Friday, March 19, 2010

Film: The House of Horror — The Story of Hammer Films

The House of Horror — The Story of Hammer Films
(Ed. Allen Eyles, Robert Adkinson & Nicholas Fry, Lorrimer Publishing Ltd., 1973)
A rather pointless fluff piece, heavy on praise, light on insight and detail, redeemed only by both eight pages of color reproductions of absolutely fantastic film posters — some so full of bared, bloody boobs and violence that they probably never were meant for general distribution in the first place — and the numerous photographs, especially those included in a chapter entitled "Brides of Dracula — And Others," which is little more than a series of cheesecake shots of the various forgotten and not so forgotten babes to have graced Hammers’ productions. But even these features have lost their importance in the years since this book was published: what was once so hard to find but in an occasional book (i.e., cheesecake, film posters) can now be found without problem on the Internet.

The first chapter is a series of four interviews of Hammers most important players at the time: Managing Director Michael Carreras, director Terence Fisher and the immortal stars Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Dry and oh so polite, the sections about Lee, Cushing and Fisher are superficial to the point of being annoying, supplying enough information to act as filler but not enough as to be especially stimulating or of any importance. Michael Carreras’ section is a bit more interesting, if only because it offers an insight into the origins and development of the company, though the glowing presentation of Carreras tends to become highly ironical when one takes into account that it was under his management that the company finally went broke.
The next three chapters focus, respectively, first on Hammers early B&W pre-horror productions, then the various horror films for which the company is presently so fondly remembered for, and lastly, the numerous other non-horror productions they also made over the years. All three chapters are lavishly illustrated with a number of photos ranging from fantastic to abysmal, some of which suffer disastrous cropping. The descriptions tend to be short, self-serving narratives that offer little or no insight into the movies, reminiscent of the short synopsizes one finds in any given mass marketed TV movie guide. The book would have been much better served had it concentrated on fewer films and given deeper information, possibly even insightful criticism. As it is, the text in The House of Horror gets incredibly boring exceedingly fast.

But then, the film posters! The first one reproduced is to Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde, and it shows more breast than seen in the entire film; painted or not, even with a knife sticking bloodily between them, the mammaries featured look a lot better than those briefly flashed in the film by Martine Beswick. Oddly enough, five of the eight color reproductions are for films that seem never to have been produced, advertising such unsung, never to be made or seen would be classics like Zeppelin Verses Pterodactyls, Mistress of the Seas and When the Earth Cracked Open. (Especially the last mentioned poster seems so promising, showcasing—as can be seen here to the left) a babe from a future time when the women obviously wear topless spacesuits.)
As any fan can tell you and the chapter dedicated to "Hammer’s Leading Ladies" aptly proves, Hammer not only invented the wonder bra long before it was ever marketed to the masses, but the casting department definitely had a fine eye for the exotic and truly beautiful. (For sure, more than one man has wished to have owned Hammer’s casting couch.) For the most part, the cheesecake shots shown are relatively discreet, though the one or two love pillows that are indeed exposed. In general, the photos of Caroline Munro, Valerie Leon, Kate O’Mara, Veronica Carlson, the one-film wonder Carita, the now-deceased Julie Ege and still living Edina Ronay not only bring back memories of early erections, but also prove that there are a number of long forgotten starlets that deserve rediscovery and reappraisal just as much as such popular fanzine staples as Martine Beswick and the non-Hammer favorites Tura Satana or Barbara Steele.

All in all, were it not for the book’s photographs and the eight pages of film posters, The House of Horror would be a pretty pointless waste of trees. Even the filmography at the end of the volume, while of possible great help if done well, is an inconvenient mess, the films both being listed by chronological year rather than by title as well as lacking any reference to content or to what preceding page in the volume they might have been discussed. The House of Horror is definitely only for die-hard fans or completionists; that which is found in the book that would appeal to Joe or Jill Schmoe can be found more easily and cheaper on the Net.

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