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Hammer House of Horror Episodes 4-6 (Growing Pains, The House That Bled to Death, Charlie Boy) [Synapse Films, DVD] Review

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Growing Pains- With a scientist father trying to end world hunger and a workaholic diplomat for a mother, it makes sense poor William would act out to get his parents attention. Well, what Laurie and Terence Morton didn’t expect was for him to sneak into his dad’s laboratory and eat a handful of mysterious powders. PAUSE- what fucking kid does that? “Fuck mom and dad man, Imma eat their science shit. That’ll show ‘em”. Well he instantly goes into berserk mode, plowing headfirst through a glass door before dying on the front lawn.

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Sooooo like any responsible adult couple, they decide to adopt a new child to neglect ignore raise. They choose James, the winner of the orphanage “Most Likely to Rape and Eat Men” award (which is a high honor actually- better than the “Most Likely to Begin a Shootout from a Tower in Texas” award). To say the kid is weird would be like saying Mordor “is kinda warm in the summer”. The car malfunctions on the way in, and while Lauria fights with the wheel (meaning she lets go of it and screams while making a Home Alone face), he just sits there, riding it out. Almost died, didn’t even blink. I hope the Morton’s keep the receipt.

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The arrival of James in the house sets off a series of bizarre events. Somehow maggots infect the dinner in a matter of seconds, and the family dog turns into a blood thirsty killer for no reason. Finally at the end of his research, Terence invites a few members of the African Committee of Health over to view his results. This is where we learn of an instance where one patient began suffering “almost LSD like symptoms” from the food chemical. Is there a ghostly William hiding in the house causing the trouble, or are they all tripping balls off this miracle problem solving food additive…

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First off let me say William just didn’t live in the right decade. In today’s world, someone stupid enough to eat random chemicals is a prized asset. “Just eat this- I know I know, it tastes like shit. Here, wash it down with some Pabst… and now walk over to that computer and begin mixing the music loops into something that sounds like a melting hard drive. Hey, that artificial synthetic ecstasy rip-off chemical sure is something, huh? Oh wait, you mean we call this “Bath Salts?” Eh same thing, what’s the worst that could happen?”

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This has easily been the most outlandish, thought-out, and entertaining episode so far. While I could see the twists of the earlier episodes from a mile away, I couldn’t pick up on which path Growing Pains was about to take. Now I will say the one it does isn’t fleshed out as much as it should have been, but it is satisfactory (and we only have an hour to work with anyways). Oh, and it has a stuffed animal packed full of real intestines… I have a feeling somebody’s getting an email over that one…

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A weird mix of that old Goosebumps story Stay out of the Basement and The Omen, with possibly a few drops of concentrated LSD. If that doesn’t sound like fun I don’t know what does. This is a highly entertaining, and for the most part, suspenseful episode that will keep you guessing. I wasn’t exactly happy with the way things ended, but it did at least manage to satisfy me. Oh and just a heads up, I hope you don’t like rabbits…

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The House that Bled to Death- One night, an old man killed his wife with a cup of poisoned tea. He proceeded to dismember her corpse with a set of machetes he just so happened to have hanging on the wall, and then locks himself in the attic. I know what you’re thinking- resell value out the ass. And you’d be correct, because several years later, William Peters buys the house to fix up with his wife and daughter, Emma and Sophia.

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The years of neglect have left the dwelling looking like total shit. The wallpaper is drooping and hanging, the floors and ceilings are dingy, and there is a convenient sun faded outline of both the machetes burnt into the wall (with the nails they hung on still there too). Did anyone even clean the rat turds up before they let this poor family move in? Anyways, the first day goes off without a hitch. Well, if you don’t consider the rooms of the house locking everyone inside then oozing blood from the walls a hitch.

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Here’s the point in the episode where we introduce the nosy neighbor. See, she knows the troubled history of the house, something the Peters don’t. It seems whenever she is in the house the paranormal mumbo jumbo seems to act up twice as bad. Like the family cat randomly having its throat cut, or the murderous machetes appearing back on their wall mounts. Eventually the family discovers the secret of the house, but what secrets do they have of their own?

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It took a few episodes, but finally Hammer added a haunted house story. This one is total hit and miss, delivering a great, bloody set piece- then following it up with a moment of complete daftness. Like the creepy image of the crossed machetes that keep materializing on the wall. Hey family, here’s a tip- rusted blades mysteriously manifest on your wall. Take the nails out that support them. It’s much less imposing to see two dumb hunks of metal on the floor nest to the dust pile than perfectly seated on the wall oozing blood.

