Hammer Films explores the gothic and macabre world of horror with ghosts, cannibals, witches and psychos in the television series Hammer's House of Horror.
One of the more recognizable names in the world of horror is Hammer Films. It's a name that you don't have to explain to anyone when you mention it, and if you do, then you know who you shouldn't be talking to anymore. I'm by no means a Hammer aficionado myself (I've only seen about a handful of their movies) but, like other people, I know the movies they produced and a lot of their regulars -- Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, etc. What I wasn't aware of was that the company had created a TV series (let alone two) until Synapse announced their release of "Hammer House of Horror".
Titled after the nickname for Hammer's production house, "Hammer House of Horror" is a thirteen episode series that aired in 1980 with each episode lasting around 50 minutes. Like the company itself, the episodes covered a variety of sub-genres and plots within the horror realm and often featured writers and directors who worked on past Hammer films.
I won't be going over each episode as that would take too much time and require too much reading. Something I think neither you or I would want to participate in. Instead here is a list of the episodes with some very brief descriptions of their plots:
- To avoid being burned at the stake, a witch transports herself to modern times. When she arrives she torments the man who currently resides in the house that was once hers along with his girlfriend.
"The Thirteenth Reunion"
- A reporter is assigned to find out the secrets behind a new weight loss club and ends up uncovering a secret society that steals bodies from a morgue.
- Dreams and reality become a blur as a real estate agent is plagued by nightmares of a house and the murder of his wife.
- A young couple adopts a child but when they bring him home strange things begin to occur.
"The House that Bled to Death"
- A couple and their young daughter movie into a house that hides a dark past. All things seem normal until the home's past starts intruding on the present.
- An unassuming African idol grants the wishes of it's current owner and starts killing off those that wronged him.
"The Silent Scream"
- A man recently released from prison goes to work for a former acquaintance who is conducting some experiments on wild animals but is looking to expand his research to include humans.
"Children of the Full Moon"
- A couple comes across a strange home that is occupied by an equally strange woman and her children. After waking up in a hospital and believing it was all a dream they soon realize it wasn't when the wife's pregnancy becomes accelerated and she starts having unusual cravings.
"The Carpathian Eagle"
- A mysterious woman is going around and cutting out the hearts of her male victims and the police try to do everything they can to stop her.
"Guardian of the Abyss"
- An antique dealer unwittingly purchases a mirror that acts as a door way for an evil entity who is looking to take possession of a human.
"Visitor from the Grave"
- After accidentally killing an intruder, a woman begins to see the disfigured face of the man she shot where ever she goes.
"The Two Faces of Evil"
- A family traveling on a barren road stops to pick up a hitchhiker. While driving, the husband is attacked by the hitchhiker and causes him to flip the car. The wife awakens in a hospital and has to try to remember what happened after the car accident if she wishes to stop the current nightmare she finds herself in.
"The Mark of Satan"
- A man recently hired to work in the morgue at a hospital begins to believe he's part of a conspiracy setup by those around him that's causing him to become possessed by the devil.
In general, "Hammer House of Horror" is a good horror series by Hammer due to the fact that they were willing to explore a bit more sub-genres and didn't stick to their usual staples. Some of the episodes will cover some familiar territory, such as werewolves being used in the episode "Children of the Full Moon". Even then though the werewolves weren't the central point of the episode -- it was a bit more psychological when compared to some of Hammer's past films.
With that said though, all of the episodes are very much in the style that Hammer is known for and they have a tendency to feel like typical classic horror movies. Of course whether that's good or bad depends on whether or not you yourself enjoy classic horror movies. Like their films, the episodes focus more on atmosphere above all else. They aren't particularly scary at any point (not even a cheap jump scare) but instead carry the usual Hammer tone and are more or less moody little horror pieces.
And unless you are a hardcore Hammer fan, that becomes the main problem when watching the show. All the episodes are very basic Hammer -- if you are at all familiar with their film work then you already know how the show is going to look and feel. Certainly some episodes had a bit of gore in them, like the infamous birthday bloodbath scene from "The House That Bled to Death" , or the occasional bit of nudity and sex in episodes like "Witching Time" and "The Carpathian Eagle". However, a majority of the episodes carry very traditional stories and setups -- most of which you will be familiar with or know where the plot is going before the episode gets there. Again, unless you are a Hammer fan, it becomes repetitive and boring quickly. Especially if you watch the episodes back to back.
There were a few adventurous episodes: "The Two Faces of Evil" toyed with the audience very well, "The Carpathian Eagle" bordered close on exploitive territory and "The House That Bled to Death" had more than a few scenes that were probably a bit shocking by Hammer standards. Unfortunately, like most television shows, the quality of the episodes always varied -- some were good, some were bland and some were bad. Most of them though contained hammy, over-the-top performances and usually had a regular occurring minor annoyance in them. For me, the worse one had to be listening to Patricia Quinn's insanely irritating laugh in "Witching Time".
Call me simple or a typical American, but at the end of the day, I'd much rather watch a show like "Tales From the Crypt". More schlocky in comparison to "Hammer House of Horror" and not exactly a fair comparison, but at least I could make it through an entire season of "Tales From the Crypt" before becoming bored. But I digress. "Hammer House of Horror" isn't a bad series at all but it is very typical, and that's where the problem lies. For the die-hards the show will be perfect, no doubt, but I can't imagine I'm alone in feeling that "Hammer House of Horror" was a bit too familiar and dare I even say, repetitive, for its own good. Synapse did a bang up job on the release as the episodes look great and feature informative introductions by Shane M. Dallman. If you're a fan of the series or a fan of Hammer, this is a good release to pick up.
Note: The ratings done for this set was based on a general average for the series as a whole.