The resurrection of the Hammer brand continues apace with this new series of half-hour audio dramas. Don’t expect Dracula or Baron Frankenstein: these are modern-day tales.
Released (initially, at least*) as downloads, once a week, this first six-part run features scripts by notable names such as Stephen Gallagher, Stephen Volk and Christopher Fowler. Anyone familiar with Bafflegab Productions’ The Scarifyers won’t be surprised there are Doctor Who connections too, with the repertory-style casts featuring the mothers of both Rose (Camille Coduri) and Donna (Jacqueline King).
Of the first three releases, only Stephen Gallagher’s "The Box" might send a shiver down your spine. At heart it’s an age-old story, but the setting feels fresh. The instructor on a survival course finds that while most pass through his helicopter crash simulator – which dunks people into a pool - unaffected, those who’ve seen death at close quarters are traumatised. When he investigates by taking the plunge himself, Con O’Neill’s portrayal of rising panic makes the listening experience so claustrophobic that you may be tempted to rip off your headphones.
In "The Fixation", a man decides to clean up his neighbourhood, only to discover something more sinister than “declining standards” is behind all those abandoned bin bags. Putting a witty spin on our modern demonology of feral youths and pitbulls, Mark Morris’s script is far more inventive than any number of generic “hoodie horrors”, while Miles Jupp is spot on as the prissy, well-intentioned Ian Hibbert.
The ‘70s-set "Spanish Ladies” is more overtly humorous still, thanks to Jacqueline King’s larger-than-life “Mummy”, whose hobby is making the titular toilet roll covers. Anyone familiar with Paul Magrs’s Doctor Who spinoffs will immediately recognise his voice; in love with provincial naffness, Magrs doesn’t believe in using “street” when he can plump for “cul de sac”, and a namecheck for Arctic Roll never seems far away. As we proceed towards a ghastly Grand Guignol tableau, the vibe is less Hammer, more ‘70s Vincent Price flick; it’s just a shame you can guess what’s coming pretty much from the off.
Across these first three instalments the range showcases sufficient humour, shocks and variety to suggest that it could run and run. Production values are professional, and the price point is perfectly reasonable. At the very least, it’s a worthy successor to the short-lived 1980 TV series Hammer House Of Horror .
A CD digipack of the entire series (also featuring a bonus documentary) will be available from 26 July, priced £19.99.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman