Can the reborn Hammer and Amicus studios rekindle British cult horror cinema?

As a pair of independent studios hope to kickstart a new era of British genre flicks, Anton van Beek wonders if they should be looking to the future, not the past

Halloween has been and gone but spooky things are still afoot in the British film industry, with the rebirth of not one but two former stalwarts of horror cinema on these shores: Hammer Films and Amicus Productions.

To be fair to Hammer, the actual resurrection of this iconic brand took place in the late 2000s, kicking off with web serial Beyond the Rave (2008). In 2014 I chatted to Hammer Films CEO and President Simon Oakes and it was clear he had big plans for the studio. But despite box office success on both sides of the Atlantic with its terrific 2012 adaptation of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black [pictured], Hammer's other theatrical releases fared less well. Things have been pretty quiet for the last few years.

The recent release of the Eddie Izzard-led Doctor Jekyll do-over was preceded by news that Hammer Films and Studios had been acquired by the award-winning (not to mention aptly named) British theatre producer John Gore. Promising 'to breathe new life into the studio, blending the nostalgic charm of Hammer with modern cinematic style and innovation', as well as bringing in 'significant investment', Gore is certainly saying all the right things.

But a question mark still hangs over what shape the reborn Hammer's (yet to be revealed) 'captivating new slate of films and projects' will actually take; Doctor Jekyll is no real indication as it was in production long before Gore took control.

Fangs for the memories
In its 1960s heyday, Hammer was essentially its own cottage industry, with its own studio and stable of actors, writers and directors. It's all part and parcel of what gave Hammer such a strong identity. It's also part of what makes those classic shockers feel so, well, cosy today – regardless of all the bloodied fangs and heaving bosoms.

Clearly, doing the same thing now wouldn't be possible, but it will have to do something significant to make the Hammer brand really strike a chord with modern audiences.

Amicus Productions, on the other hand, arguably benefits from not having quite such a high brand recognition. Founded by producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg, Amicus is best known for the run of horror anthologies it put out between 1965 and 1974, including Doctor Terror's House of Horrors (1965), Torture Garden (1967), Asylum (1972) and Vault of Horror (1973).

It doesn't really come as a huge shock that the revived Amicus is planning on resurrecting the portmanteau format with its first feature, In the Grip of Terror.

The key difference between the reborn Hammer and Amicus is, of course, one of scale. In this case, the brains behind the revival (company president Lawrie Brewster and business partner Sarah Daly) set up a crowdfunding project to get things started (one that far exceeded its original total). But they too have big plans for the studio, with Brewster stating: 'Our aim is to re-establish Amicus Productions as a beacon of independent British horror.'

With less expectation hanging on their project, Brewster and Daly could do worse than turn to the US for inspiration on how the new-look Amicus Productions could prosper. Instead of keeping one foot in a past that few outside of genre aficionados are aware of, the smart move would be to transform Amicus into the UK equivalent of Blumhouse – a one-stop destination for larger studios looking to pick up low-budget genre productions that can reap big rewards at the box office.