In 2007, Simon Oakes became the Vice-Chairman of Exclusive Media and President & CEO of Hammer Films.
The legendary movie company based in the United Kingdom was founded in 1934, and it became known for its horror movies made from the mid-1950s until the ‘70s, producing such classic titles as The Quatermass Xperiment, Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein.
Simon Oakes was recently in Los Angeles to speak with journalists about Hammer’s new slate of movies, including The Resident, starring two time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby), and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Let Me In and The Woman in Black.
With the new company, how much of the focus is there going to be on remaking old Hammer titles?
Almost none at all in the sense that we would never remake, we might re-imagine. One of the first questions that I was asked when we bought the company was, ‘Are you going to remake all of those Hammer films?’ Why would we do that? In a sense, they almost were of their time, and they became old-fashioned as they came to the end of that period of time when they were making those pictures.
But there were some amazing characters in there that we want to re-imagine like Quatermass, like Kronos. We’re going to do Kronos, what would he be like today? What would he look like today? Because the great thing about him of course is that he’s a vampire, but not a vampire. He has all the traits of a vampire, he never ages, but he’s not a vampire, so there are so many things that you can do with that. We have some characters in here that we are going to reboot. And those are two of them.
The one that I would like to see is Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde.
Why, funny you should say that. My lips are sealed.
Do you control the entire Hammer library?
What we do is control everything in the sense that we also have blocking rights. In some cases we control titles entirely, and in some cases other people have distribution rights, of which we’re the beneficiary. But we don’t distribute ourselves, and in some cases we have co-ownership rights with studios.
You said Hammer will not make torture porn. Can you elaborate on that philosophy?
[pullquote]I saw the first Saw movie and thought it was great… I just don’t think it’s what Hammer does.[/pullquote]
I saw the first Saw movie and thought it was great, and then it became a franchise and it’s become what it’s become. I just don’t think it’s what Hammer does; I don’t think it’s what Hammer ever did. I don’t think it’s within the genres that Hammer created. So I don’t see what I call ‘gore-nography’ or torture porn or slasher pictures (being Hammer films), which my personal view is a footnote to the horror genre.
Is the intended avoidance of torture porn and slasher films a Board issue?
No, it’s just my taste, and the tastes of my colleagues to be honest with you. I just don’t think it’s right for Hammer. I call (Hammer) ‘the aristocrat of horror,’ there’s something rather grand about it in a funny way, the quality of what we’re doing. We’re not making low-budget horror movies; we’re making mid to high-budget horror movies, in terms of the type of budget you’d expect for a horror film.
How do you balance Hammer’s pedigree of personal, character-driven stories with the spectacle of today’s horror?
I think that movies find their own feet in a sense, and I think The Resident, for example, is a commercial psychological thriller. I think Let Me In is interesting because it’s Stand By Me meets The Exorcist.
It’s got art house credentials but it’s got a commercial filmmaker (Matt Reeves) at its helm, and it’s also got a great story. But it’s a character-driven story, like the Hammer films of old, but with an extraordinary central premise at the heart of it, which is that she’s a vampire. And it’s very touching story as well.
I’m curious to know about Christopher Lee in The Resident. Is it just a cameo or is he actually doing a role?
It’s a cameo. Chris plays Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s grandfather. I said, ‘We’ve got to get Christopher to be in the first Hammer picture in 35 years or something like that. He’s called August, and it’s a small part, but it’s not stunt casting. It’s a proper part. I don’t want to give it away, but the reveal when you first see him is fantastic. People are going to go crazy, particularly in England.
He got knighted (while he was doing the movie) It was announced to the English press eight hours beforehand, and Christopher was in the States. So he was asleep, then when he woke up he had champagne and chocolates (from us) and he was like, ‘What’s going on here? Are they trying to pay me less?’ We all knew because we were eight hours ahead (in England) – it was fantastic.
You have with Chris this huge audience across the globe, especially in the UK. And then with Hilary (Swank), an American actress, you have the US audience. Is there a consideration of moving back and forth between both camps?
No, honestly, there is not. The story came to us as a spec with Antti Jokinen direction, who is a Fin, and me being a Brit and then we shot the film in America. It’s set in New York. New York is the best setting you can possibly want for a thriller like that, that is very contained.
We wanted to put a marker down of how serious we were about what we are trying to do in rebooting Hammer by getting a double-Oscar winning actress to be in a thriller like this.
What do you think of the state of mainstream horror? What’s lacking?
God, I hate questions like that (he laughs). My truthful answer to that is that I think it’s wrong for me to publicize my view about it. It’s just my personal view. What I do know is what we’re trying to do. We are trying to reboot, recreate, kick-start the studio again. Make the movies in the U.K.; make the movies in the U.S., make movies wherever we need to make movies. We’ve got deep-pockets for development.
So we’re not just buying spec scripts or buying books, or buying finished or half-finished products. We can really start from the ground upwards.