Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: 'The Hammer Vault'

Colorful, sexy, campy, and iconic, Hammer has attracted a devoted cult like no other film studio. Marcus Hearn’s new book, The Hammer Vault, will please those creepy cultists most assuredly. Hammer’s “official film historian” profiles more than 80 Hammers, beginning with its 1955 flagship horror, The Quatermass Xperiment. Although it supplies some interesting tidbits (apparently, Bette Davis really had the hots for screenwriter Jimmy Sangster!) and a fairly extensive section on unproduced movies, Hearn’s text plays a supporting role to the images of rare and precious curios that litter The Hammer Vault. We get photos of the elaborate publicity manuals designed to promote each film, which often contained pretty hilarious promotional suggestions. Why wouldn’t a cinema want to splash red paint all over its sidewalk to lure audiences to The Brides of Dracula or reproduce a sewer in its lobby while showing The Phantom of the Opera? The book reproduces promotional gimmicks ranging from the cool—comic strips used to promote The Gorgon and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb—to the ludicrous—a  “Kandahar curry” recipe that somehow would have drew spectators to The Brigand of Kandahar. Instructions for making construction-paper bats and graveyard tableaux, paper masks and paper fangs; no gimmick was too chintzy or far-fetched for Hammer.

Other delightful materials include a characteristically kind letter from Peter Cushing to a young man he helped find employment at the studio and Christopher Lee’s Taste the Blood of Dracula script annotated with personal observations like “Ridiculous lines” and “Absurd”! There are candid shots of Hammer-freak Sammy Davis, Jr., awestruck by Lee on the set of Pirates of Blood River, a zombie eating a popsicle, and a mummy enjoying a glass of milk.

The Hammer Vault trumpets its distinction as the first book to follow the studio through its recent revival. Considering these pictures have either been decent (“Wake Wood”), well crafted yet redundant (“Let Me In”), or outright crappy (“The Resident”), this isn’t much of an allure. No big deal, since Hearn’s book already has much to mesmerize fans. That upcoming version of The Woman in Black with Daniel Radcliff does look promising, though.

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