Where did Hammer Horror Come from?
Hammer Films was a British company founded back in the 30s and reinvented several times. From what I’ve been able to read, they created some quirky films during the 30s and 40s, but were most known for “quickies” or cheap films to fill the schedule between big budget movies. It was during the 50s and 60s that “Hammer Horror” got its reputation for gothic films and b-movie sequels.
Hammer Films was first based in Hammersmith in the UK and took its name from its founder, William Hinds, who was known as William Hammer on stage. Its first well-known, gothic film was The Quartermass Xperiment, which was based on the TV show from the UK. This allowed the company to acquire better distribution deals and become more widely known. I believe the original name of the film comes from the fact that it acquired an X rating for its horror elements, before a slight rework.
I have always been a fan of some Hammer horror films, mostly out of nostaglia, not because I think they’re great works of art of anything. The Hammer horror films do have a sense of style about them and try hard to engage you, though some are marked by most elements found in the usual b-movies. They also famously produced the movie One Million Years B.C. starring Raquel Welch, which itself has become quite a cult classic. I’m sure most people can remember the scene in Shawshank Redemption when the prison warden finds Andy’s tunnel behind a poster of Raquel Welch wearing her famous fur bikini from the Hammer movie. This in itself has made One Million Years B.C. timeless.
Hammer capitalized on its stars in the late 50s and early 60s. Perhaps the stars I like the most are Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who are regulars on many Hammer films. This is mostly for Horror of Dracula and some others, but I’ve never actually seen the Peter Cushing Sherlock Holmes movie The Hound of the Baskervilles, although I’ve always wanted to. I’ve also wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera by Hammer mostly for its music. There are other bad, horribly made movies I will probably catch on TV just to review them or so I can smirk in amusement at their camp. Most movies of that type can be found on the Saturday night show Svengoolie, which shows bad b-movies for laughs.
All in all, I’d say Hammer Films has a place in history as the b-movie horror king and as the one who ingrained the Universal monsters in the horror lexicon. I wonder if anyone has ever reviewed all the Hammer movies or analyzed the elements we still remember today. Hopefully I can see Peter Cushing’s Hammer Sherlock Holmes film soon because I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan.