Synapse // 1980 // 702 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // September 21st, 2012
STOP!! Hammer Time!!
I would speak to you of dread. Not of shock, mind you, but dread -- that deep soul-crushing knowledge not just that you are doomed, but that the very stars are against you. You have been caught up in events utterly beyond your comprehension, let alone your control.
For you -- you poor, wretched fool -- you are trapped in The Hammer House of Horror. Thanks to Synapse, that's a pretty cool place to be.
Hammer House of Horror is a thirteen-episode anthology series filmed in 1980. At that time, Hammer Films was on its last legs, and the series was an attempt to shift from film into television. While the series did well enough to spawn a second series, 1984's Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, Hammer's luck ran out at that point, and the studio ceased production until the doors reopened in 2007.
This set packages all thirteen episodes:
* "Witching Time" -- A strange woman (Patricia Quinn, The Rocky Horror Picture Show), mysteriously appears at the farm of composer David Winter (Jon Finch, Frenzy), claiming to be a seventeenth-century witch who has traveled forward in time to escape burning at the stake.
* "The Thirteenth Reunion" -- A Fleet Street journalist investigates a dubious slimming clinic.
* "Rude Awakening" -- Denholm Elliot (Raiders of the Lost Ark) plays an estate agent trapped in a recurring nightmare.
* "Growing Pains" -- A couple adopts a child, but an old book containing a strange poem resurrects a vengeful spirit from the dead.
* "The House that Bled to Death" -- The new occupants of 42 Colman Road experience its gruesome past. Featuring the worst birthday party ever.
* "Charlie Boy" -- A carved African fetish with voodoo powers has a dangerous mind of its own.
* "The Silent Scream" -- A kindly pet shop owner (Peter Cushing -- if you don't know who he is, you're not the target audience for this set) offers an ex-con (Brian Cox, Manhunter) a job. Unsurprisingly, given Cushing's presence, this episode is generally considered the best of the series.
* "Children of the Full Moon" -- When a couple's car crashes, a woman with a rather large number of children offers them a room at her house in the forest.
* "Carpathian Eagle" -- A string of gruesome murders is linked to the legend of a Carpathian countess. The police are investigating the countess' descendant (Siân Phillips, I, Claudius). Look for a ridiculously young Pierce Brosnan in a bit part.
* "Guardian of the Abyss" -- An antiques dealer purchases a mirror with mysterious powers.
* "Visitor from the Grave" -- A woman (Kathryn Leigh Scott, Dark Shadows) kills an intruder. Her boyfriend buries the body in the woods -- but the intruder isn't finished with her just yet.
* "The Two Faces of Evil" -- A young family on holiday pick up a strange hitch-hiker.
* "The Mark of Satan" -- A hospital worker sees the number 9 everywhere and is convinced the forces of evil are at work.
Ah, the halcyon days of horror, when style, atmosphere, and acting talent took precedence over boobs and CGI blood. That style really what put Hammer Films on the map in the first place, actually, and it's a welcome sight to see it transferred to the small screen. Shot on a shoestring, these episodes are basically case studies it slow-burn terror. The episodes offer a wide variety of stories; in fact, several of them don't even involve the supernatural. The modus operandi, for the most part, involves keeping the audience in the dark as much as the protagonist, and there are a few instances where you never really find out what is going on. Of course, when an episode has a title like "Children of the Full Moon," you have a pretty good idea what to expect -- but even there, they throw a nice twist at the end. Even with the more predictable episodes, the direction and acting elevate the material.
Synapse has done a remarkable job on these episodes; even though this is a television show, Hammer's visual aesthetic was born of Technicolor, and the influence can still be seen. The vivid colors pop, and there is strong detail. There are only three episodes per disc, so compression artifacts are at a minimum. Audio is just mono, but it is effective; the series generally made great use of sound effects and incidental music.
The last episode, "The Mark of Satan," is somewhat infamous. It wasn't included in previous releases, nor was it included in various syndication packages. It was known as "the episode that went too far." The story, about a young man who becomes convinced that he's caught up in a satanic plot, is one of the more stylized of the episodes, with wild hallucinations that suggest -- suggest only, mind you -- some fairly depraved things. By today's standards, everything is relatively tame, though there are a few gruesome moments, and the occasional unfettered boob or two. This is Hammer, after all.
Unless you're Hitchcock, tension can be dragged out for only so long, just about all of the episodes go just a little bit too far; in fact, it would be an interesting editing exercise to trim each episode by about 5 minutes -- my guess is that the episodes would be greatly improved. In some cases, such as "The Thirteenth Reunion," the plot is simply too convoluted, adding complications just for the sake of adding complications, like M. Night Shyamalan trying too hard to set up the twist ending.
Extras are pretty slim; all the episodes have an optional intro by film historian Shane M. Dallmann. His delivery is a tad stilted, but he does provide good information on the episodes. There are two very brief reminiscences, one with Kathryn Leigh Scott and one with Mia Nadasi (Scandal), both of whom are featured in "Visitor from the Grave."
With the release of Halloween in 1978, the look of horror movies had begun to change. In many ways, Hammer House of Horror is a love letter to the horror movies of old, when the most terrifying thing was that which you can never see. If you are at all a fan of horror, this set belongs in your collection.
Not guilty. Synapse has the court's thanks for doing such a fine job restoring this set.
Review content copyright © 2012 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 702 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fan Site