Hammer Film Productions  

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"More clearly than any other Hammer effort, The Stranglers of Bombay lays bare the foundation of voyeurism, scopophilia, misogyny, castration anxiety, repression, sadomasochism, and "the male gaze" which informs the construction of Hammer's output."--The Charm of Evil: The Life and Films of Terence Fisher (1991) by Wheeler W. Dixon

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Hammer Film Productions is a film production company in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1934, the company is best known for a series of Gothic "Hammer Horror" films produced from the late 1950s until the 1970s. Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers and comedies — and in later years, television series. Hammer films were cheap to produce but nonetheless appeared lavish, making use of quality British actors and cleverly designed sets. During its most successful years, Hammer dominated the horror film market, enjoying worldwide distribution and considerable financial success. This success was due, in part, to distribution partnerships with major United States studios, such as Warner Brothers.

During the late 1960s and 1970s the saturation of the horror market by competitors and the loss of American funding forced changes to the previously lucrative Hammer-formula, with varying degrees of success. The company eventually ceased production in the mid-1980s and has remained in effective hibernation since. In 2000 the studio announced plans to begin making films again after being bought by a consortium including advertising guru and art collector Charles Saatchi, but no films have been produced since. In May 2007 the company behind the movies was sold to a group headed by Big Brother creator John de Mol. At least $50m (£25m) will be spent on new horror films after Hammer Film Productions was sold to Dutch consortium Cyrte Investments. The new owners have also acquired the Hammer group's back catalogue.

The term "Hammer Horror" is often used generically to refer to other films of the period made in a similar style by different companies, such as Eros Films, Amicus Productions and Tigon British Film Productions.

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee

What Vincent Price was to American International Pictures (AIP), Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were to the Hammer Film Productions. Hammer horror begins with the 1957 film The Curse of Frankenstein, in which Cushing played the mad doctor, and Lee the monster. The two teamed up next year for 1958's Dracula in which Lee played the title Count, and Cushing played Dr. Van Helsing, his nemesis. Most people think the first five years were the best years in the company's history.

The two were paired over the following decades quite frequently, in a series of sequels to these pictures. Lee went on to become, after Bela Lugosi, the next most famous face of Dracula. He made six more Dracula pictures for Hammer:

Later films in the series tend to turn increasingly to self-parody, though Satanic Rites rivals Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in its amusing vision of hippie jive.

Other Hammer vampire films include the Karnstein Trilogy based very loosely on Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla:

  • The Vampire Lovers, 1970
  • Lust for a Vampire, 1971
  • Twins of Evil, 1972

The first film featured Polish actress Ingrid Pitt, and were somewhat daring for the time in suggesting lesbian themes.

Cushing, for his part, went on to make five more Frankenstein films for Hammer, including 1959's The Revenge of Frankenstein. Cushing also appeared in Dracula sequels without Lee, such as 1960's Brides of Dracula, in which David Peel played an intriguingly decadent Count.

Hammer also made a 1959 remake of The Mummy, with Lee as the Mummy (see The Mummy (1959 film)). Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde were visited in 1960's The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. There was also a Hammer Phantom of the Opera starring Herbert Lom (1962).

The Hammer Horror films were hardly critical favourites when they appeared; critics accused them of being over-the-top gruesome in the manner of the Grand Guignol. For viewers of the 21st century, used to even gorier fare, the Hammer films seem tamer, more atmospheric and camp, yet at their best they can still be truly frightening. Financially though, the company did very well; with one of the keys to success being recyling others' film sets for their pioneeringly low-budget films.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hammer Film Productions" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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