Please note that the following is a work of satire. The scenarios and character depictions are purely fictitious and meant for humour and entertainment purposes, drawing upon public figures and events as a canvas for hyperbole and parody.
So, when you’re a horror filmmaker who’s 42 years old, with a BMI more frightening than your last production, and a tendency to sneak off during lunch to visit a church cafe to gorge on discounted apple pie and custard, one might be quite valid in asking what value, if any, does your opinion have on the re-launch of Hammer, and their recent video posted to regale us with their future exploits.
Well, I might say that I’ve been a fan of Hammer, Amicus, and Tigon all my life, but surely everyone reading this article is too. And, in that respect, I can’t say my opinion is more qualified than yours. If that’s the case, then what else is there for me to say?
That additional insight, and the reason hopefully that you’re here, reading this, is rooted in my experience, competence, and at times incompetence as a British horror film producer. I’ve been one for about 15 years, which led me to found Hex Studios, creator of the famous indie horror movie Lord of Tears, which introduced the world to The Owlman. Not the Owlman of Cornwall, but the tail-coat-wearing version of the Owlman we made, that accrued hundreds of millions of views across YouTube with fearsome prank videos, winning fans that included Alice Cooper and Slash from Guns N’ Roses. Not to mention my mum. Actually, my mum hated the Owlman prank videos.
Multiple horror feature films soon followed, which eventually led to our partnership with the Subotsky family, founded on the principle of respecting the past and the legacy of Milton Subotsky, which, with trust, earned over a considerable period of time. It led to our revival of Amicus and me donning the glorious banana-republic chevrons of President. Hopefully, I’ll avoid any errant mistakes with Amicus, which might lead to a CIA-backed assassination.
A similar fate could await John Gore, the legendary, awe-inspiring Broadway theatre producer who has recently acquired Hammer, its debt, and the previously half-finished Dr. Jekyll starring Eddie Izzard and Scott Chambers. Scott is an actor whose most prolific work resides in the realm of producing micro-budget films. Most of his films are produced for ITN, a distribution company most known for Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. Some filmmakers on Facebook allege ITN to be an aggregator of countless micro-budget horror efforts. Their directors can often be found like ghosts, haunting private Facebook groups that review and discuss the performance of film distributors.
John Gore is reputedly the seventh richest man in the UK, which offers Hammer: A John Gore Company a seemingly endless array of resources. On the contrary, being the UK’s seventh poorest man, I can at least offer Amicus my discount coupons for Lidl and an Egg McMuffin that can only be redeemed at Edinburgh’s Waverley Train Station.
Despite being, or at least feeling like the Saul Goodman of indie horror (I even have the suits and tie), my experience in the film industry, among the honest and the dishonest, among the sane and the more insane, gives me some industry insight into the future prospects of Hammer. At the very least, it gives me a more informed industry opinion with which to react to their recent promotional video, which espoused Hammer’s future plans.
So, join me as I take us through that very same promotional video, and let’s explore what it says and see if we can infer any understanding as to what it might mean for the future of Hammer. During this, I’ll compare our plans for Amicus, with the proviso reminder that these companies are very different in their available resources and goals. However, they should share two goals: honour the legacy of what came before and make great horror movies.
Behold… The Video
And so I hit the play button for a YouTube video called Hammer A.D. 2023 | The Past, Present, and Future of Hammer Films. First impressions are positive; the title indicates an exhaustive exploration of what’s to come. Let’s see if it delivers.
The video begins with a quote. How classy, I think. What is this quote, I hear you cry?
“Nominative Determinism. The hypothesis that people tend to gravitate towards areas of work that fit their names”
This tells us that the very first purpose of the video is not to mention Hammer but to make a segue introduction to its new owner, John Gore. The quote infers that Mr. Gore shall be skipping away from the world of musical theatre and 20 — yes, 20 — Tony-winning trophy thingies to return to his true calling. This is a pigeon coming home to roost, and this emphasis implies that John Gore will be getting sold to the audience first, before Hammer, or at least its proposed new version.
