January 2, 2017


1970 saw the release of Hammer’s The Lady Vanishes, an enjoyable enough romp if taken on its own count, rather than comparing it too heavily with Hitchcock’s obviously superior original. However, the critics took exception to it, audience reaction was also indifferent, and the movie quickly disappeared. As a consequence of the film’s box office failure, Hammer almost disappeared completely. The receivers were brought in and Michael Carreras was forced to relinquish his post as the head of the company, which now owed in excess of £800,000. Finally, Roy Skeggs, who was asked to take over the running of the company by the creditors, bought Hammer for �100,000.

A former accountant, Skeggs had entered the film industry in 1956 as an assistant accountant, moving on to become Hammer’s production accountant in 1963. This eventually led to Skeggs becoming the studio’s production supervisor in 1970 and a credited producer for the first time in 1972. His acquisition of Hammer in late 1979 prevented the name of Hammer being lost forever. Again, numerous theatrical features were announced, but it was on television that the name of Hammer survived, with Hammer House of Horror, a series of thirteen hour-long thrillers that aired in late 1979/early 1980. A reasonable success, this series was followed in 1983 by Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, which used such Hammer talent as directors John Hough, Peter Sasdy and Val Guest, writers Brian Clemens and Don Houghton.

Unfortunately, at the insistence of Twentieth Century Fox – who co-produced the series the stories concentrated on mystery themes with a so-called twist in the tail. The results might have been entertaining in a thirty-minute slot, but each episode was padded out to fill a ninety-minute segment, which stretched many of the stories beyond snapping point. Shot in just two weeks each, the series was a disappointment to say the least and a proposed second series never materialised. Hammer, it seemed, was all but defunct.

In January 2000, Hammer came under new ownership by a private investment consortium including advertising guru and art collector Charles Saatchi, but no films were produced. In 2007, Hammer Film Productions was sold to Dutch consortium Cyrte Investments. Simon Oakes, chairman and CEO of Hammer Film Productions, said: “For most people, the Hammer group is held in great affection, like Disney. It is steeped in the history of the horror genre and reflects its literature and films. We don’t plan to go down the ‘gorenography’ route of slasher films. What was really important was to get an acquisition together which would get Hammer back in production.�

Howard Maxford.�

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