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Hammer House of Horror (1980)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Hammer House of Horror (1980)
ITV tx 13/09/1980-06/12/1980
13 x 52-min episodes, colour
Production CompaniesATV, Hammer Film Productions, Chips Productions, Cinema Arts International
Producers Roy Skeggs, Brian Lawrence
Writers includeDavid Fisher, Anthony Hinds, Francis Megahy, Anthony Read
Theme MusicRoger Webb

Cast includes: Nicholas Ball, Norman Beaton, Pierce Brosnan, Anna Calder-Marshall, Christopher Cazenove, Warren Clarke, Brian Cox, Peter Cushing, Suzanne Danielle, Pauline Delaney, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliot, Jon Finch, Julia Foster, Marius Goring, Georgina Hale, Lucinda Jessop, Barbara Kellerman, Philip Latham, Leigh Lawson, Ray Lonnen, Simon MacCorkindale, Ian McCulloch, Siân Phillips, Dinah Sheridan, Gareth Thomas, Anthony Valentine

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Tales of terror and the occult.

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In a candle-lit house centuries ago, a naked woman is secretly watched preparing for bed. As the unseen intruder swoops towards her, she turns and begins to scream... So opens 'Witching Time' (tx. 13/9/1980), the first episode of the Hammer House of Horror anthology. This sequence proves to be a clip from a new horror movie - a sly acknowledgement of Hammer Films' gothic horror heritage before what follows brings Hammer's brand up to date. During its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, Hammer was best known for costume horror, chiefly the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, but by the late 1970s it was out of the film business and so turned to television.

'Witching Time', about a time-travelling witch, smartly sets the tone for a varied collection of contemporary tales of terror that largely bypass camp and which usually see their unfortunate protagonists come to sticky ends. Subsequent stories would feature ghosts, werewolves, devil-worship and reincarnation, as well as more down-to-earth horrors like cannibalism. Although set in the present day, the series recalls Hammer's past glories by having Cushing star in 'The Silent Scream' (tx. 25/10/1980) and the involvement of such company stalwarts as directors Peter Sasdy, Don Sharp and Alan Gibson, composer James Bernard and writer Anthony Hinds (under his 'John Elder' pseudonym). Shot on 35mm, the episodes are always visually impressive and often feel like mini-movies, especially in the case of 'The Two Faces of Evil' (tx. 29/11/1980), a variation on the doppelganger theme sporting taut direction by Gibson and highly sophisticated editing techniques.

It was originally screened just after the 9pm watershed to accommodate its often-gruesome content and occasional flashes of nudity, and the high gore quotient can still shock today: hands are severed and faces blown off, while animals have a particularly bad time of it: crows are beheaded, cats immolated on window panes, rabbits disembowelled and tigers electrocuted. The emphasis is relentlessly on scares and despite a few turgid duds, like 'The Mark of Satan' (tx 6/12/1980), it delivers them consistently. 'The House that Bled to Death' (tx. 11/10//1980), an amusing take on the 'Amityville Horror' sensation, stands out in particular for a ghoulish party sequence, in which a group of small children are inundated with blood, and a genuinely surprising twist in the tale.

The company later ventured into television again with Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (ITV, 1984-86).

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Old times (3:10)
2. 42 Coleman Road (2:17)
3. The hand (2:55)
4. The birthday party (2:57)
Complete episode - 'The House That Bled To Death' (51:49)
Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88)
Beaton, Norman (1934-1994)
Brosnan, Pierce (1951-)
Clarke, Warren (1947-)
Cox, Brian (1946-)
Cushing, Peter (1913-1994)
Dors, Diana (1931-1984)
Elliott, Denholm (1922-1992)
Goring, Marius (1912-1998)
Hammer Film Productions
Phillips, Siân (1933-)
Sheridan, Dinah (1920-)