Hammer Film Productions is a film production company based in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1934, the company is best known for the series of Gothic "Hammer Horror" films produced from the late 1950s until the 1970s. Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers and comedies and in later years, television series. Hammer films were cheap to produce but nonetheless appeared lavish, making use of quality British actors and cleverly designed sets. During its most successful years, Hammer dominated the horror film market, enjoying worldwide distribution and considerable financial success. This success was due, in part, to distribution partnerships with major United States studios, such as Warner Brothers.
During the late 1960s and 1970s the saturation of the horror market by competitors and the loss of American funding forced changes to the previously lucrative Hammer-formula, with varying degrees of success. The company eventually ceased production in the mid-1980s and has remained in effective hibernation since. In 2000 the studio announced plans to begin making films again after being bought by a consortium including advertising guru and art collector Charles Saatchi, but no films have been produced since. In May 2007 the company behind the movies was sold to a group headed by Big Brother creator John de Mol. At least $50m (£25m) will be spent on new horror films after Hammer Film Productions was sold to Dutch consortium Cyrte Investments. The new owners have also acquired the Hammer group's back catalogue.
The term "Hammer Horror" is often used generically to refer to other films of the period made in a similar style by different companies, such as Eros Films, Amicus Productions and Tigon British Film Productions.
Work began almost immediately on the first Hammer film, The Public Life of Henry the Ninth at the MGM/ATP studios, with shooting concluding on 2 January, 1935. During this period Hinds met Spanish émigré Enrique Carreras, a former cinema owner, and on 10 May, 1935 they formed a film distribution company Exclusive Films, operating from a single office at 60-66 National House, Wardour Street. Hammer produced a further four films distributed by Exclusive:
A slump in the British film industry forced Hammer into bankruptcy and the company went into liquidation in 1937. Exclusive, however, survived and on 20 July, 1937 purchased the leasehold on 113-117 Wardour Street, and continued to distribute films made by other companies.
On 12 February, 1949 Exclusive finally registered "Hammer Film Productions" as a company with Enrique and James Carreras, and William and Tony Hinds as company directors. Hammer moved into the Exclusive offices in 113-117 Wardour Street, and the building was rechristened "Hammer House".
In August 1949, complaints from locals about noise during night filming forced Hammer to leave Dial Close and move into another mansion, Oakley Court, also on the banks of the Thames between Windsor and Maidenhead. Five films were shot there: The Man in Black (1949), Room to Let (1949), Someone at the Door (1949), What The Butler Saw (1950), The Lady Craved Excitement (1950). In 1950, Hammer moved again to Gilston Park, a country club in Harlow Essex, which hosted Black Widow, The Rossiter Case, To Have and to Hold and The Dark Light (all 1950).
In 1951, Hammer began shooting at its most famous home, Down Place also on the banks of the Thames. The company took out a one-year lease and began its 1951 production schedule with Cloudburst. The house, a virtual derelict, required substantial work, but it did not have the kind of construction restrictions that had prevented Hammer from customising its previous homes. A decision was therefore made to turn Down Place into a substantial, custom-fitted studio complex. Its expansive grounds were used for almost all of the later location shooting in Hammer's films, and are a key part of the "Hammer look".
Also during 1951, Hammer and Exclusive signed a four-year production and distribution contract with Robert Lippert, an American film producer. The contract meant that Lippert and Exclusive effectively exchanged products for distribution on their respective sides of the Atlantic beginning in 1951 with The Last Page and ending with 1955's Women Without Men (AKA Prison Story). It was Lippert's insistence on an American star in the Hammer films he was to distribute that led to the prevalence of American leads in so many of the company's 1950s productions. It was for The Last Page that Hammer made one of its most significant appointments when it hired film director Terence Fisher, who went on to play a critical role in the forthcoming horror boom of the 1950s.
