Monday, 13 September 2010

Hammering it Home

There's Panic on the streets of Carlisle; Dublin, Dundee, Humberside: and especially at the London HQ of Hammer Films who are bracing themselves for their first movie release in over 30 years, Matt Reeves' LET ME IN- released October 1st, 2010 in the US and 5th November, 2010 in the UK. LET ME IN is the English language adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's Swedish vampire novel Let the Right One In, originally made into a highly acclaimed 2008 Swedish film of the same name by filmmaker Tomas Alfredson. Lindqvist's love of The Smiths and Morrissey is peppered throughout his literary work, hence the initial title (and my clever opening), but the American remake has simplified things by keeping its title short in effort to make the movie more ominous and less arty. The aim is to capitalise on the young folks' love of all things vampires and deliver a box-office hit for Hammer Films that establishes them as a newish force in horror. LET ME IN was screened at last week's Toronto International Film Festival 2010 as the opening night movie of Fantastic Fest. Early reviews in the trades have been rather brilliant, but the internet reviews from younger film critics on movie websites has been less appreciative. That's worrying when one considers that Hammer Films will need the support of these guys in order to drum up excitement for the film. After all, American film critics were supper supportive of Alexandre Aja's remake of Piranha 3D last month and that film topped out with little more than $24 million at the US box office, barely enough to cover its production costs.


Hammer Horror started in 1934 by comedian William Hinds and found its stride in 1955 with the production of gothic horror movies based upon classic myths. Many of these stories had already been made in the 30s and 40s by Universal Pictures but Hammer Horror gave these old tales a distinct tone, upping the sexual quota with buxom titillation and subtly heightening themes of social unease between the rich and poor. Hammer Horror also had a uniquely sumptuous visual aesthetic, the likes of which greatly inspired India's Ramsay Bros. horror movies, and more recently Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow. Hammer movies were very British and travelled well internationally, especially in America where the Hammer Horror films were distributed thorough Warner Bros. (Universal Pictures were not interested in partnering with Hammer). Hammer was on a winning streak, cranking out classic after classic; that is until the 1970s when big-budget horror movies like The Exorcist and The Omen revolutionised the genre. Lower budget American horror movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween brought a grittier feel to horror content, debasing Hammer Horror. Hammer upped the tits and blood content of their luridly gothic horror films but they still seemed off-kilter with the new horror wave that now set its stories in the real world, not vicariously vintage Europe. Hammer tried to get hip with the kids, releasing Dracula A.D. 1972, where the eponymous vampire stalks the streets of trendy London, disco-dancing with groovy young bastards before sucking them dry. Hammer went bankrupt, both financially and creatively. By 1979, Hammer Horror was no more than a great legacy in British cinema. That is until the Noughties when private equity companies and savvy media capitalists like Simon Oakes of Exclusive Media Group decided to resurrect the Hammer corpse in order to generate some money off of its brand recognition.


Simon Oakes' re-launch of Hammer Films at once seems honourable yet cynical. For a British horror shingle, it's disappointing their first releases will be American set horror films. THE RESIDENT (ironically filmed before LET ME IN but still awaiting release), which stars Hilary Swank and Hammer icon Sir Christopher Lee, is a New York based psychological thriller. However, Hammer Films announced last month the all-British production of THE WOMAN IN BLACK, starring Daniel Radcliffe, to be released next year. Oakes also confirmed in this month's Empire that Hammer Films has ambitions beyond horror and will launch new intellectual properties via live theatre, television, internet, comics and novels. He also claims the ongoing development for remakes of Hammer's CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (the original being a fun but shameless attempt to cash in on the Shaw Bros. kung-fu craze of the 1970s: it failed badly). News of Hammer remakes seems odd when Oakes has stated: "I always felt we had to prove ourselves with new movies rather than mine the back catalogue". With the exception of THE RESIDENT, all upcoming Hammer releases and development projects are remakes. Much like the new Ealing Studios, Hammer Films may just crank out irrelevant genre movies and perfunctory remakes that will hardly make the type of impact their predecessors made. It's a shame because Hammer Films has a real opportunity to try and kick-start the genre by finding projects that will rejuvenate horror. Audience appetites are cyclical and once this generation of youngsters is usurped by a kids who aren't going to understand their elder siblings' penchant for 3D street-dancing movies, they'll no doubt return to horror films, but a new type of horror film, one that's yet to be hatched. This is where Hammer Films can really come into its own by sourcing visionary young talent that really understands and loves horror; talent that wants to bring something totally innovative to the table. The truth is that although LET ME IN may be a commendable horror remake, it does look a tad dull and may struggle to outmatch PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 and SAW 3D, both due out next month. The Hammer Films brand means nothing to average audiences and by engaging in a series of unwanted remakes and producing tedious American horror films, it may have dug its own proverbial coffin before it's even had a chance to breathe properly.