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A&E Home Video presents
The Complete Hammer House of Horror (1980)

"It was not until after her death that they found the bodies. 107 of them. Would you like some more tea?"
- Mrs. Hanska (Sian Phillips)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 28, 2001

Stars: Jon Finch, Julia Foster, Denholm Elliott, Barbara Kellerman, Nicholas Ball, Leigh Lawson, Peter Cushing, Brian Cox, Christopher Cazenove, Celia Gregory, Anthony Valentine, Ray Lonnen, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Anna Calder-Marshall, Peter McEnergy
Other Stars: Patricia Quinn, Dinah Sheridan, Richard Pearson, James Laurenson, Pat Heywood, Gary Bond, Rachel Davies, Emma Ridley, Angela Bruce, Elaine Donnelly, Diana Dors, Suzanne Danielle, Pierce Brosnan, Rosalyn Landor, Simon MacCorkindale, Gary Raymond, Georgina Hale, Emryus James
Director: Don Leaver, Peter Sasdy, Francis Megahy, Tom Clegg, Robert Young, Alan Gibson, Don Sharp

Manufacturer: Crush Digital Video
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (horror-related gore, nudity, sexual situations, cruelty to animals, Satanic worship, suicide)
Run Time: 11h:07m:44s
Release Date: August 28, 2001
UPC: 733961703108
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

The Hammer studios in England were the primary sources of good horror films in the late 1950s and 1960s. Characterized by gaudy use of color, plenty of gore and violence, and rather shocking storylines, they fell behind the times in the 1970s as the horror floodgates opened. The last gasps of Hammer were these thirteen episodes of a horror anthology television program, made in 1980. The entire series is presented complete here on four DVDs.

Disc One contains a few of the weaker episodes in the series. Witching Time centers around a horror film composer (Jon Finch) who runs up against a time-traveling seventeenth century witch, Lucinda Jessup (Patricia Quinn), who wants to share his company permanently. This episode rates 3 cleavers out of 5.

The Thirteenth Reunion features a reporter, Ruth (Julia Foster) who is assigned to cover a thinning program. However, she stumbles onto far more than she bargained for when she learns of a conspiracy for murder, body snatching and a mysterious flight to Marrakesh. This episode rates just 2 cleavers.

Denholm Elliott stars in Rude Awakening as a lusty real estate agent who can't quite seem to awaken from a series of nightmares involving a manor that comes and goes. This episode rates 3 cleavers out of 5.

The second disc features some of the best episodes. First is Growing Pains, a variant on the Bad Seed, as young James is adopted by a couple who lost their own son William. Strange occurrences follow in short order, and there is plenty of gore and cruelty to animals on exhibit here. The tension is created in a highly effective manner, supported by the boy's completely deadpan reaction to all the horrific things that happen. This episode rates 4 and a half happy cleavers out of 5.

In The House That Bled to Death, we find an homage to The Amityville Horror, in more ways than one. A young family moves into a home where an old man murdered his wife; his kukri knives keep reappearing, as do severed hands, showers of blood and other nasties not recommended for the squeamish. This one is a solid 4 cleavers.

Charlie Boy features an African fetish that has voodoo-doll-like powers. Graham (Leigh Lawson) uses the fetish, but makes the mistake of targeting the fetish by using a photograph in which others appear, including himself and his girlfriend, and must desperately find a way to stop its path of bloodshed. This episode rates all 5 cleavers.

Disc Three starts off with a non-supernatural tale of terror featuring Hammer regular Peter Cushing as Martin Brueck, haunted by his memories of the Nazi concentration camp. Ex-con Chuck (Brian Cox) is offered a job by Martin feeding the menagerie of wild animals that he keeps in the basement. When Chuck can't keep his hands off Martin's safe, he finds out that Martin has interesting theories about training wild animals. This episode rates 5 out of 5 cleavers.

