Hammer's uniqueness within the British context, helped in creating a recognizable 'house style' in he British film industry with their hammer horror films. The film company Hammer Productions Ltd was started by a British comedian known as William Hinds in 1934. Initially the company was called Exclusive Films and in 1947 it became Hammer Productions. The company was set up at a time when the film industry was in decline and films were not making profit in Britain. Hammer Productions Ltd however survived. The survival of Hammer during this period can be attributed to the introduction of their horror films in the market and employing cost-cutting techniques to reduce their expenditure, such as renting a country house and converting it into a studio.
They are best known for their "Hammer Horror" film sequels Frankenstein cycle in which Peter Cushing starred (as Baron Frankenstein) produced from 1959 to 1974, Dracula films between 1960 and 1974, The Mummy, Cave Girls, mystery thrillers sequel including Taste of Fear, Maniac, Night, Hysteria, The Nanny, Fear in the Night and others. Other films by the Hammer include: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), She (1965), The Witches(1966), The Anniversary(1968), and The Lost Continent. Hammer rose to prominence by turning their Frankenstein's films into sequels which included The Revenge of Frankenstein (1959), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974) as listed by Pirie, D. in his review ' A Heritage of Horror'.
The Frankenstein and Dracula and other horror films of the time are often referred to as "Hammer Horror". These films became very popular with the public and lifted the Hammer to dominance in the British film industry.
By adapting The Quatermass Experiment, a BBC Television science fiction serial in 1955, Hammer entered into horror films production. This film was directed by Val Guest. And it became a huge success. The Curse of Frankenstein was the first film in the sequel of Frankenstein cycle in which Cushing, starring as Baron Victor Frankenstein, encounters a former teacher. At this time Frankenstein is carrying out experiments to bring life to dead matter. In the end Krempe gets afraid and refuses to help with Frankenstein's experiments. Here Frankenstein is the monster, the cold blooded scientist turned to a criminal by his ambition to recreate life. This leads him to commit murder. Lee is another monster though more sympathetic. Both of them are both great and do a recommendable job. When production on Quatermass 2 began, Hammer started seeking for a U.S. partner willing to put his money in the new product. Associated Artists Productions (A.A.P) showed interest through its leader Eliot Hyman. American filmmakers, Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky submitted to A.A.P. a script for an adaptation of the novel Frankenstein.
Although interested in the script, A.A.P. was not interested in taking a movie made by Rosenberg and Subotsky because they thought that they didn't have enough experience. The script was later sent to Hammer and later became Frankenstein's Curse. Later the film Frankenstein and the Monster was produced and arrangements made to shoot the film in Eastmancolor and it became their first film to be made in vivid color. Terence Fisher as the director gave the film vey good appearance although the budget of the film was quite low with Peter Cushing's remarkable performance as Baron Victor Frankenstein, and Christopher Lee's as the imposing tall monster. With the low budget of the movie and the cast becomming the backbone of latter films of later films, the Hammer Horror was set in motion. The use of vivid color made the movies to look more macabre. The Curse of Frankenstein was the first film to show blood in color. Before then the bloody scenes were concealed in black and white. In this film, blood was bright red, and the camera lingered on it. The film was an enormous success in Britain and in the USA too where it inspired numerous imitations. The huge success of The Curse of Frankenstein made Hammer to wish for another sequel in The Revenge of Frankenstein. Meanwhile, A.A.P. failed to pay Hammer the agreed amount and their arrangement broke down and Hammer began looking for alternative financiers.
They signed a deal with Columbia Pictures to distribute the sequel The Revenge of Frankenstein and two other films from A.A.P. The Camp on Blood Island and The Snorkel. Hammer closed down its mother company Exclusive Ltd to concentrate on film making. Dracula script was being worked on at this time and the second draft of the script was submitted in August 1957. In spite of the fact that the Curse of Frankenstein was a successful film, meeting the budget for Dracula became difficult and Hammer had to look for willing financiers. Seven Arts, a company owned by Eliot Hyman of A.A.P. signed the deal with Hammer. With a budget of £81,412, shooting of Dracula began in November 1957. Peter Cushing starred as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Count Dracula. The movie was directed by Terence Fisher who had The Curse of Frankenstein to his credit. Towards the late 1960s, it became increasingly hard to please the audiences who had become more sophisticated. Hutchings, P. in his book Hammer and Beyond. Manchester University Press, (1993) claims that in order to retain its grip in the market, the studio tried to bring in new script writers and directors, trying new characters, and attempting to take new approaches of the vampire and Frankenstein films.
