Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Review: 'The Women of Hammer Horror: A Biographical Dictionary and Filmography'

Hammer Studios became synonymous with horror for a number of reasons: its stylish yet lurid reinterpretations of Universal’s monsters, its groundbreaking bloodiness, the charismatic presence of Peter Cushing, the chilly presence of Christopher Lee. Just as integral to the studios’ personality are the women who so fulfilled certain physical requirements that the term “Hammer glamour” was invented to define/label them. 

Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter’s 2013 book The Women of Hammer Horror: A Biographical Dictionary and Filmography widened its scope beyond the studio’s most buxom actresses to provide details about every single woman who ever appeared in a Hammer horror feature or TV series such as Hammer House of Horror or Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense. So there are entries on Bette Davis and Joan Fontaine along with the ones on Ingrid Pitt, Caroline Munro, and Veronica Carlson, who provides a gracious foreword with sincere praise for Pitt and Munro.


When getting the job done, the entries provide a bit of biographical details about a given actress and cheeky assessments of their work in Hammer productions. Because Cotter is determined to list every single woman who spent time in front of Hammer’s cameras, a lot of the entries amount to nothing more than a name and a film title. In fact, there are four such entries before the first one that actually includes a biography (Dawn Addams of The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll and The Vampire Lovers, FYI). The extensiveness and popularity of the woman’s Hammer credits rather than her general career’s achievements tend to determine the length of each entry, hence Jane Asher’s being limited to just three sentences, the last of which is “She was briefly Paul McCartney’s fiancĂ©.” If the details are sensational enough, Cotter makes room, so we get some truly horrifying details about Eva Bartok’s (an actress in two forgotten early Hammers) marriage to a genuine Nazi officer and other actresses issues with drugs, violence, strange behavior, and so on.


Cotter's entry on Carlson is particularly thoughtful, and he's particularly funny when discussing the outrageous likes of Adrienne Corri and Joan Collins, but his sensibilities are stuck in 2013… or perhaps a few decades earlier than that. His entry on Barbi Benton begins with the descriptor “Big-breasted…”, and he is excessively concerned with who does and does not “get her kit off.” He deems Prehistoric Women to be “too silly to be racist” (since when were racism and silliness not bedmates?). So he may not be the ideal candidate to survey the careers of women in fun but undoubtedly exploitative movies. He certainly isn’t in 2021 when McFarland books is reprinting The Women of Hammer Horror. Maybe hire a woman to do a job like this next time.

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