I finished watching this the other day, so it's time for a run-down!
In 1980 Hammer horror was dead, not to mention effectively the studio. Their horror films had disappeared earlier in the 1970s, along with other fifties survivals like the Carry Ons. Hammer itself struggled on, but in 1979 it made the mistake of releasing their remake of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes
and all but bankrupted themselves when its box office receipts were in the toilet. This would be their last movie for about thiry years.
However in the interim they made two TV series, this in 1980 and then Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense in 1984. Both ran for thirteen episodes, but the episodes in the later series would have longer running times (69-73 minutes), less sex and violence (boo) and a recognisable star (often American). This was so that they could be marketed in the USA as 'movies of the week' and over there it was known as Fox Mystery Theater.
Naturally I watched the series with more sex and violence. Going through in approximate order of preference, we have:
2. The Thirteenth Reunion
... I really liked this. It's the one with an evil slimming organisation, sinister undertakers, Warren Clarke and Kevin Stoney. The downside though is that it has a dumb journalist who's not fat.
7. The Silent Scream
... stars the mighty Peter Cushing. He's a creepy shopkeeper who's being nice to Brian Cox... at the beginning.
12. The Two Faces of Evil
... surreal, memorable. There are three weird Hammer House of Horror episodes and the series ended with two of them back-to-back. This is the first of them...
13. The Mark of Satan
... and this is the second. As I said at the time: "a hostile paranoid nutcase for a protagonist and a menace so weird that you'd have to be mentally ill even to have thought of it in the first place."
4. Growing Pains
... the Midwich Cuckoos ghost genetic engineering possessed dog maniac car "misunderstanding between the generations" episode. A bit of a mess, but I like it.
6. Charlie Boy
... a high "passable", shading into "good". It's the one with Angela Bruce and a voodoo doll. It's not exciting, but I seem to have had a reasonable time with it.
3. Rude Awakening
... the third surreal episode, with dream-looping. I liked a lot of it, but at times it got old.
8. The House That Bled To Death
... convinced me at the time that haunted house stories were dull, but that given that handicap this wasn't a bad attempt at one. With hindsight, this now seems like an overly generous assessment.
11. Visitors From The Grave
... low-key, but I liked the ending. This is the one in which Simon MacCorkindale is covering up his wife Kathryn Leigh Scott shooting someone.
1. Witching Time
... half-baked medieval witch episode with Patricia Quinn disappointing in the lead role.
9. Carpathian Eagle
... boring, least favourite, with Suzanne Danielle being both the point of the episode and a waste of time. Pierce Brosnan appears for a few minutes.
This is also where I analyse my Rule, i.e. "nudity in Hammer House of Horror means a bad episode". I came up with this halfway through and hadn't found any need to amend it by the time I finished. I'd have to rewatch to be sure, but to the best of my recollection the episodes in my first category have no significant nudity, whereas the second category is about half-and-half. Two of them have naked women and two don't. However as for my "don't watch this" category, to my surprise those are also this series's two episodes that are most prominently flashing flesh, both being centred on a well-known actress who's taking off her clothes instead of acting.
As I've said before, I offer no justification of the foregoing. I'm also not saying that nudity is a bad thing, since on the contrary there's very little in this world that wouldn't be improved by putting a naked woman in it. I'm merely observing a pattern in this particular TV series.
The show is apparently known for its plot twists, but I can't say those particularly stood out for me. There are a couple of decent ones, but for the most part the show's neither lurid nor good enough to really strike gold there. The pre-credits sequences actually impressed me more. Admittedly the whole point of those is that they're basically a little teaser for the main episode and hence they've failed if they're not attention-grabbing, but even so they've come up with some cool ones here. Not all, admittedly, but some.
Overall I quite liked this show, but it's also capable of seeming dreary and pointless. That's deliberate policy. This was a series about mundane horror, in which nasty things crawled out from underneath the drabness of the audience's everyday lives. (You may think that budgetary considerations could have been a factor in this decision, but I couldn't possibly comment. It is however clearly a departure from their movies.) It's Hammer's equivalent of a Yeti on a loo in Tooting Bec, if you like. Personally I think it's a perfectly worthwhile experiment, but it's liable to produce that middle category of slightly cardboard episodes in which you're still watching, but you're not sure why. Nevertheless episodes like The Silent Scream
and Guardian of the Abyss
do something worthwhile with the idea, while for me Children of the Full Moon
is close to greatness.
How does it compare with other horror shows? To be honest, I've no idea. There are many others out there and I can't say I'll be rushing out to buy Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense any time soon. Showtime's Masters of Horror sounds much more tempting, if only for Takashi Miike's episode. As for Hammer House of Horror... it's okay. I didn't love it, but I quite liked it and I'm comfortable with my decision to buy the DVDs. It has some good episodes. It's also sufficiently subtle and subjective in its approach that my likes and dislikes probably won't be yours.
If nothing else, it's of interest.