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Hammer House Of Horror DVD boxset (1980)

01/07/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Hammer House Of Horror DVD boxset (1980) in the USA - or Buy Hammer House Of Horror DVD boxset (1980) in the UK

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region 2: pub:ITV DVD 37115 04093. 4 DVDs 670 minutes 13 * 51 minute episodes with extras. Price: £10.97 (UK) if you know where to look.

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With Hammer Films presence in the cinema diminishing in the early 80s, they took their brand of horror onto the small screen with this anthology series 'Hammer House Of Horror', with a mix of urban horror to scare or put a twist into your lives.

'The House That Bled To Death', starring Nicholas Ball, Rachel Davies and Pat Maynard, has a couple and their daughter come to live in a house where the previous occupants had a gruesome past. In the opening taster, a man deprived his wife of her tablets and then, unseen, chopped her up and spread her parts around the house. He was eventually caught, but not before holding siege in the house for some time.

The house seems haunted with such things and from the start, the family are tormented without quite knowing why. They blame themselves and neighbours for their problems before eventually fleeing. There is a novel twist at the end that wouldn't have been out of place in 'Tales Of The Unexpected'.

'The Silent Scream' is essentially a game of conditioning Pavlov's dogs style. Apparent pet shop owner and prison visitor Martin Blueck (actor Peter Cushing) hooks released prisoner Chuck Spillers (actor Brian Cox) to look after his wild menagerie while he's away. They live in cages with open doors but are electrified so they stay in, only coming out to a buzzer when it's turned off so they get out to feed. Spiller can't resist old habits and breaking into the safe finds it a ruse to imprison him. His wife, Annie (actress Elaine Donnelly), trying to rescue him gets the same fate. Escaping eventually, they enter an even bigger trap but there is no one to rescue them. Telling you why is definitely spoiler. Although you can see where a lot of this story is going, the final twist will still catch you out.

'The Two Faces Of Evil' has the Lewis family driving on holiday in the pouring rain nearly run down a man in oilskins who steps out in the road. Generously, they give him a lift but he attacks husband Martin (actor Gary Raymond) and the car crashes. The wife, Janet (actress Anna Calder-Marshall), wakes in hospital with a fragmented memory of what happened. Her husband has cuts around his neck and can't talk amongst other injuries. Asked to identify the dead hitchhiker, she fails to see his similarity to Martin but convinced that is who the injured man is has him taken to their holiday cottage. This is really, without giving away too many spoilers, a case of dopplegangers. The growth of paranoia by Janet is gripping and just when you think she might be safe and isn't is a nice play. Worse, you could feel it could happen today. Check the teeth of your nearest and dearest.

'The Mark Of Satan', in contrast, is poorly titled really as a hospital mortuary orderly, Edwyn Rord (actor Peter McEnery), becomes increasingly paranoid and obsessed with the number nine than six six six after being infected by accidentally stabbing himself with a blood-tainted needle. These days, you would have thought there would have been more precautions taken place, especially with being given anti-tetanus shots before working in such places, let alone ensuring that checks were in place to ensure they were carried out when told to. Although shocking in parts and actress Georgina Hale as Stella stealing the story in places, it is the standard of the other stories so far that makes a slight decline here stand out more.

'Witching Time' is really a delight. David Winter (actor Jon Finch) is at home composing music while his actress wife, Mary (actress Prunella Gee), is in London in bed with her doctor, Charles Henderson (actor Ian McCulloch). David suspects she's having an affair but not with whom. During a thunderstorm, the witch Lucinda Jessop (actress Patricia Quinn) brings herself from the 16th century to the present, seduces David and is determined to break up their relationship. Before his wife gets back, Henderson comes to see him but doesn't see Lucinda and thinks he's hallucinating. Things aren't helped when Mary comes home and finds weird things happening to her around the house and ar ride on her horse ends up with her in hospital. Finally getting home, she find David truly bewitched and herself locked in the cellar as he prepares to burn her as a witch. More is spoiler zone. This story has some great twists, mostly because of the human element coming into play and some superb performances from all concerned.

