Review by C.J. Bunce
For a generation of film fans, the words “Hammer Horror” are synonymous with the first color horror movies and studio stars Peter Cushing and David Prowse, who would go on to find real fame in Star Wars, and Christopher Lee, who would be the go-to guy in the 21st century for dark, imposing characters in Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien movies, James Bond, the Star Wars prequels, and much more. Before these blockbusters, these British thespians made movies for a London film company called Hammer Film Productions, and they were instantly recognized as Baron Victor Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, and Count Dracula. These aren’t the famous monsters of Universal Studios fame, but thanks to Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures’ distribution, their take on these classic horror characters gained their own international fan following. In time for Halloween, Telos Publishing has released a new information-filled guide for fans of Hammer’s horror legacy, writer Alistair Hughes’s Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror.
As for the “graphic” in the title, it’s a bit of a play on words–think infographics, charts, diagrams, illustrations, and maps connecting the often intertwined fantasy world inside the Hammer films. The titles to the studio’s Dracula and Frankenstein sequels provide an idea of the absurdity film goers were in for, with a list that makes the Planet of the Apes pile of sequels seem pretty short: The Brides of Dracula, Scars of Dracula, Kali–Devil Bride of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, Dracula Prince of Darkness, Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Horror of Frankenstein, The Evil of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Frankenstein Created Woman, and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell. Hammer also made monster movies set much earlier than the 19th century. The most famous starred Raquel Welch in Ray Harryhausen’s One Million Years BC and Ursula Andress in She. Steven Spielberg would later provide a nod to Hammer films at the end of Jurassic Park. The words on the banner falling in the final sequence with the T-Rex was an homage to the Hammer film When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.
One diagram in Infogothic recounts the 30 most famous actors to portray Dracula. In others Hughes pieces together family trees based on information from the films for the Van Helsings and the Frankensteins. A chart shows the number of adaptations of Frankenstein movies by decade (the 1970s wins with nine, and there has been 51 in all so far as we bask in the character’s 200th year). Need to locate the story locations for each of the Hammer monster movies? Hughes provides maps for that, too. And Frankenstein’s monster and the Count aren’t the only monsters Hammer featured–the book includes interconnections of the several mummy movies and other creature features Hammer produced (The Gorgon, The Reptile, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Plague of the Zombies, The Abominable Snowman). Hughes also includes details of lesser known and unproduced films throughout his book.
Other sections of Infogothic recall Hammer’s series featuring Professor Bernard Quatermass, a science fiction character that gained more fans in England than in the States. The best graphic is probably the feature on “Hammer glamour,” with designs used for key women characters throughout Hammer’s horror and sci-fi years, highlighting the work of costume designers Molly Arbuthnot, Rosemary Burrows, Carl Toms, and others. But it’s the depth of the crazy crossovers of actors and concepts that Hughes has found that is the greatest surprise in the book. Hammer had a deep connection to the biggest franchises, with common actors in Doctor Who (3 Doctors, 5 companions, 6 villains), James Bond (12 Bond girls, 4 villains, and 17 other key characters including James himself (Pierce Brosnan, from Hammer House of Horror)), and Star Wars (10 recognizable actors).
Hammer lives on well after its heyday from the 1950s to the 1970s, and its more recent incarnation shows its potential. Its film The Woman in Black from 2012 starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe became the most successful British horror film at the box office on record.
Beyond She’s Ursula Andress, another James Bond-co-star, The Spy Who Loved Me Bond girl Caroline Munro provides an introduction to Infogothic. She starred opposite Cushing and Lee in Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972 and in Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter. And she was initially considered for (but turned down) the starring role in Vampirella in 1975, but the film didn’t receive financing and was ultimately never made.
A unique book for fans of the Hammer horror era, Alistair Hughes’s Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror is available now from Telos Publishing here at Amazon.