Lair of the Geek

Bringing you all the geek stuff

Marcus Hearn The Hammer Vault

What a great big gorgeous thing this book is!

Marcus Hearn has trawled through the Hammer film archives and produced a collection of images and documents to accompany Hammer’s output from their very first movie right up to the present day.

Included are almost all of the studio’s major releases. It all begins at the beginning in 1954 with ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’, a remake of the classic BBC drama. Anthony Hinds and James Carreras of Exclusive films bought the rights and demanded an X certificate (hence the altered title). They promised more shocks and horror than TV could provide and they certainly delivered. The film proved a success at the box office but damaged the reputation of Exclusive leading to the permanent adoption of Hammer as a separate trade name for the more controversial movies.

After that the book catalogues all the studio’s major releases right the way through to 1978s ‘The Lady Vanishes’. 79 original Hammer movies are included and each production gets a double page spread, a brief commentary on context, director, stars and any other points of interest. The accompanying artwork and images are excellent. Original posters sit beside on set stills, publicity shots and images of props, sets and costumes. Also included are press clippings, reviews, excerpts from interviews, pages of script and letters and it really is an eye opening treasure trove and a fascinating insight into the process of getting these movies to the screen. This blanket approach works well and allows even the most obscure movies to be represented. However, it would have been nice to have a little more detail and insight into some of the acknowledged classics.

Some of the most interesting items come from the early years when it was standard practice to accompany a new release with a publicity manual and press book. These were closely rationed and contained information flyers, cinema cards and foyer images. Many of these are faithfully reproduced and really are a nostalgic treat. I’m very envious of anyone lucky enough to own an original of one of these wonderful souvenirs.

Presenting the films in chronological order also gives an interesting overview of different eras in Hammer’s work. The early years, for example, show that Hammer were keen to experiment with a range of very varied films but eventually the success of gore and monsters and the critical mauling of some of their more experimental films led them to become much more focused on horror. The sixties saw consolidation, banking with well made and popular sequels to established brands and fewer risks on the side. The seventies saw the company in decline, long term directors and loyal stars such as Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing were getting bored and the quality became much more variable. This period also saw a relaxation of the film certification rules which allowed far more nudity and explicitly sexual content. This period is marked by the combination of mild eroticism, camp horror and over the top gore, often with unintentionally hilarious results. The artwork of this period reflects a policy best described as ‘tits with everything’, but unfortunately great posters didn’t necessarily equal great films and the financial returns dwindled. Money was always a headache for Hammer’s producers. Throughout the company’s long history there is always the feeling that budgets were tight and the producers were continually chasing the crucial backing of a big US distributor. Hammer always walked a tightrope, trying to do a lot with not very much and always hoping to use recent successes to guarantee the funds to keep the next project alive.

Unexpectedly, the most enjoyable section isn’t about the films that Hammer actually managed to make and release. Instead, a chapter dedicated to ‘unmade’ Hammer which includes tantalising details about loads of films that never made it to the screen proves to be the highlight of the package. Some of these are little more than a title and some provocative artwork without any kind of script or even story attached. It turns out that the company quite often mocked up taster material in the hope that it would attract some financial backing. Other concepts made it as far as completed scripts while a handful were well into pre-production before the project was dropped. These pages make the reader yearn for what might have been. Who wouldn’t want to see such potential gems as ‘The Reluctant Virgin’, ‘Mistress of the Seas’ and, this reviewer’s personal favourite, ‘Zeppelin v Pterodactyls’?

After the late seventies and the end of the ‘Hammer House of Horror’ TV series it seemed that Hammer was dead and buried with a stake through its heart and garlic round its neck but the inclusion of information about the new Hammer team led by Simon Oaks makes an uplifting end to the book. With a fresh new team releasing  21st Century productions which include 2009s excellent ‘Let Me In’ and the upcoming ‘The Woman In Black’ starring a post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe, the future for the legendary Hammer name looks very rosy once again.

At first glance the price tag may seem a bit steep at £29.99 but you really do get a lot for your money. The book is large, sturdily bound in hardback with gorgeous Dracula cover art, and contains 176 beautiful glossy pages full of publicity shots, script pages, letters, reviews and artwork much of which has never been seen before and is not available anywhere else.

The Hammer Vault is certainly a must for fans of the studio and a brilliant companion piece to a Hammer DVD collection but it is also a fascinating insight into British film making that would be of interest to anyone with a passion for cinema and British movie history.

Review by: David Stonehouse

Titan Books                          £29.99                    Out: 1st December

One thought on “Marcus Hearn The Hammer Vault”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *