"The Hammer Vault" Book Review
Written by Marcus Hearn
2011, 176 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on October 4th, 2011
Hammer Film Studios once ruled the British Empire with its output of Gothic horror films. Enjoying a successful international partnership with American distributors, the company released over 150 movies from 1954-1975. The studio was the first to release titles featuring the ‘classic’ monsters Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Mummy and the Wolf Man, pictures filled with color and sex appeal. As times changed, the company tried to keep up and there was an increase in on-screen violence and nudity. While it continued to release films of all genres, the horror division kept the studio afloat, until the doors closed under economic pressures in the mid-1970s.
Author Marcus Hearn is quickly becoming the go-to guy for all things Hammer. He has devoted his efforts to several collections focusing on specific elements, including a gorgeous book of poster art called The Art of Hammer and another that told the history of the film studio with The Hammer Story. Next came a salute to the leading ladies with Hammer Glamour (which spawned a 2012 calendar of the same title), and now he has returned after an extensive journey digging in the crates with The Hammer Vault. If Hearn simply compiled one large anthology for the subject I fear the cost would keep the item far out of my reach. I am glad that each of these elements is given its own volume thereby allowing some financial breathing room before the next installment is unleashed.
The Hammer Vault is a gorgeous collection of memorabilia from the five decades of the legendary film studio and offers a wealth of detail through an endless array of high-quality scans of annotated script pages, private correspondence of cast and crew, candid photographs, lobby cards and press books, concept art and newspaper clippings. The images are so incredibly clear that each document can be read (and should!) and the amount of information on each page is absolutely mind-blowing.
There is a strict discipline on display as the collection dedicates only two pages per title and remains faithful to equal coverage from the most obscure to the largest success. Each film is presented in chronological order and provided a short yet thorough encapsulated amount of text that places the film’s release in context of what was happening at the studio behind the scenes. Rather than simply provide a plot summary for each title, Hearn offers insight into the mindset of the key performers and reveals salacious tidbits of how a particular actress may have been selected or why an actor refused to deliver a single line of dialogue.
The attention to detail and compulsively thorough nature makes this more than just another coffee table book. At first glance the collection is colorful and informative, allowing for a casual exploration of the pages, but closer inspection reveals a clever through-line that follows the studio from its heights until closing in 1975. The company changed ownership and had a brief return in the 1980s with television programming and started theatrical productions in 2007 under new management. Hearn includes material from the soon-to-be released Hammer film The Woman in Black (2012) and also takes a peek at concepts for movies never produced by the studio.
If there is anything left wanting from this book it is simply a greedy request for more. The idea that another collection will be arriving in the next year is a foregone conclusion, but I wish this trip to the vault had been twice as long. Hearn has succeeded in creating a serial museum that invites the audience to look forward to what awaits in the next room, but the tease of knowing there is so much more to see is a bit unfair, unless the coming volume is just as awesome — and then all is forgiven.