Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films

Movies
3 out of 5 stars
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Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Notice how the word horror isn’t mentioned anywhere in this supplement-spare DVD set’s title. Britain’s Hammer Films, known for updating Universal’s monster stable for the Karo-syrup era, also churned out brainy sci-fi flicks like the Quatermass movies and, as this six-film anthology demonstrates, thrillers whose currency was perversity and psychological torment.

Still, after you watch these nail-biters—several making their home-entertainment debuts—you’ll understand why even diehards give these suspense entries short shrift. They certainly have their moments: Both The Snorkel (1958) and the PTSD potboiler Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960) start off with impeccable opening sequences before slowing to crawls, and Donald Houston’s blow-torching killer in Maniac (1963) almost makes the film’s snoreworthy love-triangle forgivable. As for the big rarity, 1960’s Never Take Candy from a Stranger, this child-molester drama resembles a Stanley Kramer talkathon more than the creepfest its overinflated reputation would suggest. None of these nerve-janglers will make you scream “Hammer time!”

There’s one genuine treasure in this chest, however, and that’s Joseph Losey’s These Are the Damned (1963). Teddy boy Oliver Reed terrorizes a seaside town (theme song: “Black leather, black leather?/?Smash, smash, smash!”); once his sister runs off with a square, they discover a secret government-run nuclear facility. Incestuous longings, conspiracy-theory dread and irradiated “superchildren” turn this into an unclassifiable, unnerving artsploitation nugget that was banned in the U.S. before eventually slinking, truncated, into theaters. The inclusion of Losey’s longer cut in this sextet underwrites the other five selections; see this lost cult classic now.—David Fear

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