Release Date(s)1980 (November 6, 2020)
Studio(s)Hammer Studios (Via Vision/Imprint)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: This is a Region Free Blu-ray release.]
Airing on ITV in Britain in the fall of 1980 and later gaining even further notice in syndication, Hammer House of Horror took what was being done on the big screen and re-created it for home-based consumption. Hammer Studios was foundering at the box office in the late 1970s as Gothic horror was not bringing in audiences like it had in the past. The plan was to head to television for a horror anthology program with big stars, but at almost half the length of a major motion picture. The show was a hit, but it never made it past a single season.
Werewolves, vampires, witches, and ghosts were the order of the day, and despite the small screen confines, the original UK broadcasts of Hammer House of Horror would have been considered R-rated material for the theater, with violence, gore, and nudity making frequent appearances. However, by the time the show reached the US, censors had chopped up the show and excised the juicier bits, meaning that most audiences outside of the UK never got to experience what the creators had originally intended. It wasn’t until the show hit home video that the full versions of each episode were finally made available.
Because of the anthology format, there are variety of stories and situations, many of them tried and true formulas and tropes, but done well with decent budgets and name actors. Among them were Peter Cushing, Jon Finch, Denholm Elliott, Diana Dors, Patricia Quinn, Brian Cox, Lucy Gutteridge, Sian Phillips, Barbara Ewing, and Pierce Brosnan, among others. The show’s directors included Peter Sasdy, Don Sharp, Tom Clegg, and Alan Gibson. As for the stories themselves, they’re all successful, but some are more hard-hitting than others. Fan favorite episodes include The Silent Scream, The House that Bled to Death, Children of the Full Moon, Witching Time, and Rude Awakening. With 13 one-hour episodes to choose from, Hammer House of Horror is short but fruitful, predating the TV anthology boom of the 1980s.
Each episode of Hammer House of Horror was shot on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras, finished photochemically, and presented on television in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Imprint Films offers the complete series on Blu-ray utilizing what are likely to be the recent remasters performed by Network for their 2017 Blu-ray release in the UK. Each episode offers a boost in overall clarity with higher levels of fine detail and more nuances in the shadows. The color palette resolves well enough, especially when it comes to flesh tones. Everything appears stable with only very minor speckling leftover, but it also appears a bit too clean, as if too much grain has been stripped out with noise removal. (I’d be curious to see the raw scans of these episodes for comparison’s sake). There’s also a bit of pixelization on display as the bit rate rarely ventures out of the 15 to 25 Mbps range. The majority of each presentation is quite pleasant, but if the episodes had been spread out over more discs with a higher bit rate that leaned more toward 40 Mbps, they might look even better.
Audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English 2.0 mono Dolby Digital with optional subtitles in English SDH. It should be noted that the dual mono track is listed on the menu as a lossless LPCM track, but unfortunately, it’s not. The 5.1 track mostly spreads the score for each episode out to the surrounding speakers, giving it a little more room to breath, while dialogue sits comfortably at the front. There isn’t much in the way of LFE or panning effects, but the track is otherwise satisfactory.
Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series on Region Free Blu-ray is a three-disc set, with each disc sitting in separate clear amaray cases. Each case contains an insert featuring artwork that’s a collage of artworks pertaining to each episode. Everything is housed in a sturdy slipcase. The following episodes and extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE (PARTS I-V)
- Witching Time (53:59)
- The Thirteenth Reunion (54:00)
- Rude Awakening (54:00)
- Growing Pains (54:13)
- The House that Bled to Death (53:57)
- Audio Commentary on Witching Time by Mark Gatiss and Kim Newman
- Audio Commentary on The Thirteenth Reunion by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons
- Audio Commentary on Rude Awakening by Mark Gatiss and Kim Newman
- Audio Commentary on The House that Bled to Death by Mark Gatiss and Kim Newman
DISC TWO (PARTS VI-X)
- Charlie Boy (53:58)
- The Silent Scream (53:59)
- Children of the Full Moon (53:58)
- Carpathian Eagle (53:58)
- Guardian of the Abyss (53:57)
- Audio Commentary on Charlie Boy by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons
- Audio Commentary on The Silent Scream by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons
- Audio Commentary on Children of the Full Moon by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons
- Audio Commentary on Guardian of the Abyss by Rosalyn Landor and Kim Newman
DISC THREE (PARTS XI-XIII & EXTRAS)
- Visitor from the Grave (53:58)
- The Two Faces of Evil (53:55)
- The Mark of Satan (53:58)
- Audio Commentary on The Two Faces of Evil by Mark Gatiss and Kim Newman
- Audio Commentary on The Mark of Satan by Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons
- Grave Recollections: A Visit with Kathryn Leigh Scott (SD – 9:42)
- Hammer Housekeeping: A Visit with Mia Nadasi (HD – 7:58)
- Widescreen Version of Guardian of the Abyss (HD – 53:57)
- Opening Montage Raw Takes for Rude Awakening (HD – 12:40)
- Image Gallery (HD – 272 in all – 14:21)
All of the audio commentaries are highly informative, but there are three episodes of the show that, unfortunately, don’t have commentaries to accompany them. Grave Recollections features an interview with actress Kathryn Leigh Scott, who discusses her career, working for Hammer, her close relationship with Peter Sasdy, and her memories of Dark Shadows. Hammer Housekeeping features an interview with actress Mia Nadasi, who talks about working with her director husband, portraying a foreign villain outside of her home country, and her theater work. Also included is a widescreen version of the episode Guardian of the Abyss and a set of raw dailies from the filming of the episode Rude Awakening. The Image Gallery contains 272 promotional images from each episode’s pressbook, featuring promotional and behind-the-scenes photos. Missing from the Synapse Films Collector's Edition DVD set are optional introductions for each episode by Shane M. Dallman, and missing from the Network Region B Blu-ray set is a short set of commercial break stings.
Any release of Hammer House of Horror is worth owning, and the addition of the audio commentaries on this set gives it the clear edge over the others. However, if you have the Synapse Films DVD release, you may want to hold onto it for the introductions. Otherwise, this is a fine release of the show in high definition, and it comes recommended for fans new and old.
- Tim Salmons