‘Hammer House of Horror‘ was a British television series made in 1980. It was an anthology of horror serials created by Hammer Films in association with Cinema Arts International and ITC Entertainment.
In total there were thirteen episodes created which were broadcast on Saturday evenings on ITV. Each self-contained episode ran for just under an hour and featured a different kind of horror story; varying from ghosts, werewolves and witches to devil-worship and voodoo. The series also included non-supernatural horror stories such as cannibalism, confinement and serial killers. Episodes were directed by Alan Gibson, Peter Sasdy and Tom Clegg, among others, and the script-editor was Anthony Read. When the stories were good, this imaginative series could send a shiver down the spine.
In this review I am going to be taking a slightly different approach, in that I will not reveal the entire contents of the stories (i.e. spoilers). This is for two reasons: (i) there are thirteen episodes and the blog article will just become too long and (ii) the stories largely depend upon a surprise/or ‘reveal’ element.. ..although I am sure many of my age will remember the ominous drum beats heralding another great evening of Saturday night entertainment, our younger audience may not have seen them (and some of the older audience may have forgotten what happened)!
Transmitted: September 13, 1980
A witch from the 17th Century uses her magic to transport herself to the 20th Century, wreaking havoc on the composer who now lives in her old farmhouse. When his adulterous wife comes back from a trip away, the witch continues unabated, with life threatening consequences. As such the composers wife seeks an exorcism of the witch, but she wont go without a fight.
‘The thirteenth reunion’
Transmitted: September 20, 1980
A fleet street journalist is sent to investigate a health farm called Chesterton Slimming Clinic. Whilst there she befriends one of the other patients, who mysteriously disappears. Looking into his death she discovers the clinic is a front for a secret society which hides a terrible secret.
Transmitted: September 27, 1980
A lecherous estate agent (excellently played by Elliott) is having recurrent dreams about his seductive secretary, centred around a mysterious house called Lower Moat Manner. He soon becomes unable to distinguish his dreams from reality and is encouraged to murder his wife to be with his secretary. He goes ahead with the murder.. ..but it is only a dream, isn’t it?
Transmitted: October 4, 1980
The young son of a scientist dies after eating some tablets he finds in his fathers laboratory. To help come to terms with their loss the scientist and his wife adopt a new son, but this coincides with a series of odd events and disasters for the father’s research.
‘The house that bled to death’
Transmitted: October 11, 1980
A young couple buy a house at a knock down price as it was once the scene of a macabre murder. They suffer a series of terrifying events, linking back to the murder, which traumatises their daughter (and many others) and eventually forces them leave the house for good. They start a new life, but all is not as it seems and their daughter may not have totally gotten over her turbulent past.
Transmitted: October 18, 1980
An ancient African idol is left to a young couple who start to suffer very unpleasant experiences. It seems that the idol is possessed by the spirit of an evil sorcerer and has a life of its own. Can they destroy the idol or will the idol destroy them?
‘The silent scream’
Transmitted: October 25, 1980
Cushing plays an elderly, seemingly kindly pet shop owner who has an amazing collection of wild animals and famous painting(s). However, he harbours a dark secret and is actually a former Nazi concentration camp guard who is intent on continuing his experiments on human victims. His wish is to create prisons with no bars, where the captives remain imprisoned because the consequences of escape are so grave. All he needs are some human captives to experiment on.
‘Children of the full Moon’
Transmitted: November 1, 1980
A young couple are going on holiday in the West Country when they loose control of their car.. ..eventually being stranded on the side of a lonely road in the woods. They seek refuge at an old house they find by venturing deeper into the woods. The house is kept by a strange woman (Dors) who cares for a number of children, with unusual habits and appetites. As the night progresses the couple are convinced they see what appears to be a werewolf and the husband goes to investigate, but falls and looses consciousness. At the same time the creature is seemingly let into the house and appears to attack his wife. The husband subsequently wakes in a hospital to be told the werewolf, house and strange children were all a dream. However his now-pregnant wife has changed, developing a taste for raw meat, among other things; she then suddenly disappears as she approaches her due date. The husband knows exactly where she has gone and travels back to find the West Country house.. ..where he meets and has a very revealing conversation with the local woodsman.
‘The Carpathian eagle’
Transmitted: November 8, 1980
A detective inspector is investigating a murder in which the victim died from having their heart cut out with a carved cutting tool. He hears a radio interview with the author (Danielle) of a book about a 300 year old Carpathian countess who murdered her lovers by the same means. The author is revealed to be a beautiful woman who is secretly convinced she possesses the reincarnated spirit of the murderess and seeks out new victims (including a very young Brosnan) to fill an ancient prophecy for death. Can the detective stop her?
‘Guardian of the abyss’
Transmitted: November 15, 1980
An antique mirror turns up at a house clearance and is purchased by an unsuspecting antiques dealer. A young girl on the run from a cult society claims the the mirror is a scrying glass used to summon Chorozon, the almighty devil. Both the society and its leader are keen to get their hands on both the mirror and the girl.. ..can the antiques dealer save her, or himself from Chorozon?
‘Visitor from the grave’
Transmitted: November 22, 1980
A wealthy but psychologically fragile woman is alone in her house and has no choice but to kill an intruder who breaks in and is about to attack her (oh Howard.. ..how could you!). Upon his return her husband buries the attackers body in the woods, but she continues to see him in various places, leading her to seek help from a psychic. Is she seeing having a mental break down or is she being scammed for her money.. ..and are the scammers safe themselves?
