“The Witches Hammer” is, in essence, a low-budget British take on the “babe with a blade” vampire movie formula. Over the last few years, the likes of the “Underworld” movies, “Ultraviolet” and “Bloodrayne” have all tried to lend a feminine edge to the vampire/martial arts sub-genre that “Blade” pioneered in 1998. The problem with this is that “Blade” nailed the genre precisely, leaving very little for later titles to improve upon. As a result, each of these “neo-vampire” flicks has fallen flat and added nothing new to the genre.
So really, “The Witches Hammer” exists only as an example of the terrible things that happen when filmmakers are heavily influenced by Hollywood. Although the likes of “Underworld” were not great movies, they had enough panache to make up a watchable 90 minutes. “Hammer” does not. It instead has the look and feel of made-for-school anti-drug vignettes and TV infomercials. Add in very poor acting and gallons of candy-apple red blood and you have a film that is somewhere between a failed genre effort and a camp parody.
From what I can ascertain of the “plot”, “Hammer” tells the story of Rebecca, a young woman who is viscously mauled by a vampire, then brought back from the brink of death by some top-secret agency. In the confines of the agency’s base, she is trained to become a killer, studying various martial arts as she slowly turns from human to vampire. After this opening montage, Rebecca is sent on a top-secret mission that concerns witches, vampires, ninjas, psychotic midgets and damned souls being released into the mortal realm. Or some such.
Really, I couldn’t discern much of “Hammer’s” plot, but it’s probably not terribly important. The elements I took from the storyline were riddled with plot holes that could bend even the greatest of minds. From what we are told about Rebecca, she is a normal wife and mother with no martial arts experience or aspirations to kill. And yet, in a brief montage, we see her transform into a cold-hearted killing machine with little or no compassion for anyone. Also, why would this secret agency send someone so inexperienced to take on a horde of vampires and witches, all of whom are trying to destroy our dimension?
Perhaps it’s best not to over think the plot (or even follow it at all). In fact, none of “Hammer’s” major influences have been particularly plot-heavy. However, all of these big-budget inspirations have had brilliant special effects and acutely choreographed action sequences to please the viewer. “The Witches Hammer” has neither. It instead boasts action resembling laughable fight sequences from “The Breed”, and special effects that look like they’ve been added by an 11-year old with ADD using a trial version of Effects Lab. For each poorly performed fight sequence and hilariously fake special effect that’s added in, the film looks more and more amateurish; ironic, since the filmmakers probably used these techniques to give their movie an air of professionalism.
But professional this ain’t. Possibly the most frustrating thing about “Hammer” is that every now and again it manages to create the look and feel of a “real movie”. Occasionally, when lighting and cinematography are actually used to good effect, the film slides over that fine line between amateur and professional cinema. Nevertheless, these moments are fleeting, and within minutes (or in some cases, seconds), the film inexorably slides back into mediocrity. This is a real shame, as in these moments the film becomes somewhat enjoyable despite its obvious flaws.
Unfortunately, a few brief bursts of cinematic competence are not nearly enough to redeem “The Witches Hammer”. Possibly the film’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It starts off as a fairly serious vampire movie, but in time degenerates into a completely ridiculous vampire/horror parody. But this gradual fade from hard-edged bloodletting to high-camp comedy seems only half-intentional. It’s as if writer/director James Eaves slowly came to realise the comic potential of “The Witches Hammer” as he was making it, and decided to just go with the flow.
Perhaps some people could enjoy “Hammer” as one of these “so bad it’s good” type movies. But the terrible acting and complete lack of style eradicated any sense of enjoyment for me. Essentially, “The Witches Hammer” is a modern-day video nasty without the eye-popping gore. And frankly, “Hammer” could have used some gore to compensate for the lesser points of video nasties, such as poor camerawork, luminous blood and exploiting the handicapped. To the filmmakers’ credit, they certainly managed to stretch their micro-budget: 35mm photography, martial arts, medieval flashbacks, midget vampires, witches and ninjas. This film truly has it all. Unfortunately it’s too poorly made to be enjoyable.
James Eaves (director) / James Eaves (screenplay)
CAST: Stephanie Beacham …. Madeline
Claudia Coulter …. Rebecca
Andrew Cullum …. Polite Man
Harold Gasnier …. Le Cardinale