HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR (1980 United Kingdom)

hammerpetehohtopThirteen episodes that I can’t really make my mind up about. Certain episodes could be picked apart for lousy acting, plots that are too vague and a general gloominess that gives the viewer a “this is not going to end well for the hero/heroine” long before you do get to the expected unhappy finale. This is a stylish and handsome looking production though. It deserves its unique little niche in the history of horror television.

THE HOUSE THAT BLED TO DEATH Young couple William and Emma Peters, along with their young daughter, move into a run down semi-detached house. They purchase it for a knock-down bargain price due to its gruesome history. The home’s previous owner was an elderly man who poisoned his wife and then cut up her body. Despite its reputation as one of the memorable episodes in the entire series, the story isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it’s very lacklustre in execution. Influenced by The Amityville Horror film of a year earlier.

THE SILENT SCREAM  An ex-con (a convincing Brian Cox) is given a job by a nice pet-store owner (Peter Cushing) with a penchant for cages. Mr Cushing is chilling and very believable. Whoever wrote the screenplay was original. No violence, no bloodshed, no aliens or monsters but this will stay with you. The story eventually concludes on a nice – and terrifying – twist ending. Not to be missed, particularly if you are a big cat lover.

THE TWO FACES OF EVIL This is a very strange episode that has an illogical plot. The script, although boasting some clever ideas, isn’t really ingenious. What elevates this episode from a bland story to a watchable (and at times, enjoyable) one is the combination of superb acting from the brilliant cast. The two leads, Anna Calder-Marshall and Gary Raymond, (who makes the most of his dual role) are so believable. Then there is the inspired direction from Alan Gibson, who makes effective use of lighting and camera angles.

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THE MARK OF SATAN  Peter McEnery plays Edwyn Rord: a hospital morgue assistant who believes a conspiracy of evil is afoot whose sole purpose is to initiate him as the devil’s latest disciple. Rord is sure that the number 9 is used in the conspiracy as some form of code – he lives at No.9, he won £9 in a bet instead of £16, he was told to put a body of a man in freezer No.9 and so on. An intense descent into madness. Convincingly melodramatic.

WITCHING TIME Patricia Quinn plays Lucinda Jessop – a seventeenth century witch who avoids being burned at the stake by teleporting 300 years into the future, arriving at her childhood home which is now occupied by an alcoholic musician David Winter (Jon Finch) and his unfaithful wife Mary (Prunella Gee). Now safely in the twentieth century, the witch, who has designs on David, causes havoc for the estranged couple, and they have enough domestic problems on their plate to worry about….

VISITOR FROM THE GRAVE The story (if you could call it that) behind this appalling charade involves Kathryn Leigh Scott as a woman with serious mental problems. She kills an intruder in her house after he attempts to rape her one night when her husband is away. The woman’s husband (Simon MacCorkindale) then buries the dead body in the woods to conceal the crime and protect his wife, only for the dead man to apparently come back from the dead to seek revenge. The ending is disturbing.

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RUDE AWAKENING This episode stars the late and great Denholm Elliott as lecherous estate agent, Norman Shenley, who appears to be trapped in a reocurring and never-ending nightmare. The dream sequences basically re-enact the same plot (Shenley visiting the manor house, menaced by voices and eventually killing his wife) they are all different from one another, each of them surreal, atmospheric and entertaining in their own right.

CHARLIE BOY Interesting, if predictable, tale of an African ‘Witchdoctors’ doll that wreaks havoc in the lives of a couple that inherit it. A strong cast get chopped down, one by one, by a small wooden fetish. If you like downbeat stories that kill off virtually the entire cast then this is the episode for you. This is a real crowd-pleasing, fast moving episode.

CHILDREN OF THE FULL MOON  I quite liked this one- although it’s pretty obvious what’s happening from the start. Young couple (the man is Christopher Cazenove) break down and are very well looked after by an odd lady (Diana Dors is brilliantly creepy) and her collection of children in a secluded mansion. For once the male lead is spot on the mark as far as assessing where the danger lies……it’s an interesting slant on werewolves.

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THE 13th REUNION Journalist Ruth Cairns (Julia Foster) is sent undercover by her editor to investigate a strange weight loss course `Think Thin’ at the Chesterton Clinic where they use unconventional methods to induce weight loss. It turns out better than you think it will– and quite grisly too! This is a good-old fashioned mystery with the journalist uncovering a shocking elite that thrive on secret cannibalism. The dinner scene is very good with lots of close-ups of hungry faces. Tuck in!

THE CARPATHIAN EAGLE  This centres around a series of grisly killings where men are lured to their deaths by a ‘mysterious’ psychopath. It is fairly obvious who the killer is; the only Amazonian attractive actress starring in the episode. There are no other suspects to choose from. A young Pierce Brosnan is a cannon fodder character for the femme fatal to kill. Anthony Valentine stars as the sympathetic policeman.

GUARDIAN OF THE ABYSS A Satanic Cult tries to gets its hands on a special, ancient mirror that has been acquired by an antiques dealer. John Carson runs a cult that is up to no good, and wants to sacrifice various ladies. Paul Darrow is a very bad antiques dealer (his attempt to buy the ‘scrying glass’ early on is ludicrous). The hero (Ray Lonnen as Michael Roberts) is irritating and I found myself cheering on the baddies in this one….

GROWING PAINS Easily the worst episode of the lot.  An irritatingly stupid kid eats chemicals from his father’s laboratory and dies (you later feel bad when you learn he was trying to gain attention from his preoccupied father and errant mother). The parents get another ‘ready-made’ child but it turns out to be a bad mistake. There are a few creepy moments, but enough ridiculous scenes with two Oxford-educated ‘third-world’ politicians and a deranged dog to sink this.

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Comments

  1. I must say these sound worth watching simply for the casts alone – a real who’s who of the best of Britiish from a few decades ago. Shame it sounds as if some of the scripts didn’t quite match up.

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  2. Suspend that disbelief and you may love it…I was a little harsh on some of them. Only the first on the list and the final one are really bad. Eleven out of thirteen are actually pretty enthralling, mostly because of the charismatic actors and atmospheric locations.

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