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The Hammer Vault by Marcus Hearn

1/12/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Hammer Vault in the USA - or Buy The Hammer Vault in the UK

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pub: Titan Books. 176 page illustrated horizontal hardback. Price: GBP29.99 (UK), $34.95 (US), $40.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-885768-117-1).

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I think sometimes there are some odd expectations with these ‘Vault’ books. If you’re expecting to pull odd bits of knickknack pieces of paper or whatever tucked into page folders then this book isn’t for you. All material with this book belongs on the printed page. This ranges from promo booklets and rare house-set photos (these are the ones that were on display outside the cinema if you’re too young to remember them doing that) to press cuttings, although because of the size of the book opened up, you’ll need to sit at a table with a magnifying glass to read the smaller print unless you have really good eyesight.

As you will notice, this is the second book about Hammer that I’ve read this month and in many respects, I’m finding this book a good companion piece. Reading there about how Peter Cushing got special effects man Ian Scoones his break, here we actually see the letters that did it, not to mention samples of Cushing’s own painting skills and showing what a talent he had in that regard. The same can also be said about the film ‘X The Unknown’ and the muddy exterior they were filming in cos there’s a photo from it here. The more I read, the more I found a lot of things were put into perspective. If you were ever curious as to why some of the stills from ‘Lust For a Vampire’ weren’t in the film was because they were made only for promotion. One of the odd and, from all accounts, poor SF films that Hammer produced, ‘Moon Zero Two’ has a lunar-based game of Monopoly. Considering how many variants of the game that exists today, this must surely qualify as the first of its kind.

I do think there should be some emphasis on which posters were made prior to the films as a means to which were used to sell the film and which ones were made later or for our home market, although some are noted as such. It was a shame that we didn’t have a copy of the British poster for ‘Doctor Jekyll And Sister Hyde’ here because it was one of my favourites.

There are some nice effects photos shown. I love the corpse waiting in a make-up chair on page 63 and actress Clytie Jessop happily reading a Raymond Chandler novel with a knife in her chest on page 67. Even more fun is seeing a mummy (of the bandaged kind) joining in with the Milk Marketing Board’s promotion of the 60s. Makes you wonder how he could drink it without a straw.

This book is a warts and all account, pointing out how Hammer relied on keeping their budgets low and selling the film before it’s made. If anything, its downfall was more through losing American distributors than changing company partners but that also hit the whole British film industry. There is coverage of Hammer’s move to television and the name being resurrected this decade with two new films.

‘The Hammer Vault’ tells a lot about the company’s history through its films and associated correspondence and if you have any interest in this stanchion of British film making you really will want to own this and browse, especially when you track down and watch them on television or DVD. Great stuff.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 10 votes in the sci-fi charts

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