You think you are a true cinema buff, and then along comes a large, beautiful book about a whole group of films you’ve never seen. Yes, I have a gaping hole in my film knowledge relating to the Hammer Films studio in London, which came to the forefront in popular culture through a series of horror and exploitation titles beginning in the 1950’s, and continuing to this day.
Official Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn does not attempt to chronicle every movie from the company since its founding in 1934 by comedian William Hinds. Instead, he chooses the highlights, presenting a narrative that begins in 1954 with The Quartermass Xperiment (“82 minutes of sick-making twaddle”) and ends with 2009’s vampire remake Let Me In (“the antithesis of the torture porn that dominated the horror genre in the early years of the 21st century”), moving through select films and gorgeously illustrated by artwork, ephemera, script pages, stills, behind-the-scenes photos and more.
If you are a Hammer Films nut, a review of a such a book is probably beside the point. A few quick flips through the slick, full-color pages will make your brain scream “WANT!!!”. For a general film enthusiast, the book has some more subtle things to offer. There are some interesting stories behind the making and marketing of these films.
For example, did you know director Seth Holt had to resist star Bette Davis’ “repeated efforts to seduce him” on the set of The Nanny (1965)? I love the line “A Cave Was The Trap! A Human Being Was The Bait!” from the marketing materials for The Abominable Snowman (1957). Posters for movies like One Million Years B.C. (1965), The Vampire Lovers (1970), and Twins of Evil (1971) are still shocking by today’s standards.
If I have one complaint, it is that no film gets more than a two-page spread, when clearly some deserve and would support a good deal more. I suppose in a way the book functions as an advertisement to dig deeper into some of these classics — or un-classics, depending on your taste. I know it has inspired me to add to my Netflix queue. Recommend.