Did the Hammer House of Horror series nail it?

Shifting from period pieces and leaving Frankenstein and Dracula in the past, Hammer Films tried to start the 1980s with an anthology series. But with the Creepshow films and television shows like Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside on the horizon, did this short-lived show set the stage or nearly close the curtain on the resurgence of anthologies? I’d say horror anthology shows succeeded in the 80s despite this show. I found most of the episodes slow, boring, and predictable, yet there are some standouts. Let’s go through each episode briefly.

Episode 1

Shocking that the first scene of this TV series from 1980 has killer POV and heavy breathing as a naked woman gets dressed. Were the rules about nudity on TV different in England than the U.S. back then? Anyway, this episode stars Patricia Quinn of Rocky Horror as a witch from the 1600s who returns to her farmhouse to terrorize the couple that now lives there. Not particularly frightening, but fun thanks to Quinn’s presence.

Episode 2

A female reporter is sent to a weight loss center with cruel and abusive practices. Her investigation turns up something much more sinister. I found this episode to be rather bland after an initial intriguing setup.

Episode 3

A real estate agent wants to dump his wife for his secretary. He has fantasies about the wife being murdered in a house and the secretary, always with a completely different look, telling him to go find the house in waking life. As he gets stuck in the cyclical situation, he doesn’t know if any of it is real or if he’s trapped in a dream. For me, a wrecking ball chase scene is the highlight of the whole episode.

Episode 4

I noticed on IMDb that most of the reviews say this episode is the worst of the bunch and a totally forgettable rip-off of The Omen…the very reason I personally find it to be the only really good episode so far. A scientist and his wife lose their son, so they adopt a new one. This boy is quite evil and even has a dog companion…which the dad has to “take care of” after it does something vicious. Things only get worse when the couple’s dead child appears to come back from the dead…along with the dog.

Be warned—there is a lot of cruel rabbit slaughter in this episode. That alone makes it anything but forgettable to me. And not for nothing, but so does the twist.

Episode 5

Another juicy episode, this one is even bloodier than the previous one. A couple moves into a rundown house with their young daughter, and immediately blood starts flowing from pipes. There is a gruesome death of the family cat (this show hates animals), and there is a great, bloody kid’s birthday party scene in this macabre tale.

Episode 6

After inheriting a fetish doll, a man begins stabbing it every time he gets angry at someone, not realizing until too late that doing so actually kills them…and that the doll is set on getting him, too. Fun, familiar storyline and there are some violent kills, but why even do a fetish doll story if you’re not going to deliver fetish doll horror that exceeds the level of that in the classic anthology Trilogy of Terror?

Note that this episode features an interracial couple, which was a big deal on TV back in 1980…at least in the U.S.

Episode 7

Hammer alum Peter Cushing stars as the owner of a pet shop who keeps a secret zoo of exotic animals. He offers an ex-con a job feeding them, but then imprisons him to do experiments on him. This tale has a Nazi element to it, and that’s always terrifying. The story also has a classic horror anthology zinger ending.

However, this episode once again reminds us that this show hates animals. Ugh.

Episode 8

A couple’s car crashes, so they walk to a mansion where a woman welcomes them for the night. There are numerous children around the house that just happen to be werewolves, which threatens the couple’s future together, to say the least. Definitely one of my favorite episodes of the series.

Episode 9

This is a fun tale of a murderous seductress that steals the hearts of the men she beds. Most notable is that the detective on the case speaks with a suspect who is both an immigrant and a cross-dressing performer, is quite respectful of him, and even scolds his partner, who makes derogatory remarks about the performer.

Episode 10

Heavy occult situations permeate this episode about a glass mirror that devil worshippers want to get their hands on. Like most satanic cult themed shows, it’s no surprise this is a slow burn with little in the way of horror action. But the series does keep up its trend of animal cruelty with a rooster sacrifice.

Episode 11

After a former mental patient shoots a home invader, her man buries the body in the woods so she won’t get sent away again. But then the woman starts seeing the corpse of the man everywhere she looks. Is he back from the dead to get revenge, or is she really losing it? This is a classic and clichĂ© horror anthology plot, so most horror veterans will see the ending coming from a mile away.

Episode 12

This take on the “body snatcher” theme is by far my favorite episode. It’s not only creepy, it’s fast-paced and suspenseful as well. A family picks up a hitchhiker in the rain. Cloaked in a raincoat, the hitcher immediately attacks the father and the car crashes. When the wife awakes in the hospital, she learns her husband is unresponsive…and she is asked to identify the attacker. To her horror, the man looks exactly like her husband! As a result, when she takes home her husband, who lost his voice in the accident, she begins to suspect that he is actually the hitcher. Eek! The tension just keeps building in this one.

Episode 13

A dude who works in a morgue begins to think his colleagues are out to get him and that the number 9 is being used as part of a cult to signify the devil. As he goes into a state of paranoia and becomes convinced the cult is trying to draw him in, this becomes very reminiscent in style to the original Rosemary’s Baby.

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
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