Arts

Cult Movie: Revisit scary TV moments of your youth with Hammer House Of Horror

Brian Cox and Peter Cushing in The Silent Scream
Ralph McLean

BY 1980 Hammer films was dead and buried. The public appetite for gothic gore and fairytale fantasy had waned and the studio, as a film-making entity at least, was well and truly six feet under.

Hammer House Of Horror was a brave, if flawed, attempt by former in-house accountant and then company owner Roy Skeggs to move the brand into the world of televisual terror via a series of 13 TV productions made to be screened on ITV at primetime in the new decade. A lovingly curated new Blu-ray release of the show from Network is a pleasant reminder of just how inventive TV used to be back in the day and just how much fun it is to revisit it today.

It's far from perfect – there are several episodes that feel as if they were cobbled together moments before the cameras rolled – but when it's good it's brilliant and there's a huge amount of fun to be had sifting through the best moments.

Budget restraints meant that lush, period horror was out but in its place came an impressive selection of creepy tales covering all the bases from witchcraft to voodoo and even the odd moment of cannibalism. Not exactly mainstream fare, then, and the series was shunted around the schedules in search of an audience big enough to rebirth the brand of Hammer for the small screen. That never really happened but when it works it's a genuinely impressive anthology series.

The odd lame make-up moment and low-budget special effect aside, all of which are more obvious than ever under the glare of a new high def transfer, the production standards are uniformly high. Old Hammer directors like Alan Gibson and Peter Sasdy were wheeled out to add a touch of class behind the camera and there are famous faces galore to look out for. Favourite episodes? Well, where should I start?

There's the great Denholm Elliot at his slimy best as a middle-aged estate agent who suffers from increasingly horrific recurring dreams in Rude Awakening; the sight of Peter Cushing returning to the studio that made his name and turning in one of his very finest performances as a creepy pet shop owner who keeps much more than budgies out the back in The Silent Scream; and Diana Dors heading up a household of werewolves in Children Of The Full Moon.

Look closely and you'll even see the very first screen appearance of Pierce Brosnan as a passing jogger who's bumped off swiftly in a neat little serial-killer tale called The Carpathian Eagle.

Best of all, though, are the most shocking moments the series had to offer. For me it was that scene in The House That Bled To Death, a kind of council house Amityville Horror episode, where the household pipes start gurgling and spitting out bright red blood over a bunch a kids at a birthday party.

This stuff traumatised a generation of young TV viewers and it's wonderful to have it back on our screens.

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