I find that a little unusual because, in my own pitch video for the revival of Amicus Productions, I’m pretty sure I don’t even introduce myself until after introducing Milton Subotsky, the founder of Amicus (and some might claim, the inadvertent founder of Hammer). In the back of my mind flashes that concern over the Hammer name. The new title… Hammer: A John Gore Company. Now, we’re using a sort of flamboyant Oxbridge-style quote to infer rustic special meaning to John Gore’s surname, now an entity that comes first before Hammer.
I take another sip of my banana-flavoured bottle of Yazoo milkshake and calm down. Don’t be so pernickety, I tell myself. Perhaps I’m too conservative in my own attitudes about Hammer and Amicus; perhaps I’ll be too unreasonable and judgemental.
I hit play again, and the video continues.
Lit in red, emerges John Gore from the dark, in a scheme more reminiscent of Mario Bava or Dario Argento than Hammer, over which a voiceover plays.
“I love the Hammer movies,” he opines with an elegant voice. He’s an elegant-sounding man, a handsome man, in fact! He looks and sounds the part to me of a Hammer saviour, and he elaborates, “I think it really started with Christopher Lee’s Dracula; as a little kid, I loved to dress up as Dracula for endless costume parties…”
We then cut to a picture of said party children, and there, behold, in the bottom left corner, is a boy dressed as Dracula. But heed that John Gore is a billionaire, and he probably had a clone specially created for that photograph. No doubt that poor clone is already being ground down into mince, to be served as swill to the abundant array of shills soon to surround themselves around the billionaire’s new enterprise.
And make no mistake. No man walks into the film industry, especially the British film industry, with a net worth of over a billion dollars without accruing, either wanted or not, an array of hangers-on. I can already feel the presence of celebrities and horror podcasters hiking up their fishnets, ready to strut by John Gore’s shining jaguar, to lean over and tap across the window. Maybe, they’ll even be in this video!
So, that’s it for the introduction of John Gore. We get a sort of intellectual pun with the quote and a picture of the man dressed up as a vampire for a kid’s party. Now, in comparison, I had the far more horrifying prospect of dressing up for a Boy’s Brigade Halloween party in the early 1980s as a “red-Indian” in a “cowboy and Indians” themed festival of childhood trauma. Every single boy was dressed like a cowboy except me, with my new age parents, who decided I should be dressed like a re-incarnation of their spirit guides, as a sort of metro-sexual looking new romantic Indian chief, adorned in dream catchers and violet eye-shadow. I’m just glad we were all young enough that the boys weren’t accidentally enticed by my gender-bending appearance.
What John Gore should have done, is to present a more earnest and detailed personal appeal that relates towards his actual plans for Hammer. Clearly, these were never manifested by the inherited Eddie Izzard vehicle, and I feel that expending time on a quote “joke,” and a supposed qualification of Hammer devotion rooted in a kid’s vampire costume, is paper thin, really.
Paper thin, Mr. Gore! After all, you’re an enormously accomplished producer in the creative arts, and I feel your purpose for acquiring Hammer is a little less skin-deep. Why not let us in?
We go to a graphic that takes us through a pair of iron gates that wouldn’t look out of place in a 2004 promotion for a Nickelodeon Halloween special to the revealing title, “Hammer A.D. 2023.”
We now get a reverential voiceover. The type that might play when King Charles kicks the bucket (but I hope he doesn’t for a while yet because I like that he likes old buildings and talks to plants). I do, too, though I usually call them sales agents and distributors.
What the voice tells us is pretty predictable and not worth quoting. To be fair, the information is of some necessity for audiences, particularly younger American audiences who might be unfamiliar with Hammer. But, for those of us with jaded whiskers, it’s suffice to say that it simply reminds us that Hammer was great. But we’re here for information on Hammer: A John Gore Company, are we not? Similarly with Amicus, our work won’t be judged either on the merits of the past. If anything, the glory of that past will be the prosecution service in any future trial that declares we screwed it up. Of course, Hammer has been screwed up twice before, so perhaps this will be a third-time lucky affair.
