Hammer rises from the grave with release of Let Me In

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Image caption, Kodi Smit-McPhee plays bullied loner Owen in Let Me In

After a hiatus of more than three decades, an iconic British horror brand is being resurrected on the big screen.

Audiences for vampire movie Let Me In - out on Friday - will notice the word HAMMER in huge letters in the opening titles.

It has been a while since that happened: Hammer's last horror movie was 1976's To the Devil a Daughter, starring Christopher Lee and Nastassja Kinski.

Let Me In is a remake of a Swedish arthouse hit, and signals a rebooted Hammer for the 21st century.

As Hammer chief executive Simon Oakes points out, the days of heaving cleavages in the Home Counties - spoofed in films like Carry On Screaming - have been staked through the heart.

"Early on when we bought the company, I was asked questions by journalists: 'Are you going to remake the old Hammer films?' I said, 'You know I'm not going to do that!' I'm not going to make velvet-caped heaving-bosomed kitsch Hammer films, because that was then, and this is now."

Hammer was founded in the 1930s but it was not until the 1950s that its name became synonymous with the horror genre. The company also produced comedies, thrillers and science fiction.

Its run of monster movies included Dracula and The Curse Of Frankenstein, which made stars of British actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

After lying dormant since the 1980s, the company and its back catalogue were bought in 2007 by a consortium, with Simon Oakes as CEO.

'Lurid and gothic'

One clear sign of Hammer's new direction is the choice of director for Let Me In. Matt Reeves made his name on Cloverfield, the 2008 monster movie that grossed more than $175m (£108m) worldwide.

Reeves remembers seeing Hammer films as a child. "It's exciting to be part of that tradition," he tells the BBC. "It's the kind of movie that scared me when I was a kid, I would close my eyes and watch them late at night on TV.

"The original Hammer films were very lurid and gothic and wonderful, but this is a bit more naturalistic, so maybe it's a new page in Hammer horror."

Let Me In is based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's bestselling Swedish novel Lat den Ratte Komma In (Let the Right One In) as well as the Swedish film of the same name. Hammer fought off fierce competition to acquire the rights.

Chloe Moretz (Hit Girl in Kick-Ass) stars as Abby, a mysterious 12-year-old who moves next door to bullied loner Owen, played by The Road's Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Owen forms a bond with his new neighbour, but soon comes to realise that her strange behaviour masks a darker secret.

One noticeable difference to the Swedish film is that Reeves has upped the gore and the use of CGI.

Image caption, Director Matt Reeves on the set of Let Me In

"Lindqvist's novel is like a great Stephen King book," observes Reeves. "It's about coming of age, but specifically about how coming of age can feel like a horror story, and so in ramping up the horror aspects I was really trying to get deeper and deeper into Owen's story."

So how important is Let Me In to Hammer's resurrection?

Simon Oakes: "There is a massive amount of goodwill, not only in the film community globally, but in Britain particularly, around the brand. It's important that we recalibrate or reboot Hammer in a way that's relevant to a contemporary movie audience."

He says of Let Me In: "It has all sorts of levels in it, that I think rises above the normal vampire fare."

An important name from Hammer's past - Christopher Lee - returns in the release next year of thriller The Resident, with Hilary Swank in the lead role. The studio is currently filming a new adaptation of supernatural novel The Woman in Black, starring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe.

Image caption, Let Me In, starring Chloe Moretz, is Hammer's first big screen horror since 1976

And Hammer recently announced that it will be be moving into the literary arena with new horror novels and adaptations of classic films. The first commission is a novella from Jeanette Winterson.

Oakes acknowledges he has a big responsibility looking after the Hammer brand.

"The most important thing is that Hammer has somehow managed to stay alive, with a very low heartbeat for many years, and so it's our job to actually make sure that it lasts another 50 years.

"Yes, it's a responsibility. I had a sense of its potential when we acquired it, but I never thought there was quite the amount of goodwill and energy that this whole venture seems to have been given us. It's amazing."

Let Me In is released across the UK on Friday 5 November

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