Hammer Films is an iconic British production company that began work in the mid 1930s and enjoyed major success in the 50s, 60s and 70s thanks to a unique brand of horror which later became known as “Hammer Horror”. Their first breakout gothic hit was an adaptation of a popular BBC television series in 1955, titled “The Quatermass Xperiment”.
The company took their formula for dark and never-before-seen scares and ran with it, producing some of the most famous horror films and adaptations ever made until a lack of funding and changing horizons forced the company into hibernation in the 1980s. Today Hammer Films are back, with new owners, making new films.
They have also recently launched a YouTube channel, and put it to good use by exhibiting some of their classic works which is what we’re looking at in this week’s Stuff to Watch.
Watching These Films
Note that due to the nature of production companies, and their understandable desires to make money out of their older works, these films won’t be around on YouTube forever. They might be up for quite some time, but then again there’s a chance they’ll disappear too. Hammer appear committed to keeping a number of films available for viewing on their YouTube channel, so if the films below aren’t working for you then simply visit their channel to see what they’ve got online at the moment.
View: Hammer Films on YouTube
But First: The History of Hammer Films in 90 Seconds
Brush up on your classic British film knowledge in a minute and a half with this montage of memorable moments in Hammer history.
The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) [IMDB]
Remastered in HD, this is your chance to watch Hammer Films iconic “big break” film that catapulted the producers to fame and set up the next 20 years of gothic horror. The Quatermass Xperiment was the company’s first to be awarded the new X certificate, which meant that nobody under the age of 16 would be allowed into the cinema to watch it.
Hammer broke with convention and requested that the film be given this new X certificate, effectively limiting the potential audience. The Quatermass Xperiment is told through a documentary-style approach, and while the company couldn’t afford to shoot in colour, the monotone black and white adds more atmosphere to the production than a full spectrum of colour ever could have.
Also watch: Introduction to The Quatermass Xperiment
Marcus Hearn, a “Hammer Historian”, talks us through what made The Quatermass Xperiment so important and why it was such a huge success for the company. His introduction does nothing to spoil the film and provides some compelling context for the cult following the film achieved and still enjoys today.
The Man In Black (1950) [IMDB]
Before its first smash hit in 1955, Hammer experimented with a range of genres and stories but limited funds at a time when Britain was still paying a very dear price for its involvement in the second world war meant that money had to be saved. Instead of shooting in expensive studios, Hammer turned to country houses instead and in this instance filmed The Man In Black in Oakley Court, a manor on the banks of the Thames that was later used for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The film is a mixture of the thriller and horror genres, and follows the tale of a man who believes his second wife is trying to drive his daughter (from his first wife) insane. Like The Quatermass Xperiment, The Man In Black was based on a BBC serial – except this one was adapted from radio, not television.
Dick Barton: Special Agent (1948) [IMDB]
Before Hammer enjoyed any form of widespread success, their films were made to a very tight budget and that was at times difficult to disguise. Dick Barton: Special Agent is definitely one of those films, and the proverbial cracks definitely show in the acting department as the whole production turns out rather “cheesy” with a fairly contrived plot and some smirk-worthy one-liners.
Another BBC adaptation (radio, again), Hammer made three Dick Barton films until 1953 when Don Stannard, the actor who played the lead character, was killed in a car crash. The company then permanently shelved the series, concluding a brief and fairly limp foray into the action genre.
The Last Page, aka Man Bait (1952) [IMDB]
The Last Page, or Man Bait as it was known in the USA, demonstrates Hammer’s ability to take on any genre – this time producing a tale of crime and misfortune. Film noir is often best acknowledged as an American movement, and here we have a rather ill-fitting British attempt at the genre.
The plot follows a bookshop owner who falls for a girl with somewhat devastating results. Like the plot, the end result is mixed, with Hammer’s increasingly rich portfolio having doused the producers with experience but perhaps not quite enough to pull off the great British film noir production they hoped for.
Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, aka Kronos (1974) [IMDB]
Back on track with some genre-defining vampire-hunting action, once the Hammer Horror title had stuck the company truly embraced as many examples of gloomy gothic storytelling as they could. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter plays out much as you’d expect from the sound of that title – a swashbuckling swordsman and his assistant seek revenge on the vampire race.
Hammer had done a lot of films by this point, and had already started breaking with tradition and working more innovative (or unconventional) traits into their movies. In this one, vampire lore goes somewhat out of the window with day and night having little effect on the creatures and the urge to feed on blood coming from an insatiable lust for eternal beauty rather than survival.
Don’t forget that these films won’t be around forever, but more will over at the Hammer Films YouTube page, so keep an eye out. If you have any favourite Hammer films or other horror films in general don’t forget to add them in the comments.
If you would like to see a particular theme for Stuff to Watch then feel free to suggest an idea below!
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