Hammer House of Horror

5 out of 5

Created by: Roy Skeggs

I’d say I know my horror pretty well, and keep apprised of goings-on, even if I’m not able to see, like, 99% of the movies I want to, or read about. I’ve educated myself on many of the classics (directly or indirectly), and have explored the outer edges to my satisfaction. A format that comes up quite frequently in the genre, whether TV show or movie, has been the anthology – predating a lot more willingness in the streaming-sphere for shows to go down this road, you could make a case for things like Twilight Zone having enough of a horror touch to have encouraged various efforts through the years, not to mention the legacy of EC Comics and the like doing it in four-color floppy format, and then your Creepshows and whatnot on the big screen. We fans love our anthologies, and even when they’re not very good, I’m keen to check them out. It’s such a grabbag.

So with all of my apparent scene knowledge, how was I completely unaware of the hands-down best anthology series ever made? One that, decades on, remains almost entirely unpredictable for a new viewer, and despite an effects-avoiding budging, manages to be genuinely terrifying at times – how is it I’d not heard whispers of the frightening majesty that was Hammer House of Horror?

HHH was a 1980 1-season affair of 13 episodes, going the usual anthology route of different directors / writers per ep, though with some crossover. You could probably make the argument that each story somewhat centers around a house of some type, but I wouldn’t consider that a hard and fast rule that drives the plots, which hit on some norms – vampires, werewolves – but often from tweaked angles. Even when that’s not the case, though, there’s something refreshingly liberated in the approach that makes the stories incredibly engaging – not everything can be summed up as easily as “the one about the devil” or somesuch, you really can’t be sure who’s going to live or die, and some standby rules about kids and animals are not adhered to. Following on that, there’s not a “formula”: some episodes have a twist, some don’t. Some episodes go for a downer, some allow for a happy (-ish) ending. The consistent thing is a sense of followthrough: none of the stories feels like a softball – an easy premise and an easy conclusion. While some are certainly stronger than others (and you’ll note a shift towards less nudity and blood as we go along, maybe suggesting a second season would’ve ended up being more sanitized), that doesn’t mean that any are weak, rather just varying degrees of good, with several topping out at excellent.

And that’s not just to the writing, either: we’re backed up by some really great production that helps keep the mood immersive, and very committed actors, screaming their heads off as appropriate and adding a lot of nuance that normally gets skipped over in these one-and-done affairs.

Worth watching. Worth rewatching. Worth getting obsessed with, so that you, too can add something new to your list to tell everyone to watch and get obsessed with.