We’re all familiar with the output of Hammer in the form of the countless horror movies they pumped out during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, of which our writer Dr Lenera has been working his way through reviewing as part of his Journey into Hammer Films, but what about their TV output: Hammer House of Horror? In a day and age where TV now seems to be rivalling cinema for storytelling and execution, was Hammer’s TV series in 1980 just as good as its film back catalogue?
First aired on ITV from September to December 1980, Hammer House of Horror promised thirteen tales of terror with one 54 minute, standalone episode shown each week for thirteen weeks. 37 years later, does it still stand up as a terrifying slice of television horror? Hell yeah it does!
Boasting a stellar cast, including Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliott, Patricia Quinn, Brian Cox, Warren Clarke, James Cosmo and many more, the tales covered all sorts of horror ground from voodoo to hauntings, witchcraft to possession and everything in between. Having such a diverse set of episodes that don’t rely on the one before it to continue the story allowed horror fans to lap up a supernatural landscape of programming that hit the spot every time. Even to this day, Hammer House of Horror doesn’t look out of place and manages to get under the skin of this hardened horror fan. Though some of the vehicles and appearances may look a bit dated, the horror element of the episodes themselves don’t feel dated at all. If anything, being grounded in the 80’s gives an extra eerie quality to the tales than if they were made today.
With such a brilliant series to get stuck into, it’s hard to pick out a few of my favourites but if I had to choose my Top Three, it would have to be The Thirteenth Reunion, Children of the Full Moon and Guardian of the Abyss.
In The Thirteenth Reunion, we see journalist Ruth (Julia Foster) sent undercover to a dieting class called ThinkThin run by intense insturctor Willis (James Cosmo) who believes the best way in getting his ‘students’ to loose weight is by shaming and demoralising them publicly and humiliating them into becoming thin. When she witnesses Ben (Warren Clarke), a fellow fat fighter, being encouraged by Willis on his achievements despite actually putting on weight, Ruth begins to suspect all is not right at ThinkThin, unless Willis is extremely sexist. Her investigation into the dieting programme reveals the true nature of the class with horrifying consequences.
Witty and captivating, The Thirteenth Reunion is an intriguing episode without being overly eerie. Julia Foster plays Ruth as a comical but committed reporter who wants to branch out from the women’s pages and get a big juicy headline on the front of the paper. We’re definitely on board with Ruth as a character as she attempts to get a scoop on the traumatising classes. When things turn south, we really rooting for our reporter to expose ThinkThin, with the results as nerve-wrecking for Ruth as it is for us as viewers.
In Children of the Full Moon, Tom and Sarah Martin are travelling to a countryside cottage for their belated honeymoon when they lose control of their car before it eventually breaks down. Seeking assistance, they discover help at a nearby house in the woods. Inviting them in and offering them a room for the night is owner Mrs Ardoy and her brood of 8 children, some step and some fostered. Tom and Sarah kindly accept Mrs Ardoy’s generous offer but get a sneaking suspicion all is not what it seems, especially when Tom spots a snarling beast near his car. Should they be concerned of what’s outside or is what’s inside the Ardoy household something much more sinister?
Diana Dors slays this episode as country bumpkin Mrs Ardoy, a far cry from her blonde bombshell pin-up appearance. She comes across as the friendly housewife but you can tell something isn’t quite right about her her family or her home. The setting of the woodland and the creepy laughter of the children around the house is enough to send the willies up anyone! Though it’s a little predictable in what to expect from the supernatural angle (the title is a big clue), the way the story is executed is spot on and delivers a fine episode for viewers to get lost in as we scream at Tom and Sarah to get as far away as possible.
The final of my favourite of the thirteen episodes is Guardian of the Abyss in which antique seller Laura comes into the possession of a scrying mirror after purchasing a lot at an auction. When the mirror gains interest from rival antique dealer Simon Andrews, she lets exporter Michael have it appraised for her suspecting it may be worth a lot more than what’s being offered. What she doesn’t know is the mirror has a power to connect with gods and demons beyond our world and that an occult group the Chorozson Society will do anything to get their hands on it.
Employing the ideas brought forward by John Dee, Edward Kelley and Aleister Crowley in enochian magick, Guardian of the Abyss is a fantastic little tale exploring the ideas of a section of society and how normal, average joe non-believers are pulled into the horrors that the Chorozson Society wish to unleash. There’s a bit of costume work at play here but most of the action plays out between two sets of characters and one seemingly stuck in the middle. It’s tense stuff at times, particularly when John Carson goes full magic mode as Chorozson leader Charles Randolph, and ultimately concludes with a satisfying ending. Definitely one for fans of Night of the Demon.
With so many fantastic, chilling episodes to enjoy, each offering something unique to indulge in, Hammer sucessfully brought their brand of horror to the small screen. Having such a strong cast involved in the project helped enormously to do justice to these episodes whilst drawing in viewers ahead of schedule. Looking at it with fresh, modern eyes, it’s a positive triumph for television that Hammer decided to pursue this route and I only wish they’d do more TV instead of concentrating on their film revival which has resulted in two Woman in Black movies and The Quiet Ones.
Whilst having been available for many years on DVD, Network Distributing have finally given the Hammer series a much-deserved Blu-Ray treatment though the release lacks any meaningful extras, featuring only Commercial Break stings, Rude Awakening opening montage raw takes, an image gallery and a widescreen version of Guardian of the Abyss. It seems some of the DVD releases previously had a couple of interview featurettes but these aren’t present in the Blu-Ray release. However, it hits all the right notes with its high definition restoration of the episodes in its original 16:9 aspect ratio, with each of the 3 discs giving viewers a slice of 80’s horror that has stood the test of time.
If modern horror just doesn’t cut it for you, you can’t got wrong with Hammer House of Horror; thirteen thrilling episodes that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their cinematic brethren and teach the modern slew of shockers a little thing or two about proper horror.