The Complete Hammer House of Horror DVD Review
Directed by Peter Sasdy, Tom Clegg, Robert Young, Don Sharp, Alan Gibson, Don Leaver, Francis Megahy
Written by Anthony Hinds, Nicholas Palmer, David Lloyd, Bernie Cooper, Anthony Read, Jeremy Burnham, Gerald Savory, David Fisher, John Elder, Ranald Graham, Francis Essex, Murray Smith, Don Shaw
1980, Region 1 (NTSC), 702 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on September 11th, 2012
Kathryn Leigh Scott
By the end of the 1970s, Hammer Studios was a mere shadow of its formerly glorious self and film production had all but ceased. The decision to shift efforts to the more economic television format proved to be a successful venture with the 13 episodes of The Hammer House of Horror produced in 1980. The show’s popularity led to a second venture into television with The Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984), but sadly it wasn’t enough to save the studio and it closed its doors for the next twenty years.
The show found a brief revival on US television and through a series of double-feature video releases hosted by Elvira. Now, Synapse films offers domestic audiences a chance to see the titillating violence and nudity previously forbidden by American censors, as each episode of the Hammer House of Horror is presented in the original uncut version and the stories are in the order of their original air date.
The episodes are as follows:
Witching Time – An isolated film composer suspects his wife’s infidelity but has his life turned upside down by the appearance of a mysterious woman claiming to be a 17th century witch. Starring Jon Finch (Frenzy) and Patricia Quinn (Shock Treatment)
The Thirteenth Reunion – The pursuit of a good story leads a journalist into a web of conspiracy and murder at a fitness camp in which the owners have a hidden agenda.
Rude Awakening – A man finds himself in a recurring nightmare in which he has murdered his wife in hopes of wooing his secretary. This episode features a darkly fun performance by Denholm Elliott (Raiders of the Lost Ark).
Growing Pains – A young couple adopt a boy following a family tragedy, but there are restless spirits at the house that seek closure.
The House That Bled to Death – When a family moves into a house with a tragic past, things begin to go terribly awry, culminating in the crappiest birthday party ever.
Charlie Boy – A man’s life is turned upside down when he inherits an African fetish doll and makes a spiteful wish. He discovers too late the consequences of his actions and races to reverse the act.
The Silent Scream – Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein) and Brian Cox (Red) star in this fantastic episode about a man recently released from prison in search of a second chance. He is given a bizarre test of character and must deal with the consequences of his choices.
Children of the Full Moon – A stranded couple end up at a house in the woods populated by a woman with an obscene amount of weird children. Too bad the title spoils most of the suspense.
Carpathian Eagle – A policeman investigates a series of grisly murders that resemble the work of Jack the Ripper. With the help of a writer, he discovers a secret that is far more sinister than he anticipated. This episode features an appearance by a young Pierce Brosnan (The Lawnmower Man).
Guardian of the Abyss – A mysterious woman and a strange mirror change the life of an antiques dealer in this effectively creepy episode. Watch for a great performance from John Carson (Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter).
Visitor from the Grave – Another series highlight finds the gorgeous Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows) haunted first by an intruder and then something far worse in this nightmare thrill ride.
The Two Faces of Evil – In this, the most surreal episode of the show, a woman and her husband are almost killed by a hitchhiker, but in the aftermath she cannot be certain that anything is as it seems in this waking nightmare world.
The Mark of Satan – This final episode in the series was deemed “too shocking” for American audiences and was never aired domestically. Its plot involves demonology and numerology as a morgue attendant slowly loses his mind.
The hour-long format is challenging to a few of the episodes, but none of them seem excessively bloated in running time. Anthology shows generally follow the half-hour template, but this series feels right, as the tales seem like mini-movies rich in production design. The limited budgets are carefully hidden as the show puts everything on-screen, and never appear cheap or hokey as lesser programming often does. Some episodes are much stronger than others, but even the weakest stand head and shoulders above many of the knock-offs that followed over the next three decades. Not to say this is the best anthology show created--it isn’t--but there is a sophistication on display here that would fit alongside many of the studio’s theatrical productions.
Video and Audio:
Synapse retains its track record of excellence in presentation with these episodes presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The picture looks as good as one could hope considering the 30-year plus age of the source material. Colors remain vivid and black levels are solid without any trace of digital noise or macroblocking.
The audio is a split channel mono track that keeps dialogue clean and clear. Music levels are occasionally shrill, but that appears consistent with the intention of the program.
The most informative supplement comes from film historian Shane Dallmann, who provides a concise introduction before each episode. A quick overview of the tale is followed by a brief filmography for key participants on both sides of the camera.
Grave Recollections: An interview with Kathryn Leigh Scott (8 minutes) is a self-explanatory featurette that offers a brief interview with the Dark Shadows star reflecting on her work in the episode Visitor from the Grave.
Hammer Housekeeping: A visit with Mia Nadasi (6 minutes) is an interview with another veteran from the episode Visitor from the Grave. This time, Mia Nadasi (wife to director Peter Sasdy) remembers her role as the mysterious gypsy woman.
An animated still gallery rounds out the special features.