Hammer Book Reviews
Dave Rattigan casts his glance over some of the
best Hammer-related books on the market today
English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema
By Jonathan Rigby
This is one of the best surveys of British horror films to be written in recent years. The author provides an excellent balance of behind-the-scenes information and critical commentary, and is good at putting everything in its context. Occasionally his judgments will baffle horror fans (he is scathing about Dracula, Prince of Darkness, for example), but his observations are never less than entertaining.
A well-illustrated, informative volume, although it has been hard to find in the last few years.
Hammer Films: The Bray Studios Years
By Wayne A Kinsey
This is a fascinating volume utterly packed with rarely seen stills and background information, mostly based on Kinsey's own rigorous research. He traces Hammer Studios' history right through from its beginnings in the 1930s until 1967, when it vacated its home at Bray Studios. Kinsey goes into great detail about each production, providing descriptions of the whole production process, including hiring of actors, censorship problems, filming and post-production.
My favourite feature is the photo gallery depicting the transformation of the Bray backlot between 1958 and 1967, beginning with Dracula's castle and ending with the village used in Frankenstein Created Woman and The Mummy's Shroud (both 1966/67). This kind of detail might put off the casual Hammer fan, but it is a pure delight for die-hard Hammer enthusiasts.
Hammer Films: The Elstree Studios Years
By Wayne A Kinsey
Four years after the seminal Hammer Films: The Bray Studios Years, Kinsey had a hefty task to maintain the standard of his earlier volume. The result is yet another fascinating and comprehensive journey through Hammer history, however, this time covering the period from 1967 to 1979, when the once-great horror studio met its demise.
Again Kinsey surprises us with copious stills never before seen in print, featuring hundreds of behind-the-scenes shots and rare glimpses of Hammer luminaries such as cinematographer Arthur Grant and director Peter Sasdy.
Like the previous book, this is crammed with detail. I would certainly recommend the two books as the must-have books on Hammer.
A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema, 1946-1972
By David Pirie
Horror fans will be pleased to see that David Pirie's groundbreaking analysis of British horror films is due to be republished in a brand new edition in December 2007, under the title A New Heritage of Horror.
Pirie was the first critic to treat the British horror film with the seriousness the subject deserved, and offers intriguing insights into Hammer. He devotes an entire chapter each to Hammer's Frankenstein and Dracula series, respectively, and delves into other key horror studios, such as Amicus and Tigon. He hails Terence Fisher as a minor genius, and also explores (albeit in not enough detail) other important horror directors of the era, such as John Gilling and Don Sharp. One hopes it is sections such as these that will benefit from the new edition.