We meet some talking heads, and what they say next is very important if you want to read the tea leaves for future Hammer. Because, at some point, John Gore will have reviewed the edit and the order of information imparted to the audience, and said “yes” or “nay.”
The first glowing-red talking head we meet is Sam Clemens, who isn’t a character from an Enid Blyton novel but is, in actual fact, a filmmaker and actor, though in the video he is credited as “Son of Brian Clemens.” That must feel like a burn, Sam. Just imagine you’re in a bar, and you’re Sam’s wingman for hitting on the ladies (or boys), and when he turns to you for assistance, you stride up beside him and say to the ladies (or boys) opposite… “Yeah, and did you know he’s the Son of Brian Clemens.”
For those of you who don’t know, Brian Clemens was a convicted serial killer, renowned for his method of extracting his victims’ eyes and replacing them with clementine oranges. He would leave the bodies discarded in various London fruit markets in the East End. His brutal regime came to an end in 1969 when he was arrested after he changed his surname from Wilkes to Clemens. Why his son chose to maintain the murderous new surname, which only serves to pay homage to his fruit-related father’s murders, is beyond me. In addition to this, Brian did some nifty scriptwriting for British television shows and films, such as The Avengers, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. He even directed one of my Hammer favourites, Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. But, this was before the clementine madness and as for his son Sam… what does he do?
Mostly short films, and the catering at Pinewood Studios’ well-known Studio Café, where he has to cut thin shavings of orange to be carefully placed on posh panna cotta desserts. Each cut is a step that risks sending Sam over the edge… back to the murderous ways of his forebearer.
But here, he talks about Hammer being the first “Marvel Universe.” Well, I’m sure you’re all fans of the Marvel Universe, right? The value of establishing an IP universe is a sacred thing now for producers, mainly because of the haemorrhaging of traditional films into quasi-episodic, stream-friendly, binge-worthy entities of epic proportions and endless mediocrity.
However, to be completely fair, this is a worthwhile or perhaps inevitable pursuit for Hammer. The choice of this quote suggests that priority shall be given to re-establishing intellectual properties with a Hammer aroma, which might see the company as the appropriate forebearer of new Dracula films. After all, we started with a Dracula kids’ costume, didn’t we?
To reiterate, nothing produces more money in film today than intellectual property, and the greatest way to cash in on that right now is through the establishment of broad universes that can espouse numerous films, TV shows, and ancillary products. To achieve this, Hammer would need to invest substantial funds to produce multiple feature films, promotional videos, and other broad universe-building media. It would need to do that in order to distinguish its universe as a unique brand, and while there is no reason the UK’s seventh richest man can’t buy that, achieving it still requires a huge level of attention, time, and talent.
Next, we meet Robert J.E. Simpson, who appears in a green light and is credited as a “Film Historian,” who gives us the historical fluff. In the 1930s, potato salesman Edward Wilkypoos bought a cart and sold stuff, etc. You can’t not have this stuff, so while I’m making fun here, it’s inclusion is important. Tiresome but important, and our historian does just fine, even if most folks will skip his sections in the video.
The video doesn’t, however, mention the controversy that Milton Subotsky, in fact, submitted a Frankenstein horror script first, which was rejected and re-invented as Hammer’s first horror film. No time to include that in a short video, though, and our resident historian probably didn’t get the chance.
Next, we see the ravishing and talented Caroline Munro, as others from the days of Hammer are rushed out to describe what they found so wonderful about the studio. I find those sentiments touching, and I would be honoured to spend a day sipping lemon tea and chatting with Caroline or Madeline Smith. But, this isn’t the old Hammer; this is the new Hammer. Hammer: A John Gore Company. Lest we sup too deeply from the cup of nostalgia, are we forgetting that this foray is supposed to be an exploration of Hammer’s present and future too?
Next comes Mike Muncer, described as a “Horror Film Specialist,” but is, in fact, the bane of many an indie horror filmmaker. He might be better described as a British version of YouTube’s Dead Meat. I fully expect that the shot that follows his voiceover, and green-faced introduction, will feature him as the wide-eyed back-straight slick media operative that he is! I chuckle to myself as I take a final gulp of my banana milkshake at the thought of Mike Muncer’s Devolution of Horror review of Dr. Jekyll.
