Rungs on a Ladder: Hammer Films Seen Through a Soft Gauze
By Christopher Neame
Published by The Scarecrow Press, 2003. 131 pages.
If there is a book published about Hammer Films, more than likely, at some point in time, I will be adding it to my library. I mean, when you have an official Hammer section with over two dozen titles in said library already, it’s kind of a must have. So when I came across this title on Amazon, I added it to my wish list. The problem I had right away was that it was priced from $30 to $50, and it was for a book that was just over a hundred pages. That’s a tough sell, even for a diehard collector like myself. Okay, sure, I bought it eventually anyway, but just saying.
Now, let’s not get this Neame confused with the actor of the same name that appeared in a couple of Hammer titles, Dracula A.D. 1972 & Lust for a Vampire. The author Neame started at the bottom of the business and worked his way up. It was only a matter of time for him, since the film business really was in his blood. His father was Ronald Neame, a director and cinematographer, and his grandfather Elwin, was a director who worked in silent films.
Hammer fans have lost another one of the lovely ladies from their childhood. Yvonne Monlaur passed away last week on the 18th, at the age of 77. Of course, she is probably best known to us horror fans as the young French school teacher that comes across a vampire, only to be saved by Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing, in the 1960 film The Brides of Dracula. Monlaur is just stunning here and actually gives a strong performance, making this a very memorable film. She had appeared in Circus of Horrors the year earlier, and would appear in Hammer’s Terror of the Tongs, playing alongside another Hammer icon, Christopher Lee.
The one sad thing about these Hammer films is that since they were made many decades ago, we are slowly losing all of these great performers and craftsman that worked on them. But we know that because these films continue to draw in new fans, that these names and faces will always be remembered, and that they will continue to entertain fans, both old and new.
Our thoughts go out to Monlaur’s friends and family during this sad time.
Roy Ward Baker
Born Dec. 19th, 1916 – Died Oct. 5th, 2010
Fans of British horror films of the ’70s will probably know this man, since between working with Hammer and Amicus, he was cranking out some entertaining films in a very short time. Starting his career at the bottom and working his way up, even as an assistant director on Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), he eventually became a director. He hit some critical fame with A Night to Remember (1958), a film about the Titanic, which is still regarded as one of the best films on that subject. His first film for Hammer was the 3rd of their Quatermass series, Quatermass and the Pit (1967). Then in 1970, he made a huge hit with horror fans with The Vampire Lovers (1970), starring the lovely Ingrid Pitt. After that, he continued working with both Hammer and Amicus turning out great films, like Scars of Dracula (1970), Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971), Asylum (1972), The Vault of Horror (1973), And Now the Screaming Starts (1973), and even The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974).
Baker’s films were simple. They had all the elements to make a great movie, which is what he continually turned out. He has quite a few films in his filmography that some critics might consider cheesy or even bad, but I think horror fans might just call classics, or at the very least, pretty damn entertaining. And after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Born April 16th, 1909 – Died Jan. 10th, 1995
You cannot be even the slightest fan of Hammer Films and not have seen the work of Roy Ashton. He started as an assistant makeup artist back in the ’30s, before starting to work with Hammer Studios, where he created some of their most memorable monsters. But Ashton wasn’t just a makeup man, he almost had a career as a musician and opera singer. But the hours of devotion needed to learn the makeup craft pulled him away from his true love of music. He was the assistant makeup man to Phil Leaky for Hammer, who was the man behind the Quatermass films and Curse of Frankenstein. After Leaky and Hammer had a falling out, Ashton became their head makeup man. He created the look for their films like Curse of the Werewolf, The Reptile, Plague of the Zombies, as well as doing Peter Cushing’s zombie makeup for Amicus’ Tales from the Crypt.
It is a real shame that his name is not as common as Rick Baker or Tom Savini, since his work is still watched and enjoyed today by countless horror fans. But hopefully we can do our little part and hopefully change that. For more information on Ashton, there is an excellent book on him called Greasepaint and Gore, which is filled with great stories and plenty of artwork and photos of his work.
It Came from 1957
By Rob Craig
Published by McFarland, 2013. 256 pages.
I’m a huge fan of the sci-fi/horror films of the ’50s. In fact, I love them. In 1957, there were a ton of releases during that period, many of them classics. All fifty-seven titles of them are covered within the pages of the book, some in a little more detail and discussion than others, but they are all there. After an extensive introduction discussing the time period and what was going on in the world, we get to read about such films as The Brain from Planet Arous (which is featured on the book’s cover) to Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Unearthly, Invasion of the Saucer Men, to The Thing from Another World and plenty more. Craig really knows his stuff here and is very informative when it comes to discussing these pictures. But therein lies the problem.
As a reference book collector, there are no two words that can fill one with both excitement and dread at the same time as “revised” and “updated” do. The excitement comes because we imagine there is new information that is going to make it worth double-dipping, but at the same time, the dread comes in because we wonder if these ‘extras’ are going to be worth it? Granted, this goes the same for the countless DVD and Blu-ray editions over the years. But this is where I found myself today when I was at the local bookstore and seeing not one, but two volumes that I already had in my library, but both had these words blazing across the top of the front cover.
Wake Wood (2011)
Directed by David Keating
Starring Aidan Gillen, Eva Birthistle, Timothy Spall, Ella Connolly, Ruth McCabe, Brian Gleeson, Amelia Crowley, Dan Gordon, Tommy McArdle
There had been so many times over the years that we’d heard that Hammer Films, the famous British studio, was rising from the grave, like so many of the creatures they put in their movies. So many times in fact, that most serious horror fans didn’t pay too much attention to the latest announcement. And even if the studio did resurrect itself, would it be able to really continue the incredible work that its forefather did before it? But then in 2007, it really did happen. Hammer Films was back. Granted, it really was in name only for the most part, since all of the original members of the studio are long since retired, passed away, or just forgotten. But the new CEO promised to not forget about its heritage and to continue the work they had started. We all know there would be no way to bring back the style and feel of those films from yesteryear. Or could there?