lll Starting Out - Hammer Films lll

Enrique Carreras (1880-1950) was born in Spain. He moved to England and opened up a theatre which could be considered one of the first multiplex. It was actually two theatres that showed different movies and seated 2000 people. The theatre was called Blue Halls and was soon turned into a chain of theatres. In the late 1920's Carreras formed Exclusive Films to serve as a distribution company for films in England. During this time a vaudeville act billed as Hammer and Smith began appearing in England. William Hinds was the Hammer of Hammer and Smith. Carreras and Hinds met and formed a partnership in 1932 and secured the distribution rights to several British Lion pictures. It was decided that a separate company would be formed to produce movies for Exclusive's distribution. The studio was to be called Hammer Films.

Their first film was The Public Life of Henry The 9th, followed by The Mystery of the Mary Celeste (The Phantom Ship). Over the next 2 decades Hammer Films existed to create a myriad of B-movies and short subjects. Most of the films were crime dramas. Many of these films can no longer been seen but they provided a comfortable existence for Carreras and Hinds.

The studio began to for a family environment when James Carreras (1909-1990), Enrique's son, joined the Exclusive team in 1939. Anthony Hinds (1922- ), Williams's son also joined the studio in 1939. Their first stay with the company was short lived though. War had broken out in Europe and both sons went off to fight. In 1946, both returned to their father's little film company. James Carreras son Michael joined the Exclusive team in 1943. Like his father, he was called of to military service. He also returned to the studio after the war.

The making of Hammer Films was done is several country houses instead of the conventional studio, like in Hollywood. While filming The Lady Craved Excitement in 1950 at Oakley Court, the studio became interested in obtaining the neighbouring Down Place as a permanent home for their studio. It was owned by George Davies and his wife. George was a bit of a film fan who agreed to sell the place provided that he and his wife could stay on. Though they never really got involved in the process of making movies, George served as a clapper boy on several Hammer Productions.

In the 1950's Exclusive fell into the good fortune of establishing important distribution rights with American companies. One key acquisition was with Robert Lippert Productions. The partnership was important because it allowed Hammer the rights to use fading but recognizable American stars in their British productions making them more accessible to the American audiences.

The Birth of Hammer Horror
The Quatermass Xperiment(1955)

Following a brief flirtation with science fiction, Hammer Films quickly realised the stagnation of the genre and soon made a name for itself with a series of horror pictures that pushed the boundaries of screen gore.

A staple of Hammer Films was the BBC radio serials. Hammer secured the rights to several of these productions and turned them into feature films. After the purchase of the Dick Barton series from the BBC they found a BBC series called The Quatermass Experiment and with some negotiation, the Quatermass series became the property of the studio and production of the feature film version began. While predominantly a science fiction story, Hammer slightly twisted the film and used it to bridge the gap between sci-fi and horror.


The title was changed to The Quatermass Xperiment to cash in on the new X-certificate for horror films. The film proved to bean unexpectedly big hit, and led to an almost equally popular 1957 sequel Quatermass 2 - again adapted from one of Kneale's television scripts, this time written by Kneale himself and with a budget double that of the original.

Becoming a Household Name
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

With the success Hammer Films had achieved following the horror route, they decided to look for more horror stories that could be exploited and re-made in celluloid. They decided upon Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, since the book was public domain and the Universal Studios film Frankenstein (1931) was viewed by many as a horror classic. As soon as Universal heard of the remake, they made Hammer aware that if they copied anything from the Universal film that wasn't in the Mary Shelley novel, including the classic make-up, they would sue. A script was devised and new make-up designed. Though still not very faithful to the original story, the Hammer version was faster paced and featured more shock elements than the original.

Christopher Lee as Frankenstein's Monster

This was also true of the gruelling make-up that imprisoned Christopher Lee's expressive facial movements. It all worked together though and the audiences were shocked and amazed by this new version of the familiar story.

