Written and Directed by James Eaves, 2006
Glance at the above poster for The Witches Hammer and one would surely be convinced as to what kind of movie they’re getting into. Let me further inform that it was made by a bunch of idealistic Brits who had a micro-budget. Given these two pieces of evidence, one would probably instantly write off this fantasy based vampire story as just another crappy movie made by nobodies that brings nothing original to an already saturated straight-to-DVD market.
Normally you’d be right. Normally.
The Witches Hammer may seem to share many of the qualities that horrible STD’ers posses – again, look at that poster – but director James Eaves has clearly poured a lot of heart and soul into this project. The production clearly lacked a budget, but were it not for the instinctual scale of comparison horror fans evolve, one could never tell. This is because this movie is comfortably enveloped in an astounding sense of professionalism, despite its fiscal restraints. Granted, it has vampires, government conspiracy plots, wizards, witches and even midgets – all draped in home brew special effects – but it holds firm to the silver screen dreams one associates with anything shot on 35mm. And yes, watching it will inevitably inspire comparative thoughts of the now canonical Indie directors of yesteryear, despite a lack of zombies or lawn tool mayhem.
The fundamental choice to shoot on actual film is a brilliant one, instantly distancing itself from less serious productions that settle for digital cinematography that nearly always looks as classy as your neighbors home videos. I hate to make it sound like The Witches Hammer is a deathly serious film, because it sure as hell is not, but the approach to making it obviously was. It rarely caves to the lowest common denominator of self-deprecation, always pushing on even when the effects look silly or the acting even cheesier. Unlike 98% of straight-to-DVD movies, it is clear here that the motivation behind making the movie was more noble than just a quick paycheck.
The Hammer in the title refers to a mystical object that a vampire tries to use to destroy the world as we know it, but it seems reasonable that that specific word choice was an allusion to the Hammer films of a decade ago. If those seminal films were indeed a goal Eaves sought to achieve, in many ways he did. However, if it wasn’t intentional, well, he did it anyway. It isn’t nearly as sensational as those films were, but its heart is in the right place.
Were it made 30 years ago, The Witches Hammer would already be a cult classic. What with its midget vampires, giant robed lizard-like people (thats the best description I can come up with for what are, perhaps, the most charming character effects in the movie), tough chic lead and energetic supporting cast.
But it wasn’t made 30 years ago. The chance that this will be a film you tell your children about is, in all reality, non-existant. However, while it may never set the world aflame or find its way onto your shelf, The Witches Hammer is an indicator of a director who takes the absurd seriously, coaxing earnest deliveries foremost from his crew as well as his cast. In time, The Witches Hammer may be talked about much in the same way as the early works of Sam Raimi. No, not the ground destroying Evil Dead, but its predecessor, Within the Woods. There is definite potential to be seen in James Eaves.