Sunday, 12 December 2010

Last Bus to Bray: The Unfilmed Hammer

These two volumes, the first covering up to 1970 and the second from then to the present, are the classic “Curate’s Egg”: Good in places.

The good is the information they provide.

Basically, if you are a Hammer aficionado then you want these. Order them now and come back and read the rest of the review later.

The not so good is the writing and production.

A degree of leeway can obviously be given to any small press or self-published work. But there also comes a point where the number of typographical, grammatical, spelling and other errors becomes a serious hindrance to reading. Last Bus to Bray comes close to it. [I make no great claims about my own writings here, but then they are free.]

Unfortunately the layout and the poor quality of the reproductions (many rare, albeit sometimes reproduced from earlier publications) push it close to being beyond a pleasurable read, even for the fan.

As one such, I had long been intrigued by the way in which the studio would commission poster art for prospective films, in some cases prior to having a script written or any real pre-production work, as a means of gauging the interest in them and thereby their commercial viability. What remains less clear, however, is how far this was particular to Hammer.

Author Glen Davies does a fine job in going through the archives and sifting out those productions which were real possibilities, as distinct from those, especially in the 1970s and beyond, which were merely figments of over-enthusiasm or self-delusion.

What is lacking is much sense of how the unfilmed Hammer compares to the unfilmed output of other studios, especially genre specialists of the time. Did Tigon and Amicus likewise have all manner of possible projects, particularly in the the early and mid-1970s, a period when the British film industry as a whole was in crisis? Or was there something special about Hammer that meant they tended to attract more interest – or, indeed, be able to attract that bit more interest?

The dominant picture that emerges, reinforcing that of earlier studies, is one of a basic tension at the heart of the studio. Long-term studio head James Carreras was a hard-headed businessman. He felt no particular attraction to horror, but was happy to concentrate the company’s efforts upon the genre, as long as they remained profitable. His son Michael was more artistically inclined. He was keen to diversify the company’s output away from horror – or, in actuality, back to the more varied kind output they had produced prior to the success of The Quatermass Xperiment, The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula.

With Michael Carreras’s own attempts at non-horror productions generally failing, he was compelled to come back to his father’s studio with his tail between his legs. The rift with his father, however, was perhaps never really to be healed, with James Carreras not handing over the business in a family way but instead almost selling it to an old rival before his son bought him out.

But by this time the Hammer = Horror association was also one which was proving problematic, in that the kind of horror Hammer were associated with was ever more passé.

This tension is one that would remain: On the one hand, the very fact that there can be a publication like this attests to the brand value attached to the name. On the other hand, this brand value remains associated with a particular kind of horror that belongs in the past.

The history of abortive Hammer revivals in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s proves telling in this regard.

So, indeed, does the discourse around the recent remake of Let the Right One In. Depending on who is asking the question and who is answering its Hammer associations may be played up or not mentioned. Regardless, it seems fair to describe it as a Hammer film in name only – and indeed, only those who care about such things.

No comments: