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Hammer Chillers: Series One (Audio Media Review)

Six full-cast original audio dramas from Hammer Films were released on July 26, marking Hammer’s first-ever excursion into audio horror. Hammer Chillers: Series One presents all-new contemporary tales of unease in the tradition of the 1980 Hammer’s House of Horrors TV anthology series, but aimed at the 21st century listener.  The episodes are of a uniform high quality, well written, produced and acted and at times, indeed… quite chilling if one is willing to meet the production halfway.

The plots spring from the twisted minds of acclaimed British screenwriters Stephen Volk (Ken Russell’s Gothic) and Stephen Gallagher (Eleventh Hour), and award-winning horror novelists Christopher Fowler (The Bryant and May mysteries – taken from the files of the Peculiar Crimes Unit) and Mark Morris (The Deluge, The Black), among others.

With a running time of 212 minutes, Hammer Chillers is releasing as a digipack across four CDs, and includes free downloads and a bonus documentary.

Here is the episode lineup:

DISC ONE

THE BOX

The Box is an underwater helicopter escape simulator for prospective oil rig workers. Those candidates who are inside the test device are seeing spooky things when they’re submerged in a giant water tank, and won’t talk about them when they come out. The secret of The Box is very unsettling, and this episode really got under my skin. The story by Stephen Gallagher is handled with the utmost realism: the attention to technical detail is thoroughly convincing. Actor Con O’Neill – who plays The Box‘s operator – is very good at conveying a steadily mounting fear bursting into blind panic.

THE FIXATION

When Ian Hibbert witnesses a hoodlum dumping a bin of rubbish outside his house, he decides enough is enough. But Ian discovers, to his detriment, that someone – or something – doesn’t want him to clean up. The Fixation could best be summed up as Basil Fawlty Meets Ramsey Campbell. An irritable busybody discovers the awful truth behind the decline of his inner-city neighborhood. Actor Miles Jupp really nails Hibbert’s exasperation and blindness to escalating danger. This is a taut tale, well told by Mark Morris.

DISC TWO

STICKS AND STONES

Neil Stanley has a nice house, a nice wife, and an overall a nice life. But Neil has a secret: he’s an internet troll. When he begins trolling talent-show contestant Sam Pinker, his threats begin to come true. Is it Neil, or is something else to blame? Written by stand-up comedian Robin Ince, Sticks and Stones is the most relentlessly sadistic of the six episodes. Certain images conjured are enough to make the listener wince with disgust. Alex Lowe (Haunted) plays Neil Stanley as a gibbering lunatic.

THE DEVIL IN THE DARKNESS

English guest worker Mia takes the old elevator in the decaying St. Petersburg International Archive, which is being emptied floor by floor. While descending with only one other passenger – Andrei, an electrician – the lift jams and the two are trapped inside for the weekend. Will no one come to their aid? They begin to hear strange voices rising in a deranged chorus from the basement. Are supernatural forces trapping Mia and Andrei? Or is the truth even more terrifying? The Devil in the Darkness – by Christopher Fowler – is the longest and most depressing of the Hammer Chillers. The twist ending in this two-character struggle for survival is a real sting in the tale, leading the listener to question all the events that came before. English actor Dylan Charles (who plays Andrei) impresses, never losing his thick Russian accent.

DISC THREE

SPANISH LADIES

Phil doesn’t need a girlfriend, or so his overbearing Mother, who intends to look after him forever, tells him. But when Mummy discovers that her best friend, Renee from Friday Night Bingo, is carrying on with her darling boy, she exacts a terrible revenge… and mother-smothered Phil lashes out. Easily, this episode of Hammer Chillers is one that most resembles one of the more ghoulish Tales from the Crypt entries. Spanish Ladies is set in 1976, the year Hammer’s To the Devil a Daughter was released… and the macabre doings are reminiscent of earlier Hammer productions such as Paranoiac (1963) and The Nanny (1965).

DON’T GO THERE

John Daulby’s son is lying in a coma in a hospital on a Greek holiday island. John enters the world of young ravers to get to the truth, and meets the enigmatic and beautiful Stheno. However, he realizes that she may just be a Greek myth come to life… Don ‘t Go There (written by Stephen Volk) is an outstanding episode of Hammer Chillers and my personal favourite of the series, as it’s a thoroughly modern take on Hammer’s The Gorgon (1964). Truly great performances by Tony Gardner (Cockneys vs Zombies) as the prudish John Daulby and Lizzie Roper as his miserable wife Laura, and Daphne Alexander is also outstanding as the Greek temptress Stheno. Don’t Go There is a cunningly well crafted tale of exotic horror.

DISC FOUR

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – A 66-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Hammer Chillers, presented by Ruth Barnes and produced by Simon Barnard.

Even the weakest of these full-cast audio dramas is first-rate. Hammer Chillers: Series One is a landmark in audio horror; and comes highly recommended. Episodes are available to download at www.hammerchillers.com.

– By Harvey Chartrand

About Harvey Chartrand

Harvey F. Chartrand is a features writer at Ottawa Life Magazine (www.ottawalife.com). Harvey’s stories have appeared in numerous publications including Cinema Retro, Filmfax,Shock Cinema, Rue Morgue, Scarlet: The Film Magazine, National Post, Jerusalem Postand The Globe and Mail. Harvey is a movie fanatic and has interviewed several film celebrities. To contact Harvey, e-mail him at: [email protected]

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