Towards the end of 1951, the one-year lease on Down Place expired, and with its increasing success Hammer looked back towards more conventional studio-based productions. A dispute with the Association of Cinematograph Technicians, however, blocked this proposal, and instead the company purchased the freehold of Down Place. The house was renamed Bray Studios after the nearby village of Bray and it remained Hammer's principal base until 1966.
Directors and writers
The scores for many Hammer horror films, including Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, were composed by James Bernard.
Hammer's horror films featured many of the same actors in recurring roles; these actors are sometimes called the "Hammer repertory company".
As production began on Quatermass 2, Hammer started to look for another U.S. partner willing to invest in and handle the American promotion of new product. They eventually entered talks with Associated Artists Pictures (AAP) and its head, Eliot Hyman. During this period, two young American filmmakers, Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, submitted to AAP a script for an adaptation of the novel Frankenstein. Although interested in the script, AAP were not prepared to back a film made by Rosenberg and Subotsky, who had only one film to their credit. Eliot Hyman did, however, send the script to his contact at Hammer.
Anthony Hinds was unsure about the script, as Universal Pictures had already made a series of successful Frankenstein films. Although the novel by Mary Shelley was long since in public domain, Subotsky's script adhered closely to the plot of the 1939 Universal film Son of Frankenstein, featuring a second-generation Frankenstein emulating his father, the original monster-maker. This put the project at risk of a copyright infringement lawsuit by Universal. In addition, a great deal of polishing and additional material was needed as the short script had an estimated running time of only 55 minutes far less than the minimum of 90 minutes needed for distribution in the UK. Accordingly, comments on the script from Hammer's Michael Carreras were less than complimentary:
Further revisions were made to the script, and a working title of Frankenstein and the Monster was chosen. Plans were made to shoot the film in Eastmancolor a decision which caused further worry at the BBFC. Not only did the script contain horror and graphic violence, but it would be portrayed in vivid colour.
The project was handed to Tony Hinds who was even less impressed with the script than Michael Carreras, and whose vision for the film was a mere black and white 'quickie' made in three weeks. Concerned that Subotsky and Rosenberg's script still had too many similarities to the old Universal films, Hinds commissioned Jimmy Sangster to rewrite it as The Curse of Frankenstein. Sangster's treatment impressed Hammer enough to rescue the film from its place on the 'quickie' treadmill and restore it as a colour shoot.
Regardless of the BBFC's stern warnings, Hinds supervised the shooting of a virtually unchanged script.
The film was directed by Terence Fisher, with a look that belied its modest budget. Peter Cushing's performance as Baron Victor Frankenstein, and Lee's as the imposingly tall, brutish monster provide the film with a further veneer of polish. With a budget of £65,000 and a cast and crew that would become the backbone of later films, Hammer's first Gothic horror went into production. The use of colour encouraged a previously unseen level of gore. Until The Curse of Frankenstein horror films had not shown blood in a graphic way, or when they did it was concealed by monochrome photography. In this film, it was bright red, and the camera lingered upon it.
The film was an enormous success, not only in Britain, but also in the USA, where it inspired numerous imitations from, amongst others, Roger Corman and his American International Pictures. It also found success on the European continent, where Italian directors and audiences were particularly receptive.
The huge box office success of The Curse of Frankenstein lead to the inevitable desire for a sequel in The Revenge of Frankenstein, and an attempt to give the Hammer treatment to another horror icon. Dracula was yet another successful film character for Universal, and the copyright situation was even more complicated than Frankenstein. A full legal agreement between Hammer and Universal was not completed until 31 March, 1958 after the film had already been shot and was 80 pages long.
Meanwhile, the financial arrangement between AAP and Hammer had broken down when money promised by AAP had not arrived. Hammer began looking for alternatives, and with the success of The Curse of Frankenstein signed a deal with Columbia Pictures to distribute the sequel The Revenge of Frankenstein and two films from the defaulted AAP deal The Camp on Blood Island and The Snorkel. Hammer's financial success also meant the winding down of the parent film distribution company Exclusive, leaving Hammer to concentrate solely on filmmaking.