A working title of Frankenstein and the Monster was chosen, and later changed along with a complete re-write of the script. With this re-write plans were made to shoot the film in Eastman-colour - a decision which caused further worry at the BBFC. Not only did the script contain horror and graphic violence, but it would be portrayed in vivid colour. The script was submitted to the BBFC for review and the opinion of Audrey Field was:

"We are concerned about the flavour of this script, which, in its preoccupation with horror and gruesome detail, goes far beyond what we are accustomed to allow even for the 'X' category. I am afraid we can give no assurance that we should be able to pass a film based on the present script and a revised script should be sent us for our comments, in which the overall unpleasantness should be mitigated."

Regardless of the BBFC's stern warnings, Hinds supervised the shooting of a virtually unchanged script.

In May of 1957 The Curse of Frankenstein opened in London. It was a film that would make Hammer Films a household name. Beyond the images, the two main actors broke through and become international stars. Peter Cushing, who developed the cold, impassioned and amoral Baron Frankenstein into a likeable anti-hero and Christopher Lee who turned the monster into a creation of his own, carving a niche beside Karloff's classic interpretation.

At the time, Hammer Films was making 5 films a year and no one at the studio had any idea what a success this film would be. Costing less than £70,000, The Curse of Frankenstein was an overnight success.

Critics were shocked and amazed too. In fact, most critics warned against seeing the film calling it disgusting and horrendous. This only served to fuel the fire, a lesson that critics have not learned to this day. When the critics hate a horror film, it must be worth seeing. Looking at the film today, it may be difficult to imagine why the film was found to be so repulsive, but there had never been anything like it up to that time.

Universally Building an Institution
Dracula (1958)

The huge box office success of The Curse of Frankenstein led to the inevitable desire for a sequel in the form of The Revenge of Frankenstein, and an attempt to give the Hammer treatment to another horror icon. Dracula had been another successful film character for Universal in the past, and the copyright situation was even more complicated than for Frankenstein. A full legal agreement between Hammer and Universal was not completed until 31 March 1958 - after the film had already been shot - and was 80 pages long.

Meanwhile, the financial arrangement between Hammer and A.A.P. (Associated Artists Productions - a distributor of theatrical feature films and short subjects for television) had broken down when money promised by A.A.P. had not arrived. Hammer began looking for alternatives, and with the success of The Curse of Frankenstein signed a deal with Columbia Pictures to distribute the sequel The Revenge of Frankenstein and two films from the defaulted A.A.P. deal The Camp on Blood Island and The Snorkel. Hammer's financial success also meant the winding down of the parent film distribution company Exclusive, leaving Hammer to concentrate solely on filmmaking.

Work continued on the script for Dracula, and the second draft was voluntarily submitted to the BBFC. Audrey Field commented on 8 October 1957:

"The uncouth, uneducated, disgusting and vulgar style of Mr Jimmy Sangster cannot quite obscure the remnants of a good horror story, though they do give one the gravest misgivings about treatment. [...] The curse of this thing is the Technicolour blood: why need vampires be messier eaters than anyone else? Certainly strong cautions will be necessary on shots of blood. And of course, some of the stake-work is prohibitive."

Christopher Lee as Dracula

Despite the success of Curse of Frankenstein, the financing of Dracula proved awkward. Universal was not interested, and the search for money eventually brought Hammer back to A.A.P.'s Eliot Hyman, through another of his companies, Seven Arts (which later merged with Warner Bros., ironically now the successor-in-interest to A.A.P.) Although an agreement was drawn up, the deal was never realised and funding for Dracula eventually came from the National Film Finance Council (£32,000) and the rest from Universal in return for worldwide distribution rights.

With an eventual budget of £81,412, Dracula began principal photography on the 11th November 1957. Peter Cushing starred as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Count Dracula, with direction by Terence Fisher and set design by Bernard Robinson that was radically different from the Universal adaptation - so radical, in fact, that Hammer executives considered paying him off and finding another designer.

