April 02, 2006

NIGHTMARE STUFF T.V – HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR (1980)


I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of response I got from the Sapphire & Steel review, so keeping with the Teapots theme I thought I would dust off a truly original anthology series from the days when television was quality and thought provoking.

We are all familiar with the Hammer film, I intend to write a separate article on Hammer as I feel it is most poignant in influencing trends and styles replicated all over the world.

In the winter of 1980, despite Hammer finishing on a bum note in approx. 1974/1975, it was remarkable to see that finance was utilised for a project of 13 (how apt) fresh dramas being unleashed on Friday nights.

Fortunately Roy Skeggs and Brian Lawrence who had been with the Hammer studios since it’s early days formed Cinema Arts in an attempt to save the Hammer brand as the production arm was in receivership.

Lew Grades’ ITC came to the rescue and provided further cash flow enabling a 13 part series to be an absolute reality and enough to bring a film version of the successful ‘Rising Damp’, ITVs’ smash comedy series.

The small screen movies were produced solely for television and feature elements that successfully formed the old Hammer style and surprisingly for a prime time slot (9.15 p.m Friday Nights) a new injection of gore, sex, nudity and violence.

Unusually nearly all endings happen negatively with evil overcoming good, I am pleased to the producers didn’t pander to the mainstream, the mainstream like happy endings otherwise they are faced with reality and get scared. Consequently if the director is defiant to appease the masses and then endings haven’t been moralistically brightened then the film can lose big revenue at the box office and also ratings could suffer on the small screen.

We are not used to our protagonists becoming eternally trapped, cannibalised, murdered or conquered by malevolence but with these thirteen tales the rule is a total exception.

There are 13 episodes in total, I have rated them on a five star basis with * = shoddy (as they all have individualistic merits whatever the play) and ***** = super.

Many focus on sheer nightmare stuff, who could not forget the hitchhiker in the yellow oilskins, the werewolf at the window, the baby being basted in oil as it’s about to be put in the oven or the couple ‘wired up’ in eternal entrapment from an ex-nazi pet shop owner and we mustn’t forget the house that would not stop bleeding.

Elements of claustrophobia and desperation are paramount to these stories as you realise, and even more so towards the end of the drama, that the evil whether supernatural or human orientated will ultimately win over all. There is a feeling of complete lack of control for the ‘goodies’, as their worst nightmares unfold before them with frighteningly ‘downbeat’ consequence – marvellous stuff!


With such a wonderful representation of all things spine chilling I will ultimately review all. There are really only two ‘flunkers’ in the set of stories , they may be gems to others but I found ‘The Carpathian Eagle’ and ‘ Rude Awakening’ pretty samey with the latter becoming a confused mess despite Denholm Elliots' do-lally performance stealing the show.

These films were all created at Hampden Manor House – the new ‘House’ of Hammer and features in the wonderfully enchanting opening credits. The theme music too is a focal point and highly memorable.

Many of the settings, costumes and props were utilised throughout the series that owe much to Hammers cinematic tenure than any other ‘type’ of this film.

There were also very talented actors ‘guesting’ , Diana Dors, Denholm Elliot, Prunella Gee, Pierce Brosnan and the wonderful Peter Cushing all brought the’ grand guignol’ schematics to crimson life.

Usually old Anthology series can be ‘hit’ and ‘miss’ with some of it being ‘masterpiece’ and the other part of it being a plodding bore. Hammer House stays very clear of this. The stories appear to be well thought out indeed and still can supply the odd ‘jolt’ and ‘surprising’ twist when viewed again.

Nearly all 13 episodes are a winner and all concerned should be proud of creating a triumphant example of the anthology series crafted correctly.

The series is available on DVD as part of a box set in the U.K and Stateside and is worth every penny.

When this ended the gap was filled with ‘Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense’, this had a few quality episodes but the rest is a bit dry and certainly inferior to its wonderful predecessor.

