The Encyclopedia of Hammer Films
Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2019. 589 pages.
By Chris Fellner
Being a die-hard fan of all things Hammer Films, I’m always ecstatic to learn of another book on one of my favorite studios coming out. Now before we get into the blood and guts of this release, we need to cover the obvious… the price. Retailing at $145 (though Amazon has it listed for just under $100), while this is a good size hardcover edition, at 589 pages, that is still a hefty price tag. Though with the recent release of Howard Maxford’s Hammer Complete, published by McFarland, it is impossible not to compare the two. Maxford’s book is 984 pages, a bit larger in size and has much smaller type, and retails at $95. What this means is you get just what the title says… Hammer Complete! So the cost alone would make the decision even easier if you only had to pick one volume.
Because of the huge scope of the film studio, it is difficult to cover everything and everyone, which is where Fellner’s book falls short. There were more than a few names missing having their own entries, such as John Carson, who appeared in three different Hammer titles and one appearance in one of their television series. Other notables excluded were talents such as Richard Wordsworth or George Woodbridge. These actors usually never played the main characters but were one of the many reasons these films stood out. Being wonderful character actors in the background, they filled out a scene as if it was a brilliant painting. Even Guy Rolfe, who played the title character in Mr. Sardonicus for William Castle, starred in The Stranglers of Bombay, does not have his own mention. But again, it is going to be a difficult task to include every single thing that has to do with Hammer. Except, Maxford’s book sort of does that.
But let’s dig in a little further within the pages as to the actual content.
In the introduction, there is a Hammer time line, or as the author calls it, the Hammer Story. It gives a quick and simple overview of the major points in time for the studio, such as when it was founded, when Michael Carreras joins the team, the release of Curse of Frankenstein, and so on. Covering just a few pages, it does show the history of the studio highlighting the important items for each year. I really liked that because it gave a quick overview of the long history of the studio.
There is also a list of films where the titles were changed for the American releases, such as Dracula becoming Horror of Dracula or The Quatermass Xperiment becoming The Creeping Unknown, which is very helpful for the ones new to the studios work.
But when we get to the actual entries, it is given in a pretty straight forward manner, with the cast and crew stats, a synopsis, critical response, and some production notes. The synopsis goes through the entire story, even getting away any surprise or twist ending. This is just a personal opinion, but I think it would have been better to give the basic idea of the story, but leave it up to the reader to seek it out if it sounds interesting enough. If the author would have cut down these synopsis to a brief paragraph giving just the basic of story, it would have left more room for other entries about actors or crew.
Honestly, had Maxford’s volume not been released earlier this year, my thoughts would be a little different. But I can’t hide the fact that it was released and really is a far better volume, both in scope and cost, if you’re looking up anything related to Hammer. If this was priced at around $50, it would be a much easier sell and one that I could get behind more. Fellner did a good job here but because of the price, it is hard to recommend unless you’ve already got Maxford’s book and are like me and have to have every book on Hammer you can find!
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