Dear lord do I love me some horror films from Hammer Studios. From true classics such as the Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing Dracula and Frankenstein films of the ’60s and ’70s, to the sadly little known sci-fi Quatermass movies, to doing the very good remake Let Me In in 2010, Hammer Films has always delivered far more hits than misses. I’ve been a Hammer fanboy since I was a boy and for good reason. So when I heard about this series coming out on DVD I did a little happy dance. But was that dance war warranted? Let’s find out.
In the yesteryear of 1980 the famous UK movie maker tried their hand at bringing horror to the small screen with a TV show called Hammer House of Horror. It was an anthology show in the vein of Tales from the Darkside or Tales from the Crypt (although this show predates both) and this short lived series had 13 one hour long episodes. What made it stand apart from such genre shows done here in The States was the blood and nudity that would oftentimes pop up in the mini-movies. And let me just say that you’ve got to love the Brits, if for no other reason than because they don’t have a national emergency should a nipple get shown on TV. Furthermore, while the two American “Tales” anthology shows would often have episodes that were all wink-wink, nod-nod towards what was supposed to be horrifying, Hammer played things very seriously. They wanted to make scary television first and foremost and I appreciate that, even if they weren’t always successful.
Now I am not such a fanboy that I am blind to when this show stumbles, if not outright falls on its face. Some of the episodes do seem (now over thirty years later) to be a bit predictable if not clichéd. Others feel padded and bloated, like a simple idea stretched to cover the near hour runtime. And one or two were just not very good at all. But the majority of episodes were enjoyable, even the ones where you could see the twist coming, because such twists have since been done to death in a dozen other movies to come out after this show. Moreover, some episodes were still as good and as powerful as they were all those years ago. Now I won’t tell you which episodes didn’t really work for me, because I don’t want to color your perception of them before you get a chance to see and experience them for yourself, but I will give a shout out to some of the stronger ones.
“The Thirteenth Reunion” I thought was good, even if I guessed the twist about 10 minutes into it. That just shows how well it was made and acted that even though I knew where it was going, I still enjoyed the ride. “The Silent Scream,” besides having the best title out of the episodes, may be my favorite of the bunch. I thoroughly enjoyed it. “The Mark of Satan” was paranoid fun about a man seeing a certain number everywhere he looks and how it starts to undo him. “Rude Awakening” was a great little gem of an idea that I thought was pulled off very well. “Visitor from the Grave” I thought was the one that was most like a Tales from the Crypt episode in both tone and title and that’s not a bad thing. And “The House That Bled to Death” was a pretty good take on the typical haunted house story. There are other good episodes to be found in this show, but these were the favorites of mine.
This new 5 – DVD collection from the awesome Synapse Films comes with more special features then I expected from an old British TV show. Each episode has an introduction by film historian Shane M. Dallmann that I found pretty informative. There is a short interview with Kathryn Leigh Scott, an actress perhaps best known for being in the old Dark Shadows show who also appeared in the episode “Visitor from the Grave.” There is another short interview with actress Mia Nadasi who played the Gypsy fortune teller in the same episode “Visitor from the Grave.” I found it odd that the only two interviews are both from the same episode, but whatever. A still gallery brings the extras to a close.
Hammer House of Horror was an uneven bag for me, but then I can say that about every horror anthology show. Not even the classic Twilight Zone had a perfect batting average, and that’s the gold standard for genre television. I did like this show quite a bit, I enjoyed the British take on horror, the blood and sex was refreshing, and it had that recognizable Hammer charm that I love so much. For the true horrorheads out there that want to consume all things terrifying, you’ve got to get this new DVD set from Synapse. Consider it part of Horror History 101. For the casual fan that thinks the Saw movies were the height of fright or when thinking of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre they first remember the 2003 remake, well you might as well pass on this one, as you’ll most likely hate it.