A Thing of Unspeakable Horror: The History of Hammer Films
When the relatively unknown Hammer Films released The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957 it unexpectedly struck gold. The reactions of a lynch mob of critics brought the audiences flooding into the cinemas and the film ultimately recovered its modest production budget thirty times over and launched an international 'brand' that would become a part of the British way of life. Originally formed in 1934 and previously known for quickie melodramas, police thrillers and monochrome sci-fi features, Hammer was quick to capitalise on the film's success. By 1979, when the studio ceased production, Hammer's trademark combination of gore and decolletage had in dozens of Frankenstein, Dracula and vampire movies that would continue to be a staple of late-night television for years to come. Hammer was a very British success story. A family business, it operated from the improbable setting of a Berkshire country house, employed largely British casts and catered to the long-established British taste for grand guignol that teetered on the edge of self-parody. But its production values were high by the standards of the time and the genre and in addition to establishing the careers of its regular stars like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee it gave a surprisingly large number of British actors and directors their first break and film-makers including Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino have all acknowledges its influence on their work. This new history of the studio has been written with the full cooperation of Hammer's current owners and the author has interviewed many of the surviving actors and other employees most of whom recollect their times at Hammer with amusement and affection.