In the pantheon of horror there must be an altar set aside for Hammer studios. In the 1950s and 60s they were the royalty of the horror world. At the time when Universal's Iconic monsters had been put to death by Abbott and Costello. WWII and the Atomic bomb had changed America's tastes in films. War movies and westerns had taken over the box office. The traditional gothic horror monsters were now being replaced by aliens, giant creatures mutated by radiation and dinosaurs awoken by atomic testing. Most horror was relegated to black and white B-movie status.
In Britain, the board of film censors had created the X rating for horror films, which meant the film was only suitable for those aged 16 and above. This did not stop a small struggling studio, known as Hammer Film productions, that was making cheap, quickie films based on British radio shows, from entering the horror/Sci-Fi market. In fact their first attempt was based on the BBC television program "The Quatermass Experiment" which they called The Quatermass Xperiment to capitalize on the rating. It was a success and it led to a sequel. This then led to the The Curse of Frankenstein (1957).
Although the book was in the public domain at the time, Universal had copyrighted even the makeup from their film. So they were watching Hammer very closely, looking for reasons to shut this production down. This caused them to make the good Dr. a much more sinister character than in the original. It was one of the first films to show blood and gore in all it's glorious CinemaScope technicolor. The starring role of Dr. Frankenstein went to Peter Cushing and the monster was played by a then unknown actor named Christopher Lee. Directed by Terence Fisher, Hammer's first Gothic horror film was a world wide success.
Fans naturally clamored for more after this and Hammer was happy to oblige, not only with a sequel but they also were ready to take on another Universal heavy, Count Dracula! The same production team of James Carreras and Anthony Hinds (son of Hammer's namesake, Will Hammer) - producers, Terence Fisher - director and Jimmy Sangster - screenwriter again teamed with Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as his nemesis, Prof. Van Helsing. Indeed Hammer used many of the same people and locations (The Bray Manor House aka Bray studios) up until 1966 .
Released in America as The Horror of Dracula, the film was both a critical and financial success, which persuaded Universal, who had entered into a distribution deal with Hammer for this deal, to give Hammer the rights to use all of their great monster movie properties. They then went on to remake The Mummy and others. Thus making Hammer Film productions synonymous with Horror during the late 50s up to the early 70s.
Lee and Cushing became the new Karloff and Lugosi as well as dear, life long friends, starring in many of Hammer's films, as well as other British horror productions.
Although many people today are more familiar with Christopher Lee as Sir Christopher Lee the actor who played Saruman or Count Dooku, or maybe even Scaramnga, The Man with the Golden Gun. Lee himself admits his debt to Hammer films for making him a household name. He played the count 10 times (twice in Non Hammer productions) Lee's Dracula, in many horror lovers opinions, is one of the most iconic versions of the evil blood sucker second only to Lugosi's.
Of course with Hammer's success other British production companies formed such as Amicus (Asylum,The House That Dripped Blood) . In the 1960s, England like the song said, was swinging "Like the pendulum do." Hammer was pumping out sequels to these two films as well as many others. Lee was growing disheartened with being typecast as the monster and was extremely disappointed that none of the Dracula sequels were very true to the original book or character. In fact only hissing in the third film (his first sequel) because he didn't like the dialogue he was given. After that he always tried to put lines from Stoker's novel into the script. Lee claims the only reason that he went on to do more Hammer sequels to Dracula was because they used blackmail.
"The process went like this: The telephone would ring and my agent would say, "Jimmy Carreras [President of Hammer Films] has been on the phone, they've got another Dracula for you." And I would say, "Forget it! I don't want to do another one." I'd get a call from Jimmy Carreras, in a state of hysteria. "What's all this about?!" "Jim, I don't want to do it, and I don't have to do it." "No, you have to do it!" And I said, "Why?" He replied, "Because I've already sold it to the American distributor with you playing the part. Think of all the people you know so well, that you will put out of work!" Emotional blackmail. That's the only reason I did them."
source: wikipedia - Landis, John (2011). Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares.
Film and television at the time had become more campy and Hammer was trying hard to compete with all the other productions. Meanwhile at the end of the 60s and early 70s, horror had become more serious. The swinging 60s had ended with the Manson Murders and the break up of the Beatles. Films like Rosemary's Baby and Night of the Living Dead had signaled a more serious turn in the direction of Horror Films. The pendulum had swung back over to the other side of the Atlantic. Hammer's answer was to show more blood, breasts and lesbians with their monsters. They also did some cave girl films which included one of my favorites One Million Years B.C. with Raquel Welch.
Despite a couple of bright spots, the polished veneer they had originally given to their horror had worn off and by the late 70s. Hammer had quit producing movies. Making their last film (a remake of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes) in 1979.
Hammer productions, with their rich Victorian style, lavish colors and eroticism are what inspired Roger Corman to embark on his Poe cycle of films. Martin Scorsese was influenced by Hammer films in his youth admiring the way Lee portrayed The Count as a likable and sophisticated Dracula, almost approachable. David Lynch, when trying to create the Gothic Victorian atmosphere for Elephant Man even went so far as to use occasional Hammer cinematographer Freddie Francis and actor Freddie Jones (Bytes) who played the monster in the Revenge of Frankenstein. Tim Burton cited Hammer as an inspiration for Sleepy Hollow and has used Christopher Lee in five of his movies since then. John Carpenter originally wanted Christopher Lee as Dr. Loomis in Halloween but went with another British horror veteran Donald Pleasance. Peter Cushing was George Lucas' first choice for the part of Grand Moff Tarkin in the first Star Wars film. Mel Brooks' last film as director, Dracula: Dead and Loving It took it's visual style from the Hammer Horror films. These are just a few examples (I know there are many more) of the impact and influence Hammer films have had on the history of film making.
In 2007, Hammer Studios was bought by Dutch producer Jon de Mol, and began producing movies again at first with Beyond the Rave (2008) a modern vampire story which premiered exclusively on MySpace. They then went to Ireland to help produce the supernatural thriller Wake Wood (2008, currently on Netflix) in '09 they came to America and once again enlisted Sir Christopher Lee to play along with Hilary Swank and Jeffery Dean Morgan for The Resident. They then did Let Me In a remake of the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In in 2012, They had some success with The Woman In Black starring Daniel Radcliffe.
Unfortunately, The Quiet Ones released earlier this year was not met favorably but you can Check it out on Blu ray and dvd August 19 and August 5 for digital HD! I only hope this will continue the resurgence for Hammer Film productions, because they hold a special place in my heart as well as, I believe the hallowed halls of horror history.