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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Kinsey was given access to countless unpublished materials no one had seen up to that time.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......
HAMMER FILMS: THE ELSTREE STUDIOS YEARS
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......
THE HAMMER STORY: THE AUTHORIZED HISTORY OF HAMMER FILMS
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.
Basil Gogos paints yet another fangtastic front cover this time featuring the evil visage of MR. HYDE. Inside this issue are the concluding articles on both MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935) and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) including an artists concept of what 'The Thing' looked like in the books hardcover edition. The spotlight is on the 1932 award winning version of DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE and also images from a number of foreign fright films including from Mexico, THE CASTLE OF THE MONSTERS (1958) and THE SHIP OF THE MONSTERS (1960) and Germany with DEAD EYES OF LONDON (1939), MUTANO THE HORRIBLE (??), THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. RAMPER (1927) and Fritz Lang's atmospherically Gothic 1923 picture, SIEGFRIED.
There's also a whole page spread of a cut shot from HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959) depicting Michael Gough menacing an old woman with a nasty piece of cutlery.
Back cover Famous Monsters #62
Gogos strikes again this time painting Boris Karloff from THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (1932). There's an info packed look at the making of the big budget George Pal production, THE 7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964), a farewell to filmmaker/ cinematographer Karl Freund (the original 1932 MUMMY), a look at prehistoric monsters and gigantic Earth born beasties in the movies and a long detailed Filmbook look at THE MASK OF FU MANCHU. There's also a brief snippet involving a rare 1935 radio interview with Boris Karloff where it's revealed his next movies to be FRANKENSTEIN LIVES AGAIN! and THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935). The former eventually became THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and the latter was played by Henry Hull.
Back cover of Famous Monsters #65
Issue 66 again features the painterly qualities of Basil Gogos with this impression from the Karloff starring THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932). Found within this issue is an article on William Castle with some choice candid shots including a picture of a group of fans decked out as skeletons promoting 'William Castle For President'. There's also a fascinating piece on a few of horror filmdom's most well known ape actors--George Barrows, Charlie Gemora and Ray "Crash" Corrigan complete with lots of behind the scenes information such as Barrows' thoughts on his self created gorilla suit seen in various movies and television shows being rented out for the British horror flick, KONGA (1961).
Interestingly enough, there's a Raquel Welch like pose of Angela Dorian aka Victoria Vetri from WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970). Dorian, 66, has recently, and quite shockingly made headlines for attempted murder on her boyfriend!
Vic Prezio designs an impressively macabre cover from WITCHCRAFT (1964). This cover highlights a special on occult movies from around the world. There's also an article on the ominous abodes of screen villains and the monsters that live in them.
One highlight is the creepily sinister similarity to a shot of the mask worn by MR. SARDONICUS (1961) and the mask worn by the boogyman himself, Michael Myers. There's also some great images from the likes of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)(1965), FRANKESTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965) and rare Mexi-horror, SHADOW OF THE BAT (1968) and Italian science fiction sword and sandal, GIANT OF METROPOLIS (1961).
This cover displaying an image from the original MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1929) from the paint brushes of Vic Prezio. Within these pages there's a great cinema bio on famed filmmaker, George Pal, the makeup applied to the QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (1958) and photos from the rare Mexi-horror LA LOBA (THE SHE-WOLF;1965), THE MANSTER (listed under its aka, THE SPLIT;1959) and SPACE MONSTER (aka SPACE PROBE TAURUS;1965).
The celebrated Basil Gogos returns for this Lon Chaney 40th anniversary that features a filmbook on the lost film, LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1925). Newspaper clippings reporting his death and his many fearful faces are featured here. One photo is particularly amazing showcasing Chaney wearing a similar costume Olga Baclanova wore during the final moments of FREAKS (1932), a film made after Chaney's death. There's a look at the aborted tele-series, TALES OF FRANKENSTEIN with Anton Diffring and the popular column, 'You Axed For It', which is a collage of creepy images from assorted monster movies. A photo packed article on the missing link movie, SKULLDUGGERY (1970) starring Burt Reynolds closes out the issue.
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.