The Hammer You (Probably) Don’t Know
Britain’s Hammer Film Studios are, of course, best known for the Gothic horror films which they made between the late 1950s and the early 1970s. This has, however, served to distract attention from their non-horror output. Here we showcase and celebrate some of the highlights amongst this rich and diverse body of work.
Val Guest | UK | 1959 | 95 minutes
The commanding officer of a British army unit resorts to torture tactics to root out the Japanese agent in a Burmese village during WWII. The Japanese then recapture the village and use comparable tactics. A hard-hitting, documentary-style war film that asked awkward questions and offered no easy answers to audiences of its time.
The Stranglers of Bombay
Terence Fisher | UK | 1959 | 80 minutes
A fascinating example of realist horror from Hammer, as the company’s main director of Gothic fantasies, Terence Fisher, depicts the battle between an East India Company agent and Thugee cultists. Some critics have decried the film as little more than a sadistic display of castration anxieties and/or imperialist justification. See if you agree…
Hell is a City
Val Guest | UK | 1960 | 98 minutes
Shot on location in and around Manchester this is one of the largely unsung masterpieces of the British crime film. Stanley Baker, Donald Pleasence, Billie Whitelaw and men “tossing” on the moors – what more do you want?
Never Take Sweets from a Stranger
Cyril Frankel | UK | 1960 | 81 minutes
Newly arrived in a close-knit Canadian town, a family find themselves up against the community when they expose a member of its most prominent family as a child molester. A low-key, non-sensationalist film that was unfortunately damned by association through the reputation the studio had acquired and cultivated by this time.
These are the Damned
Joseph Losey | UK | 1963 | 87 minutes
US exile Joseph Losey had an awkward relationship with Hammer. Down to direct X the Unknown he was booted from the project after its star objected to his left-wing politics. Here he delivers an allegorical film dealing with a secret government experiment into developing radiation-immune children. Unsurprisingly Hammer’s executives did not know how to deal with it. Oliver Reed co-stars as the leader of a Droog-style gang with barely concealed incestuous desires towards his sister.
Straight on Till Morning
Peter Collinson | UK | 1972 | 96 minutes
A perversely imaginative reworking of Peter Pan as a kitchen sink psychological thriller, from the director of The Italian Job. Rita Tushingham plays a naïve young woman from the provinces who attracts the attention of a charming London psychopath. Hammer meets Kitchen Sink is perhaps not as odd as it sounds, given the company had earlier essayed a sequel to Room at the Top.