Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Hammer House of Horror: 'Visitor from the Grave' (1980, Peter Sasdy)

 As a long-time fan of the House of Hammer and their output from the Gothic chills of their Frankenstein and Dracula sagas, to the pyscho-thrills of their 1960s monochrome crime and thriller dramas, one of the areas of their prodigious outflow i have neglected to see properly is the two TV series, Hammer House of Horror (1980) and Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense (1984).  I had always meant to get round to remedying this, and thanks to the Horror Channel recently re-running the former series late on Friday nights i got to catch up with a few of them (i sadly kept forgetting when they were on due to an awkward timeslot, so the full run remains sadly sight unseen).

                                    This is a typical Sunday dinner time in Hammer Land.

This particular episode, 'Visitor from the Grave', is one that i'd wanted to see for quite a while.  It seems not to be high on the list of recommended episodes from fans, who see it as one of the weaker entries, but i wanted to see it anyway.  Mainly because of the cast, director and writer: Kathryn Leigh Scott, Simon McCorkindale and Gareth Thomas (Dark Shadows' Maggie Evans / Josette DuPres, the titular Manimal, and Roj Blake himself) in a psycho-horror outing directed by Peter Sasdy (of Taste the Blood of Dracula [1970], Countess Dracula [1971], The Stone Tape [1972] and Nothing but the Night [1973]) from a screenplay by Anthony Hinds, under his usual nom-de-plume of John Elder (The Curse of the Werewolf [1961], Captain Clegg, aka Night Creatures [1962], Kiss of the Vampire [1963] et al)?

Yes, please.

We open quite atmospherically, with a solitary cottage in the British countryside wherein dwells (and sleeps, because it is the wee hours before dawn) American woman (don't stay away from me) Penny Van Brutten (Scott) who has a rather rude awakening when a strange man augments his nocturnal prowling activities with a spot of breaking and entering and attempted sexual assault / rape.  This quite tense for television of the period sequence, directed expertly by Sasdy, results in a panicked Penny blowing a hole out of her assailant's face with a shotgun.  Fair do's and self-defence and all that, maybe, but as the hysterical Penny's returning partner Harry (McCorkindale) tells her, the law in Britain ain't the same as that thar Yew-Nited States, and so the best thing they can do to not attract unwanted attention or invite trouble is of course for Penny to calm down and clean up the blood, while Harry gets a shovel and buries the blown-away bandit in the woods before he stinks up the place.


We get an insight into Penny's backstory when Harry stills her protestations over his plan by asking her if she wants to 'return to the institution' - explaining Scott's constantly on the edge of panic performance and her constant pleading for her 'pills'. The poor lady obviously had enough anxiety on her plate before an attempted rape and self-defence killing.  Oh, and now the corpse has apparently risen from his pastoral plot in the forest to wreak some kind of haunted vengeance.  Typical.  I've had weeks like that.

 Matters are not helped when a local policeman (Thomas, sporting a... what?  Norfolk?  West Country?  Generic Mummerset accent) calls at the cottage, throwing Penny almost into blind panic and having to have the situation 'managed' by the by strokes diffident and stern Harry.  It turns out that the recently returning revenant goes (or at least went) by the name of Charles Willoughby (Stanley Lebor) , and had a grudge against Harry and had let it be known that he was 'going to sort him out'.  Mind you, if i go round someone's house who owes me money and they're not in, i generally find that whilst i'm there i may as well try to sexually violate any female i might find there.  You don't want to have made a wasted trip, do you?  Jesus.  Charlie seems to have been a lovely bloke.

The increasingly on-edge Penny begins mixing her brain medicine with booze (and you don't want to do that) as she continues her downward spiral and keeps seeing Charles - at the window, in the main street whilst shopping, carrying a tray of drinks at a party (look, being an avenging ghost is a bit like being an actor - you find you have to hold things down by waiting tables sometimes), even after Harry rather unsympathetically drags her into the woods and unkindly offers to dig up the body (which is nicely covered with maggots by this point) to 'prove' that what she's seeing can't be real.

It is of course an obvious plot.  Poor pusillanimous Penny is so obviously being Gaslighted (Gaslit?) that by halfway through i was beginning to wonder if the twist was going to be that there was a ghost after all.  By the time of the fraudulent seance, and an appearance by an alleged Indian swami so blatantly played by Gareth Thomas in a joke beard, turban and a bit of brownface (had he raided Tom Baker's Sinbad cupboard?) all was confirmed, and Miss Van Brutten is driven into madness and suicide by shotgun, all for her considerable bank balance.  There's a last minute 'twist upon a twist' that attempts to restore a bit of supernatural air to proceedings, but obvious twist is pretty obvious.

                                            'It's not racist, Sandifer, it's part of the plot'

                                        'What was your PIN number again, dear?  Oh shit.'

Not a complete letdown by any means, but i can see why fans of the series don't rate it among the best installments.  Still, if you can't be bothered to watch all of Cukor's Gaslight (1944) or Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955) and have a spare 50 minutes, or even just a hankering to watch '70s and '80s telefantasy stars directed by an assured Hammer veteran, you could do worse.

           Oh, look: Kathryn Leigh Scott as a Playboy bunny.  Because it's my blog and because i can.


  1. The first gaslighting story I ever read (although I didn't know that that was what it was) was a story in a children's horror story book. A man who had been badger baiting was made to believe that he was being haunted by the reanimated corpse of a badger. And now I'm 27 and I can still remember it.

    Nowadays if I want a gaslighting story I've got Helen and Rob Titchener on The Archers.

  2. I am intrigued by this badger story and find myself wanting to know more. Badger baiters deserve all of the supernatural revenge from beyond the grave that they get.

  3. It stuck in my head. Animal rights activists faked up a load of stuff to make it seem as if a zombie badger was sort of scratching and snuffling around the man's home and was coming to get him. I remember they put clippings of badger hair round a hole in his cellar, and maybe faked some paw prints. It was told from the man's point of view, so the reader only found out that he was being gaslit (rather than genuinely haunted) at the end. I think he went mad or died or something.

  4. 'Zombie Badger' - that is now my new favourite thing. I imagine they're the worst dreams of Countryside Alliance folk (besides black and gay people). An army of zombie badgers coming for them in the night.