REV-ELATIONS (CLASSIC HORROR TV/FILM)

Cosmic Rock

Hammer House Of Horror -
Episode 2 -
"The 13th Reunion."
Welcome to this week's edition of Rev-Elations, here on cosmic-rock.com. I am your archeologist of anthology horror, Rev. Dan Wilson. My first undertaking is Hammer Films' "Hammer House Of Horror." They are the British film studio who revitalized the Universal monsters in the 50's with a new presentation that included color, sex, atmosphere and sophistication. (See Rev-Elations #1 for an in depth look at Hammer and review of HHOH Episode 1 - Witching Time.) My main focus here is to unearth and appreciate these bite sized segments of horror history. I'm no film critic, just a fan seeking an education on my obsession.
A couple of notes worth mentioning off the bat. If you want to watch along with me, I welcome it. Most of what I'll be talking about is still widely available for purchase. You can buy HHOH on amazon here on DVD: https://www.amazon.com/Hammer-House-Horror-Peter-Cushing/dp/B008HSK3PE and from most other online retailers.
If you have a 4k TV and need something of better quality, it is also on Shudder, (App or shudder.com) which at 5 bucks a month is the best deal in streaming TV. These shows are the same age as I am, so these articles will contain spoilers!
This week's episode is titled "The 13th Reunion". It originally aired on September 20th, 1980. (Just shy of two months before I originally aired on the planet earth.) The program aired on ITV-1 in the UK. 
 
The 13th Reunion is unique in that our villains are quite unlike what we've seen in Hammer lore previously. There is no supernatural element to this episode whatsoever. No witches, no haints, no goblins, Draculas, Frankensteins and nary a wolfman or Mummy in sight. The killer is man. 
To be fair, this is not the first time Hammer films had ever tackled the topic of good old fashioned human on human murder, but it wasn't exactly what they were known for. They actually produced a series of "Hitchcockian" suspense and murder mystery films in the 60's along side the gothic productions directed by Freddie Francis and Seth Holt. This episode felt a little more in that wheelhouse.
 
