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Ultimate Hammer Box Set, The - DVD review (4 stars)

The Ultimate Hammer Box Set

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(18) 1973min (Optimum Classic DVD retail)

HORROR

That the words ‘Hammer’ and ‘horror’ are synonymous is testament to the British production company’s significance in cinema history and to the enduring appeal of the films it produced. Although Hammer Film Productions Ltd had been making films since 1935, when it was founded by comedian/businessman Will Hinds (whose stage name was Will Hammer), the company didn’t begin to build its modern day reputation until Hinds’ son Anthony inherited his father’s share of the business. Impressed by the 1953 BBC production of Nigel Kneale’s science fiction thriller The Quatermass Experiment, Anthony Hinds had Hammer produce a film version two years later, and, following its success, the company began to make the horror films for which it is best known. ‘Hammer horror’, the phrase which coined the company’s filmmaking style, was shaped by the talent who made the films " directors such as Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis, actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing " but the ethos behind their essence was Hinds’. Although he wrote a number of the films under the name John Elder, it was Hinds’ business acumen that led to Hammer producing films that were literary (exploiting out of copyright characters and stories) and at once gory (taking advantage of the dawn of the X certificate age) and atmospheric (it being cheaper to turn on a smoke machine than build a set).

By the mid-1970s, the end of lucrative distribution deals with Hollywood studios and the saturation of the horror market with ever more lurid films was the death knell of Hammer horror. But these 21 films remind us of the company’s glory days. That said, the collection represents only a smattering, and not even the best, of Hammer’s horror output. Still, there are some gems: The Nanny, starring newly reincarnated scream queen Bette Davis, never before released on DVD; the Cornwall-set B-movie, Plague of Zombies; Quatermass and the Pit; and the Dennis Wheatley adaptation The Devil Rides Out. Significant extras include commentaries and interviews with Christopher Lee and other Hammer alumni and a feature length documentary.

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