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Hammer: More Than Just Horror

Tonight, beginning at 8 PM EST, TCM will be airing four Hammer Films. Hearing that name should conjure up certain images for classic film fans, that of an endless slew of horror movies. There was no bigger name synonymous with horror in the 50s and 60s, particularly gothic tales and endless sequels in involving Dracula, Frankenstein and others. But those are not the films TCM is showing tonight. They are showing off another facet of Hammer’s productions– their noir films.

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Yes, Hammer actually produced a wide variety of films including noir, sci-if, adventure and fantasy films. So where did they come from and what else did they make?

Hammer’s history dates back to the 1930s in the UK. It’s original incarnation didn’t last long, producing only five films before going bankrupt within two years. It was it’s resurrection ten years later that formed the basis it would be known for: producing lots of films cheaply.

From the very beginning, Hammer worked almost exclusively in phases, producing large numbers of films of one kind. Through the 40s and into the early 50s, the product was largely mysteries, thrillers and film noir. Their earliest batch of sequels came from three Dick Barton crime films, a character originally from British radio. Three films, ending in 1950, were produced with him as the lead character.

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Through around 1955, these remained the dominant form of film produced by Hammer. By 1956, the shift began. That year, they instead produced a sci-fi film (of which they had made a couple prior), and a women’s prison film. The following year, they expanded even further into sci-fi and horror, producing Dracula and Frankenstein films. Several comedies were even made.

By the early 60s, they were firmly planted into the familiar horror genre, making tons of those films almost exclusively. More changes were still coming. By the mid-60s, they had begun to create their own steady stream of Hitchcock-esque psychological thrillers or suspense movies. Most of these revolved around either a mysterious killer or a twist ending (sometimes both). The one most often seen now, due to it’s frequent airing on TCM would be Die! Die! My Darling! The latter half of the decade saw those films go away too. Horror and sci-fi became prominent again, along with several movies revolving around cave girls.

Hammer returned to almost exclusively horror films in the 1970s, at a time when the signature gothic style was no longer in fashion. At the time, it’s last film was a remake of Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes in 1979.

The Hammer has since changed hands many times, along with many failed attempts at a revival. Currently, though, the latest revival of Hammer Films has actually produced films. Since 2008, they’ve produced six films, including The Quiet Ones earlier this year.

Check out four of Hammer’s noir films, before the were known for horror, beginning at 8 PM EST on TCM.

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