Friday 2 January 2015

Hammer's Film Legacy

This 408 page book by Wayne Kinsey covers every Hammer production made between The Quatermass Xperiment in 1955 and To the Devil a Daughter in 1976 (including the is-it-or-isn’t-it Hammer The Shadow of the Cat) in chronological sequence.

There’s thus next to nothing on Exclusive/Hammer in the periods immediately before and after the Second World War, nor on the likes of Terence Fisher’s Three Sided Triangle and Stolen Face from the early 1950s, nor on the present-day Hammer revival.

Each of the 106 films included is approached in the same way: An image of its title card; listings of the crew and cast; distribution details; discussions of pre-production; casting; production; post-production and release.

For the most part Hammer’s Gothic Horrors are given the longest and most detailed write-ups, their television sitcom adaptations the least.

Besides reflecting the likely interests of the assumed reader, this is often a consequence of the back-and-forth between the studio and the British Board of Film Censors over script content at the pre-production stage. Mindful of costs, Hammer’s management could see no point in shooting material deemed too horrific or otherwise censorable.

Discussions of these negotiations were also one of the major strengths of the author’s previous volumes on Hammer’s Bray and Elstree periods. This, in turn, raises the question of how necessary Hammer’s Film Legacy is for those who already own the two now out-of-print collections. Similarly, some of the details of the contributions of those behind the camera and behind the scenes may overlap with Kinsey’s more recent book on Hammer’s Unsung Heroes.

For those owning neither of the Bray and Elstree volumes this is undoubtedly a worthwhile purchase considering the information it contains and the prices its predecessors now fetch. For those with them I would also argue that it is a worthwhile purchase, whether as an investment (as I write this the limited hardback edition of 500 must be nearly gone, mine being #412), for the material that hasn’t hitherto appeared elsewhere, or just to keep Kinsey and his publishers doing more of this stuff.

In case my comments appear too gushing I’ll finish with a negative. There are some places where I wondered if what the author wrote was what he meant. Early on, for example, he characterises the purchase and establishment of Bray Studios as a “false economy”. While Bray was certainly an economic decision I don’t believe it was a false one, i.e. a decision that cost more than it returned. Similarly a reference to “sort solace” rather than “sought solace” seems a malapropism.

Overall, however, well worth getting.