Dracula was an enormous success, breaking box-office records in the UK, the United States (released as Horror of Dracula), Canada, and across the world. On 20 August 1958 the Daily Cinema reported:

"Because of the fantastic business done world-wide by Hammer's Technicolor version of Dracula, Universal-International, its distributors, have made over to Jimmy Carreras' organisation, the remake rights to their entire library of classic films"

Cementing a Legacy
The Mummy (1959)

With the agreement in place, Hammer's executives had their pick of Universal International's horror icons and chose to remake The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Mummy's Hand. All were to be shot in colour at Bray Studios, by the same team responsible for Dracula, Curse of Frankenstein and Revenge of Frankenstein. The Mummy (the title used for the remake of The Mummy's Hand, which also incorporated significant story elements from that film's sequel, The Mummy's Tomb) was made in 1959, The Phantom of the Opera followed in 1962, and Hammer collaborated with William Castle on a remake of The Old Dark House (1963), but The Invisible Man was never produced.

Principal photography for The Mummy began on 23 February 1959 and lasted until 16 April 1959. Once again it starred both Peter Cushing (as John Banning) and Christopher Lee (as the Mummy, Kharis), and was again directed by Terence Fisher with a screenplay from Jimmy Sangster. The Mummy went on general release on 23 October 1959 and broke the box-office records set by Dracula the previous year, both in the UK and the U.S. when it was released there in December.

A Family Affair

By now the family environment was spilling over at Bray Studios. Besides the Carreras and Hinds connections, a careful study of the film credits reveals many similar names both in the cast and production credits. Jimmy Sangster, who would write many of the classic Hammer screenplays, Len Harris, a skilled cameraman giving the films that special Hammer look and James Meade who served as editor many of the classic Hammer films giving them those tremendous shock sequences that we all remember so well.

Also coming aboard the Hammer Films team was Terence Fisher as director. His visionary style and imaginative use of Bray Studios would set the tone for the Hammer films to come. His background as an editor helped save the studio thousands of dollars in developing just the right shots. His styling and the committed work of the technical staff turned a studio that was cranking out B films into a studio who granted the illusion of a quality films and the look of much larger studios like Pinewood and England's MGM studio.

Bray studio quickly became everything from European villages to London houses to Spanish villages as seen in The Curse of the Werewolf, a film that launched the career of a young Oliver Reed.

The Continuing Story
A Series of Classics

During the period 1955-1959 Hammer produced a number of other, non-horror films, including The Hound of the Baskervilles starring Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes, and comedies such as Don't Panic Chaps! Nevertheless, it is the three films, The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy that set the direction and provided a template for many future films, and for which the company is best known.

Frankenstein

Hammer consolidated their success by turning their most successful horror films into series. Six sequels to The Curse of Frankenstein were produced between 1959 and 1974:

§ The Revenge of Frankenstein (1959)

§ The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

§ Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

§ Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

§ The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

§ Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

All starred Peter Cushing as Baron Frankenstein, except The Horror of Frankenstein (not a sequel, but a tongue-in-cheek remake of The Curse of Frankenstein), where Ralph Bates took the title role. The Evil of Frankenstein stars Cushing but has a re-telling of the Baron's history in flashbacks and a Baron Frankenstein with a very different personality and thus is not a sequel in the sense of a chronological continuation.

Dracula

Hammer also produced eight other Dracula films between 1960 and 1974:

§ The Brides of Dracula (1960)

§ Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)

§ Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968)

§ Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969)

§ Scars of Dracula (1970)

§ Dracula AD 1972 (1972)

§ The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

§ The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)

The first five were direct sequels to the original film. Brides of Dracula did not include Dracula himself, but Peter Cushing repeated his role as Van Helsing to battle vampire Baron Meinster (David Peel). Kiss of the Vampire did not include Van Helsing or Dracula, but continued the theme of Brides of Dracula, showing Vampirism a plauge infecting other pockets of unfortunates. Christopher Lee as Dracula returned in the following six films, which employed much ingenuity in finding ways to resurrect the Count. Hammer upped the graphic violence and gore with Scars of Dracula in an attempt to re-imagine the character to appeal to a younger audience. The commercial failure of this film led to another change of style with the following films, which were not period pieces like their predecessors, but had a then-contemporary 1970's London setting. Peter Cushing appeared in both films playing a descendant of Van Helsing.

