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Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Hammer House

Hammer are to make three new movies a year including a new Dracula -  Don’t get too excited because that information comes from a 1980 press release from the company who had recently bought Hamden House which they intended to convert into another Bray Studios. None of that came to fruition, well apart from the new studios and a TV series, and it was a while longer before Hammer finally got back into feature film production but the golden days of the studio are now long behind us. That proposed new Dracula film would have brought Christopher Lee back to the role and would have been set in contemporary times because Hammer felt that gothic films had had their day. Alas none of this was to be and until the recent revival the last Hammer horror film was 1976′s To the Devil a Daughter which wasn’t really a financial success.

However given the success of Hammer’s The Woman in Black, a new Dracula movie is once again on the cards but it is extremely doubtful that Christopher Lee will take the role of everyone’s favorite vampire, thought he’d make a cool Van Helsing. These days the company is in the hands of Simon Oakes and are going from success to success under his guidance. Not only are they producing new genre films, and having great success with them, but the classic output is being lovingly transferred to new DVD and Blu-ray editions, and they even have an imprint for publishing horror novels, with Hammer Books. And only this week it was announced that Michael Sheen has been offered the leading role in The Quiet Ones,  unveiled to be the next movie from Hammer Films. In addition, Brit actor Damien Lewis is also said to have been offered a part.Based on a earlier script by Rampart/The Messenger writer & director Oren Moverman that has been re-drafted by John Pogue (Ghost Ship, U.S. Marshals), the horror is described as a ‘poltergeist movie’ by Hammer Films CEO Simon Oakes and which will start filming in May in South Africa.

We can’t really tell you much about it but we really are looking at it. I’ve been saying that we’d never remake the films per se, but we would do our own versions of it. Certainly in my time with Hammer we will definitely do a Dracula. We will do a Frankenstein if we can find a route in. It’s about finding a route in that makes it your film.” Simon Oakes

Hammer are healthy again which is a good thing for movie lovers – the studio may have considered its output to be B-movies but they  have become iconic and the very name conjures up images of gothic horror -  This studio may have lost all relevance when it started churning out big screen versions of popular sitcoms like On The Buses and Love Thy Neighbor, but no one really doubted that the studio would one day rise from the dead.

Hammer originally started out in the 1930′s when Will Hammer founded Hammer Productions. He was soon joined by Enrique Carreras and together they formed a distribution company called Exclusive Films. They produced a few comedies during the Thirties as well as a thriller The Mystery of the Mary Celeste which starred Hollywood’s Count Dracula, Bela Lugosi. But by the Forties Hammer were no longer producing films and it wasn’t until the two founder’s sons took control that the Hammer we know and love started to form. Right from the start James Carreras displayed a shrewd business mind and he reckoned that by ensuring none of their films had a budget larger than £20.000 and by making five films a year they could turn over a profit annually of £25,000. Hammer could not afford big name stars and so it was decided to concentrate on the domestic market and produce movie versions of popular radio  shows. They scored some success with versions of PC49 and Dick Barton but it wasn’t until 1955 and The Quatermass Experiment that Hammer really came into its own. And from there it was a hop, skip and jump to 1957′s, The Curse of Frankenstein, which gave Hammer its first real bite out of the lucrative American market. The film also started a cycle of gothic horror films for which the studio have become synonymous.

The Hammer Frankenstein and Dracula cycles went on into the Seventies and ended on a high point for the baron with Frankenstein and the Monster from  Hell and an all time low for Drac with The Satanic Rites of Dracula. However the Dracula movies led to an interesting series of films based loosely on the Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla story – The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil, but by now the boom years had ended and Hammer dwindled into a shadow of its former self. They’re fighting fit now, though.

So Hammer is dead, long live Hammer.

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