Looking at 'Visitor From The Grave' with today's sensibilities, I was watching this story as if there was a con going on. Charles Willowbee (actor Stanley Lebor) breaks into the house of rich Penny Van Brutten (actress Kathryn Leigh Scott), intent on raping her when he can't find her boy-friend, Harry Wells (actor Simon MacCorkindale), who owes him money. She finds Harry's loaded shotgun and shoots at Willowbee who somehow flees. Harry arrives home and because of Penny's mental state is unsteady and drug dependent to keep her stable and he doesn't have a gun licence (which was available at the time), talks her into agreeing to hide the evidence. While she cleans Willowbee's blood from the walls of the house, he buries the body in the nearby wood and ditches the car in the lake. However, she then sees Willowbee watching her in the village and even at the party of local Tarot reader Margaret Tabori (actress Mia Nardi) who offers to exorcise the ghost but isn't strong enough. She suggests Swami Gupta Krishna as the best in the business and draws one hundred and fifty thousand pounds (a lot of money when this was filmed) to pay his fee. The sťance and the appearance of Willowbee scares Penny who flees shoots herself dead. Of course, it's a scam but the ending isn't. I'm giving more of the plot than using because the blurb on the box was clearly written by someone who hadn't watched the story. This is a somewhat fun story from the point of view of working out the scam, purely by looking at various perspectives in the story.

'Rude Awakening' is a rather odd tale as real estate agent Norman Shenley (actor Denholm Elliott) is living a dream within a dream within a dream, where details change as to the roles of his secretary Lolly Fellows (actress Lucy Gutteridge) and Rayburn (actor James Laurenson) and the fate of his wife Emily (actress Pat Heywood) and his activities of looking over a house continually change. Without wishing to go too spoiler, it's when Shenley believes that whatever he does is all a dream that he suddenly finds it's not and real reality hits home for him and the viewer. An odd tale but made to work by an excellent cast.

'Charlie Boy' is actually the name given to a fetish or voodoo doll by Sarah (actress Angela Bruce) when she is given it by her husband Graham Elder (actor Leigh Lawson) from his part of the inheritance after his and two brothers' uncle dies from a fall, seemingly caused when the fetish accidentally falls over. When elder brother Mark Elder (actor Michael Culver) renegades on a deal to go into business together, Graham wishes him dead staring at a photo and the fetish begins to carry out the business on all the people in the picture, which is essentially the whole family. The only way to stop it is to burn the fetish, except things don't go to plan. There's a lot more in this story than a brief synopsis can give but it's made believable by the performance of the actors. I was just left wondering what happened to the prop after filming.

Of all the stories in this boxset, ask anyone who saw it the first time around, the story they remember the most is this one, 'Children Of The Full Moon'. Watching it this time around, I paid more attention to who wrote it, discovering it was the now late Murray Smith, who later went onto script amongst others: 'Strangers', 'Bulman' and 'The Paradise Club', which shows a lengthy successful career on the box. Tom Martin (actor Christopher Cazenove) and his wife, Sarah (actress Shelia Gregory) on a holiday in the west country, have a car brake failure in the middle of nowhere and have to walk to find some help. They find a quaint house down a country lane ran by housekeeper Mrs. Ardoy (actress Diana Dors) and the shy eight children in her care who welcomes them to stay the night. When Tom can't get even a hire car and is nearly attacked going back to the car for their luggage, Mrs. Ardoy feeds them a meal of mutton broth and they find themselves locked in their bedroom for their own safety. Suspicious Tom shimmies down the drainpipe to look around when Sarah is attacked. He climbs up but falls and the next thing he knows, comes around in hospital with a broken wrist and vague memories which his wife denies ever happened as being no more than concussion from the accident. They return to London and Tom is out of the country for a month working, coming home to find his wife pregnant, off sex and a taste for raw meat. When Sarah goes missing, he decides to follow using the same route to find the house. He fails in that but meets a woodsman who says there is no house. For the rest, you'll have to watch the story. From the title, this is obviously a werewolf story but the way it is played gives a different slant to their needs and hence my more detailed resume this time. If you want a measure of excellence for stories, this one is still not only effective today but hasn't been equalled.

