Discuss the contribution of Hammer Studios to the Gothic tradition in British cinema

There are definitive features of Hammer productions that have come to be identified with the studio.  The films are invariably of high technical quality.  They almost always contain blood and violence and expose a perennial battle between good and evil. In these respects the Hammer films remain classics.  But there are critics and high-brow commentators who would counter that the films are “nothing more than that laughable movie you might find as you channel surf the telly after coming home from the pub on a Friday night.” (“Classic Face of Horror,” 2007, p. 19) One can understand this sort of antagonism against the horror genre.  After all, the basic commercial motive behind the genre is to thrill and titillate the audience at the cost of addressing serious social issues. Though there is entertainment value to horror films, they are essentially socially and politically irrelevant.  For example, just as “the cult Carry On films curried favour with the masses as much as they were loathed by elitist critics, Hammer was loved by the public and pooh-poohed by some who wanted them banned.” (“Classic Face of Horror,” 2007, p. 19)  So, the criticism directed against Hammer Studios for promoting a trivial and superficial conception of humanity is true to a degree.

The lead characters in Hammer horror films confounded questions of right and wrong, good and evil, and love and hate. And it is for the studio’s open, moral exploration that it has endured in public memory. With such fundamental questions being raised through its films, it is not surprising that the audience feel they have travelled to hell and back. A Hammer film was

“made with the winning ingredients of quality actors and cleverly designed sets. Make-up was impressive and the films had an air of polish that belied their modest budgets…the Hammer House of Horror television series in the 1970s and 1980s was a welcome spooky spectacle on a Saturday night.” (“Classic Face of Horror,” 2007, p. 19)

Finally, that Hammer Studios was integral for the revival of Gothic cinema in Britain is evidenced from the legacy it has left behind. These days, remakes of old horror classics are on the rise again. Any subject from Agatha Christie murder mystery to the Famous Five is sought for inspiration and game for remake.  In this context, it is a testimony to the high station of Hammer within the Gothic tradition that the back catalogue of Hammer Studios are being plundered for remakes.


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