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The Complete Hammer House of Horror (1980)

Studio: Hammer Film Productions

Distributor: Synapse Films

Original Broadcast Schedule: September 13, 1980 – December 6, 1980

US Home Video Release: September 11, 2012

Rating: Not Rated

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

Tales from the Crypt, Twilight Zone, Darkroom, Masters of Horror, Fear Itself, Thriller, Freddy’s Nightmares, Tales from the Darkside…  The list of anthology television programming is nearly endless and the above list is only a small fraction of the countless shows that have been produced since the 1950s.  Originally airing on UK television in late 1980, Hammer House of Horror was a thirteen episode horror anthology series produced by the studio that also produced many of the cult film favorites such as Horror of Dracula, Curse of the Werewolf, and The Curse of Frankenstein.

For American audiences, Hammer House of Horror is a notable entry into the genre because most American’s did not get to see the series unedited or in its entirety.  Many episodes include graphic violence (at least by 1980 standards) and nudity.  In fact, the final episode of the series never aired on American televisions.  It was only with the advent of home video (VHS) that American’s finally got a chance to see the entire series.

Synapse Films has packaged the entire collection on five DVDs in the aptly titled The Complete Hammer House of Horror.  This isn’t a new release by Synapse Films, but one worth revisiting just in time for Halloween.

Show [Rating: 3.5]

As I’ve already indicated, there is certainly no shortage of horror anthology shows to choose from and they range from the popular to the obscure, big budget to no budget, and scary to campy.  One of my all-time favorites is the little known Darkroom, hosted by James Coburn, but even I would rate that show somewhere in the middle of the collective pack.  So how does Hammer measure up?

To start, The Complete Hammer House of Horror boasts decent production value.  In 1980, Hammer acquired the old Hampden Manor House (featured in the opening credits) and used it as both the production headquarters and as the shooting location for many of their episodes.  Don’t look too closely, or you may recognize the same room in multiple episodes.  And since this is an anthology show, with each episode representing a completely new tale, we’re not supposed to notice such things.  Wink, wink.

The practical effects are not as state-of-the-art as HBO’s seven seasons of Tales from the Crypt or Showtime’s Masters of Horror series.  However, they are far better than the special-effects that you may have seen on cheap syndicated shows like Freddy’s Nightmares or even the George A. Romero produced Tales from the Darkside.

Performances vary from episode to episode but are, by and large, above average and believable.  The varied cast throughout the series includes appearances by Hammer regulars, Peter Cushing (Twins of Evil, Star Wars) and Denholm Elliot (Raiders of the Lost Arc).  And it’s fun and surprising to see young talent early in their careers with appearances by Brian Cox (Manhunter, The Bourne Identity), Pierce Brosnan (GoldenEye), and Patricia Quinn (Rocky Horror Picture Show).

The weakest aspect to any anthology series is typically the writing and Hammer House of Horror is no exception.  Early episodes feel more like poor stream-of-conscious writing exercises instead of fully formed narrative ideas.  But as the series moves forward it begins to get its footing, ultimately improving, but eventually peaking mid-series with the widely considered best episode “The Silent Scream.”

All in all, Hammer House of Horror lands in the same bucket with my beloved Darkroom.  It’s not the best anthology series to date, trailing behind the likes of Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt, but it is far better than shows resembling Freddy’s Nightmares, and Tales from the Darkside (which I also own and enjoy each October).

The 13 Episodes Include:

Witching Time, The Thirteenth Reunion, Rude Awakening, Growing Pains, The House that Bled To Death, Charlie Boy, The Silent Scream, Children of the Full Moon, Carpathian Eagle, Guardian of the Abyss, Visitor for the Grave, The Two Faces of Evil, The Mark of Satan

Video & Audio [Rating: 3.5]

As to be expected, the DVD displays a 1.33:1 aspect ratio which replicates the original standard broadcast.  It’s convenient for most companies to give buyers a throw away transfer, much like HBO did with seasons 2-7 when Tales from the Crypt: Season One did not sell as well as hoped.  However, this is Synapse Films, and these guys know how to treat their fan-base.  Images are sharp, colors strong, and the finished product probably looks better than it did when it originally aired.

The audio comes by way of a Dolby Digital mono track with dialogue, sound effects, and music all clear and unassuming.  Nothing too exciting, and nothing to complain about either.

Extras [Rating: 2.5]

In most cases 2.5 stars is a mediocre score, but in terms of this set it should be considered a great bonus.  Synapse Films didn’t have to put any special features because these titles are typically purchased by fans regardless of extras.  However, I give Synapse Films credit for compiling, although small, a nice series of extras which include:

  • Episode Introductions with Film Historian Shane M. Dallman (I recommend watching the intros after each episode if you’re new to the show)

  • Grave Recollections: A Visit with Kathryn Leigh Scott

  • Hammer Housekeeping: A Visit with Mia Nadasi

  • Animated Still Gallery

Overall [Rating: 3.5]

It’s not the best horror anthology show to come and go and the extras won’t blow the set out of the water.  However, what remains is an entertaining series that is perfect for the fall season, and a must have collection for any true anthology horror television collector.

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