Hammer Film Productions

Hammer Films
Production company
IndustryFilm production
Television production
Theatrical production
Publishing
FoundedNovember 1934; 84 years ago (1934-11)
FounderWilliam Hinds
James Carreras
HeadquartersLondon, England
Key people
Simon Oakes
(CEO & President, Hammer)
OwnerSimon Oakes
Marc Schipper[1]
WebsiteOfficial website

Hammer Film Productions is a British film production company based in London. Founded in 1934, the company is best known for a series of gothic horror films made from the mid-1950s until the 1970s. Many of these involved classic horror characters such as Baron Frankenstein, Count Dracula, and The Mummy, which Hammer re-introduced to audiences by filming them in vivid colour for the first time.[2] Hammer also produced science fiction, thrillers, film noir and comedies, as well as, in later years, television series. During their most successful years, Hammer dominated the horror film market, enjoying worldwide distribution and considerable financial success. This success was due, in part, to their partnerships with major United States studios, such as Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros.

During the late 1960s and 1970s the saturation of the horror film market by competitors and the loss of American funding forced changes to the previously lucrative Hammer formula, with varying degrees of success. The company eventually ceased production in the mid-1980s. In 2000, the studio was bought by a consortium including advertising executive and art collector Charles Saatchi and publishing millionaires Neil Mendoza and William Sieghart.[3] The company announced plans to begin making films again after this, but none were produced.

In May 2007, the company was sold again, this time to a consortium headed by Dutch media tycoon John de Mol, who announced plans to spend some $50m (£25m) on new horror films. The new owners also acquired the Hammer group's film library, consisting of 295 pictures. Simon Oakes, who took over as CEO of Hammer, said: "Hammer is a great British brand — we intend to take it back into production and develop its global potential. The brand is still alive but no one has invested in it for a long time".[4] Since then it has produced several films, including Let Me In (2010), The Resident (2011), The Woman in Black (2012) and The Quiet Ones (2014).

Hammer before horror

Early history (1935–37)

In November 1934 William Hinds, a comedian and businessman, registered his film company, Hammer Productions Ltd.[5][6] It was housed in a three-room office suite at Imperial House, Regent Street, London. The company name came from Hinds' stage name, Will Hammer, which he had taken from the area of London in which he lived, Hammersmith.[7]

Work began almost immediately on the first film, The Public Life of Henry the Ninth at the MGM/ATP studios, with filming concluding on 2 January 1935. The film tells the story of Henry Henry, an unemployed London street musician, and the title was a "playful tribute" to Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Henry VIII which was Britain's first Academy Award for Best Picture nominee in 1934.[8] During this time Hinds met Spanish émigré Enrique Carreras, a former cinema owner, and on 10 May 1935 they formed the film distribution company Exclusive Films, operating from an office at 60-66 National House, Wardour Street.[9] Hammer produced four films distributed by Exclusive:

A slump in the British film industry forced Hammer into bankruptcy and the company went into liquidation in 1937. Exclusive survived and on 20 July 1937 purchased the leasehold on 113-117 Wardour Street, and continued to distribute films made by other companies.[10]

Resurrection (1938–55)

Bray Studios, Berkshire. Bray Studios, close to the frequently-used filming location Oakley Court, was Hammer's principal base from 1951 to 1966.

James Carreras joined Exclusive in 1938, closely followed by William Hinds' son, Anthony. At the outbreak of World War II, James Carreras and Anthony Hinds left to join the armed forces and Exclusive continued to operate in a limited capacity. In 1946, James Carreras rejoined the company after demobilisation. He resurrected Hammer as the film production arm of Exclusive with a view to supplying 'quota-quickies', cheaply made domestic films designed to fill gaps in cinema schedules and support more expensive features.[11] He convinced Anthony Hinds to rejoin the company, and a revived Hammer Film Productions set to work on Death in High Heels, The Dark Road, and Crime Reporter. Not able to afford top stars, Hammer acquired the film rights to BBC radio series such as The Adventures of PC 49 and Dick Barton: Special Agent (an adaptation of the successful Dick Barton radio show).[12] All were filmed at Marylebone Studios during 1947. During the production of Dick Barton Strikes Back (1948), it became apparent that the company could save a considerable amount of money by shooting in country houses instead of studios. For the next production, Dr Morelle - The Case of the Missing Heiress (another radio adaptation), Hammer rented Dial Close, a 23 bedroom mansion beside the River Thames, at Cookham Dean, Maidenhead.[13]

