Saturday, March 26, 2011


“Writing a horror film was really exciting, but then to make it with Hammer was like all my Halloweens coming at once.”
~ Brendan McCarthy, writer and producer

New Hammer Films Logo
 The village of Wake Wood in rural Ireland has preserved a tradition which enables the people to bring a person back from the dead for three days, one year after their death, in order to say a final farewell to their loved ones and before they make their final journey to the spirit world. Patrick and Louise Daly have come to Wake Wood to take over the veterinary practice. They are relocating from the city to recover from the tragic death of their daughter. The couple can’t have another child.

They discover the ritual. Unsure at first of its meaning the couple become uneasy with life in Wake Wood and decide to leave. The village elders explain the ritual and its applications and suggest that their daughter can be brought back from the dead if certain conditions exist. Patrick and Louise consider this terrifying prospect and decide to ask if the villagers might bring their child back. The villagers agree to help but remind them that they can only have her back for three days and then she must return to the world of the dead. Patrick and Louise accept the rules, but when their child returns, they decide to keep her and break their agreement.

As the final day approaches it is clear to some of the villagers hat something is wrong with the returned child. They urge Patrick and Louise to act but the parents are too absorbed in the bliss of their child, to see the change in her behaviour. Louise discovers she is pregnant when her daughter asks her when the baby is due. It is too late. The terrifying evidence of the bloody rampage is discovered.

There can only be one explanation. The child has turned evil. The villagers force Patrick and Louise to take responsibility for their actions. She must be returned to the ground. Patrick and Louise hunt down their child and subdue her. They bring her to the woods. Louise puts her back in the ground. Before Louise can leave she is dragged into the grave. Mother and daughter disappear into the world of the dead leaving Patrick devastated.

One year later Patrick brings his now pregnant wife back from the dead.

What will happen to their child?



Legendary British film studio Hammer has recently been revamped, returning to feature-film production in 2008 for the first time in decades. In its new incarnation Hammer aims not only to frighten and entertain modern cinema-goers but to thrill and challenge them. These aims are reflected in Hammer’s latest productions, LET ME IN directed by Matt Reeves and THE WOMAN IN BLACK, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

However, WAKE WOOD has also provided Hammer Films with an unmistakable opportunity to celebrate some key creative touchstones from its glory days. Hammer’s CEO Simon Oakes saw a chance, when he read WAKE WOOD’s screenplay, to be involved with a film that would celebrate some of the tropes that audiences most fondly associate with the Hammer of old. Oakes shared director David Keating’s vision to make a terrifying film that would not only engage audiences with a riveting story but also evoke some of the greatest horror films of the 1960s and 70s, in spirit and tone.

“Wake Wood is very much in the tradition of some of the great Hammer stories of old, including the Frankenstein films. A compelling and horrifying dilemma is at its heart: ordinary people must make a Faustian pact to hold onto what they hold most dear, with terrifying consequences. The fact that David Keating and team wanted to honour, in tone, some of the great horror films of the past was also immediately appealing.”
~ Simon Oakes, CEO Hammer


WAKE WOOD has three main echoes of classic Hammer. The first is the perennial narrative device of a “pact with the devil”. This idea is at the very core of WAKE WOOD’s story, although in the modern re-telling of this narrative, “the devil” tends at first to present himself as wholly benevolent. In classic genre film and TV, this story usually begins with a stranger (who always knows more about the protagonist/s than expected) offering a deal. This deal is always “too good to be true” and acceptance generally leads to the protagonist's paying a terrible price, often by supernatural means.

The modern example of this type of story is Richard Matheson’s “Button, Button”, the source both for The Twilight Zone episode segment of the same name, and for recent feature THE BOX. There are two resonant examples of this narrative idea in classic Hammer films: in both DRACULA A.D. 1972 and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, a character (Johnny Alucard, played by Christopher Neame, and Lord Courtley, played by Ralph Bates, respectively) makes such a “deal”, but then finds it impossible to back out when they realise exactly what they’ve agreed to; and with whom. The second echo is the idea of “man playing God”.

These narratives centre on the idea of immortality – whether it’s the resurrection/reanimation of the dead or the secret of eternal life – and the creation by man of life itself. (Although zombies, vampires and werewolves are “immortal” per se, they do not fit into this story shape as the protagonist generally does not choose to join the ranks of the living dead or the undead, or to become a lycanthrope. There are, however, a handful of well known vampire narratives in which the protagonist is offered the immortality of vampirism and chooses it consciously).

The “man playing God” narrative focuses on humans making a very conscious decision to “usurp” or “deny” God, and make themselves or others either immortal or brought back to life, either beyond or outside the rule of “God’s law”. Hammer films in which characters “create” life, or are immortal, include the FRANKENSTEIN films, the four MUMMY films, THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (in which the Squire very deliberately reanimates the dead so they can work in his tin mine), THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, DR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (in Brain Clemens’ take on the story, Dr Jekyll is trying to discover the secret of immortality), SHE and THE VENGEANCE OF SHE.

Finally, WAKE WOOD finds a very particular echo in Hammer’s 1966 film THE WITCHES, which is one of only a handful of classic Hammer horror films which have a contemporary setting (while the thrillers all had contemporary settings, the horror films were mostly set in an indeterminate Gothic past). THE WITCHES prefigures horror classic THE WICKER MAN by seven years and has many similarities to that film, and indeed to WAKE WOOD itself, specifically with regard to style, tone and theme. In terms of story shape, all three films feature a closed, remote community and a community leader who is also the head of an occult or pagan sect. The protagonists come from outside and are gradually drawn in. They are shown, offered, and then experience things outside their normal reality or belief system, ultimately discovering that the community’s secret is far darker than they could ever have imagined.

A key theme shared by all three films is that the chthonic powers of paganism will always trump the spiritual powers of Christianity, because they are much older and therefore more deeply ingrained (this was one of Nigel Kneale’s key thematic concerns, and it’s no surprise that it was he who adapted THE WITCHES for Hammer from the novel by Peter Curtis aka Norah Lofts).

There are also, of course, the very well known casting connections between Hammer and THE WICKER MAN. Hammer star Ingrid Pitt, who died in November 2010, appears in THE WICKER MAN, as does Hammer veteran Sir Christopher Lee, who is also in Hammer’s THE RESIDENT, which is scheduled for a UK release in March 2011.


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