Despite the success of Curse of Frankenstein, the financing of Dracula proved awkward. Universal was not interested,, and the search for money eventually brought Hammer back to AAP's Eliot Hyman, through another of his companies, Seven Arts. Although an agreement was drawn up, the deal was never realised and funding for Dracula eventually came from the National Film Finance Council (£32,000) and the rest from Universal in return for worldwide distribution rights.
With an eventual budget of £81,412, Dracula began principal photography on 11 November, 1957. Peter Cushing starred as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, with direction by Terence Fisher and set design by Bernard Robinson that was radically different from the Universal adaptation so radical, in fact, that Hammer executives considered paying him off and finding another designer.
Principal photography for The Mummy began on 23 February, 1959 and lasted until 16 April, 1959. It starred both Peter Cushing (as John Banning) and Christopher Lee (as the Mummy, Kharis), and was again directed by Terence Fisher with a screenplay from Jimmy Sangster. The Mummy went on general release on 23 October, 1959 and broke the box-office records set by Dracula the previous year, both in the UK and the U.S. when it was released there in December.
During the period 1955-1959 Hammer produced a number of other, non-horror films, including The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, and comedies such as Don't Panic Chaps!. Nevertheless, it is the three films, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy that set the direction and provided a template for many future films, and for which the company is best known.
All starred Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, except The Horror of Frankenstein (not a sequel, but a tongue-in-cheek remake of The Curse of Frankenstein), where Ralph Bates took the title role. The Evil of Frankenstein stars Cushing but has a re-telling of the first film in flashbacks and a Baron Frankenstein with a very different personality and thus it isn't really a sequel.
Hammer also produced a half-hour pilot titled Tales of Frankenstein (1958) that was intended to premiere on American television; it was never picked up but is now available on DVD. Anton Diffring played Baron Frankenstein.
The first four were direct sequels to the original film. Brides of Dracula did not include Dracula himself, but Peter Cushing repeated his role as Van Helsing to battle vampire Baron Meinster (David Peel). Christopher Lee as Dracula returned in the following six films, which employed much ingenuity in finding ways to resurrect the Count. Hammer upped the graphic violence and gore with Scars of Dracula in an attempt to re-imagine the character to appeal to a younger audience. The commercial failure of this film led to another change of style with the following films, which were not period pieces like their predecessors, but had a then-contemporary 1970s London setting. Peter Cushing appeared in both films playing a descendant of Van Helsing.
It is worth noting that while the contemporary films featuring Dracula star both Lee and Cushing, they are not the same series due to the lack of correspondence to the Victorian/Edwardian era films; the first film is set in the 1880s whereas the flashback sequence of the last battle between Van Helsing and Dracula is set in the 1872 - long before the first meeting of Van Helsing and Dracula in Dracula (1958 film).
Christopher Lee grew increasingly disillusioned with the way the character was being taken, and with the poor quality of the later scripts - although he did improve these slightly himself by adding lines of dialogue from the original novel. (Lee speaks at least one line taken from Bram Stoker in every Dracula film he has appeared in, except for Prince of Darkness - in which the Count does not speak at all.) He was also concerned about typecasting. After Satanic Rites, he quit the series.
From the mid-1960s, the "Mummy" films and some of Hammer's other horror output were increasingly designed for double-billing. Two films would be shot back-to-back with the same sets and costumes to save money. Each film would then be shown on a separate double-bill to prevent audiences noticing any recycling for example The Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile (both 1965),
Hammer's briefly fashionable cavewoman genre was parodied in Carry On Up the Jungle (1970)
On 29 May, 1968, Hammer was awarded the Queen's Award to Industry in recognition of their contribution to the British economy. The official presentation ceremony took place on the steps of the Castle Dracula set at Pinewood Studios, during the filming of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.