But then again, John Gore could probably film himself repeatedly punching a dolphin, and Mike would still reward him with five stars. “Oh, where is your review of Dr. Jekyll, Mike?” I say to myself, as I bin the empty Yahoo banana bottle. No less than three stars now, Mikey!
My God, there is no milkshake left in the house! What if there are no Oreos, either? Anyway, the video continues to play, and Mike rambles on with some hipster horror fluff that you’d expect from the likes of him, as we hear more about what Hammer did. What it once did.
Then we hear from our historian again, who notes that Hammer introduced the idea of sex and gore into horror. This might be true, as their films do pre-date the private cell phone videos of my creepy cousin Michael.
Suddenly, John Gore reappears and states delectably that Hammer is “Evil wrapped in sexiness.” I couldn’t agree more. That is Hammer, and in fact, even Amicus is taking a deeper note from that playbook, especially with our photographic and film collaborations with Megan Tremethick. But what evil wrapped in sexiness can we discern from Dr. Jekyll, which is perhaps an unfair example since that film was only inherited by the New Hammer. But… what’s to come after it? I’d love to hear more about that since anything slightly sexy apparently distresses Gen Z, according to the editorials I read written by anyone under 25!
Next, we meet Mark Gatiss, who goes on to quote a chap who says, “The only truly international picture is a truly national one,” to which I couldn’t agree more. You see, Hammer and Amicus are quintessentially British. However, if that is part of the necessary ingredient for their successful revival, then that Britishness must be preserved in the face of the politicking that occurs in the so-called culture wars of the United States of America. Now, our recent revival of Amicus owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the USA, and I love that country and its people dearly. But the divisiveness of their current political and social culture has made each step in open media something akin to wandering across a minefield after a pint on a Friday night.
In other words, will Hammer preoccupy itself with those values espoused by a militant minority online, at the expense of the comparatively parochial and compromising British sensibilities? I can say for a fact that I agree with Mark’s quote completely and that to achieve that, our Amicus films will be unashamedly British and idiosyncratic. They will reflect not the loudest voices in the media that claim to represent the cultural or political sphere; instead, they will reflect the desire of the silent majority — those who simply wish to be told a great, creepy story without being preached to.
I’m not sure Mark would agree with this; however, after all, his Twitter more resembles the crumpled front page of a 1990s copy of the Socialist Worker, sold during a brief spell of idealism by university students studying international finance, than any sort of pragmatism. Perhaps I’m wrong! My Twitter account probably looks like the crumpled front page of a 1980s Razzle magazine cover, and handling that without gloves is a far more dangerous prospect!
John Gore opines that you could view any still frame,from a Hammer movie and know that it is a Hammer film. True, true, true, but… is it true no longer with Dr. Jekyll? If so, why bring this up?
Then Mike Muncer reappears with that straight-back, wide-eyed physicality that only a media personality can assume. I honestly don’t see the point of him being there except as a nuisance to the actual film historian, who basically says the same thing but with joined-up letters.
So, now I’m going to have to skip forward a bit in the video, as I’m at the four-and-a-half minute mark, and, in summary, so far, this is what I’ve learned: Hammer… it was sexy… it was gothic… it was different… it was great… the music… the colours… a British institution.
Then they start rambling on about the films using the same sets. Why, oh God, are we still talking about Hammer’s past, instead of the present and future of Hammer?
I’m a patient man, and goodness knows you must be a patient person to still be reading this. But at this stage of the video, I’m ready to proverbially teabag a blender to escape the repetition of nostalgia. Just take me to the good stuff, Hammer! If this were a promo for purchasing shares in Hammer Productions back in the early ’70s before it collapsed, I might just chip in to save its fate. But it’s not.
