Monday, August 20, 2018


The luster and heritage of Hammer Studios is now lost to a generation that’s grown up with gore fueled blood drenched horror films dependent on shock value as opposed to storytelling and atmosphere. But growing up in the sixties the name Hammer meant horror as much as the name Universal and their classic creatures did. The release of a Hammer film meant something special and if one of their movies was on late night television forget about sleep that night.

FLESH & BLOOD: THE HAMMER HERITAGE OF HORROR was a 2 part BBC documentary celebrating the studio in 1994. It was released by Anchor Bay on home video around the same time since they were licensing their films for video distribution but that was a shortened version of the original. Now S’Mores Entertainment is releasing the documentary in its full 2 hours and 28 minutes running length.

Begun in 1934 it wasn’t until Hammer studios ventured into the science fiction and horror realms that their films really gained notoriety. Starting with the Quatermass character in several films starring that fixture they gained enough impetus to move forward. But it was their gothic horror films that garnered the most attention and filled their coffers. Starting with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN the studios seemed to find a gimmick that worked.

That gimmick was much easier than one would think. They took a solid story, created fantastic sets are small costs and featured actors who might not have been that well-known but were superb in their abilities. For this feature they employed two who would go on to greater acclaim but who starred in a vast number of Hammer films and became long-time icons in the world of horror: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. So associated with the studio were these two actors that they are the ones chosen to narrate this documentary.

The pair would not only be used to launch the series of Frankenstein films the studio made featuring Cushing as the maniacally possessed scientist, they would co-star in a number of films based on that other towering giant of horror films Dracula. With HORROR OF DRACULE (released in the UK as just DRACULA) the studio hit pay dirt. The film featuring Lee as the horrific Count and Cushing as his formidable foe Van Helsing. Made for a small amount the film went on to become a top grossing film that year.

As you can see it’s easy to get caught up in the mania for Hammer horror when you reflect on the studio and its output if you grew up watching these films as I have. I could go on about all of the things they did and their progress into more horror and their eventual downturn but to do so would leave you with no reason to watch this wonderful documentary.

Combining film clips, trailer clips and interviews with many who were responsible for making those classic films the story of Hammer comes through from their beginning to their demise to their eventual rising from the grave much like the famed count himself, reinvented for a new generation with new movies being produced recently. There is little doubt that the inclusion of this portion of the documentary may be what increased the length of it from previous incarnations since these films have only been made recently. To see the words “Hammer Films” on the screen once again is a joy for fans.

The documentary is broken down into various chapters covering the types and styles of films that Hammer made. One will focus on Frankenstein, another on Dracula and yet another on what was termed the glamour of Hammer focusing on the beautiful women placed in many of their films. Each takes a look at the items that made Hammer the studio that they were.

If you are unfamiliar with the studio and the output of films they are responsible for then this is a nice jumping point to start with. It will provide you with a glimpse at their offerings and afterward you’ll be able to pick and choose those you want to seek out. The background information and interviews are enjoyable and give you a background on some of the films and the productions of them from when they were made. That we are fortunate enough to have the archival interviews is good news for fans of film since many have since passed away, in particular both narrators.

Watching this documentary not only took me back to the movies they created but to Friday nights growing up when my friends and I would make sure we stayed up late and watched the local horror hosts airing these films. If one of them popped up on some schedule during the week you know that we would be bleary eyed the next morning having snuck out of bed to watch them. It also made me want to go back through my collection of films to re-watch a number of the films they made and enjoy them all over again or to pick up copies of those I was missing. Best of all the documentary brings forth an awareness of the studio that many may not have or may not have grown up with in spite of being fans of horror. If you are among those then might I suggest you pick this one up and educate yourself in all things Hammer and then seek out those films.

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