‘The two faces of evil’
Transmitted: November 29, 1980
A family are joyfully setting off on their holidays when they unwisely give a lift to a mysterious and sinister, oilskin clad, hitch-hiker who they almost run over. Their new passenger quickly attacks the husband, leading to a car crash. The wife regains consciousness in hospital and discovers that one of them is dead and one is injured. As time progresses she starts to wonder if the man she is now caring for is really her husband or his ‘hitch-hiker’ doppelgänger.. ..and what about every one else, have they also been replaced?
‘The mark of Satan’
Transmitted: December 6, 1980
A hospital worker who attends to the body of a patient who died from trying to drill a hole in his head becomes obsessed with the number nine. He subsequently becomes convinced that there is a conspiracy of evil at large and that he has become infected and possessed by the Devil. Those around him remain skeptical and are unclear if his rantings are a sign of insanity or a desperate cry for help.. ..all he know is that there is only one way to get these thoughts out of his head!
As with any anthology, the stories range from slightly weak to excellent.. ..the real stand-out stories for me are ‘The silent scream‘, ‘Children of the full Moon‘, ‘The house that bleed to death’ and ‘The two faces of evil‘. So let’s discuss each in a little more detail.
I distinctly remember watching these stories when they were first broadcast on ITV. Now I am not easily scared.. ..as this blog reveals, horror is my favourite genre, but I have to say that ‘The two faces of evil‘ has remained with me ever since I was a child. It’s a mini-masterpiece, played to perfection. Gary Raymond is tremendous as both the gentle dad and his monstrous doppelgänger. There are some scenes from this episode which are literally etched into my brain. Although it does crawl to a near standstill in the middle, the story as a whole is fantastic.
‘The house that bled to death’ is another great story and a fan favourite; as such it has been repeated on TV more than any of the others. The acting is really great, although Nicholas Ball gives perhaps the weakest performance (I will forgive him though as he is a ‘Young Ones’ veteran!). There are some really good shocks in the story and although the ending is foreshadowed throughout the story, it is still a surprise. Not as disturbing a story as ‘The two faces of evil’, but hugely entertaining nonetheless.
‘Children of the full Moon’ is possibly my personal favourite.. ..I love a good tale of lycanthropy.. ..and this is one! The story is really clever and contains a well thought out twist to the traditional tale of the shape-shifter. The acting is great all round, of particular note is Diana Dors as the creepy Mrs Ardoy.. ..her screen presence makes you appreciate why she was so beloved by the great British public. Apart from the acting, the settings are also really good; it is just a really classy, well balanced episode. The only weakness to this episode are the special effects used for the creature, but we have to remember this was shown a year before we saw the amazing ‘transformation’ scene in ‘An American Werewolf in London’.. ..that changed how we viewed ‘werewolf’ effects forever!
I don’t know what else to say about Peter Cushing that you haven’t probably already read a thousand times.. ..his portrayals of mad and creepy old man were legendary. This is so true of ‘The slient scream’, where he revels in playing a complete, and very dangerous, loon. Cushing’s acting is more than complemented by that of Brian Cox, who portrays his character with aplomb. The story is also very good and again has an ending that whilst slightly predictable, still surprises.. ..I wonder if they are all still there?
I think the weakest stories for me in the anthology, as a whole are ‘Charlie boy’, which is more amusing than scary, ’The mark of Satan’, which doesn’t really go any ware and (by far) ‘Growing pains’, which is just a silly story, with slightly annoying acting.
The rest of the stories are pretty good and really take you back to sitting in front of the TV on a Saturday night.. ..clichéd I know, but they just don’t make them like this any more!
The series was released on DVD in the UK in October 2002 by Carlton, now ITV Studios. It was a four-disc set featuring all thirteen episodes, including stills galleries and cast biographies as extras. Whilst the extras were a little thin, it is accompanied by a really nice booklet with details about the stories and the series in general. I also really like the spooky on screen menus and associated music!
A re-mastered version was released in the US in September 2012 by Synapse Films. It was released as a five-disc set and features an animated stills gallery, episode introductions from film historian Shane M. Dallman and featurettes including ‘Grave Recollections: a visit with Kathryn Leigh Scott’ and ‘Hammer Housekeeping: a visit with Mia Nadasi’.
The US set is generally the more comprehensive one, however it is more expensive and I personally prefer the art work on the UK release.
Unfortunately it doesn’t seem that we will be seeing a HD release of this excellent series anytime soon. Although shot on 35 mm film, the negatives cannot currently be located by ITV thus preventing the series being re-mastered and re-released on Blu-ray.
Update – the unexpected 2017 Blu-ray release
Again, the extras are a little thin on the ground, but the quality of the transfer is excellent and the series has never looked or sounded so good.. ..no digital artefacts or compression issues here. Colours are handled well with blood well saturated in the way that only Hammer could, but with natural skin tones.. ..the overall balance of this is excellent, indeed it is so colourful and clear it is like looking trough a window into the past. Hard to believe the underlying source material is now nearly 40 years old. The original 35 mm film does show a fine grain, but this does not distract like some other transfers and gives the presentation a beautiful movie-like quality. The episodes are presented in their original 4:3 screen format.
Sound is handled well with a good lossless 5.1 multi channel mix, which whilst understandably minimal on the low frequency side is clear and precise.
As a final treat this new release has a stills gallery, commercial break shorts, raw footage from ‘Rude awakening’ and a wide-screen version of ‘Guardian of the abyss’. All in all, a great release.
Oh yes! A long-neglected gem of a collection, well worth watching (it is currently being re-run on the Horror Channel in the UK) or picking up on DVD, which can now be purchased for a little as a tenner.
The new 2017 Blu-ray version is superb and worth getting.. ..even if you already own this set on DVD.
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