Tuesday, October 16, 2012

DVD Review: The Complete Hammer House of Horror 5-DVD Collector's Edition (1980)

5-DVD Collector's Edition

Label: Synapse Films
Region: Region 1 NTSC
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 702 minutes
Video: Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame. As Originally Filmed and Broadcast
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono

Directors: Peter Sasdy, Tom Clegg, Alan Gibson, Don Leaver, Francis Megahay, Robert Young, Don Sharp
Cast: Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliott, Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Quinn

Synopsis: Each generation creates tales of horror… stories that seep through the very heart of our collective fears. The legendary Hammer Studios is recognized as the high watermark of the Gothic macabre, creating some of the most chilling and recognizable horror films of all time.

The Series: As the legendary Hammer Films ran out of theatrical steam during the 1970's and  they stopped production of cinema releases and concentrated on television production with this short-lived horror anthology series, each episode a fifty-minute stand-alone feature directed by Hammer alum and featuring many familiar faces including Peter Cushing, Brian Cox, Pierce Bronson and Denholm Elliot among many others. Each episode is tightly directed with strong casts, atmosphere to spare and all matter of horror themed subjects. We get thirteen episodes in all and here's the rundown: 

Witching Time: The debut episode of the series directed by Don Leaver (TV's The Avengers), it's great start to the series here with about a film score composer named David Winter (Jon Finch, Hitchcock's Frenzy) living in the countryside and stressing over his wife's infidelity is visited upon by a beguiling witch named Lucinda (Patricia Quinn, The Rocky Horror Picture Show) whom hails from the 17th century. As she seduces him and drains his life's essence he grows more and more erratic, making life miserable for both he and his cheating wife Mary (Prunella Gee, Never Say Never Again). Great stuff, very comedic in it's own way with nudity aplenty and a great witch-burning pulse-pounder of an ending also featuring Ian McCulloch of Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979) 

The Thirteenth Reunion: This episode is directed by Hammer-alum Peter Sasdy who also directed Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) and Countess Dracula (1971) as well as two other Hammer House of Horror episodes, we're in good hands here and his trio of episodes are among the series finest. This is another darkly comical tale of tabloid reporter Ruth (Julia Fioster, Alfie) whom goes undercover at a fat-farm that's infamous for it's vile talking-down to of chubbies, making 'em feel so bad about the extra pounds that they are shamed into fitness. When a man she meets at the clinic dies mysteriously she investigates which ends at a bizarre dinner party where the guest have very peculiar tastes.

Rude Awakening: Also directed by Peter Sasdy this is one of my favorites from the series no doubt in part star Denholm Elliot (Trading Places) as a adulterous real-estate agent who loses his grip on reality after visiting a strange property. Plagued by grisly nightmares of murdering his wife and differing scenarios of lust with his sexy secretary Lolly (Lucy Gutteridge, Top Secret), it hard to tell what real and what's a dream and it's fun stuff, very surreal with some great dream sequences and Gutteridge is a knockout! 

Growing Pains: Directed by Francis Megahay (Taffin), it's a ghostly thriller about a couple whom adopt a strange young boy after there son's tragic death. The parents are a bit self-obsessed and it seems the boy is either responsible for a series of bizarre occurrences or channeling the spirit of their deceased son. The bizarre occurrences include a vicious dog attack, maggot infested meat and a spooky finale at the graveyard.  

The House That Bled to Death: Another notable entry this time directed by Tom Clegg, who? When Mr.Peters (Nicholas Ball, Life Force) and his wife move into a home that was the site of a murder some years previously strange things happen, you get your typical windows and doors slamming shut and a few odder things like blood dripping from the walls and a cat meeting it's demise on a broken window pane. A nice moment of nudity, nosy-neighbor voyeurism and a handful of spooky moments including a notorious scene spraying a birthday party full of kids with massive amounts of the red stuff from overhead pipes, a fun episode with a wonderful twisty and viciousending. 

Charlie Boy: Now we get to the tale of a young couple whom inherit a strange African carved voodoo dolll, this episode directed by Robert Young who brought us the twisted carny-vamp tale Vampire Circus (1972). The couple use it for personal gain but it's not long before the tables are turned setting of a series of voodoo-inspired deaths, and there you have it - another devilishly good episode. 

The Silent Scream: This twisted tale comes from Hammer director Alan Gibson who brought us Dracula A.D. (1972) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) - two lesser Hammer vamp entries but I will tell you this is a fun episode starring a very young Brian Cox (Manhunter) as an ex-con who goes to work for meek pet shop owner Martin played by horror great Peter Cushing (Horror of Dracula). When Chuck's criminal sensibilities get the best of him he discovers that Martin is not as altruistic as first thought. A very intriguing episode with wonderful performances from Cox and Cushing, this one features a host of big cats and animals with a hint of naziploitation, dark stuff and thought provoking. 

