How can a filmmaker bring anything new to the legend that was ‘Hammer Films’? Well Marcus Hearn, expert on all things to do with the studio that dripped blood, has attempted to do just this with his new documentary on the revered production company, Hammer Horror: The Warner Bros Years. Focusing on the relationship between the studio and the American film giants Warner Bros, it sheds light on some interesting nuggets of information, though whether it reveals anything fans of the films – who will be the real audience for this work – won’t know already is open to debate.
The problem, as said, with any work which looks behind the scenes and at the working machinations of probably the most successful British film studio ever, is whether it can bring anything new to the table. There have been so many books and programmes on Hammer that, unless you’re a total newcomer, you will probably have heard what’s put over here before in some form or other. Indeed, though the lesser known background about how and why Warner Bros became involved with the studio to the extent that they did – as a financial backer and distributor of the films abroad – may make for interesting viewing, the facts repeated by the experts – including horror aficionados Jonathan Rigby and Christopher Frayling – regarding the studio’s demise are more familiar.
Though enormously successful during the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s at breaking cinematic boundaries and bringing a new level of graphic horror to impressionable audiences, Hammer and their style of gothic quaintness simply could not compete with the new level of visceral terror coming out of America in films like The Exorcist (1973) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). As a result it was almost inevitable that their days would be numbered. The recital of which, though noteworthy, barely casts fresh light on the subject.
If the input from experts is hardly new, it’s the anecdotes from stars and production staff involved in the actual films which make the documentary worth watching. Hammer stalwart John Carson, scream queens Veronica Carlson, Caroline Munro and Madeline Smith and director Peter Sasdy, all put in their pennyworth with memories on working with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and the day-to-day business of making such films as Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) and Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970).
Unfortunately, as often the case, the details from people who were actually there is more worthy than the opinions of those commenting from a distance. As a result, though the overall film is interesting, the result would probably have been better as an hour long TV programme, than with the more long winded presentation it receives here.
Director: Marcus Hearn
Writer: Marcus Hearn
Stars: Veronica Carlson, John Carson, Steve Chibnall, Chris Cooke,
Joe Dante, Christopher Frayling, Renée Glynne, Ian Hunter,
Wayne Kinsey, Denis Meikle, Caroline Munro, Nadja Regin,
Jonathan Rigby, Peter Sasdy, Madeline Smith, Gordon Thomson
Runtime: 101 mins