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Here’s one of those hit and miss situations I mentioned earlier. Daughter finds a severed hand sitting on a plate in the fridge. William hears her screaming, rushes in… and kicks out the neighbor because “the weird shit started once you came around”. Um. Didn’t the fucking walls bleed the moment you walked in? And if Ms. Neighbor caused it or not- YOU HAVE A SEVERED HAND IN YOUR FUCKING FRIDGE. You should probably call the cops, sir. If I were in the neighbor’s shoes, as soon as I was forcefully escorted out of the house, I would have phoned the police myself. Told them you were into some freaky ass Jeff Dahmer shit there, asshole.

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The conclusion is, well, pretty damn clever. Now that’s not to say it’s exactly satisfying, but it manages to completely blindside you. I honestly didn’t see that coming, guess Hammer learned from their fumbles on Rude Awakening. While not the strongest episode, it manages to pour on the blood (there’s a pipe scene that rivals the basement plumbing in Evil Dead), keep you guessing, and catch you by surprise. Well played Hammer, well played.

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Charlie Boy- Graham is summoned to the estate of his uncle, who fell off the roof of his mansion while trying to fix the T.V. antenna. He is there with his wife Sarah to pick up his uncle’s art collection, which has been willed to him. The rest of the fortune is left to Peter, another relative (nothing is left to Graham’s wife, who ends up as a maid for Peter). Graham plans to sell off the art collection and pair the money with Peter to create a movie studio, then bring in family friend Phil as the director. While sorting the most valuable pieces, Sarah finds one she demands Graham hold on to- a wooden African fetish doll, which she nicknames Charlie Boy.

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On the way home, a crazy driver with a train track scar running down his cheek repeatedly tries to wreck Graham and Sarah. After calming down the altercation they arrive home, and Graham is finally able to check out Charlie Boy. The idol is full of nails, and the family friend presiding over the estate, Heinz, believed the fetish was used in the same style of a voodoo doll. Drunk and anticipating the upcoming movie studio, Graham acts out a scene from the original Scarface and stabs the doll. The moment the knife enters Charlie Boy, a gang of thugs stab the crazy driver to death in some back alley.

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The big meeting comes the following morning… and wouldn’t ya know it, Peter decides to back out of the deal. Seeing as how Graham quit his job to work on the studio that never will be, he’s more than a little pissed. In a drunken rage, he looks at a group photo from the estate (Peter, Phil, his aunt, Sarah, and him), then sinks a letter opener into Charlie Boy countless times. The next day, Peter is killed when his horse bucks him off onto a piece of farm equipment... But that’s not all. An accident on the set of a movie Phil is working on results in an arrow stuck in his guts. Graham realizes that since he was looking at the photo, the magic in Charlie Boy has taken them all as targets…

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I really like movies about killer dolls. Puppet Master, Childs Play, hell, even Black Devil Doll From Hell (such a guilty pleasure). As soon as I heard fetish doll, instantly Trilogy of Terror came to mind- you know, with that Zuni doll He Who Kills? Well, Charlie Boy isn’t that kinda killer doll. This hunk of wood works in a fashion similar to the Chinese figurine from the original Tales from the Crypt. There’s magic that does the dirty work. Despite the lack of cheesy homicidal doll mayhem, this one actually turned out to be a pretty good episode.

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Obviously all ambiguity is off on who’s going to die, so we’re left in anticipation as to how. These deaths aren’t too shabby actually. Since the fetish (which just to clear up is pretty much anything considered taboo in doll form) has to be stabbed for the cruse to work, we have a lot of people getting mangled. Razors, arrows, broken glass, and a wheat harvester sharper than a sword all make their way into the mix, along with a bonus murder that I’m sure would make one particular Cenobite proud.

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To avoid spoiling something, I can’t talk about much. All I can say is this episode is formulaic as all hell, but does manage to have enough blood and creativity to entertain the hell out of you. I will touch on this more in the audio section of the DVD set review, but I have to mention this episode has a hell of a bad sound mix, just giving a heads up. Sit back and enjoy this episode, it feels like it was pulled right out of Vault of Horror (OMG compared Hammer to Amicus! Heretic! Heretic!).

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Part of The Complete Hammer House of Horrors DVD set

 

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