When it comes to horror film companies, the causal fans think of the two most successful ones; Universal and Hammer. But many may not know that just like Universal, Hammer did not only focus on horror, but created many films in the genres of science fiction, kung fu, mysteries, and comedies. Hammer even had television shows and album records. Howard Maxford covers all things Hammer in his wonderful Hammer Complete: The Films, the Personnel, the Company (McFarland, 2019).
Let me preface this review with a flashback to my college days at Kent State University. As an English major, one of the classes we had to take was a Shakespeare course, who is not one of my favorite writers (even when I taught at a high school for a few years, much like the students, I dreaded this part). As many readers here may know, walking across college campus with your backpack filled with books, especially during the winter , was not an enjoyable experience. The Shakespeare class was actually bearable , as opposed to some of the other teachers who taught the subject at the campus, because my class looked at the work more from a theater aspect than looking at the plays as just literature.
The textbook we had to use for the class was The Wadsworth Shakespeare book, which is a hardback (and heavy) , book that had over 2000 pages filled with poems, plays, and all things Shakespeare . When going to the class, many of us only carried that book (with a notebook) due to the heaviness and size of the book. The book was at a hefty price as well for us students (like many text books), so when it was time to decide whether or not to keep the book at the end of the semester, it was a no-brainer for many of us to sell it back and try and get at least $50 bucks back from the $150 we paid for it.
The reason I bring up this story is when Hammer Complete showed up at my door, after requesting a copy for review, I immediately thought of that Shakespeare textbook when I unwrapped the packaging. At first glance (and this rarely happens to me, maybe with the exception of the KISSTORY book I purchased in the 1990s), I was in awe of how beautiful the book outlook was. I do not get emotional about books by looking at the covers, besides the comments of “I like that” or “that’s a neat cover.” This was an exception. The cover features Christopher Lee as Count Dracula from the 1968 Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, ready to sink his teeth into Veronica Carlson. The hardback cover, with the solid binding made me state out loud , although I was by myself, “WOW!”
I started thumbing through the thin pages, just admiring some of the pictures and text, which has three columns on every page. I was amazed at how well put together, along with the sturdiness of the binding.
With all this amazement with the visuals of the book, is the book actually good? Because it was uncomfortable to read in bed, I had to settle for browsing and reading at the kitchen table. I started to read the book from the beginning with the Introduction, where the author states that this project took him 14 years to put together, and that the text is not meant to be read cover to cover, but for “browsing.” I started to try it anyway.
Unlike other McFarland books I have reviewed on this page like Universal Horrors and Bela Lugosi And Boris Karloff (where you can find in the archives, or type in the search engine), it is difficult to read every little thing cover to cover, as the author warns. There is so much information here, from the actors, films, crew members, and anyone associated with the movie company , that I’d still be reading this book for years, and only get so far into it. I suggest following the writer’s advice and look up the topics you are wanting to read about and go from there.
Since this is about Hammer, there are many great topics and stories from the history of the company, from the obvious Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing films, to the television shows and magazines, to some of the rarer known films (at least for me) in the history. For instance, I did not know that special effects legend Ray Harryhausen helped on the Hammer film One Million Years B.C. ,that Patty Duke was featured on an episode of the television show Journey To The Unknown, or that James Bond girl Ursula Andress was in the Hammer film, 1965’s She.
The book also supplies interviews with several of the people who were a part of the film, and gives an entertaining look at some of the behind the scenes tales that is normally absent in an normal encyclopedia, such as the story during the 1966 Dracula Prince of Darkness, where Christopher Lee’s eye contact fell out during filming while he was standing on a salt block. The make up man picked up the contact and put it back into Lee’s eye, with salt still in it.
The Draculas, Frankensteins, Mummys, and the Karstein triology are all covered here, including one of my favorite films (where many dismiss) 1964’s The Gorgon. There are comedies, magazines, and just odd films featured in the text as well. The book even covers the newer Hammer films, like the underrated Woman In Black from 2012, and other films like Let Me In and the bad Woman In Black sequel.
I very much enjoyed browsing through this book, and reading all of the tales about the actors, and films. Die hard fans of the Hammer films will need to add this to their collections. The book holds up very well, as opposed to a few others I have received with huge page lengths, where the pages fell out towards the end of the book. At almost 1000 pages of three columned print (the text is small too), there is much to enjoy in this book, including the photographs of movie posters, and on the set shots. The only question remains is would the casual horror fan be willing to shell out the price of the book to use as only a reference, since it is hard to read cover to cover, to have sit on their shelves? I can not answer that question, as honest as I like to be with my reviews here. All I can say is that I was amazed at the quality of the book , and after reading it for several months, I kept a notebook beside me with a listing of films that I want to check out that I never heard of, thanks to going through this piece. The book may not be for everyone, but don’t dismiss it either. It may surprise you.
A review copy was sent courtesy of the publisher.
Hammer Complete: The Films, the Personnel, the Company by Howard Maxford (McFarland, 2019) ISBN: 978-1-7466-7007-2 (hardback) , 978-1-4766-2914-8 (ebook) can be found at http://www.McFarlandbooks.com
Geared For: Teens 13 and Up
For Fans of: Horror films, film history,