Children of the Full Moon: Here we go, a werewolf tale, finally some classic horror staples. Directed by Tom Clegg (again) who directed a series of Made-for-TV Sharpe's films starring Sean Bean, which I've never seen so that don't mean shit. This time out a young couple find themselves stranded when their car dies on a rural road. Seeking shelter at a home deep in the woods they are attacked by what appears to be a werewolf. We get some creepy moments here with the quirky family that resides and some awesomely schlocky werewolf make-up.

Carpathian Eagle: Francis Megahy returns to direct this police procedural as a Detective Clifford (Anthony Valentine, The Monster Club) investigates a series of ritual murders wherein the victims have had their hearts ripped outta their chest, the prime suspect is Mrs. Henska (Si├ón Phillips, Dunethe ancestor of a cruel Carpathian countess. Okay, honestly this one's a bit of a snoozer in my opinion but we do get a glimpse of a pre-007 Pierce Bronson. 

Guardian of the Abyss: From Don Sharp the director of the schlock-tastic classic Psychomania (1973) comes this tale of a cursed mirror which brought to mind the story of "The Gate Crasher" from the Amicus anthology film From Beyond the Grave (1973) and I rather enjoyed it, some great occult and fantasy elements even though the cursed-object story was a bit rote by 1980 but Sharp makes it work, fun stuff. . 

Visitor from the Grave: The final Peter Sasdy episode is a good one, too. Much like "Rude Awakening" before it has some very surreal and dreamlike moments. Here we have a slightly disturbed heiress named Penny (Kathryn Leigh Scott, of TV's Dark Shadows) is attacked and nearly raped buy an intruder whom she shoots in the face with a shotgun, ouch. Due to various circumstances she is unable to report the crime to the authorities and the body is buried in the nearby woods. However, Penny is haunted by the apparition of the man afterwards which frays her already tenuous grip on reality. This was another fantastic Sasdy episode, we get some genuinely creepy and surreal  moments with a nice bit of gore, too. 

The Two Faces of Evil: Alan Gibson's second episode of the series deals with doppelgangers and is quite an interesting watch with some wonderfully askew visuals and chilling moments. Janet (Anna-Calder-Marshall) and her husband Martin (Gary Raymond) are on vacation with their young son when they pick up a hitchhiker during a torrential rainstorm. The stranger's face is obscured and he's dressed in a yellow rain slicker, without warning he attacks the husband ending in a horrific car accident that kills the stranger. The husband survives but is is unable to speak and during his recovery there are signs that he just might not be who she thinks he is. This was a great episode, a weird and chilling tale that brought to mind elements of David Cronenberg's The Brood (1979).

The Mark of Satan: The final episode in the series is directed by Don Leaver whom also handled the first episode who much like Jim Carrey's character in the film The Number 23 (2007) becomes obsessed with a number - this time out it's the number 9 which he begins to see everywhere around him following the death of a neighbor after he drills a hole into his skull believing himself possessed by the Devil.

Typical of horror anthologies whether they be TV or film productions there's a lot to digest here and not all of it is stellar but on the whole this is a succeesful and macabre mix of horror and suspense with a surprising amount of nudity. Produced in the 1980 the series definitely has a 1970's feel to it but then again we weren't quite into the MTV era-80's just yet. If you love the classic Gothic-tinged Hammer  horrors there's gonna be a lot to love here. We get a little bit of everything; werewolves, cannibalism, Satanism, doppelgangers, witchcraft and dark comedy, this is great stuff and the generous smattering of nudity and gore is not unappreciated, a few years later Hammer again ventured into the TV market with Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense which I definitely want to seek out now. 

DVD: All thirteen episodes are presented in their original British broadcast versions and aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full-frame and look quite good, detail and colors fare better than I had expected with decent black levels too, not much to complain about here in the video department. Synapse have Likewise the English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio delivers dialogue, score and effects clearly and without distortion, very clean presentation. A very solid presentation from Synapse films.

In the special feature department we get informative if brief one-minute episode introductions by film scholar Shane M. Dallman with bits of trivia for all thirteen episodes. There's also two video interview with actresses Kathryn Lee Scott and Mia Nadasi (then wife of director Peter Sasdy) who offer up tales of how they got into the film industry and working on their respective episodes.

Special Features:
- Episode Introductions with Film Historian Shane M. Dallmann
- Animated Still Gallery (6:14) 

Verdict: Previous to checking out Synapse's 5-disc DVD set I was completely unaware of this Hammer produced British TV horror anthology series but after taking in all thirteen episodes I am pleased to give this a recommend, lovers of The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Darkside and Tales from the Crypt are strongly encouraged to seek this out. Worry not, for a thirty year old TV series these episodes stand the test of time, solid writing and chills through and through. (4 Outta 5)