British entrepreneur/vaudevillian William Hinds (a.k.a. Will Hammer) forms Hammer Productions Ltd.; in 1935, it releases The Mystery of the Marie Celeste (a.k.a. Phantom Ship), starring Bela Lugosi.
In the U.K., new company Hammer Film Productions distributes the X-rated sci-fi movie The Quatermass Xperiment, about an astronaut who mutates into an alien organism. Stateside it’s retitled The Creeping Unknown. Reportedly, a 9-year-old boy in Oak Park, Ill., dies of a ruptured artery while watching it.
The Curse of Frankenstein, with Peter Cushing as the doctor and Christopher Lee as the monster, is released. British newspaper The Daily Telegraph decries the film as being “for sadists only.” Wrong read. The film is a hit there and in the U.S.
Dracula, also starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, is a box office smash. Both Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein are directed by Terence Fisher, who becomes a fave of Quentin Tarantino. The studio films of this era set a gold standard for horror. “Hammer was sexy, X-rated, it broke taboos,” says current Hammer CEO Simon Oakes. “Martin Scorsese said, ‘Whenever there was a Hammer film, you knew you were gonna see something special.'”
The dinosaur flick One Million Years B.C. — featuring a star-making turn by Raquel Welch (and her prehistoric bikini) — becomes the company’s most successful film to date.
To keep up with the increasingly risqué nature of American films, Hammer’s output in the early ’70s boasts more and more female skin, a trend exemplified by The Vampire Lovers. Star Ingrid Pitt (near right) once recalled how, prior to shooting a nude scene, she greeted producers by ripping open her dressing gown “with the brio of an experienced flasher.”
Christopher Lee does his sixth turn as Bram Stoker’s vamp in Dracula A.D. 1972, a favorite of a young Tim Burton, who later casts the actor in his 1999 homage to Hammer, Sleepy Hollow.
Suddenly the Hammer style seems wimpy compared with The Exorcist. The studio releases To the Devil a Daughter, starring Christopher Lee and Nastassia Kinski, which proves to be its last horror film for more than 30 years. In 1979, Hammer ceases film production.
Hammer relaunches under Simon Oakes. “We tried to draw a line of DNA from the heyday through to now,” he says. The company releases the Chloë Grace Moretz vampire remake Let Me In and The Resident with Christopher Lee. Both flop.
The new Hammer scares up an audience with the Daniel Radcliffe ghost tale The Woman in Black, which earns $128 million worldwide and inspires an upcoming sequel set during WWII. “Children are evacuated to the country and they reawaken the ghost of the Woman in Black,” says Simon Oakes.
Hammer’s supernatural thriller The Quiet Ones, starring Jared Harris and Sam Claflin, hits theaters. “This is an homage to the early ’70s and to films like The Exorcist,” says Simon Oakes. On the horizon: a reboot of 1957’s The Abominable Snowman. Says the CEO: “It’s a contemporary take — Jaws in the snow!”