When I was 10 or 11 years old, there were two TV theme tunes that I always looked forward to hearing on a Saturday night: one was Doctor Who and the other was the atmospheric music that opened this series of programmes. I wasn't alone - Monday morning, in the last year of junior school, always started with gasps of, "Did you see it on Saturday night??" and we'd talk in excitable tones about murderous wooden idols from Africa or the woman driving down country lanes and gorging herself on raw steak. These shows made a big impression on me and I still remembered scenes from them when I purchased these DVDs.
I wasn't sure whether these hour-long shows would stand the test of time when I recently bought the set, but I've been really impressed. Although they bear the "Hammer" name, they are quite different from the enjoyably schlocky melodrama and technicolour goriness of the films of the 60s and 70s - but I think the contemporary everyday settings make them even more effective at being genuinely scary. There is a supernatural element to most of them, but some of them are more like thrillers or extended (and much better) `Tales of the Unexpected'.
The casting is really strong throughout with great British character actors such as Denholm Elliot, Diana Dors (I hadn't watched her in anything for a long while and seeing her in this set was a reminder of why the British public took her to their hearts), Sian Philips - and youthful appearances from Brian Cox and Pierce Brosnan. Apart from the famous names, there are a host of fine actors who regularly appeared on our screens in the 70s and 80s, whose names I had forgotten but whose faces I recognised.
I know I'm making this review sound like a bit of a nostalgia fest and to some degree watching these shows did have that effect for me - the two ominous drumbeats that launches the haunting theme tune and the opening credits still sent a tingle down my spine! But on top of all that, the scripting and production values are really high and they still work really well on their own terms. My partner is American so didn't grow up with the same cultural references as I did, but we both felt that this series didn't look dated at all. Even the film stock looks remarkably fresh.
We've really enjoyed watching these programmes - and even though I'm nearly 40 years old, they still had me jumping out of my skin a few times. Definitely recommended.