Hammer House of Horror

Hammer House Of Horror Famed British horror film studio Hammer had been making names for themselves for more than three decades as the purveyors of some of the most atmospheric and twisted horror films of the time, when they ground to a halt in 1976 with their last theatrical feature To the Devil a Daughter. A changing film market and some outdated precepts within the company itself led to this halting of the film arm of Hammer Studios, but the company made one last attempt to retain name recognition in the early eighties by producing two 13-episode anthology television series: House of Horror and House of Mystery and Suspense, before seemingly vanishing. The first series, 1980's House of Horror, has been collected in a great four volume DVD boxset by A&E Home Video that should have all fans of Hammer's work jumping for joy at the chance to come that much closer to finishing off collecting their entire Hammer library in the digital format.

Disc one features the episodes "Witching Time", "The Thirteenth Reunion", and "Rude Awakening". "Witching Time", which is about a young man who finds himself being seduced by a 17th century witch (played by Rocky Horror Picture Show's Patricia Quinn), is the least of the three episodes, mainly because the story really has no hook to grab the viewer with. Some brief nudity from Quinn does liven up the show a little bit, but not enough to make it worth a second viewing.

Much better, on the other hand, are the two episodes that follow it. "The Thirteenth Reunion" tells the story of a reporter (Julia Foster) who joins a radical new weight loss program, only to find a sinister cabal running the program for the purposes of something much more disturbing than anything that the poor girl could have ever realized. Although the ending is somewhat predictable (a trend that would haunt future episodes), this episode is a lot of fun and indicative of some of the playful inventiveness that this show would have to offer in future episodes.

"Rude Awakening", which features Denholm Elliott as an estate agent who finds himself in a cyclical nightmare where an unseen stranger chastises him for killing his very much alive wife, is the best episode of the three thanks to this playfulness. Elliott steals the show as he continually wakes up from one nightmare after the next and doesn't realize where the dream is actually beginning or ending. Some assistance from the chameleon-like secretary (played by Top Secret's Lucy Gutteridge) he is having a supposed affair with is also fun and the chance to see Ms. Gutteridge in a brief nude scene, as well, is a definite highlight of the episode.

Disc two features the episodes "Growing Pains", "The House that Bled to Death", and "Charlie Boy". Again, the first episode on the disc, "Growing Pains", is the least of the three. This episode concerns the vengeful spirit of a little boy who died after accidentally ingesting an experimental growth hormone that his father was creating in order to assist third world countries in feeding the malnourished. There are a handful of moments that make this episode interesting, as the mourning parents give in and get a foster child whom they think is responsible for the weird things going on around them, but the bulk of the episode is relatively dull and the ending is extremely anti-climactic (another trend that would also haunt future episodes).

"The House that Bled to Death", like the second episode on disc one, is a lot more fun, and concerns a family who experiences some strange occurrences when they move into a house where an old couple had died months earlier. This episode features some great plot twists (that may remind several people of the actual Amityville haunted house story) and a kicker of an ending that makes for one of the best finales of the entire series. There are also some pretty messy gore effects in this episode, more so than in almost all of the other ones combined.

While better than "Growing Pains", the final episode on the disc, "Charlie Boy", seems far too reminiscent of the infamous Zuni Fetish doll from the end segment of the anthology horror film Trilogy of Terror. For those that have seen it, the story of a carved fetish doll that kills will seem familiar, but the titular character here doesn't spring to life with the notion of attacking the British version of Karen Black. Instead, this doll chooses to perform its evil from a distance in a voodoo doll-like fashion. The plot of this episode does feature some interesting twists in and of itself, but none quite so good as the episode that preceded it. A fair attempt and one that at least makes a decent impression on the viewer.

Disc three starts off with the best episode of the series, by far. This episode, "The Silent Scream", features Hammer veteran (and Grand Moff Tarkin himself) Peter Cushing as a seemingly kindly old man named Blucek who gives released ex-con Chuck (Brian Cox, the original Hannibal Lecter in the 1986 film Manhunter) a job in his pet shop. Blucek shows Chuck the secret room he has underneath the pet shop, which contains a bunch of caged exotic animals that have been trained to stay in their cages despite the doors being wide open, and asks him to watch them while he is away on business. Unfortunately, Blucek has also rigged the store to trap Chuck if he were to try to get into a safe located in the basement area and the ex-con soon finds himself part of Blucek's nefarious experiment. This episode is perhaps the most highly polished all around and almost worth the purchase of the boxset alone!

While hard to follow the best episode in the series, the next episode in line, "Children of the Full Moon", is certainly a valiant attempt. This episode tells the tale of a couple who find themselves broken down in a rural part of England and end up coming across a bizarre family that lives in a nice house set far back in the woods. When the couple wake up in the hospital days later after seemingly being attacked by a unknown creature during their stay at the house, young Tom (Christopher Cazenove) finds that his wife is acting very strangely and only likes to eat mutton for every meal. Was his visit to the house all a dream, or is his wife hiding something sinister?

The last episode on disc three, "Carpathian Eagle", is a mixed bag. This episode features an police inspector trying to track down a murderous female who likes to seduce her victims and then cut their hearts out with a sacrificial knife. Some clues given to him by a pretty researcher who has written a book on a vampiric countess who lived centuries ago lead him to question an elderly woman who is supposedly the only remaining link to the countess's bloodline, but he may be on the completely wrong track.

Disc four contains what has to be the least of the entire collection of episodes on all four of the volumes. Starting off with an episode entitled "Guardian of the Abyss", which tells the tale of an antiques dealer who gets involved with a satanic cult who wants a mysterious mirror he has recently obtained, this particular episode ranges from nearly brilliant to pathetically silly (sometimes in the same scene) and features some overuse of effects that were hardly present in previous episodes.

Starting off promisingly, the episode entitled "Visitor from the Grave", begins by having a young woman getting terrorized by a man looking for her husband, whom he apparently owes money to. When the violent man tries to physically attack her as a means of getting his cash in one form or another, she picks up a shotgun and blasts him point blank range in the face. Upon returning home, her husband helps her hide the body, but it seems that the dead do not stay dead and her attacker soon returns to haunt her.

"The Two Faces of Evil" shows more promise than its predecessor by telling the story of a family that makes the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker who ends up attacking the father and causing a car accident. All four passengers in the car end up in the hospital, although the hitchhiker apparently did not survive the ordeal and rests in the hospital's morgue. Eventually, the family is allowed to go home, but the young wife soon discovers that there was a horrible mix up while they were in the hospital and she and her family may be in more danger than they realized.

The final episode of the series, "The Mark of Satan", is perhaps one of the most intelligently written of the thirteen episodes and is a fine way to end the program's run. This show features a young man haunted by thoughts that he is wrapped up in a vast conspiracy concocted by Satan, brought about by the continuing emergence of triple 9's in his life and the belief that he has been infected with a soul destroying disease contracted by the corpse of a madman he was dealing with while working in a hospital morgue. In the best tradition of conspiracy theorists, this episode features some of the most detailed 'mad ramblings' I have ever heard constructed for the entertainment medium and they make for an incredibly enjoyable 44 minutes. Although the climax here is also ultimately predictable, the journey the episode takes to it is complete fun from beginning to end and I place it a close second with the "Silent Scream" episode.