Friday, 26 November 2010

The Hammer Vampire

Written by Bruce Hallenbeck and released as part of Hemlock’s ongoing Hemlock Film series, this 2010 publication analyses the Hammer vampire in its various manifestations from 1958’s Dracula through to 1974’s The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

The films are discussed chronologically and thematically across six main chapters, with a prologue and epilogue bookending things by outlining the pre-Hammer situation and post-Hammer developments respectively.

The first chapter, entitled The Terrifying Lover, looks at Dracula and The Brides of Dracula. The second, The Nature of the Beast, encompasses Kiss of the Vampire and Dracula: Prince of Darkness. The third, The Vampire as Antichrist, examines Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula has Risen from the Grave and The Scars of Dracula. The fourth, Sin, Sex and Sadism, focuses on The Vampire Lovers, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil. The fifth, The Vampire in Society, discusses Dracula AD 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula. The final chapter, Variations on a Theme, looks at Countess Dracula, Vampire Circus, Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter and Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires.

I didn’t always find these groupings convincing on account of the overlaps and interconnections between films in some of them – the reworking of Brides of Dracula’s planned climax for Kiss of the Vampire; the way in which Dracula’s resurrection in Prince of Darkness (and, indeed, that subtitle) already position the character as antichrist; or the vague Karnstein references that were in Captain Kronos’s script at one point.

I was however convinced by Hallenbeck’s overall thesis. This is that over the course of 15 or so years Hammer’s films went from radical to reactionary in their treatments of the vampire myth. This is conveyed not only through a consideration of the pre- and post-Hammer vampire films but also those films whose releases run parallel to them.

Simply put something like 1970’s The Loves of Count Iorga Vampire would not have been possible without Hammer, whilst at the same time they themselves were struggling to come to terms with the new more sexually (and, on occasion, politically) explicit films they had given rise to.

He is also particularly good at challenging some of Christopher Lee’s more exaggerated and self-defensive claims as cases he protesteth too much: It appears not so much to have been that Lee refused to say anything in Dracula: Prince of Darkness as that Jimmy Sangster had not written any lines for Dracula. Similarly, Lee’s constant protests to Hammer about his remuneration seems as much a negotiating strategy or ritual as anything else.

In the end, I think the value of Hallenbeck’s book will depend on where you fit as a Hammer fan: If you are a completist, like me, then you obviously need it. If you are a selective completist or on a limited budget, then you might find that too much of the material overlaps with what you already have by the likes of Wayne Kinsey. If you are neither of these then it is weighing up the volume’s more detailed discussion of its subject against the absence of other subjects. Of course, the Hammer = Horror association also likely means that you are not aware of many of these selfsame subjects.

This itself actually leads to a question: Can we ever expect to see an in-depth study of Hammer’s non-horror films, either as a whole or by genre in the same way? Will Hemlock do 'British Cult Cinema: The Hammer Comedy' at some point in the future?

Whatever the answer, Hallenbeck’s book is well-written, informative and does what it sets out to.

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