The Frankenstein films had always made good sales. With the release of films like The Wild Bunch (1969), audiences were exposed to more horror, more expertly staged in relatively mainstream movies. Night of the Living Dead (1968) set a new record for violence in horror movies. Hammer tried to compete as far as possible. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974), for instance features a scene where the Baron kicks a discarded human brain. In order to deviate from the American trend, they included some romance and sex content in the movies. Although Hammer maintained their previous period settings, in their 1972 release Vampire Circus, their Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula, for example, left out period settings to go for a modern setting. These films were a failure and were criticized by Christopher Lee himself, who refused to take part in more Dracula films. It was clear to all involved that although the science fiction films had done well, the company couldn't keep on redoing the same settings and went in pursuit of something new.
A beginning of a new era in British film production came when John Goodlatte came to the rescue of Hammer Studio and proposed that they remake Frankenstein. The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) was even bigger than the Quatermass films and marked the start of a two decade period of dominance when screen horror and Hammer Studio meant the same thing. Dracula followed in 1958 reuniting Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee who were to be made stars by their association with the company and a numerous sequels continued up to the mid-1970s. Success attracted more success and as each successive film became popular with the public, Hammer got recognition from the big American film distributors. Both Universal and Columbia started wooing the company, providing cash to the industrious studio and making sure that Hammer never failed to supply their quality product throughout the 1960s. As expected, with these big companies now handling their product, there was less need for Exclusive which was quietly closed down in 1968.
According to Hutchings, P. in his book Hammer and Beyond. Manchester University Press, (1993), throughout the 1960s, Hammer diversified in its production - although they were best known for their Technicolor gothic, in the '60s they tried adventure films like She (1965), The Vengeance of She (1968)), psychological thrillers like Taste of Fear (1961), Paranoiac (1963), Maniac (1963), Nightmare (1964), Hysteria (1965), Fanatic (1965)), crime movies like Hell Is a City (1960), Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960), Cash on Demand (1961)), swashbucklers such as The Pirates of Blood River (1962), The Scarlet Blade (1963), The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)), science fiction including The Damned (1963), Moon Zero Two (1969)) and bloody historical epics such as The Stranglers of Bombay (1960), The Terror of the Tongs (1961), The Pirates of Blood River (1962), The Brigand of Kandahar (1965)) and prehistoric romps (One Million Years B.C. (1966), Prehistoric Women (1967)). There was even the first of the company's forays into television with Journey to the Unknown (1968).
With Fisher as the artist Sangster worked out the company's commercial awareness, writing Taste of Fear (d. Seth Holt, 1960), a Psycho (US, d. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) rip-off intended to cash in on that film's box office success. This initiated a series of black and white psychological dramas that ran parallel to Hammer's gothic output, including Maniac (d. Michael Carreras, 1962) and Paranoiac (d. Freddie Francis, 1962) and finishing with The Nanny (d. Seth Holt, 1965). It could not have been possible for Hammer to achieve the success it did without Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, the most prominent horror film actors of their generation. Their outstanding performances are best seen in Dracula, in which Lee brought out the sexual aspect and contrasts with Cushing's austere demeanor. This contrast allowed Hammer to use them as icons for changing social values throughout their careers.
