"Synapse Films is proud to present the complete series of HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR in its original airdate order, with all-new introductions and supplemental features. This five disc Collector's Edition presents each episode with all nudity and violence intact!"
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson
Although I have pretty much seen it all when it comes to horror on the hell-box (even the series that predate me, like the recently-reviewed Boris Karloff-hosted anthology, Thriller) I wasn't aware Hammer also did its thing in the genre, back in 1980. Cursory research revealed this series has been released for the home video market before, but only via dreaded pan-n-scan, and certainly not beautifully restored and remastered as it is now. I must say, I was absolutely delighted from the outset: the first episode, Witching Time, is a right corker and right in line with the Hammer legacy.
The story, playing out rather cinematically, follows spooky goings-on at the estate of superstar actress Mary (Prunella Gee, from Never Say Never Again) and her cinema-composer husband David (Jon Finch, from Frenzy), after a 17th century witch named Lucinda (Patricia Quinn) materializes on an atmospheric stormy night. While the yarn isn't as gothic as one might expect, knowing the roots of the series, I for one loved Lucinda's frightful discoveries of modern contrivances like electricity and running water, and seeing how quickly she adapts and turns the tables of her would-be rescuers, turning them into helpless victims in the thrall of her magic powers. I liked the casting in the episode overall, but definitely the standout is Quinn, who's best-known as Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (and would, after this episode, go on to do Monty Python's Meaning of Life). The isolated farm-manor is very English indeed, as is the depiction of "the horsey set" complete with horse 'n hounds. (Bonus: a welcome appearance by Fulci fave Ian McCullough [Zombie]!) The first of 13 episodes shot at Hampden Manor House in the heart of England, Witching Time is just the beginning of a jolly good time.
With a host of Hammer regulars, including Peter Cushing and Denholm Elliott, along with early appearances by actors like Pierce Brosnan and Brian Cox, and others appearing in a different light (such as Warren Clarke, from A Clockwork Orange), this is definitely a gem that's been hidden from we Yanks for far too long. Now that it's been restored so beautifully, and also features really interesting behind the scenes asides in the intros by film historian Shane M. Dallman, there's really no reason to deny yourself a little treat in anticipation of Halloween season.
The DVD boxed set includes:
• Episode introductions with film historian Shane M. Dallman
• “Grave Recollections: A Visit With Kathryn Leigh Scott” actress interview featurette
• “Hammer Housekeeping: A Visit With Mia Nadasi” actress interview featurette
• Animated still gallery
Witches. Deadly nightmares. Werewolves. Dagger-wielding authors. Body-snatching hitchhikers. For American horror buffs, this collection is something of a holy grail: the complete rarely seen 1980 anthology series produced by England's famed Hammer Studios, the masters of their gothic domain. Hammer aficionados will want to start with "The Silent Scream," which stars studio icon Peter Cushing in a terrifying story of captivity and comeuppance. Veteran character actor Denholm Elliott stars as an unhappily married real estate agent in the grips of a recurring nightmare in "Rude Awakening." As for rising stars, that's Pierce Brosnan in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as Last Victim in "Carpathian Eagle," a story about a homicidal author who beds her victims. More Night Gallery than Twilight Zone, this series recalls Hammer's gory--I mean, glory--days as the premier producer of elegantly disreputable horror films that were a cross between Masterpiece Theatre and Herschell Gordon Lewis. There's nothing campy in this baker's dozen of episodes--just blood, dread, and fears (and a little nudity). --Donald Liebenson