Monday, 14 April 2014



After a few false starts, the new incarnation of Hammer films seems to be picking up nicely. Beyond The Rave was an insult, Let Me In and The Resident were Hammer films in name only and Wake Wood just wasn't interesting enough. It was only with the genuinely scary The Woman In Black that you could honestly say that Hammer was back in business: the business of proper British gothic horror movies. Period setting, big spooky house, an emphasis on atmosphere rather than gore and seriousness rather than jokes.

The latest Hammer, The Quiet Ones, generally ticks all those boxes even though the period setting only goes back as far as 1974 (which is actually around the same time period as Old Hammer's contemporary films), where beardy professor Jared Harris is seeking to cure mental illness by rejecting all that paranormal twaddle and treating poltergeist activity as something that can be transferred out of the body and mind of the sufferer. Or some such nonsense. His plan to cure, in effect to exorcise, a troubled young girl essentially involves locking her up and regularly torturing her, with the help of a couple of his students and a cameraman recording everything on film stock. But the girl's history is far more than just a case of ectoplasm and moving furniture...

Two basic tropes of modern horror cinema are thoroughly plundered here. The first is seeing a lot of "found footage" from the camera's POV, though it's slightly less annoying than usual as it looks like grainy film rather than ugly digital video, and at least it's within a non-found context. The second is its allegiance to the school of what Mark Kermode has dubbed "quiet...quiet...quiet...quiet...BANG!!!!!", wherein long, slow silences are suddenly broken by loud noises and dischordant orchestral stingers and a scary face or something appearing out of nowhere making you jump out of your skin. Which it certainly does, but it's not that much of an achievement. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg could make you jump out of your skin by sneaking up behind you while wearing a Chucky mask and yelling Boo! into your ear.

But that's okay. The rules of horror movies have changed over the years and a sudden shock with an expertly timed BANG! is part of the game, which really wasn't the case in Old Hammer's heyday. There's still has a terrific atmosphere about it, a great country house setting, some unbearably creepy "can't look, must look" silences, and if Jared Harris wants to spend the next ten years playing what are basically the Peter Cushing roles, that would be fine with me. The bottom line is I enjoyed it and it made me jump and cover my eyes. Even so, I'm not sure it made sense, there are some very iffy CGI fire effects, and the intriguing title is thrown away in one line of dialogue in a moment that cried out for explanation. But in the absence of Hammer's patented classic properties (Dracula has been done to death, to the point where even Dario Argento can't make anything of it, and Frankenstein has been reduced to sub-Underworld shenanigans), The Quiet Ones is probably the best of authentic Hammer we're likely to get. Worth a look.


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