While the studio remained true to previous period settings in their 1972 release Vampire Circus, their Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, for example, abandon period settings in pursuit of a modern-day setting and "swinging London" feel. These films were not successful, and drew fire not only from critics, but from Christopher Lee himself, who refused to appear in more Dracula films after these. Speaking at a press conference in 1973 to announce The Satanic Rites of Dracula, then called Dracula is Dead... and Well and Living in London, Lee said:
The film itself also indulges the turn toward self-parody suggested by the title, with more humour appearing in the script, undercutting any real sense of horror.
Hammer films had always sold themselves, in part, on their violent and sexual content. After the release of films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch, audiences were increasingly able to see more explicit gore, more expertly staged, in relatively mainstream films. Night of the Living Dead, too, set a new standard for graphic violence in horror films. Hammer tried to compete as far as possible - Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, for example, features a scene where the Baron kicks a discarded human brain - but realised quickly that, if they couldn't be as gory as new American productions, they could follow a trend prevalent in European films of the time, and play up the sexual content of their films.
These three were written by Hammer newcomer Tudor Gates, who was recruited at about the same time as Brian Clemens (creator of The Avengers). Clemens wrote two unusual films for Hammer. Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) featured Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter (1974), which he also directed, were not successful at the time, but have since become cult favourites. The experimental films of this period represented a genuine attempt to find new angles on old stories, but audiences did not seem interested.
Notable episodes include:
Episodes were directed by Brian Gibson, Peter Sasdy and Tom Clegg, among others.
A second television series, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, was produced in 1984 and also ran for 13 episodes. The stories were originally to have been the same 1-hour length as their previous series, but it was decided to expand them to feature-length so as to market them as 'movies of the week' in the US. The series was made in association with 20th Century Fox (who co-produced four of the thirteen films) and as such, some of the sex and violence seen in the earlier series was toned down considerably for US television. Each episode featured a star, often American, well-known to US viewers. This series was Hammer's final production of any kind to date.
|Title||UK Transmission Date||Notable cast members|
|Witching Time||13 September 1980||Jon Finch, Patricia Quinn, Prunella Gee, Ian McCulloch, Lennard Pearce, Margaret Anderson|
|The Thirteenth Reunion||20 September 1980||Michael Latimer, Julia Foster, Dinah Sheridan, Richard Pearson, Norman Bird, Warren Clarke, Kevin Stoney, George Innes|
|Rude Awakening||27 September 1980||Denholm Elliott, Lucy Gutteridge, James Laurenson, Pat Heywood, Gareth Armstrong, Eleanor Summerfield, Patricia Mort|
|Growing Pains||4 October 1980||Gary Bond, Barbara Kellerman, Norman Beaton, Tariq Yunus, Geoffrey Beevers|
|The House that Bled to Death||11 October 1980||Nicholas Ball, Rachel Davies, Brian Croucher, Patricia Maynard, Milton Johns, George Tovey|
|Charlie Boy||18 October 1980||Leigh Lawson, Marius Goring, Angela Bruce, Frances Cuka, Michael Culver, Jeff Rawle, David Healy, Janet Fielding, Charles Pemberton|
|The Silent Scream||25 October 1980||Peter Cushing, Brian Cox, Elaine Donnelly, Antony Carrick, Terry Kinsella, Robin Browne|
|Children of the Full Moon||1 November 1980||Diana Dors, Christopher Cazenove, Celia Gregory, Victoria Wood, Robert Urquhart|
