Hammer Films I: Missing Links & Classics

January 21, 2011 | By

Please note: this moment NEVER OCCURS in Vampire Circus.

Yes, I could have used the heading “Hammer Time,” but then even I would’ve winced at such a facile, dated pop culture spin. (It was tempting, though.)

Everyone has a favourite Hammer movie, if not a warm gushy spot in the heart for that special brand of bloody, busty, blazing colour series of horror films churned out by Hammer Films, a company that started out in 1934 with generic film fodder, but swerved into horror during the late fifties and sixties with adaptations of classic mummy, vampire, Frankenstein and werewolf tales + myriad sequels.

The chief talent included actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, director Ternece Fisher, and composer James Bernard, and a whole host of very serious creative people paying heat + water bills / having fun making horror films dressed with more blood, gore, and heaving bosoms than Hollywood was fondling at the same time.

Perhaps the main reason the Hammer films are so beloved is the sincerity that went into them. There was humour, but Hammer films were designed to be scary, not silly, and perhaps that’s why fans treat them with special reverence, much in the way the Universal pre-Code thrillers are regarded as more daring than the sequels and hybrids and spoofs that followed soon afterwards in the late-thirties and forties.

As a studio, Hammer isn’t dead – their first attempt to reboot the brand name for theatrical releases was 2010′s English language remake of Let the Right One In, with the title shortened to the catchier, WASP’ier Let Me In – but their classic catalogue has often been a problem for home video releases because of censored prints for American markets, and the fact titles were distributed by whichever studio had the best offer – hence various titles released by Columbia, Paramount, Universal, Fox, and Warner Bros.

Anchor Bay brought a large collection of titles back into circulation on DVD, as did Warner Home Video, but there are those odd titles that haven’t received their definitive editions.

Synapse Films may have found a solution by going after the missing gems and cult titles, and their first effort is Vampire Circus (1972) [M], a title many may have heard about (or heard score extracts from various compilation albums), but never seen.

Their special edition includes a Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film with identical extras, and is supposed to be the first of several Hammer titles from the label.

Another cult title is Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974) [M] which creator/writer/director Brian Clemens (The Avengers) had planned to spin off into a series, then attempted to launch on TV, but no one seemed to care about the film – particularly Hammer, whose main production chief, Michael Carreras, reportedly didn’t quite understand Clemens’ approach to creating a fresh vampire series largely free of the tiresome cliches Hammer had been regurgitating during the late sixties and early seventies.

Not unlike Vampire Circus, Kronos didn’t enjoy proper distribution, and disappeared, but its re-emergence on DVD (with a wonderful commentary track) via Paramount in Region 1 land rescued the film from oblivion… but then Paramount’s recent penchant for deleting back catalogue titles caught up with Kronos, and it’s now out of print again.


Kronos is ripe for further cinematic adventures, and Hammer should revisit the title, but with one caveat: Stephen Sommers must have nothing to do with it, either for film, TV, or as a dietary supplement with cranberry tincture.

In addition to covering the Paramount DVD, I’ve also included a review of Laurie Johnson’s superb soundtrack [M], which BSX Records released as a limited CD which no Hammer fan should be without!

Four of the previously released Warner titles have been repackaged into the budget-priced TCM Greatest Classic Film Collection: Hammer Horror, and reviews of the vampire films have been also been uploaded – Horror of Dracula (1958) [M] and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968) [M].

In Part II, I’ll have reviews of the remaining two Hammers in TCM’s set, plus reviews of Hammer’s final feature film releases in the last stages of the seventies.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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