It is worth noting that while the contemporary films featuring Dracula star both Lee and Cushing, they are not the same series due to the lack of correspondence to the Victorian/Edwardian era films; the first film is set in the 1880's, whereas the flashback sequence of the last battle between Van Helsing and Dracula is set in the 1872 - long before the first meeting of Van Helsing and Dracula in Hammer's Dracula.

Christopher Lee grew increasingly disillusioned with the way the character was being taken, and with the poor quality of the later scripts - although he did improve these slightly himself by adding lines of dialogue from the original novel. (Lee speaks at least one line taken from Bram Stoker in every Dracula film he has appeared in, except for Prince of Darkness - in which the Count does not speak at all.) He was also concerned about typecasting. After Satanic Rites, he quit the series.

The Mummy

Further "Mummy" movies were unrelated to the 1959 remake and one, The Mummy's Shroud, was relegated to second feature status.

§ The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964)

§ The Mummy's Shroud (1966)

§ Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)

The latter was a modern day version of Bram Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars and featured Valerie Leon as a reincarnated Egyptian Princess, rather than an actual mummy. The same novel also served as the basis for the 1980 Charlton Heston film The Awakening and a later direct-to-video feature called Bram Stoker's The Mummy, starring Lou Gossett Jr.

The Cost Cutting 60's

By the mid-1960s, the Mummy series and some of Hammer's other horror output were intended for double billing. It was cheaper to shoot the films back-to-back, utilizing the same cast, crew, costumes and sets than it would be to stop and have to continually develop new stories in between. Each film would then be shown on a separate double-bill to prevent audiences noticing any recycling, as can be seen in Dracula: Prince of Darkness and Rasputin: The Mad Monk. Both films feature much of the same cast and technical crew. In fact the same set used for the destruction of Dracula is the same set used in the final scene when Rasputin falls out of a window and onto his icy grave. The Reptile and Plague of the Zombies followed next using the same strategy.

Rasputin provided Lee with a meaty role and many critics believes that this was Lee's best performance in any film. Plague of the Zombies was also a trendsetter in that it features zombies returning from the grave 2 full years before George A. Romero's classic nightmare Night of the Living Dead would ever hit the screen.

Hammer Films flourished through the 1960's including:

§ The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

§ The Curse of the Werewolf (1961))

§ The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

§ The Gorgon (1964)

§ She (1965)

On 29 May 1968, Hammer was awarded the Queen's Award to Industry in recognition of their contribution to the British economy. The official presentation ceremony took place on the steps of the Castle Dracula set at Pinewood Studios, during the filming of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.

But as the decade was closing, a change in the direction of the studio was becoming evident, thanks in part to Michael Carreras becoming the company director after his grandfather's death in 1950. The horror films began to look like they were following a simple formula and more psychological thrillers were coming out of the studio after the success of Hitchcock's Psycho. As the box-office receipts started to drop, Michael Carreras demanded that the film place a stronger emphasis on aiming at a male audience through the use of more gore and nudity.

The studio had already had the beautiful Hazel Court and Barbara Shelley in their films. These women flaunted their looks in a 'less is more' approach. Their distinguished beauty and strength in character made young boys hearts beat faster all around the world. The films then started turning to sex kitten types with Veronica Carlson being the last of the true Hammer classic beauties. During the filming of Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed Peter Cushing and Veronica Carlson became alarmed at the inclusion of a scene that was both uncharacteristic of Baron Frankenstein and unnecessary to the story, they collectively approached Carreras about the scene but it was decided that it would be filmed regardless. Cushing apologized to Miss Carlson before the scene and had always regretted the inclusion of the sequence. This would begin the break down of barriers that Hammer had set for its studio.