According to Kinsey, W. Hammer Films: The Elstree Studios Years. New York: Tomahawk Press (ga) (2007), Hammer used Victorian style and by the mid-60s was openly locating its gothic horror in idealized Victorian towns by making use of its country house studio at Bray. The Reptile, Plague of the Zombies (both d. John Gilling, 1966) and The Witches (d. Cyril Frankel, 1966) all carry distinct English characteristics, but unfortunately, the poor box office of these productions in comparison with Fisher's Dracula - Prince of Darkness (d. Terence Fisher, 1966) led to the company sticking to its Dracula and Frankenstein films until the early '70s. In 1968 the studio received the Queen's Award to Industry, and began to assimilate new directors like Brian Clemens and Peter Sasdy in order to revive the company product and retain its position. Sasdy did impressive work with his features Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969) and Hands of the Ripper (1971) withstanding Fisher's best work. Hammer's other trick in this period was to introduce sex, as was becoming popular in the work of European horror directors like Jean Rollin and Jess Franco. Roy Ward Baker started what later became the 'Karnstein trilogy', The Vampire Lovers (1970). These films also gave rise to the second great wave of Hammer stars, which included Ingrid Pitt, Valerie Leon and Linda Hayden who were more romantic than Hammer's '60s female actors, such as Barbara Shelly and Jacqueline Pearce. However, this policy could not be sustained and by the mid-70s the combined force of US films such as Night of the Living Dead (d. George Romero, 1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (d. Tobe Hooper, 1974) had set the trend for horror. Michael Reeves, N. J. Warren and Pete Walker in Britain also prompted Hammer's demise. Despite stopping horror film production with To the Devil a Daughter, the studio resurrected itself in the early 1980s with the TV series Hammer House of Horror, featuring several directors and writers synonymous with the studio and the demand of small screen production brought much of the atmosphere to life. Hammer's experience at Bray, both artistically and commercially led to the subsequent Suspense and Hammer House of Mystery (ITV, 1984-85).
Hammer has a legacy as the most successful, most consistent and durable horror film production company of all time. The evidence lies in the quality of the characters involved and in their ability to adapt to current trends, be it Psycho rip-offs, sex exploitation or kung-fu vampires. Terry Ilot became the company's new manager and announced that a number of new productions are in the pipeline in response to the recent upsurge in British horror. The Horror of Frankenstein has a wicked sense of humor which many of its critics are unable to appreciate. Personally I think that it is an extremely funny and refreshing change to the usual Hammer style that the audience was used to, though the monster may be seen as if he is weak. In the early 1980s Hammer Films created a series for British television, Hammer House of Horror, which ran for 13 episodes. In a break from their usual cinema style, these featured plot twists in which the protagonists always fell into the hands of that episode's horror. These varied from sadistic shopkeepers with hidden pasts, to witches and satanic rituals. The sense of dark irony features throughout the series, the haunting music and the twisted horror places this production above the rest. Notable episodes include: "The House That Bled To Death", "The Silent Scream", "The Two Faces Of Evil", "Charlie Boy, "Carpathian Eagle" Danielle, "Rude Awakening", "The Children of the Full Moon" and "Witching Time" . Among the directors of these episodes were Alan Gibson, Peter Sasdy and Tom Clegg.
In 1984, another television series, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense was produced and it also ran for 13 episodes. The stories were initially supposed to have been the same but it was later decided to expand them to feature-length so that they could fetch market in the US as feature movies.. The series was in corroboration with 20th Century Fox which led to scaling down of some of the sex and violence seen in the earlier series for the sake of the US television. In each episode, a star, often an American well known to US viewers was featured. This was Hammer's final series production of the 20th century, and the studio. Essentially a reinvention of Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Frankenstein would simply not work. Sangster tried to add some comedy into the script but only came up with a rather cheap and juvenile character of the professional grave-robber who read newspapers looking for recent deaths, and had his wife do the digging. The script missed to create a more interesting 'Son of Frankenstein' theme, and simply came out as unoriginal and boring with the climax appearing to have been rather rushed and portrays the low budget, something that Sangster had managed successfully take care of in many of the preceding films. Hammer's new character Ralph Bates stars here and handles the dark mean character well. Dennis Price plays his part well in the short-lived role as the grave robber. Dave Prowse plays his part well as the monster but only gets a few scenes and Veronica Carlson, the attractive lady is underused.
