Hammer Film Productions was founded in 1934 by William Hinds and his partners. Over the years of production, they made comedies, dramas and television series but the studio’s most famous mark on film-making and Hollywood has been the “Hammer Horror” films. These particular films broke boundaries in what could be conveyed in the horror film genre which had not been before and that was about sex, violence, blood and gore amongst other things.
Interestingly enough, one of their first produced films, “The Mystery of Marie Celeste” (1935), featured none other than Bela Lugosi. Based on the history of the real ship called “Mary Celeste,” the film depicts a fictional story of what may have happened on board the ship before it was found in Portugal without a crew. Contrary to the assumption that Lugosi would reprise his vampyric role of “Dracula,” Lugosi plays a mere mortal crew member in this film. But is he the cause of the mysterious murders and disappearance happening on board?
Although Hammer Productions produced four films, the other three being of other film genres, “The Mystery of Marie Celeste” gave an idea to what the studio would produce best. For a short time, Hammer Film Productions went bankrupt. But when they returned to making films, their surprise big hit was a sci-fi horror film titled “The Quatermass Xperiment” (1955) that, by law, nobody under the age of sixteen was permitted to see because it was rated “X” for its adult themes. It was follows by a sequel in 1957 titled, “Quatermass 2” which was released the same year as Hammer’s “The Curse of Frankenstein.” In 1959, Hammer Films featured a six-part series of Frankenstein films, which included actor Peter Cushing as “Baron Frankenstein.”
But the most internationally famous Hammer films are the ones starring then unknown British actor Christopher Lee. Lee was made into a sensation when he appeared in a few titles as “Dracula.” As Lee desired to do other projects and found the Hammer Films to be less and less concerned with the actors’ performances, Lee grew farther apart from Hammer. Lee’s last Hammer film as “Dracula” was “The Satanic Rites of Dracula” (1973).
Sexuality was explored throughout the Hammer films – in “The Vampire Lovers” (1970), lesbianism is the main focus of the story. Nudity was also featured when necessary in a few of the films including “Lust for a Vampire” (1971) where it was mostly female nudity shown but tastefully done.
The iconic gory-sexual style of the “Hammer Horror “films have also inspired other filmmakers. It is said that Robert Englund, famous for “Freddie” in “Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), and director Dwight H. Little wanted to generate the feeling of the Hammer films in their 1989 adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera.” Above the hauntingly romantic setting of the Englund/Little adaptation is the signature Hammer gore with a closet full of dead rats erupting from La Carlotta’s closet and a brutally heinous and blood-dripping murder of Joseph Buquet, amongst the film’s other violent sequences.
Today, Hammer Films still produces films that thrill and scare audiences around the world. Their most recent titles include, “The Resident” (2007) with Christopher lee, “Let Me In” (2010) - the remake of the Swedish horror classic “Let the Right One In” (2008), and “The Woman in Black” (2011).