Fall of the Hammer

James Carreras had retired, leaving the studio in the hands of Michael who had neither the vision nor the business mind that his father had. The Dracula series had become routine and the other films, with rare exceptions, became lesser entries in a market that was being exploited by big budgets. With the U.S. releasing films like The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby, Hammer Films, without the careful guidance of the skilled James Carreras, was slowly taking the backseat in the horror genre.

With To The Devil…A Daughter (1976), Hammer Films released its last theatrical horror feature. An attempt was made to capture the excitement of the U.S. films but the film failed.

Michael Carreras tried getting several projects launched, including a big-budget version of the Loch Ness Monster but couldn't keep backers on the film. With the production of a more comedic remake of The Lady Vanishes (1979), Hammer studios released their last film. The film was a failure at the box office and all but bankrupted the studio.

Hammer's Second Strike
Hammer House of Horror

In the early 1980's Hammer Films created a series for British television, Hammer House of Horror, which ran for 13 episodes at 51 minutes per episode. In a break from their cinema format, these featured plot twists, which usually saw the protagonists fall into the hands of the episode's horror. These varied from sadistic shopkeepers with hidden pasts, to witches and satanic rites. The series was marked by a sense of dark irony, its haunting title music, and the intermingling of horror with the commonplace.

A second television series, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, was produced in 1984 and also ran for 13 episodes. The stories were originally planned to have been the same 51 minute length as the previous series, but it was decided to expand them to feature-length so as to market them as 'movies of the week' in the US. The running time became between 69 and 73 minutes. The series was made in association with 20th Century Fox (who broadcast it as Fox Mystery Theatre) and as such, some of the sex and violence seen in the earlier series was toned down considerably for US television. Each episode featured a star, often American, well known to US viewers. This series was Hammer's final production of the 20th century, and the studio went into semi-permanent hiatus.

Hammer Strikes Back
A New Start for a New Millenium

In the 2000s, although the company seemed to be in hibernation, frequent announcements were made of new projects. In 2003, for example, the studio announced plans to work with Australian company 'Pictures in Paradise' to develop new horror films for the DVD and cinema market.

On May 10, 2007, it was announced that Dutch producer John De Mol had purchased the Hammer Films rights via his private equity firm Cyrte Investments. In addition to holding the rights to over 300 Hammer Films, De Mol's company plans to restart the studio. According to an article in 'Variety' Magazine, detailing the transaction, the new Hammer Films will be run by former Liberty Global execs Simon Oakes and Marc Schipper. In addition, Guy East and Nigel Sinclair of L.A.-based Spitfire Pictures are on board to produce two to three horror films or thrillers a year for the U.K.-based studio.

The first output under the new owners was Beyond the Rave, a contemporary vampire story which premièred free online exclusively on Myspace.com in April 2008 as a 20 x 4 minute serial.

The company began shooting for a new horror/thriller film in Donegal in 2008, backed by the Irish Film Board. The film was Wake Wood and was released in the UK in the Autumn of 2009. In production in the U.S. as of Summer 2009 was The Resident, a thriller directed and co-written by Finnish filmmaker Antti Jokinen and starring International Stars Hilary Swank, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and the Hammer Horror Icon, Christopher Lee. Hammer also acquired the rights to remake the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. In June 2010 it was announced that Hammer acquired Wake, a script by Chris Borrelli for an action feature to be directed by Danish filmmaker Kasper Barfoed.

In 2009 it was announced that Hammer Films and Alliance Films were producing a remake of The Woman in Black scheduled for a 2011 release. Daniel Radcliffe will star as lawyer Arthur Kipps. Jane Goldman will write the film.

The Legacy Lives On

Today, Hammer Films is regarded as a truly classic Studio and is recognized, alongside Universal Pictures, as a reigning force in the Horror and Sci-Fi genre. With new owners producing films again, could we soon be seeing the new generation of Hammer Horror? Until then we have their legacy of classic films to watch over and over again, thrilling each new generation of horror fans who discover the glory that was once Hammer Films.