Like the Amicus of today, both our companies share a legacy, but before us and in front of us, lies a blank page. What we write on that page is of utmost importance to the audience. The past does not belong to us, it belongs to our fans, and they’re protective of it. Wrapping the present and future with the clothes of the past is a poor and dangerous strategy that does less to show respect for that legacy than you might think. The real respect one can show to the past is how it affects the actions and decisions we take today and in the future, and it is precisely that which the video should be talking about by the time we hit the six-minute mark.
Then smacking your face midway comes another haunting and intellectual quote from Mike Muncar: “We all love to be scared by a horror movie.” Truly profound. Thank you. And by the way, Mark also tells us Plague of the Zombies is his favourite Hammer film. Great. Insightful.
At the eight-minute mark, with six minutes to go, we return to the reverential voiceover, which asks the eternal question that nobody ever cared to ask: “How did Hammer attract its audience?” Every single fan of Hammer watching your video already knows the answer to this question.
But, moving on.
At the nine-minute mark, we get an insightful piece from John Gore and our historian about how Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee were effectively unknown movie actors, who had appeared on television. Men who were catapulted to success by Hammer. Recently, I spoke of the importance of Amicus reaching new talent as well in the indie sphere, especially in the face of questions about whether we should be pursuing famous theatre names like Judi Dench or Ian McKellen. The sort of names that might appear in an unwanted tribute to Hammer or Amicus in a Mark Gatiss Christmas Special produced for the BBC. So, I thought, no, it defeats the purpose of hiring stars from outside the horror genre. As we build a horror studio, we should be building the infrastructure of talent around us, creating new opportunities for those outside the epicentre of the film industry.
This is what Hammer did back then when it created stars, and I wonder if Hammer will do that now. Certainly, Dr. Jekyll doesn’t reflect it, a film in which the vast majority of the budget was paid to Eddie Izzard. What about the next film, Hammer? Where will your priorities be, and will they be driven by the ideology of Hammer’s past?
At the nine-and-a-half-minute mark, John Gore shares an anecdote where he explains how his young self met in very incidental terms, Christopher Lee leaving an appointment with the chiropractor. That’s obviously all the reassurance fans of Hammer were looking for! Hammer is in safe hands! But, why is this information still prioritised before the present and future of Hammer Films? Why?
Were those very subjects not featured prominently in the video headline?
At 10:15, Mark Gatiss does a great impression of Christopher Lee, and there’s more celebration of Christopher Lee from others too. I mean, who doesn’t like Christopher Lee, but… but…
Then Mike Muncer appears at 10:39 like a cocaine-addled sales assistant from a mobile phone store in Milton Keynes, to deliver a random pronouncement that Oliver Reed was in a Hammer film. He goes on to explain that back then, Hammer Films couldn’t rely on social media, because social media didn’t exist. With such insights, I’m wondering if Mike’s Patreon backers are actually just contributing towards his personal care. Be sure to mash up the food first and use the plastic spoon!
Hammer films didn’t exist at a time when Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media were about. So if it weren’t for social media today, Mike’s audience wouldn’t have learned that important, if not obvious, piece of cinema history. In fact, if it weren’t for social media, Mike might be the guy in a Butlin’s kitchen getting told off for placing the lettuce leaves wrongly in a kid’s burger.
So, at 11:42, our god-like voiceover returns to say that Hammer elevated horror to “high art.” Which, I doubt, is an argument that our film historian would agree with. Certainly, there are exceptional examples. But, in general, these were sexy, gory, gothic exploitation movies performed and written with a level of class that was otherwise unexpected in such fare. That helped those horror films to stand the test of time, and they were certainly full of artistry, but… high art? I’m not so sure! Are we going to get boring, supposedly arty-farty Hammer films instead of gore, bosoms, and whatnot?
The voiceover opines on Hammer’s immortality, a concept with which I can certainly concur in a cultural context; its films have indeed withstood the test of time. However, when those voices insist that Hammer never dies, this sentiment, paired with Mike Muncer’s emphatic hand gestures as he diplomatically describes the financial and commercial calamities that Hammer has previously endured, seems overwrought. He suggests that Hammer has sort of disappeared at times, and then it has come back and found a way to reinvent itself. It might be more accurate to state that, had John Gore not acquired Hammer at the brink of total collapse, the company would have ceased to exist. Furthermore, the ruination and mismanagement it has suffered in its more recent iterations are all too apparent and require no elaboration from me.
