Consider a well-known scary movie featuring a stereotypical character like Frankenstein or Dracula, or a film with a title that accurately describes its content, such as Tales from the Crypt or Beyond the Grave. It’s likely that you are thinking of a creation by one of the “twins of evil.”
Hammer and Amicus were the studios that defined British horror cinema and bestrode the 1960s and 1970s, employing a wealth of British acting talent including Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Casts included names such as Michael Gough, Ralph Bates, Ingrid Pitt, Patrick Magee and Joan Collins.
Hammer is famous for its gothic output, which often took as its starting point the classics of supernatural literature, especially Frankenstein and Dracula, with Christopher Lee taking the role of the Transylvanian bloodsucker in seven movies beginning with 1958’s Dracula.
However, in the late 1970s, the genre of supernatural movies began to shift. Horror movies such as The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Omen brought a new definition to the genre, while the previous popular period scares from Hammer and Amicus lost popularity. After spending years in obscurity, both film studios have made a comeback, with a brief resurgence of the Hammer name in 2012 with the movie adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe.
The Hammer brand has made a triumphant return with the release of its latest film, Doctor Jekyll, which premiered in theaters this week. This comes after the news in August that the John Gore Organisation, renowned for producing hit Broadway and West End productions, had acquired the studio.
John Gore has always had a strong desire to acquire Hammer. Although his initial ambition was in film, he found himself drawn to theatre. His admiration for Hammer began as a child when he first saw Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the film Dracula.
Comedian Eddie Izzard plays the role of Nina Jekyll, a disgraced CEO of a major pharmaceutical company with a mysterious secret, in the new Hammer production, “Doctor Jekyll”. Under development is a lineup of new horror films, although Gore is unable to share many details at this time. However, it is planned to release a major Halloween horror film every year under the Hammer name.
What about Amicus? It has also returned, but on a slightly smaller level.
Lawrie Brewster, the mastermind behind the revival of Amicus Productions, poses the question of whether the company can surpass the label given by the BBC as Britain’s smallest film studio in 1971. Undoubtedly, his goal is to produce films that pay homage to Amicus’ legacy. He clarifies that their intention is not to outdo the classics produced by Amicus, but rather to create works that honor the golden age of British horror and uphold the traditions of the past.
Is there still relevance for Hammer or Amicus among modern viewers? The nostalgia aspect must be considered. Jeremy Dyson, from The League of Gentlemen and co-writer of The Warlock Effect with Andy Nyman, is just one example of someone in the TV and film industry who has fond memories of them.
Dyson expresses that both Hammer and Amicus played a significant role in his imagination. He first encountered them through books, where he was captivated by the still images from the movies, even before he was able to watch them.
For many years, these studios were the backbone of the British film industry. However, many of their films were seen as low-quality and were not taken seriously by those in power. Is there a chance for these studios to make a comeback? As they are simply names, all it takes is assembling a skilled and talented team, just as they had during their prime. If this can be achieved, there is no reason why they cannot succeed once again, as long as everything falls into place.
Hammer, especially, was famous for actresses who appeared heaving of bosom and in a state of undress – so much so that websites, Facebook groups and books are devoted to the “Hammer Glamour” scream queens such as Pitt, Valerie Leon, Madeline Smith and Caroline Munro.
Munro hosts the Cellar Club segment on Talking Pictures TV every Friday night, featuring classic horror and thriller films. She has also acted in Hammer productions such as Dracula AD 1972 and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, as well as Amicus’s At The Earth’s Core. In addition, she manages an active Facebook group and frequently appears at conventions, where admirers of Hammer films eagerly await her signature.
She expresses her delight at the resurgence of both names, stating that it greatly benefits the British film industry. She believes that both Hammer and Amicus have immense potential for success once again.
Both names are still highly respected and if the current leaders can produce films with the same dedication and attention that Hammer and Amicus did in their heyday, I would be delighted to see them prosper.
Munro, who is currently 74 years old, continues to star in horror films. She will be featured in a new movie called “The Presence of Snowgood” set to come out in 2024. However, the era of Munro and other scream queens from the 1970s, known for their appearances in thigh-high boots and minimal clothing, may face challenges in today’s society.
Jamie-Lee Nardone, who openly admits to being a “horror enthusiast” and manages a book public relations firm that specializes in horror and fantasy literature, is not taken aback by the reappearance of both studios.
She believes that the current surge in horror is very thrilling. Movies are performing well at the box office, women in the industry are achieving more success than ever before, and the genre of publishing is rapidly expanding. Additionally, franchises have even influenced theme park attractions.
The horror movie scene has changed significantly, but the influence of Hammer and Amicus can still be felt.
According to Nardone, watching a horror movie or TV show from the recent past reveals the connections and impacts that have greatly contributed to the development of our current industry. These influences remain significant even now. Without them, would we have the abundance of talented individuals in the industry today? The influence can be seen everywhere, from shows like Inside No 9 and Black Mirror, to the works of Jason Blum, Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese, John Carpenter, and Guillermo del Toro.
Maybe Amicus, the studio known for its portrayal of violent and explicit content, will lead the way for a revival of the golden era, according to him. He believes that they seem to aim for a nostalgic nod to the past, with their focus on risqué content and gore, reviving what was once thought to be dead and taking us back to that era.
“There is certainly a need for that. When it comes to horror, nostalgia remains dominant, but hopefully with more variety and progressive thinking, it does not have to be confined to the past. Occasionally, things are left dead for a good reason.”