[Please feel free to skip this paragraph if you've already read it, as I've copied and pasted this little explanation before every episode in the Hammer House of Horror series.] *Even though I usually don't cover TV shows here, I've decided to include all thirteen episodes from the short-lived British TV series "Hammer House of Horror" on this blog. There are two reasons for this: 1.) Each of the thirteen episodes runs 52 minutes and is in essence a feature (short films technically clock in at less than 45 minutes). 2.) More importantly, in the mid-1980s all but one of the episodes was released in the United States separately as a feature on VHS by the ThrillerVideo label, which were further padded with commentary from horror hostess Elvira. Since these were very well distributed titles, and in keeping with the video-store feel of the blog, I felt it important to keep these in the database and review them all individually. The one and only episode that was not released by ThrillerVideo was "The Mark of Satan," which I'll review here eventually anyway just for competition's sake. The entire series is now available on DVD through A&E.* So moving right along...
While out on a country driving excursion with her husband Martin (Gary Raymond) and young son David (Paul Hawkins), Janet (Anna Calder-Marshall) spots someone wearing a yellow raincoat and matching hat ominously standing off by the side of the road. Soon after it starts storming and the same man steps out in front of their car. Against his wife's wishes, Martin decides to give the guy a lift. Once they get going, the man suddenly attacks Martin, causing him to flip the car. Janet awakens in the hospital with vague recollections of the incident and learns that her son is uninjured but her husband has had to undergo an emergency operation on his throat and hands, but is expected to be fine. The hospital staff seem a bit apprehensive about discussing the incident and make no mention of the mysterious stranger who was also in the car with them. Janet remembers he had one abnormally long, sharpened fingernail that he used her cut her husband's throat with and whoever it was took it upon themselves to open up their suitcases and destroy all of their belongings AFTER the crash.
Janet is called into the morgue to identify a fresh corpse they have on hand as being the man who attacked them. Though she didn't really even see the assailant (his hat concealed most of his face), she definitely didn't expect the body to look like a dead ringer for her still-living husband, who's still in the hospital recovering! Even stranger, the body is missing its right hand so Janet can't even i.d. who it is based on the fingernail. Trying to put this horrible incident behind her, Janet goes on ahead to their rented country home, burns everything that was destroyed and waits for her husband to be released. When he is, Janet realizes he isn't quite the same man she married. His demeanor is a little off, he's short-tempered and has something of a violent streak. She also notices that he is in possession of something else... something long, sharp, pointy and at the tip of his finger.
Boasting one of the more enjoyable storylines of all the Hammer House of Horror episodes (though still clearly derivative of Invasion of the Body Snatchers), this one keeps the intrigue level high throughout, provides several genuinely creepy moments and has a great jolt at the end. Photography, score and the performances are all very good.