Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #854: Good For You...

It's not often that I get to say something nice about a movie company, so relish the moment folks.

Hammer Films, the recently resurrected genre studio, has donated its archives of film & TV scripts and related production ephemera to the Cinema And Television History (CATH) Research Centre at the UK’s Leicester De Montfort University.  

The center will curate, catalog, and make available the scripts and materials for researchers and film history buffs alike.  Hopefully this will include an online component so the whole world can dip their toes into the world of Hammer.

How mighty nice of them.

Now if all this is just gibberish to you, shame on you. I should tell you to go to the woodshed and cut me a switch, no thicker than my thumb, but since I'm a nice guy, I will save you from your own ignorance.

Hammer Film Productions was started in the early 1930s by a popular music hall comedian name William Hinds who worked under the stage name Will Hammer.  For the first 20 years it produced a variety of films in various genres, but it wasn't until the 1950s that it forged the identity that genre film fans know and love to this day.

I'm talking about horror.

In the mid-1950s conventional wisdom said that Gothic horror set in historical periods were passe, and that films of that ilk had to be shot in black and white.  
Hammer broke with conventional wisdom, with the first of their classic horror films The Curse of Frankenstein, starring Hammer's signature star tag team of Peter Cushing as the titular mad scientist and Christopher Lee as the tragic monster.  The film was a revelation for its time, a period Gothic horror film shot in glorious technicolor, peppered with sexuality of the "heaving cleavage" school, and a soupcon of gore, which would be considered gentle today, but was horrifying for its time.

What followed was the company's Golden Age of the late 1950s through the 1960s. However, times changed, and Hammer stopped being a trend-setter, and tried to cash in on trends started by others. The films suffered, and so did the company, slowly fading away into obscurity, and then becoming completely moribund.

Time passed, and in 2007 new owners gained control of the company, and the process of reconstruction began.  When I heard that Hammer had been bought I wondered what it would mean, fearing that someone just wanted "the brand" for tacky purposes, but my fears were soon allayed.

What calmed my troubled waters was news that the new owners were finally draining the copyright swamp that had overtaken the company's library. 

That told me that the new owners appeared to have an appreciation of its history, and the commercial possibilities that it held. An appreciation that continues with the donation of their archive, and in the resurrected company's first serious hit film.

The Woman In Black has so far made over $60 million worldwide, and is still chugging along, is a throwback to the company's golden age.  A Gothic style haunted house period film that breaks from the whole torture-porn, and found footage fads that dominate the American horror market.  It's following what I've been preaching that independent companies should do: It found a gap in the market, and it's exploiting it.

So kudos to Hammer, not just for the donation, but for coming back from the dead, and I wish them all the luck.


  1. Having grown up on Hammer films viewed via "Creature Feature" decades ago, I welcome the studio's return!

  2. They're also restoring their movies for new blu-ray releases. Which makes me kinda go "squee."

    With me it was the "Great Money Movie" out of Bangor Maine that introduced me to the wonders of Hammer Films.

  3. I second your "Squee!" Seriously, having Hammer films available in Blu-ray is a fantastic move, especially as they develop a new audience.

    I'd never heard of the "Great Money Movie" before! As a life-long West-coaster, "Creature Feature" was an institution, bringing horror-starved kids the wonders of Universal and Hammer horror, as well as giant Japanese monsters crushing miniature cities.

    (And my mother, who worried that comic books were too violent for my impressionable mind, happily watched the Hammer horror flicks with me with nary a hint of irony. Relating that to her just a few months ago, she said, "Well, I always like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee!")

  4. Great Money Movie was a show done by the Bangor Maine affiliate of NBC. Every weekday at 5 they'd show a movie, usually fitting a theme of the week. They'd show a lot of Hammer movies during their "Monster Weeks."

    I miss shows like that. They open the minds of movie buffs beyond the obvious blockbusters.