'The Thirteenth Reunion' has journalist Ruth Cairns (actress Julie Foster) on assignment to investigate a diet regime uncovers a regime for killing slight obese people, the latest Ben Faraday (actor Warren Clarke), being one she had a meal with before he dies in an 'accident'. Undertaker assistant Andrew (actor Gerrard Kelly) tells her of his suspicions about his bosses keeping him away from some corpses. They investigate together and find Faraday's corpse been replaced by a metal frame and Ruth eventually finds what's for dinner for survivors of a plane crash. This story is vastly underplayed which makes it all the more normal because it lets your imagination put things together. At the time this was filmed, survival by cannibalism wasn't heard of much and this was more scary than it would be recognised today. Just be careful about joining social get-togethers as the main course.

'The Carpathian Eagle' is an oddity amongst these stories as strictly speaking it isn't as it seems. Detective Inspector Clifford (actor Anthony Valentine) is investigating the death of three men who died from having their hearts torn from their chests. He learns from the radio of a writer, Natalie bell (actress Suzanne Danielle), telling the real story of a foreign countess who historically did this same act to stay young. Through her, he is lead to Mrs Henska (actress Sian Philips) who gives the full story of her ancestor and whom he suspects for a time has a murderous relative on the loose. To tell you more would definitely be a spoiler but there are some nifty turns here. Other than the gruesome deaths, this is more like a standard detective story even if there is no explanation as to what happened to the hearts. Oh, in secondary parts here are W. Morgan Shepherd and a young Pierce Brosnan.

If you thought witchcraft was being neglected with these stories then 'Guardian Of The Abyss' should put that to rest. A cult failing to bring a demon out from Hell drives a girl insane. Meanwhile, one of its members, Simon Andrew (actor Paul Darrow), offering a lot of money to antique dealer Laura Stephens (actress Barbara Ewing) for a mirror she bought it at auction. Her companion, Michael Roberts (actor Ray Lonnen), says he'll get it properly valued for its real worth. In the meantime, a second girl Allison Lussan (actress Rosalyn Landor) escapes rather than faces the cult's mirror and runs into Michael driving by. She realises the implication of the mirror and later steals it, only to return with it later when she can't destroy it. This allows Michael to look up what it, a scrying glass used to call up demons and this one is unique because it's the original. When Allison is kidnapped, Michael rushes to her rescue only to...well, you'll have to find out the rest. Played in a down-to-earth manner, you would think on some levels the cult were spooky but normal until their leader, Charles Randolph (actor John Carson) twists the knife so to speak.

'Growing Pains' ends this boxset with a ghost story. After the death of their son, William (actor Christopher Reilly), by eating a hallucinogenic drug in his father Terrance Morton (actor Gary Bond) laboratory, he and his wife, Laurie (actress Barbara Kellerman), adopt James (actor Matthew Blaksted) who is equally strange. His new parents are busy and he has to fend for himself, discovering with their dog, Nipper, their son's grave in the local graveyard, and the mutt attacking two guests who are inspecting Terrance's revolutionary alternative food material. Things take a further twist when James embodies William's spirit who is out for vengeance. In some respects, whether it is the script or how it was directed, this story is underplayed too much. You know something is wrong from the start but if James had been 'normal' and then been possessed, a character change would have made more sense than being odd from the start. Oh, in case you didn't know, Barbara Kellerman played the White Witch in the 1988 BBC series 'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe' and the number of her appearances on DVD are light on the ground so this is a rare event.

Overall, despite the odd criticism, the number of good against bad episodes isn't bad for an urban horror series for back in the early 80s and is a real potpourri of known cast at the time. Granted it didn't make people jump enough to warrant a second series, I think that might have diluted where they could have gone next having covered so many themes with nary a vampire. Although I doubt the youth of today would like it, for my generation, it's more like meeting old friends.

GF Willmetts

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