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Production News 17.04.2008

As of midnight (well, from about 23.45 GMT yesterday) the first Hammer production since the Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense series in 1983, is available to watch for free on myspace.

Who would have thought when this site started back in 1999, that within a decade the legendary Hammer company would be back in production. Its been a long journey, thwarted by various pitfalls and disappointments. But despite the set-backs, the future has looked a little brighter since the acquisition of Hammer in early 2007 by a major investment group. Sceptics will be pleased to see that Hammer have spent some of their £25million investment in making this film...

Talk of Hammer's revival has already been met with fierce criticism from the existing fan base, who argue that Hammer is not the same and can never be the same as the company they love. As such, Beyond the Rave will face a tough time with the inherited fan base, but here at we're sure that in time many will be won over.

I feel obliged to point out that Hammer has always evolved. The company that began life in 1934 was not the same company that re-emerged after the war. And indeed, it was not the same company or same group of people that embarked on the golden age of Hammer horror with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1956. And that group was a very different one from that which made On the Buses and Hands of the Ripper in the early 1970s. And Hammer in the 1980s was a different beast again. 

    Similarly, any delusions that Hammer was simply a company which made superb horror films should be thrown away too. Whilst Hammer has become synonymous with horror, much of their filmography is dedicated to comedies and thrillers, not gothic horror. 

The decision to launch their first production online is an interesting one. Certainly contentuous, but the marketing brilliance of the idea deserves applause. Hammer have always excelled at one thing - making competent low-budget productions which reap big financial rewards. That is simply good business. It doesn't make sense to take a chance on a £50million film which may flop, if you can carefully market a £1million film... The success of low-budget filmmaking in recent years is well known. Think of The Blair Witch Project, or even Juno. Beyond the Rave is not about bringing back the old Hammer - its about starting afresh. By making the film available free and using the massive push of myspace, they create a brand awareness which has been unheard of since the 1970s. If you log onto right now (and at least for those in the UK), the entire site has been redesigned to push Beyond the Rave music, and video content, with the name Hammer visible everywhere.

Creating brand awareness, the hope is that people will be curious enough to watch the film, and then to look at the rest of Hammer's history, and beyond... that they will spend money on Hammer products, on Hammer films, and on future theatrical releases. The episodic nature is suited to the moment - just as The Quatermass Xperiment was perfect for its moment in the mid 1950s. Times change, people change, and tastes change. There is little point in being nostalgic (although Beyond the Rave seems to include several nods to the company's heritage) if it doesn't attract an audience. If there is no audience, then there will be no investment from outside, and thus there will be no future for the company. To the nay-sayers, I say, Hammer were unable to do anything for 25 years. And now they've got a whole film - that's 1 more film than they've had in 25 years. And there's more to come....

I've just watched the first three episodes via myspace and I have to say, so far there is little to complain about. Yes, I find the format slightly irritating. I'm not against the idea of serialisation (Hammer have done it before - both the Dick Barton and Lyons films in the 1940s and 1950s for a start), and it can work very well. My complaint is simply that the episodes could do with being twice the length in order to breathe. Just as I start to get comfortably into the episode it stops. But, we must remember that one of the investors in Hammer now is John De Mol, and we can take as read the lessons that Endemol have learned over many years with their online marketing. No doubt a great deal of time and money has been spent deciding on the format. And I also suspect that the risk for Hammer is minimal - they've made this with Pure Grass Films and Myspacetv (and for the record, Hammer has survived on co-productions for decades).

The storyline centres on a young soldier on the night before deployment to Iraq. He meets his friend Necro and they set out to find a rave. Beyond that, what else can I say, except that there is vampires involved....

Echoes of Dracula AD 1972 are fresh in the mind. I'm out of touch anyway I imagine. I didn't think they still did raves, and certainly I don't hear people talking about them in Belfast. That said, I was on a train to Birmingham the other week and met a 17 year old girl who was talking about going to raves.... so maybe I'm wrong. Channel 4's youth drama Skins features them quite prominantly too. And I like Dracula AD 1972... so why should this be any different?

Curiously Hammer have chosen vampires to return to production with. They haven't made a vampire film since Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires in 1973, but I guess in this the 50th anniversary year of Dracula nothing would be more appropriate. Hammer has been asleep for many years now, but looks to set to rise from the grave and infect us all once more (BTR is exploiting a viral advertising campaign after all). 

    Further allusions to the past come in the presence of Ingrid Pitt - a cameo role certainly, but Ingrid has been Hammer's unofficial spokeswoman since Countess Dracula  and The Vampire Lovers. She's even written (an as yet unpublished) book on the company.
    And in the title. Beyond the Rave. Its like beyond the grave.... geddit? A cute pun, and whilst echoing the title of a non-Hammer classic from the 1970s, does at least show a certain intelligence.

In the three epsiodes I watched, I saw some guns, some blood, a couple of vampires, some drugs, and a bit of a dance. I saw slick production values and obvious craftsmanship that was in keeping with the Hammer tradition. I saw competent performances, and a little humour. I did hear a little too much swearing, which whilst perfectly commonplace will no doubt grate on the older fans. But is this any more risque than Dracula was in 1958 or The Vampire Lovers in 1970? Pete Tong is certainly not James Bernard, but the soundtrack is pulsing, racing, contemporary and appropriate to the film.

Perhaps they'll much it up during the next 17 episodes but I doubt it. I'm almost certain that I'll find the feature length version more to my viewing tastes - and a dvd is certainly round the corner (in fact you can pre-order it for £11.99 here). And with this a new wave of Hammer awaits.

We're reserving final verdict for the rest of the film, but our first impressions are promising. I liked what I saw - it was much better than I feared it might be. Without a doubt there will be more to come, and frankly I can't wait. Welcome back Hammer, we've missed you....


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Site launched Sunday 8th August 1999