Hammer Time

It was only a few years ago that I found out the truth about Hammer Films.

As a youngster, I used to watch their movies as they came on the television late at night. Sex, death, blood, toplessness, and lesbianism.

Obviously as a young teen these concepts had no effect on me at all.

Hammer died.

It wasn’t moving with the times. In the US Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist redefined horror. Hammer retaliated with Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. Unless you’re a horror afficionado, you won’t have heard of this. Which tells you all you need to know.

So when a few years ago Taste The Blood of Dracula came on the telly, my friend Nick and I settled in for a night of amusement at the creaky old vampire film.

(Minor spoilage follows. Turn away from the computer screen now if you don’t wish to know the result.)

Peter Sallis has resurrected Dracula, who’s put the bite on his young daughter. Big D and the daughter turn up at the local church, and Peter Sallis begs for his life. Big D refuses to show mercy, and Peter Sallis’s daughter heads towards him with a stake.

And she puts the stake to his heart.

And she plunges it in.

And he screams and screams and screams but she just will not stop and there’s blood everywhere and he screams and screams and screams but she just will not stop.

And then it’s finally, finally over.

And that’s when I realised that the versions I’d originally seen had been quite heavily censored.

So you see, Hammer has a reputation for cosy Horror. But that’s really not the case. Back in the day, they really were leaders in their field.

Hammer died.

It was many years ago. All that was left was the brand name and some remake rights tangled up in all sorts of IP nastiness.

Every few years the brand would get bought again, and someone would promise that there would be new Hammer films Real Soon Now.

Never happened.

But there’s a new owner in town. And this time it feels like we really might get some new films under the Hammer insignia.

Behind the revived Hammer are John de Mol and Simon Oakes. At the recent Screenwriters’ Festival, Simon talked for a little bit about his plans for the studio.

There are two strings to this bow. A low budget division which will make 4 or 5 films a year in the $2-4 million range, and the high-budget division which will aim for (eventually) two or three releases a year in the $15-20 million range.

It’s a great business plan. Low-budget horror has a good track record selling onto DVD, and we have the possibility of breakout hits later. The Hammer brand still has a great deal of equity behind it and some nice IP rights ripe and ready for exploitation.

And: For the UK industry, these are quite serious figures, even for the lower price range. Really very serious money indeed.

Things are looking good for Hammer.

And with a bit of luck, we’ll find that we can scream and scream and scream and this time they just will not stop.

EDIT: The first version of this post incorrectly claimed Bray Studios had shut up shop. They are in fact alive and well and living on the banks of the Thames.

3 responses to “Hammer Time”

  1. Also delighted to hear they’re back and meaning (literally) business. Those are proper budgets, as you say even at the low end, budgets you can write films for without having to think ‘no, can’t afford that’.

    Even if I never get to sell them anything, I’m still thrilled that they’re going to be putting out movies again. Properly iconic, thoughs Hammer fellows.

  2. What’s funny (to me anyway is that in their press releases they called the movies “character-based”, which on the surface is true – these are characters who will drive abloody stake through you and WILL NOT STOP.

    I’ve thought of many of the Hammer films as stage plays. Magnificent sets with grande guignol characters…

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