Victoriana meets the zombies: the sci-fi cult coming to the big screen


Adam Sherwin
Friday 02 December 2011 01:00

In its heyday the Hammer House of Horror delighted fans with bloodthirsty vampires and voluptuous victims. Now the revived British studio is staking a claim for Hollywood success by bringing steampunk to the big screen.

The cult science-fiction genre which incorporates futuristic innovations into a Victorian setting, steampunk has proved hugely influential across literature, music, design and fashion since the 1980s and has seen a surge in popularity over the past five years.

Hammer Films has now acquired the rights to one of the most popular steampunk novels, Boneshaker by the American writer Cherie Priest.

Winner of the 2010 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, Priest's novel is set in an alternate version of 1880s Seattle, where the city has been walled in and a toxic gas has turned many of its remaining residents into zombie-like creatures called "Rotters".

A young widow hunts for her teen son in the Seattle underworld, while dealing with airship pirates, a criminal overlord and heavily armed refugees.

Hammer itself is enjoying a zombie-style return from the dead. Launched in 1934, the studio responsible for lurid classics such as Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein had ceased film production by the 1980s.

Backed by the financiers Exclusive Media Group, Hammer returned with a web-only serial in 2008 before achieving box office success with an English-language version of the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In.

Boneshaker will be produced in partnership with Cross Creek Pictures, the company behind the Natalie Portman ballet-set thriller Black Swan, and distributed by Universal.

Inspired by the scientific innovations imagined by Jules Verne and HG Wells, steampunk literature romanticises the utopian technology of the Victorian era in storylines which revel in anachronistic settings.

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Steampunk design, most commonly a fetish for brass and copper, has been incorporated into Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films, Martin Scorsese's new 3D movie Hugo and the design of the Tardis in the rebooted Doctor Who.

Simon Oakes, president and CEO of Hammer Films, said of Boneshaker: "It's like Jules Verne meets Resident Evil. Boneshaker is a classic zombie movie with a modern twist which is quintessentially Hammer, so it's a perfect fit for us."

Adapted for the screen by John Hilary Shepherd, writer of the Nurse Jackie television series, Hammer hopes that Boneshaker, the first of five Civil War-era novels, could develop into a steampunk franchise.

Before Boneshaker enters production, Hammer Films is expecting big things from its next release, The Woman In Black. Opening in February, the supernatural thriller stars Daniel Radcliffe as a lawyer sent to a remote village and is written by Jane Goldman, Jonathan Ross's wife.

HG Wells: Steampunk pioneer

From The War of the Worlds, published in 1898:

"At first I took it for the wet roof of a house, but one flash following another showed it to be in swift rolling movement... And this Thing I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering metal, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder."

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