But, credit does go to Mike’s diplomatic hand gestures, and I’ll use them whenever I’m describing delicate bad news, and you can learn them too at the video’s 12:20 mark.
But… still nothing about the present or future of Hammer!
Then we come to the meat and potatoes, finally… the present and future of Hammer is contained within the final minute of the entire video, in an important statement by John Gore. But, what does he say?
Let me pick out the most interesting bits.
“It’s an honour, a privilege, and a responsibility to own Hammer now going forward… It’s something I loved as a kid… in terms of remaking some of the things that happened before in the style of what happened before…”
If I were to comment on this statement, I would say this: Why say that you own Hammer? Every fan that has memories, and cherished ones at that, will feel a stake of ownership surprisingly equal to your own, despite the good money you spent purchasing shares and a piece of paper. Hammer, as this often intangible force, as your own video describes, cannot surely be owned by one man. It brings me again to my concern about the text at the end of the video: “Hammer: A John Gore Company.”
Really? Is that really necessary? I can’t really fathom the logic if we were to do something similar with Amicus and its name. It would feel so possessive and weird, to be honest. You say it’s something you loved as a kid. When I was a kid, I loved playing with my Kenner-produced Mega Force toys. These were small, die-cast metal tanks and planes. Recently, I bought a few off eBay in an act of nostalgia. But if I could buy the license of Mega Force from, most probably, Hasbro, since they own every toy IP now, then I couldn’t fathom calling it Mega Force: A Lawrie Brewster Company unless my head-space was a little different than I might hope. It just seems like a glib answer to say that you liked it as a kid. Therefore, you shall be entrusted with this, as you describe it, “honour… privilege… and responsibility.”
It’s worth considering the balance of those words with the glibness and possessiveness of the manner in which you refer to Hammer. Because while I don’t doubt that John Gore has a passion for Hammer, it might be more commercial; it might be more altruistic; time will tell. But it doesn’t feel altruistic at the moment; instead, it risks coming across as egotistical. And I think it has to be altruistic, really, in order for you to find the best path for making Hammer a success. Certainly, with Amicus, profit is the smaller part of our motivation; artistic integrity and legacy are more important. It should be that way with you too, sir.
The other important point you refer to is “remakes,” which throw down the gauntlet. But here, you may be better served than some critics might think. After all, Dracula and the other denizens of horror’s public domain are fertile ground for reprisal. Perhaps you can find new stars that might inspire fond comparisons with the legendary stars of Hammer. I hope you do, and I hope you avoid casting traditional name actors when what fans really want are horror stars, or artists whose commitment to the horror genre goes deeper than a single paycheque.
In this regard, I don’t think Dr. Jekyll serves Hammer well, or as a video cut-away during John Gore’s last statement. In effect, if we’re being quite brutally honest, Dr. Jekyll has flopped with a barrage of poor reviews. This is not the fault of John Gore, who actually saved Hammer following its imminent collapse after the fiasco of that film’s production.
However, it must not be a portent of things to come. Hammer needs to do much better, and I would advise John Gore to be wary more of his importance than Hammer’s if it is to succeed beyond the scope he might personally envisage. It has to, in order to be a success, because it’s quite possible for a company with all the money in the world at its disposal to look quite amateur, compared to one without, for making poor choices.
Is the future bright for Hammer: A John Gore Company? When it can find more than 60 seconds to talk about its future in a 14-minute video, without fluff and without the intensity of self-branding, then perhaps. Hammer must be treated as if it’s more important than the owner.
With Amicus, I am only a servant of something more precious than myself. I understand that. John, I suggest it will prove helpful for you to consider yourself more a servant and custodian of Hammer. Why not prove it with a startling rebrand that removes your name from the logo? Hammer speaks volumes; Hammer: A John Gore Company does not.