Artwork by Charlotte Southall
As we do this short exploration of all things supernatural and scary in view of Halloween at Screenqueens, it strikes me what films people gravitate towards to get their horror hit, their fix of something frightful. American horror has heavily dominated the mainstream; the likes of Carpenter, Romero, Hooper and of course Craven re-energised the genre, rooting narratives in relatable American suburbia’s, bringing a more intense horror to the forefront of modern culture, spending more money and reaping greater reward. By default it cannot be seen as a negative that American horror has been predominant, it has enticed us with so many now classics of the genre, but in tern it helped to destabilise the institution that was the British horror industry and in particular Hammer Horror.
It is difficult to say whether American horror is the defining factor as to why the British horror industry hit massive decline, but from a metaphorical stand point I guess you could say that American horror may have tied the noose- but British horror comfortably put it on. Perhaps here the blame is put too much on the American industry itself, indeed the success of an industry is rooted in what audiences want to see and as Hammer repeated the same trope continuously over decades- its tried and tested formula, that was once so popular in the 50’s, becomes in the late 70’s something almost laughable.
Yes the late Hammer horrors carry a sense of being slightly ‘naff’, but isn’t that all part of their archaic charm? The nostalgia and sentimentality can still be felt through the pictures from someone (i.e. myself) who was definitely not alive around their release, conceivably due to their quintessential British nature. Not just the accent, but the penchant for costumed period film and exacted dashes of just the right amount of humour to break up plot are some of the things that give Hammer Horrors their distinct identity. And if you don’t like Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee (like, why wouldn’t you?!) you may as well just leave.
An article which started out in planning as ‘A definitive top 10 list of the all-time greatest Hammer House of Horror films’ quickly dissolved. With Hammer films everyone has their own favourite and who am I to contrive opinions to a simplified artefact? As for my favourite, it would have to be ‘Horror of Dracula’ (1958, Fisher). The first of the long line of Hammer Draculas, the first Hammer I saw and interestingly the first time red blood in such capacity had been shown on screen, which had a profound visceral and shocking appeal a fact that is difficult to perceive in today’s desensitised age. ‘Horror of Dracula’ and ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ are a great toe dip into the world of Hammer Horror.
If you are somewhat ignorant of the classic Hammer Horror era yet the name seems to ring bells, this may be because in recent years they have had somewhat of a revival. Although not under the same leadership as in its heyday, Hammer returned to the silver screen in 2012 with their commercially successful adaptation of Susan Hills ‘The Woman in Black’. Now I won’t go into my personal issues with TWIB in detail (why the hell was there a need to stray from the original plot so much?! *and breathe*) what seemed to be the beginning of an exciting rebirth of classic British horror just did not spark into anything significant.
It is therefore evident that Hammer need to rethink their strategy, perhaps the key is to not try and replicate what made them such a tour de force in the mid-20th century (as the films produced were essentially products of their period) but to capitalise on their successes and join the new wave of British horror that surged into the mainstream in the early 2000’s (28 days later, Eden Lake, The Descent, Dog Soldiers- to name but a few) and continues to offer new and exciting critiques on our society whilst capitalising on horror conventions.
The combination of American industry pressures, loss of financial backing, lack of innovation and change in audiences tastes ultimately chipped away at the strong foundations of Hammers House of Horror until cracks formed and the structure began to breakdown. Now sees a perfect opportunity for the company to man tools and begin restructuring, perhaps not with the old bricks that fell down but with something contemporary and innovative- creating a modern structure that will support new and exciting talents.
By Molly Bennett
Molly Bennett is 18 and from Stourbridge. Don’t worry no one else knows where it is either. Like that strange Korean man who married a pillow- she would probably marry cinema if she could/ Colin Firth/ early 2000’s Matt Damon if either were aware of her existence. She’d like to tell you her top 3 favourite films but is famously fickle with her film loves, but will forever believe that Hitchcock is a cinematic God, with her and her bezzie Marty (Scorsese) believing that Vertigo is the one. She favours classic films, is attempting to love foreign films, and in a dream world would know enough about cinema to give even Tarantino a run for his money.