It takes place in primarily 3 locations, 2 of which were pretty out of the ordinary compared to the gothic sceneries we're used to. One is a magazine office on Fleet Street and I'm not quite sure if that is a Sweeney Todd reference or just the fact that it was a popular street. The other is a weight loss clinic which has to be a first for Hammer. The 3rd, more traditional location is a funeral home which is more the pace we've come to expect. 
It stars UK TV and Film veteran Julia Foster as Ruth Cairns, a magazine reporter who is sent to Chesterton clinic to do a story on their "Think Thin" program. This episode absolutely features some subtle social commentary, but at the end of the day doesn't really contain a moral other than maybe don't go poking around where you shouldn't. It ultimately serves the purpose of the show, which was to deliver an hour long contained horror story with a conclusion but it was cool that writer Jeremy Burnham still threw in some critical takes on our own social conscious. From Ruth lamenting how sexist it is to even have a women's section in their magazine, to the overall commentary on self image, self worth and the lengths we'll go to gain the acceptance of people we don't even like, Burnham definitely took the opportunity to try and say a little more than the content required and I thought that gave the episode it's character. 
Compared to the skeleton crew of "Witching Time" which primarily focused on 3 characters, "13th Reunion" has a lot more moving parts with an ensemble cast of multiple relevant characters. Upon arriving at the clinic Ruth observes Willis, a brutal, drill sargent like instructor belittling an overweight woman. Willis is played by legendary genre actor James Cosmo who has done everthing from Highlander, Braveheart, Troy, Wonder Woman, The Chronicles of Narnia, to Trainspotting 1 & 2, Ben-Hur, Game Of Thrones and Sons Of Anarchy. 
Cosmo just completely chews the scenery in this scene in the best way possible and comes off like a giant prick. "Do you like looking so unattractive, Joyce? Do you enjoy making men turn away in disgust? Well, so something about it you stupid cow. Start jogging, start a creche, start a political party, anything to take your mind off your guts."
Ruth participates anyway and befriends a man in the program named Ben Faraday (most recognizeable in his role as Dim in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange) and they go out on a date. She discovers they've actually told Ben in to increase his calorie intake and given him some sort of pill to take along with it. She questions that it doesn't make any sense given the program, he says he trusts the process. The date ends well and she writes her number on Ben's hand. 
But on the drive home, the first elements of the mystery begin to stack up. That pill turns out to be something more sinister. Ben's vision gets blurry and he crashes into a tree, dying on impact. 
Ruth gets the call from the coroner asking if she knows how to contact his next of kin, based on her phone number on his hand. She admits she just met him the night before and doesn't. This leads to a visit from a young mortician named Andrew (Scotish actor Gerard Kelly, most recently known for his role as Ian "Bunny" Bunton on the Ricky Gervais comedy series, "Extras") who is suspicious about the circumstances of Ben's death due to the fact that his superiors wouldn't let him anywhere near the body and the whole thing seemed shady. He states his employers have been behaving strangely. These men are Basil and Cedric Ashford. Basil is played by another UK film legend in Norman Bird (appeared in "Term Of Trial" in 1962 alongside Sir Laurence Olivier as well as the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the animated Lord Of The Rings from 1978). Cedric is played by Emmy nominated star of US and UK film and TV George Innes (The Italian Job, Master & Commander, Hill Street Blues, Magnum PI, M*A*S*H, Cagney & Lacey and more). They work for a man named Jack Rothwell, who is played by long time Dr Who villain Kevin Stoney. Rothwell appears to be behind the whole conspiracy. 
Ruth and Andrew decide to break into the Funeral Home and see what the Ashford Brothers have been hiding. They want to get a peek at the body themselves. They find Ben's coffin, but there is no body just a metal frame wrapped in linens, made only to look like a mummified corpse.  
Ruth decides her next magazine assignment will be to go undercover and infiltrate the Chesterton weight loss clinic and expose whatever nefarious activities are taking place there . Rothwell interviews her and she plays along. (Though her own thin physique and relationship with the now deceased Ben Faraday may have given her intent away from the onset.)
She slips out of her assigned quarters after hours to get the real scoop and spies Rothwell hauling what certainly looks to be a body bag, filled with what looks to be a dead body to his car. He arrives at a formal gathering of people at a giant, almost mansion like estate. Ruth has followed him the whole time and we find out that this is the home of clinic founder Humphrey Chesterton. (Played by Richard Pearson, another UK film vet who also voiced Mole in the 1983 animated Wind In The Willows.) 
Ruth continues her Nancy Drew-like gumshoeing as she creeps around the perimiter of the estate and looks in the windows. Eventually she gets busted and ....invited in for dinner?
The room is full of clinic members, most of whom are socialites of some ilk. They are all very friendly to Ruth including Mr Chesterton. A female party guest reveals to ruth that these gatherings are to remember a tragic event in all of their lives and to pay tribue to the ones they lost. It turns out, everyone here was on a plane from London to Marrakech that went down in the wilderness. The ones who survived said they carried a special bond due to the experience, so once a month, they got together to celebrate and this was the 13th reunion. As they begin to swap stories, we learn they had to do something extraordinary to survive, but nobody ever says exactly what. 
As the dinner is being served Ruth finally starts to get the picture and loses her shit. These f**kers are cannibals and there is a platter that very much looks like it has a human head under it sitting out.  She tells everyone she knows what they are doing and she bolts, presumeably to get her story out. She got the info she needed after all. "You're just going to let her leave?", Chesterton: "Let her go, after all it's her funeral."
Ruth immediately goes back to the funeral home to find Andrew and well...she finds him alright. On a medical table, throat slit, and deader than a doornail. Ruth has little time to grieve however as she turns around and heeeeeeeeerreeeee's Willis!
The drill sargent like weight loss instructor, decides to take a few pounds off Ruth.....with a meat clever. The end. 
I really enjoyed this one. The secret society murder mystery angle really offered something unexpected and I'd mentioned Nancy Drew earlier but it really does play out like one of those classic detective stories, until Nancy Drew gets hacked to death with a meat clever to end the episode that is.
I thought Julia Foster did a fine job in that role. Sleuthy reporter served her well. The supporting cast was all strong and all had bodies of work that suggested primo acting chops. James Cosmo stole the show to me, however. Hard to believe the tough but fair and grandfatherly Jeor Mormont in Game Of Thrones could be such an evil ruthless bastard here, and he was so, so young.  
This was pretty far from the norm within the context of the overall Hammer canon. No supernatural villians, a little blood but not much, no nudity. Everything is very much done for maximum psychological impact, and what is only implied and not seen only adds to the tension. Director Peter Sasdy looks more inspired by Hitchock suspense horror here than the established Hammer "universe" or even the popular horror films of the day.
For James Cosmo alone, this episode should make your cut if only going to watch select ones. To my fellow completionists, you probably pressed play before you read the column.
 Thanks again for the kind response to the column. I am thrilled to be contributing something to the world of horror and there is so much more to come from there in 2018. Join me right back here next week as we look at episode 3, "Rude Awakening" where an unsavory real estate agent has some strange premonitions in the form of dreams.