegangers and malevolent twins.
* "Charlie Boy", in which an African fetish exerts a fatal influence and leads to several deaths.
* "Carpathian Eagle" -
Anthony Valentinestars as a police detective struggling to solve a series of gruesome, ritualistic murders undertaken by (Suzanne Danielle) Sian Phillipsco-stars, and a young Pierce Brosnanmakes a brief appearance playing "last victim."
* "Rude Awakening" -
Denholm Elliottstars as an estate agent whose increasingly strange but realistic dreams give him serious trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.
* "The Children of the Full Moon" -
Diana Dorsplays a kindly bumpkin with an extended family, but no husband. When a recently married couple stumble upon this unusual situation, the truth is gradually revealed.
* "Witching Time" - where Patricia Quinn plays a sexy witch
Episodes were directed by Brian Gibson, Peter Sasdy and Tom Clegg, among others.
A second television series, "
Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense", was produced in 1984 and also ran for 13 episodes. The stories were originally to have been the same 1-hour length as their previous series, but it was decided to expand them to feature-length so as to market them as 'movies of the week' in the US. The series was made in association with 20th Century Fox(who co-produced four of the thirteen films) and as such, some of the sex and violence seen in the earlier series was toned down considerably for US television. Each episode featured a star, often American, well-known to US viewers. This series was Hammer's final production of any kind to date.
Hammer House of Horror
Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense
In the 2000s, although the company has seemed to be in hibernation, frequent announcements have been made of new projects. In 2003, for example, the studio announced plans to work with
Australian company Pictures in Paradise to develop new horror films for the DVD and cinema market.
On May 10, 2007, it was announced that Dutch producer
John De Molhad purchased the Hammer Films rights via his private equity firm Cyrte Investments. In addition to holding the rights to over 300 Hammer Films, De Mol's company plans to restart the studio. According to an article in [http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117964712.html?categoryid=13&cs=1 Variety] detailing the transaction, the new Hammer Films will be run by former Liberty Global execs Simon Oakes and Marc Schipper. In addition, Guy East and Nigel Sinclair of L.A.-based Spitfire Pictures are on board to produce two to three horror films or thrillers a year for the U.K.-based studio.
The first output under the new owners is "
Beyond the Rave", a contemporary vampire story which premièred free online exclusively on myspace in April 2008 as a 20 x 4 min. serial.
The company began shooting for a new horror/thriller film in Donegal in 2008, backed by the
Irish Film Board. The film is titled " The Wake Wood" and is scheduled for release in the United Kingdom in the Autumn of 2009. [cite web
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7629245.stm
title = Cameras roll on new Hammer horror
accessdaymonth = 24 September
accessyear = 2008
date = 2008-09-24
BBC News] Hammer has also recently acquired the rights to remake the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. [cite web
url = http://twitchfilm.net/site/view/reborn-hammer-films-to-remake-let-the-right-one-in/
title = Reborn Hammer Films to Remake Let the Right One In
date = 2008-04-29
Tribute and parody
The initial success of the Hammer Horror series led to a number of parodies:
Carry On Screaming" (1966) pays tribute to the Hammer Horror films in particular as well as satirising the horror film genre overall.
Bloodbath at the House of Death" uses Hammer Horror films as inspiration for its setting.
* The British TV series "
Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible" (2001) featured spoofs of Hammer Horror films. Particularly noteworthy in this regard was the episode entitled "Lesbian Vampire Lovers of Lust".
Kate Bushimmortalised the range of films in her song, "Hammer Horror", referencing The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Draculaand Frankenstein.
*British rock band
Maxïmo Parkpaid tribute to the series with their song "Hammer Horror", from their B-sidescollection Missing Songs.
*The dark feel of the Hammer Horror films were the inspiration for the atmosphere used in the comic-horror, .
*In the DVD commentary of "Sleepy Hollow", director
Tim Burtoncredits Hammer horror films as a primary influence for the film. "Sleepy Hollow" featured Hammer veterans including Michael Goughand Christopher Lee.
*The faux trailer for "Don't" featured in "Grindhouse" was intended to be a spoof of the Hammer Horror series.
Tom McLoughlinclaims that "" was heavily influenced by the Hammer films.
*The parody serial
The Phantom Raspberry Blowerwas highly evocative of the Hammer Horrors, particularly the " Dracula" series of films.
* Much of the dark side of the BBC comedy series
The League of Gentlemenwritten by and starring Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pembertonand Mark Gatissis based on the Hammer Horror films of which they and co-writer Jeremy Dysonare great fans.
List of Hammer films
Sinclair McKay (2007) "A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films". Aurum: London.
Notes and references
* [http://www.hammerfilms.com/ Official Hammer web site]
* [http://dictionaryofhammer.com/ Online Dictionary of Hammer Horror]
* [http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/455323/index.html Hammer Film Productions] BFI
* [http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/445975/index.html Hammer Horror] BFI
* [http://www.britishhorrorfilms.co.uk/ British Horror Films] - site devoted to UK horror cinema, with several articles about Hammer
* [http://downwiththemundane.blogspot.com/2005/11/joy-of-hex.html 'The Joy of Hex'] - brief but humorous plot summaries of Hammer vampire movies
* [http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2008/01/22/book-review-the-hammer-story The Hammer Story - Review]
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