Founded in 1934, Hammer Film Productions is best known for a series of Gothic “Hammer Horror” films made from the mid-1950s until the 1970s – notably a series of Dracula films that started in 1959 featuring Christopher Lee.
Although one of my favorites Hammer films is Countess Dracula (1971) many of earlier Hammer films were quiet formulaic and as well as Dracula included other iconic horror characters, The Mummy (1959) The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). That said Hammer produced a variety of other sub-genre films and in later years TV series. During its most successful years Hammer dominated the horror film market, enjoying worldwide distribution and financial success.
But all good things come to an end… Due to the saturation of the horror market by competitors and the loss of some international funding it forced changes to the Hammer-formula, with varying degrees of success. The company eventually ceased production in the mid-1980s and in 2000 the studio was bought by a consortium with the company announcing plans to begin making films again, however none were produced.
In May 2007, the company was sold again and new owners announced plans to spend money on new horror films and did with a bang. Their hit success Let me In (2010) was a remake of Let the Right One In and due to the source material and the movie template already set Let me In arguably couldn’t fail.
Regardless of Hammers ups and downs their films contain a unique charm and atmosphere with iconic imagery that you can’t help retain. Here are few thoughts on Hammer’s The Resident
(2010) and Wake Wood
(2011 film). No doubt I’ll update this with The Woman in Black (2011) their most recent production soon.
The Resident (2010)
Dr. Juliet Devereau rents an apartment in New York, large and affordable, but the owner Max begins to want more than just rent.
Director Antti Jokinen doesn’t glamorise New York showing the older side of the city and keeps things moving with plenty of cuts and naturalistic lighting. The music adds some tension to the on screen proceedings to what is essentially a stalker/ voyeur thriller.
The cast includes a seasoned and accomplished cast including Hilary Swank, Christopher Lee as the creepy building owner August and his son Max played excellently by Watchmen’s (2009) Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Morgan is first rate as the deranged obsessive weirdo and the casting of Swank as Devereau avoids the teen slasher cliché. Amougnst the spy-holes, secret doors and cavity walkways of the apartment it’s great to see Lee in a contemporary role albeit small.
Anyone familiar with Single White Female (1992) or Pacific Heights (1990) will have an inkling what their in for. The Resident is a small tight thriller that has few surprises, yet, it’s keeps you watching due to Swank’s allure, the simplistic premise and Morgan’s craziness.
Overall, nothing new, but maybe disturbing for many due to themes of intrusion and privacy being violated.
As a fan of Hammer horror, with a few of their many films being a spiritual inspiration for my book Blood Hunger, Hammer sent me a brand new copy and I thought it rude not to say a few words on the iconic studios latest offering Wake Wood...
Following the unnecessary, yet excellent remake Let me in Hammer returns with Wake Wood a supernatural chiller in which a child is brought back from the dead to comfort her parents for three days. But she’s not quite the angelic child she was.
Eva Birthistle plays the grieving mother Louise and Twelve Rounds (2009) bad guy Adian Gillen is exceptional as the deceased child’s father. Reliable Timothy Spall and the child actress are notable and the supporting cast are solid.
There’s some effective bloody gore, grizzly births, severed spines, dog attacks and killings. Some supernatural elements take place out of shot to avoid the use of CGI, which adds to the believability and saves the budget.
Wake Wood is dark, damp and dreary just as it should be. Nevertheless, it is slightly stifled by a filmed for TV look. That aside, with a small budget director David Keating keeps the blood flowing and the pace going. It benefits in plausibility and atmosphere with an on location shoot. There’s plenty of shadows, eerie music, sharp editing and a grounded screen-play (by Brendan McCarthy) to keep you watching with a grin that Hammer may have a place in this century.
With elements of Don’t Look Now, Case 39, Carrie, The Wicker Man and Pet Cemetery to name a few you could argue it’s all be done before and better. However, Wake Wood’s great ending debatably leaves you thinking sometimes less is more.