The thirteen were;

I . Witching Time (*****)

II. The Thirteenth Reunion (*****)

III. Rude Awakening (**)

IV. Growing Pains (***)

V. The House That Bled to Death (*****).

VI. Charlie Boy (****)

VII. The Silent Scream (*****)

VIII. Children of the Full Moon (*****)

IX. Carpathian Eagle (*)

X. Guardian of the Abyss (*****)

XI Visitor from the Grave (***)

XII. The Two Faces of Evil (*****)

XIII. The Mark of Satan (***)

My earliest memories are of Charlie, House, Witching and Silent Scream, which I recall watching ‘petrified’ when I was about 4 or 5.

Revisiting them all on DVD was a sheer delight. For those without this opportunity or just simply for a moments nostalgia enjoy the following reviews of ‘Children of the Full Moon’ and ‘The Two Faces of Evil’. Two classic examples of the programme;


VIII. Children of the Full Moon (1980) (ITV Regional)

TX. Date; 1st November 1980 Friday 9.15 p.m

SUMMARY

THE CLASSIC OPENING;

A small child has her back towards us; she is singing ‘All things bright and beautiful’. It appears she is calming down a small lamb. Further panning reveals the lamb has had its throat ripped open, the sweet little girl turns sharply - grinning, her smile is caked in blood……….


THE TWISTED PREMISE

Tom and Sarah Martin (played by Christopher Cazenove and the beautiful Celia Gregory (Ruth from BBC’s Survivors (1975-1977) )) decide it’s time for a honeymoon.

Driving through the countryside their car (mysteriously?) goes completely out of control. The accelerator sticks causing the vehicle to swerve and nearly causes a fatality. Quick thinking, courtesy of Tom results in the car finally grinding to a halt, unfortunately for Tom and Sarah they are stranded in what appears to be a rural no mans land.

Eventually taking the route of a ‘hidden’ pathway they end of a secluded manor house owned by Mrs Ardoy (played superbly by Diana Dors). They ask if they can use the phone, pleasantries are exchanged and Tom tries to ring round for a local garage in the area.

Sarah chats to Mrs Ardoy and finds out that she lives in the manor with her husband and their eight ‘creepy’ siblings.

When Tom ‘backtracks’ through the woods in the evening , he encounters something he later describes as ‘’half human ……covered in grey spiky fur’, naturally petrified it looks as though that they will be based at the manor for the rest of the night.

Mrs Ardoy kindly offers both of them to spend the night but there is a much more sinister motive behind her kind offer as the Martins’ discover at ultimate cost…….


REVIEW

A thoroughly enjoyable story. Although the plot is a tad convoluted and strays into ‘predictable’ territory it offers a new (by 1980) slant on the werewolf theme.

Some padding is demonstrated by the slightly messy ‘was it all a nightmare’ part of the plot where Tom wakes in hospital and returns home with Sarah etc, etc. This does not spoil the episode however as it gives an insight into Sarah’s’ gradual descent into Lycanthropic behaviour. This provides some tantalising moments from gross- where this stunning looking woman devours raw liver to sexual - where she becomes almost bestial in the bedroom (lucky Cazenove!)

The ending still provides a twisted kick and is fantastically downbeat. I love these stories as the people affected are so blissfully happy whether friend, family or relationship and then are thrown into a supernatural living hell.

Diana Dors is perfectly cast as the busty matriarch and exudes sheer menace underneath the ‘mumsy’ façade. The use of children is also another aspect of this story that works ever so well, their innocence is stripped as angels are in fact demons ; this challenges societies perceptions of ‘all children are innocent’ upping the discomfort factor past several notches.

MOST OUTSTANDING MOMENT

Tom sets out to find a garage leaving Sarah alone at the manor house. She retires to the bedroom.

After a short while she begins to hear ‘unnerving’ noises from outside, she edges nearer to the window-the source of the sound, bravely she reaches out to the curtains to pull them back and find some answers ……………………………………..


COMPLIMENTARY REVIEW TO FOLLOW WHEN WE FIND 'EVIL' HAS INDEED , 'TWO FACES' !


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