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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: It's Hammer Time!


By Wayne Kinsey

368 pages; softcover; B/W

With the over abundance of books dealing with Britain's Hammer Films, you'd think all the blood would have been drained from the corpse long ago. Not so with Dr. Wayne Kinsey's two exhaustive volumes on the subject. He has compiled two of the best and most fascinating reads on these films (the second volume is reviewed below). What sets this book apart from the plethora of others on the market is its non reliance on being simply an analytical look at Hammer movies. Kinsey's book is so much more than that.

Kinsey was given access to countless unpublished materials no one had seen up to that time. This includes dozens of censor reports from the BBFC, notes from the producers regarding their frustrations with said pictures, scrapped sequences and the trials and tribulations as told through the words of those who were both in front of, and behind the cameras in all new interviews. Pretty much everyone gets to tell their terror tales of working for the once vibrant company.

BRAY YEARS authoritatively follows those Hammer productions from their humble beginnings in the early 1950's and concludes with the final Bray picture, THE MUMMY'S SHROUD in 1966. Hammer's subsequent move to Elstree is covered in great detail as well as an overview of the aftermath. The company's remaining output is covered in detail in the second volume. No stone is left unturned in Kinsey's book. In addition to the mountains of information, there's hundreds of production photos and behind the scenes photographs. One of, if not the best book on the famed studio. It simply must be on the shelf of any Hammer fan.

Which brings us to......


By Wayne Kinsey

432 pages; softcover; B/W

Wayne Kinsey follows up his previous monumental tome on Hammer with this even bigger and equally massive undertaking that centers on Hammer productions from 1967 up to their final film with THE LADY VANISHES in 1979. The volume also covers the two Hammer television series' HOUSE OF HORROR (1980) and HOUSE OF MYSTERY & SUSPENSE (1981). Everything said above in the initial sprawling book applies here for this second go round.

Whereas THE BRAY YEARS recounts Hammer Films during their most prosperous time period, ELSTREE YEARS covers the steady decline in grand detail. Just like the earlier volume, this follow up features hundreds of rare photos and files never seen before in addition to tons of fascinating information regarding the productions of these later, more risque British horror pictures. Essential reading, this is a vital book for any fan of the famed company of horror. Definitely one for the shelves. Kinsey was also the author of another brilliantly compiled book on Hammer entitled HAMMER FILMS-A LIFE IN PICTURES: THE VISUAL STORY OF HAMMER FILMS; the review of which can be found in this entry here.

.....And this bonus review......


By Marcus Hearn & Alan Barnes

192 pages; hardcover; B/W & color

While it comes nowhere near the sheer amount of depth found in the above two Kinsey books, this large sized (I couldn't fit the entire width of the book on my scanner) coffee table tome is perfect as an overview to the British company of horror. It skims all the bases never spending too long in any one area. All the films are here with the usual synopsis, critique and various background information.

It covers the unproduced Hammer productions and also has some discrepancies that collide with information provided in Kinsey's books. Nonetheless, despite the eventual superiority of the two above reviewed editions, this out-sized, flamboyant and lavishly mounted book has one thing Kinsey's book doesn't have that some will find more attractive--color photos--lots of them.

There's 500 images, predominantly in color that, despite the decent amount of information, dominates the overall presentation. For some readers, this plethora of splashy photos will be a deciding factor in a purchase. Kinsey's books feature far more pictures, but the accent is on background trivia. Those seeking a simple primer will find what they're looking for in this book. Hearn will be familiar to Hammer fans as a moderator on numerous DVD commentaries. His big book of Hammer is one for the coffee table. Hearn also authored another big book with lots of glossy color photos of the Gorgeous Ladies of Hammer, the review of which can be found here.


Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

These are three of the better books on the market to deal with Hammer, and I'd add a fourth with Denis Meikle's 'A History of Horrors'. I think Kinsey's books have a tendency to get bogged down in facts and figures, and when reading them I did yearn for the expansive and imaginative use of language you do get in critical studies (the good ones at any rate). The casefiles of the BBFC were a particular coup for Kinsey, and I believe therein lies the greatest value of these two volumes. The Hearn & Barnes book is beautifully illustrated, the best looking of any Hammer book, and the perfect introduction. Kinsey has another book coming out before the end of the year Brian -

Might be worth a purchase.

venoms5 said...

Hi, Shaun, On the inside dust jacket for his LIFE IN PICTURES hardback he has an anecdote regarding a coming soon book he has authored entitled HAMMER FILMS-THE REAL STORY. There's no image of the cover, so I wonder if this is that book?

I've got other books on Hammer and British horror cinema in general, but Kinsey's books have been a breath of fresh air to me. Of the 13 I have on the subject, Kinsey's were the most fascinating to me (regarding Hammer) simply on that it isn't bogged down in a preponderance of glossy pictures.

I was ready to read and see something different about these movies as opposed to the same old thing. Which is why I pointed that out in the review just in case somebody looking for a lot of images will get what they're looking for (hopefully). As you said, the Hearn book is a great intro.

It's odd, though, that when I first ordered the two Kinsey books, the BRAY edition I had to order from the UK as it was very expensive through amazon. Now, the BRAY book is available cheaper than its cover price at amazon and the ELSTREE book has skyrocketed in price.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I was going to mention the Elstree price increase. I dont actually own either of these books, but I read them for a dissertation thing I had to write. Naturally the price has put me off, but I might buy the Bray one soon. I have quite a few books on the subject too - David Pirie's 'A Heritage of Horror' is a key one (for decades this was the only book dedicated to British horror). I liked John Hamilton's study of Tigon 'Beasts in the Cellar' as well. This exchange has given me an idea for a blog post!

venoms5 said...

Well I can't wait to see what you've got in mind, Shaun!

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