Is Hammer really "rising from the dead" again' The UK company that made Dracula, Prince Of Darkness, the Quatermass movies and The Devil Rides Out has often seemed on the verge of resurrection. As 2009 begins, it is clear the long-predicted revamp is happening for real. And in its new incarnation, Hammer promises to be even more powerful than in its Christopher Lee prime.
Hammer is now part of Exclusive Media Group (EMG), a highly ambitious new outfit backed by Dutch investment company Cyrte. EMG (previously known as HS Media) is the holding company for two production brands: Hammer and Spitfire. Simon Oakes and Nigel Sinclair are co-chairmen and co-CEOs, while Guy East is president and chairman of the executive board of the sales and distribution operation.
Spitfire is now in production in Bulgaria on Peter Weir's The Way Back, to which Colin Farrell and Ed Harris are attached. Other projects on its slate include Young Caesar scripted by Bill Broyles, No Man's Land written by Chris McQuarrie and Snitch scripted by Justin Haythe, who recently adapted Revolutionary Road for Sam Mendes.
Spitfire also has a documentary arm which has produced titles such as Martin Scorsese's 2005 Bob Dylan film No Direction Home, and Scorsese's forthcoming George Harrison documentary.
Meanwhile, Hammer is cooking up new horror films, the genre with which it is synonymous. Having announced its return last year with Beyond The Rave, an online horror serial made with MySpace TV, it is now preparing The Resident, which will star Hilary Swank and is due to shoot in late spring, and The Wake Wood, which is now in post-production and will be the first completed Hammer movie in almost 30 years. The company has also recruited Cloverfield director Matt Reeves to write and direct a remake of Swedish horror picture Let The Right One In, to be made in partnership with Overture Films.
"Contrary to what people thought we would do, we haven't concentrated on the re-imaginings or remakes of the back catalogue," say Oakes of Hammer's strategy. "We've focused in on the high-end thriller-chiller area." However, Oakes and Sinclair acknowledge the company is "very interested" in reviving the Quatermass franchise, a series of films about a scientist who battles alien forces.
EMG also has a new sales and distribution company, Exclusive Films Distribution (EFD) under former Capital Films executive Peter Naish. As well as handling Hammer and Spitfire films, it will also acquire some third- party product.
Further down the line, Oakes says, "There is a more-than-even chance that we will have (our own) distribution in the UK under the Hammer label."
With a development team in both London and Los Angeles, Exclusive is on the lookout for horror properties to filter on to Hammer, and dramas, thrillers and comedies for Spitfire. Naish and his team aim to provide distribution and financing for films that are already packaged.
As Sinclair says: "Genre movies are starting to cannibalise themselves. What Hammer aims to do to stand apart from the mass is produce upscale genre titles with stars and A-list directors."
With Spitfire, projects will always be driven by 'signature' directors or writers, talents such as Weir or McQuarrie, says Oakes, and films in the same vein as the movies Sinclair and East oversaw in their time at Intermedia (for example, Iris and Hilary And Jackie). "In a difficult time like this, you end up with a rush to quality," suggests Sinclair of what distributors now crave.
"Independent film budgets rarely go above $50m or $60m but would we make a $100m movie' Yes, we would - we would do it with a studio," says Sinclair. "At Intermedia, we made K-19 for $90m but generally speaking, our budget range is probably $15m-$40m."
At last November's AFM, Exclusive was one of the few companies to leave Santa Monica in a relatively upbeat mood, despite it being the company's first official market.
"We were extraordinarily fortunate because just at the end of the market, we secured Hilary Swank's commitment to The Resident and so were able to snap up a couple of good deals," Sinclair says.
The Exclusive principals will not reveal quite how large their war chest is but reported estimates suggest that between production and development financing and operational capital, the company has approximately $100m at its disposal. "Having raised our capital is a blessing for us. It would be a difficult time to raise fresh money," says Sinclair.
Oakes, meanwhile, insists the company will respect "the Hammer legacy". Previous attempts at reviving Hammer have often been thwarted by the complex rights situation surrounding its old titles, many of which are co-owned. The aim now, says Oakes, is to prove to co-owners and potential partners that the company has the will and the resources to "re-imagine" old classics such as Quatermass.
"The heyday of Hammer was the late '50s and '60s when it made not only the great genre films like Dracula but also films like The Nanny and Taste Of Fear. We've tried to go back and say, 'What is the DNA of Hammer'' We're trying to reposition it for a modern audience."