Horror of Frankenstein was comparatively mild as compared to the bloody nudity which appeared in their female vampire movies but fortunately though Dennis Price's acting and character saved the movie from being boring. Nevertheless, critics agued that Horror of Frankenstein was an unnecessary film with a lazy script, and could not succeed in reviving the Frankenstein franchise. They asserted that Jimmy Sangster's hybrid was a misguided attempt to remake The Curse of Frankenstein - the film which launched Hammer Studios to worldwide fame and to promote Ralph Bates as their new star. The claimed that the film failed on both counts because of the low budget production and the general air of mockery, and because Bates plays the Baron as an arrogant, dissolute youth with few redeeming features, completely lacking the ice-cold authority of Peter Cushing in his prime. Hammer could never appeal to the 'youth' market without falling flat on its face, and this one is no exception. Here, Frankenstein works his way through a skeleton cast seeking spare parts to make a monster that failed to work in the end. The brain is damaged before the monster is able to sew it into the creature's skull.
Further revisions were made to the script, and a working title of Frankenstein and the Monster was chosen. Plans were made to shoot the film in Eastmancolor - 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 color. The project was managed by Tony Hinds who was even less pleased with the script than Michael Carreras, and whose expectation for the film was a mere black and white 'quickie' made in three weeks. Hinds commissioned Jimmy Sangster to rewrite it as The Curse of Frankenstein because he thought that Subotsky and Rosenberg's script were too similar to the Universal films. This treatment impressed Hammer enough to and they rescued the film from its place as a 'quickie' and made it a color film. Sangster handed in his own script to the BBFC for checking. Audrey Field's report in October 1956 read, "We are concerned about this script, which with its horror and gruesome detail, goes far beyond what we are used. I am afraid we can give no assurance that we will pass a film based on this script. A revised script should be sent to us for our comments, in which the overall unpleasantness should be mitigated." However even with BBFC's stern warnings, Hinds personally supervised the shooting of with the original script unchanged. Terence Fisher directed the film and gave it a look that belied its low cost with Peter Cushing performing as Baron Victor Frankenstein and Lee as the brutish monster.
The best year for Hammer was 1968. It was in this year that it won the Queen's Award for Industry in recognition of its unprecedented good performance in the decade though the film industry would later go to a decline for Hammer and the whole of British film making industry. As I have pointed out above, it had become increasingly difficult for Hammer to please an audience which was already getting tired of its gothic horror in the early 1970s. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) had changed the way that screen horror was done and the arrival of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1973 and The Exorcist a year later gave Hammer a challenge that they were not prepared to encounter. They went on shooting horror films through the early 70s and toyed a little with the house style - romance had always played a significant role in any Hammer horror. In the early 70s saw the company increased its series of female vampire films (Countess Dracula (1970), The Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Twins of Evil (1971)). By a stroke of luck Hammer got some successful oddities like Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), Vampire Circus (1972), Demons of the Mind (1972), Captain Kronos - Vampire Hunter Kronos (1973) and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974)) and a couple of bona fide classics (Hands of the Ripper (1971) and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)) but generally these were not good years for the company. Hammer eventually closed down when it failed to get financiers and could no longer cope with the changes in the horror movie industry. To the Devil a Daughter (1976) was their last film. By the end of the 1970s the Hammer name no longer carried much weight in horror circles though it had single handedly dominated the horror film industry for decades, the American horror then took dominance. By 1980, Hammer was producing only a couple of TV series, the enjoyable Hammer House of Horror (1980) and the hopeless Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984). This was however better than in the 1990s when the company changed hands from one set of owners to another. In 2001, the company was bought once more. Only time will tell if anything good will come out of this venture but whatever the case, Hammer's position in horror history has been cemented. In two decades it created some of the best loved horror movies and helped to create Cushing and Lee as horror icons. Fisher's direction and Jimmy Sangster's scripts were the driving force behind Hammer's initial flourishing. Fisher's was fond of the gothic romanticism and the sexual themes and this made his visuals to go to new heights. His productions of The Mummy (1959), The Curse of the Werewolf (1960) and his masterpiece, Dracula, became widely considered superior to the 'classic' Universal movies which preceded them.
In conclusion, it is evident that Hammer Studio greatly influenced the British film industry and helped create a recognizable 'house style' in the British film industry.