by Marcus Hearn
192 pages, Titan Books
Review by Hereward L.M. Proops
Love them or loathe them, it is hard to deny the radical influence that the Hammer horror films had on British cinema. Once the studio realised that an “X” certificate could actually benefit their releases and lead to greater box-office sales, the movies were deliberately marketed at an adult-only audience. With unprecedented levels of blood and gore in glorious technicolour and a sinister undercurrent of sexuality that was hitherto unseen on the silver screen, Hammer quickly established themselves as “The House of Horror”.
Hammer studios became adept at churning out effectively little fantasy and horror films at relatively low cost, often reusing sets, costumes and actors from other productions that were shot “back-to-back.” The studio's marketing department were similarly talented and Hammer films became well-known for their colourful and eye-catching posters that have since become collector's items, many original prints being sold for hundreds of pounds at film memorabilia fairs and on ebay.
“The Art of Hammer” is a handsome book collecting nearly three hundred posters spanning the studio's early releases up to the more famous lurid designs used to advertise the classic horrors such as “Dracula Prince of Darkness” and “The Devil Rides Out”. Although now synonymous with their prolific output of horror films in the sixties and seventies, the Hammer studios originally had a far broader output. The first section of the book covers the studio's films from the 1950s and shows the wide variety of genres the small studio tackled. Science fiction, thriller, adventure, comedy and war – though constrained by small budgets, the studio was never lacking in ambition.
“The Art of Hammer” really shows its strengths as an art book when showing the studio's posters for their films of the 1960s and 1970s. Although the posters could never be called subtle, they are undeniably striking with bold, bright colours and eye-catching illustrations based on scenes from the film to grab your attention. Highlights of this style of poster are the dayglo green poster for the 1966 shocker “The Plague of the Zombies” and the US poster for 1968's “The Lost Continent” with an epic, all-action design that effectively conveys the boys-own adventure feel of the movie without betraying just how cheap and tacky an effort it actually was.
One cannot discuss Hammer's posters without mentioning Tom Chantrell's fantastic poster for “One Million Years B.C.” No teenage boy can look on that poster without the iconic image of Raquel Welch in that fur bikini being indelibly seared on their subconscious. My personal favourite of the book is Arnaldo Putzu's illustration for 1974's “The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires”. A joint effort between UK's Hammer and Hong Kong's Shaw Brothers, the film is (according to the poster) “The First Kung Fu Horror Spectacular!” and quite possibly the most barmy thing ever committed to celluloid. Putzu's poster for the UK release is a balls-out collage of swords, axes, fangs and flying kicks and I want a copy for my study more than words can say.