Actually took a moment to breathe over Christmas, and started making my way through a boxed set of Hammer films which I’d been given. Much as I’d like to think that my horror film knowledge is full, comprehensive and encyclopedic.. There are gaps. And one of those gaps, without doubt, has been Hammer shaped.
This fact has been even more evident to me during the last year or so, where the re-emergence of the long-dormant studio has made me ponder exactly what Hammer should mean in 2011 (and, by extension, what it meant last century too). The remake of The Woman In Black, in particular, has been pinging on my radar as an object of interest, and whatever mentality the studio shows when dealing with that property is likely to be an indication of the way they’re going in general.
But, what of the Hammer of old? Over Christmas, I checked out five films: The Devil Rides Out, Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Quatermass & The Pit and The Nanny. Of these, my favourite by a considerable margin was The Devil Rides Out; a full-blooded black magic flick with some terrific set-pieces and an unusually ‘good guy’ turn from Christopher Lee. It summed up everything that I’d enjoyed about the handful of Hammer flicks I’d seen previously and would have easily gone down as the best horror movie I’d seen over the holiday period, had I not also checked out the sublime Night of the Demon.. (Not being a Hammer flick, I don’t want to digree too much and talk about NOTD here, but it was a real gem and made me feel incredibly remiss for not having watched it previously).
I spent a little while wondering whether the straight-faced approach of The Devil Rides Out would translate easily to the 21st century Hammer flicks and whether it would be wise to attempt to do so. Looking back to The Woman in Black in particular, both the stage play and the masterful 1989 TV movie rely on something that contemporary cinema seems positively allergic to; the slow burn. The devastating shocks in the original WIB depend entirely on the *lack* of scare tactics in the rest of the movie. Likewise, Quatermass & The Pit represented a slow ratcheting of tension building towards a single, large-scale set-piece. Is a 2011 audience prepared to accept that dynamic? Is Hammer going to be comfortable taking that approach? After all, their name may be synonymous with horror, but the word itself has very different connotations for a contemporary audience than it did in the company’s heyday. The average viewer of Saw 3D will have genre expectations which the majority of my shiny Hammer boxed set is unlikely to coincide with.
As for me, I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the box has to offer. My last stop was cleavage-fest Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, a rip-roaring tale of a resurrected Egyptian Mummy with fantastic tits, which was probably closer structurally to a contemporary horror flick than any of the other examples I’ve mentioned thus far. So maybe the new Hammer doesn’t need to differ from the old so much after all; it just needs to cherry pick the elements that’ll work in this new century.
Speaking personally, I can’t wait to see the results.