Whilst enjoying once again the numerous pleasures of Hammer’s atmospheric 1959 production of Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (which regrettably never led to further Holmes adventures from the studio), I was struck by the irony of filming locations now and then. Hammer, restricted by comparatively small budgets, were forced to use local spots in and around Surrey to double for Dartmoor – and did a pretty good job of it. For their adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein, overseas shooting in authentic Eastern or Middle European locations was obviously out of the question, and so for exterior shots they would find suitably menacing nearby woods. Everything else was done inside the studio, which, with the right director, could be just as atmospheric as the real thing, if not more so.
The irony of all this is that today the exact opposite takes place. In order to recreate Ye Olde England on the cheap, film productions are forced to go to those same Eastern European countries that were once prohibitively expensive. The BBC’s new Robin Hood series is one of many productions currently exploiting this economic route, and many Hollywood films have done the same. Eastern Europe seems to be the location of choice at the moment to film expensive productions, in order to keep costs down. I have noticed in particular that cheapo direct-to-dvd sequels, a seemingly ever-growing trend, have found this method to be the best way to deliver a reasonably good looking sequel on a tight budget. Mimic 3 (Romania) and Lake Placid 2 (Bulgaria) are just two that spring to mind, neither of which I have seen, I hasten to add (possibly a good thing).
Certainly for fans of these sequels, and presumably the studio bean-counters, the low-cost production economics of Eastern Europe are a godsend. We might never have had the dubious pleasure of watching Lake Placid 2 if the situation were otherwise. On the other hand, it saddens me to think that the BBC can’t find anywhere in England to film their new version of the Robin Hood legend at a reasonable cost. Is this really the case? Is it just economics, or is it perhaps that our country woodland is so sparse now that a suitable location couldn’t be found? Whatever the reason, if Robin Hood can’t be filmed in England, something’s not right.
But there we go, that’s life I suppose. What intrigues me now is that the Hammer studio is finally resurrected after lying dormant for over 30 years. Their new production Beyond the Rave will be the first off the assembly line. And after that? Well, perhaps they will turn their attention to that staple of Hammer horror, the humble vampire. And this time, instead of Surrey doubling for Transylvania, it might be more economical to shoot the Carpathian Mountains on location…