Werewolves take center stage in the Children of the Full Moon, which features the tried and true technique of stranding a young couple out in the middle of nowhere, forced to take refuge in a creepy house, run by Mrs. Ardoy (Diana Dors) accompanied by her eight unnaturally beautiful children. Soon there are wolves at the door and the window, and the siege begins. A 3-1/2 cleaver rating.

Carpathian Eagle features a maniacal serial killer who cuts the hearts out of men. Oddly enough, a young woman (Suzanne Danielle) is writing a book on such a woman who lived hundreds of years before. That woman just happens to have a descendant who looks exactly like that predecessor. Pierce Brosnan has a tiny part as one of the killer's victims. Alternately bloody and kinky, this is one of the more suspenseful and gripping episodes on the set.

This one chopped 4 times.

The final disc features four episodes. The first, Guardian of the Abyss ties together two stories of a satanic cult and an antique dealer who buys an old mirror at an auction. Although it swipes a central gimmick from The Wicker Man, it continues on to a suitable climax. This episode rates 3-1/2 cleavers.

Visitor from the Grave features Dark Shadows favorite Kathryn Leigh Scott as a mentally unstable American woman in Britain who kills one Charlie Willoughby when he tries to rape her. Her friend Harry covers everything up and buries Charlie in the woods, but old Charlie just can't seem to stay dead. This episode rates 3 cleavers.

In The Two Faces of Evil, a young family on holiday picks up a hitchhiker in a yellow slicker. The hitchhiker turns out to be a maniac who gets them in a wreck. The balance of the program feels rather slow and padded, but it rises to a crescendo of paranoia that is truly masterful. This one only rates a pair of cleavers.

Winding up the set is The Mark of Satan, which deals with a young man who takes a job in a hospital morgue. Soon he is seeing satanic 9s everywhere, and fears that a needle prick has infected him with a dose of evil. Again, paranoia and madness are center stage, and this makes a highly effective conclusion to the series. This episode rates 2 little butcher knives.

Not the most even in quality, the series is in general much better than I would have expected. The use of established stars certainly helps, and even old-time Hammer creators such as John Elder chip in. The less well known actors are almost all quite capable, and the directors show a certain amount of inventiveness in their use of the camera. While it's too bad that the series wasn't a hit, these thirteen episodes manage to consistently maintain a visceral impact without being repetitive or unduly derivative (except as noted). Several of the episodes, such as Witching Time feature surprising amounts of nudity, and nearly all of them have a significant gore quotient. Eleven full hours of horror is hard to say no to.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: In general, the picture is quite attractive. Colors are very good, as are the blacks most of the time. Several of the episodes have rather greenish blacks. On occasion, the picture is too dark to be readily legible, which is rather frustrating. No obvious source material damage is to be seen. A&E wisely used dual-layer discs, with the layer changes in between episodes. Bit rates are usually around 5-6 mBps, but occasionally spike up to the top of the scale.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The original mono is presented in 2.0. Again, this is somewhat of a mixed bag. Most of the episodes sound just fine, but some, such as Witching Time suffer from hiss, crackles, background noise and electrical sounding buzzes. Children of the Full Moon features a good deal of surprisingly low bass during the car wreck sequence. Music doesn't suffer significant distortion and the dialogue is almost always clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 78 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. History of Hammer Films
  2. Stills gallery
Extras Review: A couple of nice extras are included on disc one. There is an extensive history of the Hammer studios, and a Hammer filmography that is as complete as any I've ever seen. Wrapping it up are 19 color stills from various episodes. Thankfully, A&E presents most of these nearly full-screen, instead of the tiny pictures that they use on their Avengers discs. Chaptering is barely adequate, with 6 chapters per episode. Unfortunately, there is no 'play all' option for each disc; every episode must be selected individually.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

A very nice box set covering the series, with plenty of good stories and quite a number of sexy and gory chills. Fans of Hammer horror will find quite a lot to like here. The transfer is about as good as is to be expected for a television series, though the audio quality on several episodes is rather poor. The extras are decent.


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