So, what did Hammer films do before rebooting classic horror with The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957? Yeah well we all know about kickstarting the Brit Horror boom with TV spinoff The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955, but throughout the early 1950s Hammer produced a series of B-movie thrillers in a co-distribution deal with American producer Robert Lippert.
The House Across the Lake, which has just been reissued by Network, is an atmospheric thriller, which is perhaps closer in spirit to the Hollywood noirs of directors like Howard Hawks than their later Kensington gore drenched shockers. In fact it even opens with a Raymond Chandleresque narration from the American lead Alex Nichol.
Nichol plays Mark Kenrick, an American (Lippert always insisted on American leads for these co-financed pictures) author who has rented a cottage on Lake Windemere. Kenrick’s working idyll is shattered when he receives a phone call from Carol Forrest (Hillary Brooke) who lives in the titular house accross the lake. Carol asks Kenrick to use his boat to ferry some guests over to a party.
On arrival, Kenrick discovers a seductive and manipulative hostess, who obviously has a bit of thing for a young pianist. However, he pals up with her husband Beverly (a pre-Carry On Sid James) and is soon part of the Forest’s social circle. Kenrick discovers that Beverly is not only living on borrowed time, but knows all about Carol’s affairs and intends to cut her out of his will as soon as his lawyer returns to England. Carol is having none of that, so she ditches the piano player and embroils Kenrick in an attempt to get her hands on Forrest’s cash.
While not strictly a horror movie The House Across the Lake is an interesting example of the early work of what was to become Britain’s leading Horror studio. A lot of typical Hammer trademarks are well in place particularly the camera work and the use of atmospheric light and music to construct dramatic set pieces. There are also nice performances by Nicol and a smouldering Hillary Brooke as the wicked woman.
A proto Hammer Horror I give The House Across the Lake a 444/666.
The House Across the Lake is available from Network as part of their The British Film series price £9.99
Review by Simon Ball
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