Hammer time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 April, 2009, 12:00am

Few film companies have lent their names to a genre. But from the late 1950s to the mid-70s, Britain's Hammer Films produced a slew of popular horror films that became known as 'Hammer Horrors'. These adaptations of classic Victorian horror stories featured blood-soaked monsters and buxom wenches, and were shot in lurid Technicolor on beautiful swathes of English countryside. The company produced its last horror in 1976, and faded away in the 1980s. But now it's back with a website.

The official Hammer portal, hammerfilms.com, provides a detailed history of the studio and a filmography that makes use of clips, trailers and original film posters. There's also a page about its first horror film production since 1976, the upcoming Wake in the Woods.

As the site's biography points out, the studio was formed in 1933. It began by making comedies, but a surprise hit with 1955's The Quatermass Xperiment - a dark science-fiction film - led the company to horror. The Curse Of Frankenstein, which featured Hammer regulars Peter Cushing as the baron and Christopher Lee as the monster, was a massive hit in 1957 and became the formula for the next 20 years. Dracula, which introduced Lee as the count, proved equally successful in 1958.

Many of the Hammers are quite wonderful. A talented in-house team, which drew on prolific scriptwriter Jimmy Sangster and directors Terence Fisher and Roy Ward Baker, worked hard to find new angles on Victorian classics. Films such as Dracula made good use of the English countryside to create a spooky feel, and the studio bought its own mansion for interiors. Colour was important, too, as the blood could now be seen.

As times changed, Hammer adapted. Its sex-vampire films were popular in the liberal 1970s, with the trilogy The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil fuelling many a young man's fantasies.

The website shows how prolific Hammer was. The studio pumped out about eight films a year for most of its existence. It had a diverse slate even during the horror years, producing comedies and adventure flicks such as She and One Million Years BC; 1967's Quatermass and the Pit was a sophisticated sci-fi film that combined aliens with demonology.

Hammer was recently resurrected as a production entity, although some horror purists say it should be left to fester in movie hell. The site has a page dedicated to A Walk in the Woods, which sounds like an attempt to recreate a classic Hammer. The story is about a couple enacting a pagan rite to bring their child back to life in the Irish countryside. The site also links to a series of Web episodes of Beyond the Rave, a story that updates Hammer for a younger audience.

As hammerfilms.com shows, Hammer has indeed risen from the grave.