|Carpathian Eagle||8 November 1980||Suzanne Danielle, Anthony Valentine, Sian Phillips, Barry Stanton, William Morgan Sheppard, Pierce Brosnan, Richard Wren|
|Guardian of the Abyss||15 November 1980||Ray Lonnen, Barbara Ewing, John Carson, Rosalyn Landor, Paul Darrow|
|Visitor from the Grave||22 November 1980||Kathryn Leigh Scott, Gareth Thomas, Simon MacCorkindale|
|The Two Faces of Evil||29 November 1980||Gary Raymond, Anna Calder-Marshall, Philip Latham, Jenny Laird, Brenda Cowling|
|The Mark of Satan||6 December 1980||Peter McEnery, Emrys James, Georgina Hale, Peter Birrel, Conrad Phillips|
|Title||UK Transmission Date||Notable cast members|
|Mark of the Devil||5 September 1984||Dirk Benedict, Jenny Seagrove, George Sewell, John Paul, Tom Adams, Burt Kwouk, James Ellis, Reginald Marsh, Alibe Parsons, Hugh Morton, Tony Sibbald|
|Last Video and Testament||12 September 1984||Deborah Raffin, Oliver Tobias, David Langton, Clifford Rose, Shane Rimmer, Robert Rietty, Norman Mitchell|
|Czech Mate||17 January 1986||Susan George, Patrick Mower, Roy Boyd, Richard Heffer, Peter Vaughan, Robert Russell, Pam St. Clement, Christopher Robbie, Steve Plytas, Hana Maria Pravda|
|A Distant Scream||24 January 1986||David Carradine, Stephanie Beacham, Stephen Greif, Stephan Chase, Fanny Carby, Ewan Stewart, Lesley Dunlop, Bernard Horsfall, Edward Peel|
|The Late Nancy Irving||7 February 1986||Cristina Raines, Marius Goring, Simon Williams, Tony Anholt, Zienia Merton, Tom Chadbon, Michael Elwyn, Derek Benfield, Christopher Banks, Lewis Fiander|
|In Possession||7 March 1986||Carol Lynley, Christopher Cazenove, Judy Loe, David Healy, Bernard Kay, Brendan Price, John D. Collins, Carl Rigg|
|Black Carrion||14 March 1986||Season Hubley, Leigh Lawson, Norman Bird, William Hootkins, Oscar Quitak, Forbes Collins, Christopher Ellison|
|The Sweet Scent of Death||4 April 1986||Dean Stockwell, Shirley Knight, Michael Gothard, Carmen du Sautoy, Robert Lang, Alan Gifford, Geoffrey Colville|
|Paint Me A Murder||11 April 1986||Michelle Phillips, James Laurenson, David Robb, Alan Lake, William Morgan Sheppard, Richard LeParmentier, Tony Steedman, Mark Heath, Gerald Sim, Neil Morrissey|
|The Corvini Inheritance||18 April 1986||David McCallum, Jan Francis, Terence Alexander, Stephen Yardley, Paul Bacon, Leonard Trolley, Johnnie Wade, Kirstie Pooley,|
|And the Wall Came Tumbling Down||25 April 1986||Gareth Hunt, Peter Wyngarde, Carol Royle, Brian Deacon, Patricia Hayes, Richard Hampton, Ray Armstrong, Christopher Farries, Robert James|
|Child's Play||2 May 1986||Mary Crosby, Nicholas Clay|
|Tennis Court||9 May 1986||George Little, Peter Graves, Hannah Gordon, Ralph Arliss, Isla Blair, Jonathan Newth, Cyril Shaps, Peggy Sinclair, David Chessman, Annis Joslin, Marcus Gilbert|
On May 10, 2007, it was announced that Dutch producer John De Mol had purchased the Hammer Films rights via his private equity firm Cyrte Investments. In addition to holding the rights to over 300 Hammer Films, De Mol's company plans to restart the studio. According to an article in Variety detailing the transaction, the new Hammer Films will be run by former Liberty Global execs Simon Oakes and Marc Schipper. In addition, Guy East and Nigel Sinclair of L.A.-based Spitfire Pictures are on board to produce two to three horror films or thrillers a year for the U.K.-based studio.
The first output under the new owners is Beyond the Rave, a contemporary vampire story which premièred free online exclusively on myspace in April 2008 as a 20 x 4 min. serial.
The company began shooting for a new horror/thriller film in Donegal in 2008, backed by the Irish Film Board. The film is titled The Wake Wood and is scheduled for release in the United Kingdom in the Autumn of 2009. Hammer has also recently acquired the rights to remake the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In.