On 12 February 1949 Exclusive registered "Hammer Film Productions" as a company with Enrique and James Carreras, and William and Tony Hinds as directors. Hammer moved into the Exclusive offices in 113-117 Wardour Street, and the building was rechristened "Hammer House".[14]

In August 1949, complaints from locals about noise during night filming forced Hammer to leave Dial Close and move into another mansion, Oakley Court, also on the banks of the Thames between Windsor and Maidenhead.[15] Five films were produced there: Man in Black (1949), Room to Let (1949), Someone at the Door (1949), What the Butler Saw (1950), The Lady Craved Excitement (1950). In 1950, Hammer moved again to Gilston Park, a country club in Harlow Essex, which hosted The Black Widow, The Rossiter Case, To Have and to Hold and The Dark Light (all 1950).

In 1951 Hammer began shooting at their most fondly-remembered base, Down Place, on the banks of the Thames (later known as Bray Studios). The company signed a one-year lease and began its 1951 production schedule with Cloudburst. The house, virtually derelict, required substantial work, but it did not have the construction restrictions that had prevented Hammer from customising previous homes. A decision was made to remodel Down Place into a substantial, custom-fitted studio complex.[16] The expansive grounds were used for much of the later location shooting in Hammer's films, and are a key to the 'Hammer look'.

Also in 1951, Hammer and Exclusive signed a four-year production and distribution contract with Robert Lippert, an American film producer. The contract meant that Lippert Pictures and Exclusive effectively exchanged products for distribution on their respective sides of the Atlantic – beginning in 1951 with The Last Page and ending with 1955,s Women Without Men (AKA Prison Story).[17] It was Lippert's insistence on an American star in the Hammer films he was to distribute that led to the prevalence of American leads in many of the company's productions during the 1950s. It was for The Last Page that Hammer made a significant appointment when they hired film director Terence Fisher, who played a critical role in the forthcoming horror cycle.

Towards the end of 1951 the one-year lease on Down Place expired, and with its growing success Hammer looked towards more conventional studio-based productions. A dispute with the Association of Cinematograph Technicians blocked this proposal, and instead the company purchased the freehold of Down Place. The house was renamed Bray Studios after the nearby village of Bray and it remained as Hammer's principal base until 1966.[17] In 1953 the first of Hammer's science fiction films, Four Sided Triangle and Spaceways, were released.

Hammer Horror contributors

Directors and writers

Other personnel

The scores for many Hammer horror films, including Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, were composed by James Bernard. Other Hammer musical personnel included Malcolm Williamson, John Hollingsworth, and Harry Robertson.

Production designer Bernard Robinson and cinematographer Jack Asher were instrumental in creating the lavish look of the early Hammer films, usually on a very restricted budget.

Actors

Hammer's horror films featured many actors who appeared repeatedly in a number of movies, forming an informal "Hammer repertory company".


The birth of Hammer Horror (1955–59)

Hammer's first significant experiment with horror came in a 1955 adaptation of Nigel Kneale's BBC Television science fiction serial The Quatermass Experiment, directed by Val Guest. As a consequence of the contract with Robert Lippert, American actor Brian Donlevy was imported for the lead role and the title was changed to The Quatermass Xperiment to cash in on the new X certificate for horror films. The film was unexpectedly popular, and led to the popular 1957 sequel Quatermass 2 – again adapted from one of Kneale's television scripts, this time by Kneale and with a budget double that of the original: £92,000.[18] In the meantime, Hammer produced another Quatermass style horror film, X the Unknown, originally intended as part of the series until Kneale denied them permission to use his characters (the writer is known to have disliked Donlevy’s performance as Quatermass).[19] At the time, Hammer voluntarily submitted scripts to the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) for comment before production. Regarding the script of X the Unknown, one reader/examiner (Audrey Field) commented on 24 November:

"Well, no one can say the customers won't have had their money's worth by now. In fact, someone will almost certainly have been sick. We must have a great deal more restraint, and much more done by onlookers' reactions instead of by shots of 'pulsating obscenity', hideous scars, hideous sightless faces, etc, etc. It is keeping on and on in the same vein that makes this script so outrageous. They must take it away and prune. Before they take it away, however, I think the President [of the BBFC] should read it. I have a stronger stomach than the average (for viewing purposes) and perhaps I ought to be reacting more strongly."[20]