Book Review: The Hammer Vault by Marcus Hearn

For years, many American fans had the rare glimpse to see Hammer‘s films in theaters when they were distributed stateside by a variety of different companies including Columbia and 20th Century Fox as well as AIP, Roger Corman’s company.  Lucky for Hammer Films VHS and DVD releases of their films have created the cult of Hammer, a legion of loyal followers, even though the company didn’t make a single film from 1978-2007.  With their revitalization as a working company came in 2008 with the film Wake Wood released wide in both their home country of the UK as well as the rest of the world.  In honor of their latest film, The Woman In Black starring Daniel Radcliffe, they have released The Hammer Vault:  Treasures From the Archives of Hammer Films by the company’s official historian, Marcus Hearn.  The book takes a look at the vast library of promotional materials collected by movie, chronologically  It displays old handbills, theater programs, instructions to advertisers (Hammer was notorious for its promotional gimmicks), posters, and candid on set photos.

The book secretly tells the tale of the men behind it, in succinct little blurbs telling how the project came to Hammer Films and anything else notable, such as stars on their rise or fall, or discoveries that later went on to get much bigger.  It’s also an interesting peek into Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing’s times working for Hammer, and although both have done a plethora of other films outside the Hammer realm, this is the company that makes their names come to mind the fastest.

The book begins with 1954’s The Quartermass Xperiment, the company’s first foray into the horror style that they would become best known for.  Most films, when there is enough material, take up two wide pages, with a small blurb, and notes about each item on the page, whether it’s a behind the scenes look at a prop, a concept drawing, or a poster that was made before the script was written, there is something interesting to look at and learn about on each side of the page.  Films that have less material still get a full wide page, and since it’s a release from Titan Books, you know it has a big, fancy binding holding some thick stock glossy pages that are full of  both black and white and color materials.

The book covers a vast array of Hammer’s genre output, from the little known films like Cash On Demand to the more popular of their titles like Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, One Million Years B.C., and Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires.  It also covers their latest films like Wake Wood, The Resident, and even has a little section on a bunch of Hammer films that never actually came to fruition, like 1977’s Nessie, the mega-hit that never was when Columbia pulled out of the bloated budget and let Nessie sink.  Or the Anne Bonney movie they tried to get Raquel Welch to star in.

For hardcore fans, The Hammer Vault is a fan’s dream, with tons of nuggets of info and promotional materials that most people either haven’t seen or don’t remember.  For the uninitiated, it’s an interesting peek into the behind the scenes workings of the  company, and how Anthony Hinds and Sir James Carreras led the company the way they did, and their reasoning behind it.  Otherwise, there are other books like The Hammer Story by Marcus Hearn that introduce the company and do a better job of detailing more about the films themselves, whereas this book more goes over how the idea came to Hammer without expounding too much on the story itself.  Although the book is very large, and rather thick, nicely produced as always by Titan.  A must for any fan of course, but a high recommendation to everyone that isn’t a fan, as the gimmicks and advertising schemes of Hammer are important to understand before seeing the films themselves, to get the full experience as James Carreras  saw fit.  It really is the story of a few men making movies on their own, outside the system, the profited from.  A nice slice of history disguised as a collector’s item.  Grab yours now right here.

9.3/10

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