Books

Fanged Monsters and Buxom Maidens in 'The Art of Hammer'

Influenced by pop art and pulp styles, Hammer advertisements used the now lost art of the painted poster to promise audiences the lurid and the frightening.


The Art of Hammer: Posters from the Archives of Hammer Films

Publisher: Titan
Price: $29.95
Author: Marcus Hearn
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2010-11
Amazon

Breasts bulging from bustiers about to burst open. Fangs, fake looking blood and buckets of more fake looking blood. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing- and then yet more Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Britain’s Hammer Studios used all these elements to rule horror for more than a decade, beginning with the 1958 release of The Curse of Frankenstein. In the UK, their subsequent releases became major cultural events with crowds lining up to see the latest Hammer maidens and monsters for a bodice-ripping fear fest. They found almost equal popularity in the states and then a long after-life on late night TV.

Hammer achieved fame for their reboots of the classic universal monsters that mixed sex, a willingness to show the macabre in graphic style and editing techniques that ensured that the films would be stripped clean of anything that might slow down the action. If it wasn’t sexy, violent or frightening, it quickly hit the cutting room floor. It’s hard to think of another studio (as opposed to an actor or auteur) that became so identified with a particular genre and style.

Marcus Hearn, the official archivist for Hammer, has put together a gorgeous collection of Hammer’s sensationalistic and usually salacious adverts in The Art of Hammer: Posters from the Archives of Hammer Films. These works help explain much of the popularity of the Hammer franchises, often promising more sex and violence than the actual film. In fact, it can be argued that the posters really helped created the Hammer phenomenon, making the image of studio more important than the actual product.

Influenced by pop art and pulp styles, Hammer advertisements used the now lost art of the painted poster to promise audiences the lurid and the frightening. It worked, especially as Hammer learned to claim public space with their announcements. One of the best photographs in the collection us not a poster at all, but a photograph of a theatre marquee, crowds wrapping around the block and a GIGANTIC poster advertising the latest Hammer release.

One of the pleasures of this collection is the discovery of film art for some of Hammer’s lesser-known franchises. Before The Curse of Frankenstein made them the king of horror, Hammer produced films in a number of genres. This continued into the '70s with comedies, action films and some well-known sci-fi standards. Included in The Art of Hammer is the iconic image of Raquel Welch in the poster for One Million Years BC. This became one of the most recognizable images of lowbrow sci-fi in the '60 with all its cheesiness and cheesecake.

Dwindling audiences and continual strip mining of the same source material, caused a real decline in the quality of Hammer films by the '70s. Increasingly even Christopher Lee’s Dracula franchise suffered a failure of the imagination. The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is one example, described in the poster as a "Kung Fu horror film."

Bad movies sometimes made for gorgeous poster art. The influence of psychedelic art is clear in the poster for Countess Dracula starring the recently deceased Hammer actor Ingrid Pitt. The Italian poster for Dracula: A.D. 1972 uses a painted image of Lee, cape billowing and his luscious victims sprawling to introduce this strange tale of the Count among the hippies. This era also saw Neal Adams, best known as a comic artist and his work on Batman drawing the poster for the otherwise forgettable Satanic Rites of Dracula.

Almost entirely made up of the poster art itself, Marcus Hearn wrote a strong, if short, introduction that tells us much about the individual artists. If the book has a drawback, it’s that there is not more text throughout. Only a few of the posters have any information beyond the title of the film and, sometimes, the name of the artist. Hearn has written a book, The Hammer Story, that is something of a companion piece to this one. This probably explains why this collection is a little too light on text.

Hammer has subsequently made something of a comeback as a stealth producer of important horror films such as the critically acclaimed remake of Let the Right One in called Let Me In. Notably, little was made of the fact that this was a “A Hammer Production” in the advertising. Hearn’s new collection allows a visit back to the studio’s glory days of heaving bosoms and gory effects. Fans of both Hammer films and the forgotten world of the painted poster have reason to celebrate.

8

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image