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Hidden Horrors of Peacock: The Essential 'Hammer House of Horror'
Let's look back at Hammer Studios' foray into television anthologies.
Welcome to Hidden Horrors of Peacock, a monthly column spotlighting off-the-beaten-path scary movies and TV available to watch right now on NBCUniversal's streaming service. From cult classics to forgotten sequels to indie gems you've maybe never heard of, we've got you covered.
This month, we're taking a step back from films and looking at one of the more underrated anthology series in the genre: Hammer House of Horror.
If you know Hammer Studios, you probably know them best for putting their own riffs on classic monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein's monster, or launching a string of lurid vampire films in the 1970s, or any number of other genre successes on the big screen. By the late 1970s, though, Hammer's formulas and fortunes were waning, and they turned away from film to focus a little more on the small screen.
Thus was born Hammer House of Horror, a 13-episode anthology show featuring mostly modern-day stories of terror ranging multiple subgenres, and featuring numerous Hammer regulars stepping in for individual episodes. It was a good idea, and while it produced a very uneven slate of stories, some of the original episodes still hold up as wonderful pieces of Hammer history. Some of them are, even now, still downright scary.
The series never gained the same notoriety as other anthology hits like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits or Tales from the Darkside, but the streaming boom has meant new audiences get to discover it. It also means that the show has now made its way to Peacock, where you can watch every single episode...or just focus on the best ones. If you want to cut right to the best stuff, consider these your top five essentials.
The horror emanating out from World War II is still a major source of scary storytelling, and it was definitely alive and well just a few short decades after the war ended. That particular subgenre comes to vivid life in what's probably the best episode of Hammer House of Horror, starring studio legend Peter Cushing (he was Van Helsing and Doctor Frankenstein for Hammer) as a Nazi in hiding, masquerading as a pet shop owner who's trying to create the ultimate new prison. Co-starring a young Brian Cox (Succession), it's as visceral and frightening as this show gets.
The debut episode of Hammer House of Horror merges the modern day with the old, as a man living in an old farmhouse discovers a time-traveling witch who's out to make his life a living hell. Patricia Quinn is fantastic as the witch in question, and the series' decision to lead off with a story that feels more like an old school Hammer adventure was a very good one indeed.
Hammer is probably best known for its vampires, but that doesn't mean the studio was without a werewolf story or two. "Children of the Full Moon" never goes quite as far as you might want it to with its story of a secret werewolf commune tucked away in the woods, but it's still an effectively chilling little story about young monsters, what they want, and how they spread.
My personal favorite Hammer film is The Devil Rides Out, so I love any time the studio digs into a demonic cult story. "Guardian of the Abyss" is a relatively simple version of that kind of story, following an antiques dealer who gets hold of a legendary occultist's mirror and runs into a cult who wants to summon a demon. Like I said, straightforward, but any time Hammer wants to break out the robes and masks and ceremonial altars, I'm game.
"The Silent Scream" might not be the best overall episode of Hammer House of Horror, but at least among original viewers of the series, "The House That Bled to Death" is the most notorious. Like a lot of episodes of the series, it's a fairly straightforward riff on a classic premise...at least until it isn't. The episode follows a family that moves into a house they got for a great price, which happens to be home to a murderous legacy that's unleashed in horrific ways on the family. Watch it for a very memorable birthday party scene, and for an ending you might not see coming.