Founded in November 1934, Hammer is one of the oldest film companies in the world.
Hammer is synonymous with horror, after defining the genre in Britain with classics such as Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein and The Mummy, which spawned numerous sequels.
However, only 1/3rd of Hammer films were horror! The company tackled other genres, including psychological thrillers, sci-fi, noir and historical epic.
Hammer has a back catalogue of nearly 300 titles, and a rich character canon including classic monsters, mobsters, psychopaths, and surprisingly ‐ cavegirls.
The company has had a lasting impact on popular culture, paid homage to in all manner of releases from Frankenweenie to Jurassic Park and The Shawshank Redemption.
Recent output includes the worldwide box office smash The Woman in Black, critically acclaimed Let Me In, and 2014 paranormal thriller The Quiet Ones.
In the pre-war period Hammer’s output ranged from comedy The Public Life of Henry the Ninth, and slave drama The Song of Freedom starring Paul Robeson to the ambitious Bela Lugosi feature The Mystery of the Marie Celeste.
Following the outbreak of World War II, and with its executives seeing active service, production ground to a halt.
With a growing demand for British-produced supporting movies after the Second World War, Hammer was re-formed and began to dabble in crime capers, and boy’s own adventure stories.
It was business as usual for Hammer as the 1950s opened, with Hammer producing a steady supply of support drama and documentaries intended to play alongside feature films in cinemas.
In 1951 Hammer began to co-produce its films with the US producer Robert Lippert, enabling the company to develop its North American market, and cast US stars. Honing its craft the company largely focused on crime thrillers and films noir such as Man Bait, Bad Blonde, and Terror Street.
In 1954 Hammer returned to adventure stories with its first colour feature film ‐ The Men of Sherwood Forest.
In 1955 one film, The Quatermass Xperiment changed the course of Hammer’s film output almost overnight. A commercial and critical hit, the film posed the question what might happen if an alien virus really was brought back to Earth? Audiences flocked to witness the ensuing chaos and gruesome special effects.
Following the success of The Quatermass Xperiment, Hammer switched focus from the struggling crime thriller pictures of the early fifties to horror.
The company made history with its first full colour creature feature The Curse of Frankenstein. Blood, gore, extravagant costumes and sets were presented in vibrant colour, enraging censors, but delighting audiences in equal measure.
The staggering success of The Curse of Frankenstein was followed by the even greater box office haul of Horror of Dracula just one year later. With these two films alone Hammer had cemented the company name in the lexicon of audiences, film critics and censors alike.
The monster movie was back, and Hammer jumped at the opportunity to reinvent other characters including The Abominable Snowman (1957), and The Mummy (1959).
As well as horror Hammer continued to produce a wide variety of other genres, including comedy and drama. The company’s comedy output included Up The Creek (1958) starring Peter Sellers, and the Dr Jekyll inspiredThe Ugly Duckling (1959).
The end of the decade saw a series of war films, and some ‐ notably The Camp on Blood Island ‐ received considerable critical acclaim.
Hammer’s success with the horror genre saw it develop sequels to its existing titles and seek out further literary characters to adapt into new full colour features. [Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Phantom of the Opera].
The company also focussed on straight literary adaptations from novels by the likes of Denis Wheatley, H. Rider Haggard and J.B. Priestley. [The Devil Rides Out, The Witches, She, The Vengeance of She, The Old Dark House]
Despite their success here, Hammer continued to experiment with other genres. Some of the most critically praised being its string of psychological thrillers. The Nanny starring Academy Award winner Bette Davis, Scream of Fear starring Susan Strasberg, and Paranoiac starring Oliver Reed.
The decade also saw production of the company’s first television series, Journey to the Unknown, an anthology series airing on ABC Television.
By 1970 the British film industry was beginning to suffer financially as the arrival of colour television contributed to a sharp decline in box office revenues.
There were celebrations all round in 1971 when When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth was nominated for an Academy Award for Jim Danforth’s stop motion work on the film.
The financial climate forced Hammer to seek novel ways to spice up its output. It focussed on the female vampire in films such as Countess Dracula, and struck a two picture co-production deal with Shaw Brothers ‐ producing the Karate/Horror crossover The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires and action-thriller Shatter.
However by the middle of the decade the game was up. Gothic horror was out of fashion, and Hammer couldn’t find backers for production.
To the Devil A Daughter, was the company’s last horror film of the 20th century.
Although no longer a force in horror cinema, Hammer discovered another outlet for horror product – television. Hammer House of Horror, contained tales of genuine horror laced with a twinkle of dark humour. Its follow up Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense contained thirteen mini-thrillers. They featured a cast as diverse as Peter Cushing, Brian Cox, David Carradine, Stephanie Beacham, Diana Dors and even Pierce Brosnan.
Hammer marked its return to features in 2010 with the release of the critically acclaimed Let Me In, an adaptation of the highly praised Swedish film låt den rätte komma in. The film was written and directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) and stars Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road).
In 2011, Hammer released Antti Jokinen’s The Resident starring two-time Academy Award® winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby), Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Hammer legend Sir Christopher Lee, as well as the critically lauded Wake Wood directed by David Keating and starring Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle and Timothy Spall.
February 2012 saw the theatrical release of Hammer’s first ever feature ghost story The Woman In Black, directed by James Watkins, adapted by Jane Goldman from the book by Susan Hill, and starring Daniel Radcliffe. The film has taken over $130m worldwide making it one of the biggest indie horror films ever.
The Quiet Ones starring Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) was released in April 2014.
The much anticipated Woman in Black: Angel of Death – Hammer’s first sequel in 41 years – began terrifying audiences in January 2015.