Hammer Complete by Howard Maxford

The Films, The Personnel, The Company

There are a great many books about the much-loved Hammer Films, many of them very worthy, but if you only buy one, make it ‘Hammer Complete’, it really is Hammer Complete.

Howard Maxford is a superb writer; his book is well researched, entertaining, and good-humoured. It’s also an invaluable book: if you purchase it, you will never part with it.

On this score, kudos to McFarland for producing such a well-bound and presented book. Well done! No disposable download could compare to a thing of beauty and joy forever as ‘Hammer Complete’.

The photos and reproductions of posters (many I’ve never seen before) are excellent, and I’d suggest to McFarland that a colour book of Hammer posters would be a very popular idea indeed.

Howard covers the personnel in great detail, not just the heavy hitters like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but people you never even realised contributed to the Hammer legend. He also covers the history of the studio, and even, and I was most impressed with this, mentioned Dez Skinn’s superb ‘House of Hammer’ magazine.

When I was very young I remember travelling with my parents to visit my grandfather in Cashel. We stopped off at a little newsagents in Limerick wherein I spotted some old copies (but in mint condition) of House of Hammer. I bought all I could afford with my pocket money (if I could build a time machine I would go back and buy a complete collection!). Within one was a beautifully written and illustrated (by Brian Bolland no less!) adaptation of ‘Plague of Zombies’ (another issue I bought had an adaptation of ‘Vampire Circus’ also illustrated by Bolland).

When I eventually could afford to buy videos the first one I bought was ‘Plague of the Zombies’. It has never dated, and like all the great Hammers, it has a strong subtext, the rich exploiting the poor as always – in this case, literally using the undead to work a Cornish tin mine (Winston Graham never came up with a story like this!). Hammer’s zombies don’t eat the living: they are voodoo zombies, something we don’t see done well in films usually (I like Wes Craven’s ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’ even though it veers well away from the excellent Wade Davis book of the same name.)

I would love to see an enterprising publisher gather all the House of Hammer comic strips into a series of hardback, quality paper graphic novels, with articles about the relevant films. There’s another fine idea for McFarland!

Incidentally, the very talented Mark Gatiss of ‘League of Gentlemen’ and ‘Sherlock’ fame got into Hammer films exactly the same way I did, by reading the aforementioned ‘House of Hammer’ magazines.

Finally, there is an excellent and fascinating appendix in ‘Hammer Complete’, covering Hammer projects that sadly never came to fruition. Read it and weep, but perhaps someday, like the studio itself, these projects will return to life!

I’ll just share a few with you to whet your appetite (and ask Hammer Studios – you never know, if there is interest, they might get made!).

For instance, Hammer considered a TV series called ‘Charters and Caldicott’, a spin-off from Hammer’s 1979 version of ‘The Lady Vanishes’, a film I have a soft spot for. It would have featured the adventures of Ian Carmichael and Arthur Lowe’s cricket-made characters. A great shame it was never made; they were two great character actors and much loved.

Hammer’s Richard Matheson-written adaptation of Dennis Wheatley’s ‘The Devil Rides Out is one of their greatest films. Timeless and magnificent, featuring a career-best performance from Christopher Lee as the Duc, and Charles Grey as the Aleister Crowley-inspired Morcata (his line ‘I shan’t be back…but something will’ is utter chilling, particularly as it is delivered with such charm).

Wheatley knew Crowley, and indeed his non-fiction ‘The Devil And All His Works’ has a photo of an autographed book that Crowley presented him with following a luncheon together. Both men liked to eat and drink well! Indeed, during the rationing of World War 2 and beyond, Wheatley managed to always produce an abundant table of food…as if by magic! It is also alleged that Wheatley and Crowley did intelligence work together in World War 2. Wheatly most certainly did; as to Crowley, who knows.

Hammer considered an adaptation of ‘The Devil All His Works’. They very nearly made Wheatley’s ‘Gateway To Hell’, but the commercial failure of The Devil Rides Out In America caused this film’s production to be cancelled. A great shame. Other Wheatley works considered include ‘The Haunting of Toby Jugg’, ‘The Satanist’, ‘The Ka of Gifford Hilary’ and ‘They Used Dark Forces’.

There was to be a sequel to ‘Moon Zero Two’ called ‘Disaster In Space’ (not ‘Moon Zero Three’?). There was an inspired idea of doing an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s Faustian-tale ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ called ‘Doreen Grey’. This would have starred Mia Farrow, a shame this never came to pass.

They considered a remake of ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’, an intriguing film that actually would benefit from being remade. Hammer nearly made a film of ‘The Rocky Horror Show’, it could have revived the studios fortunes had it been made.

There was a ‘Quatermass 4’ announced in the late 60s, but Hammer never made it. Nigel Kneale’s script was eventually made into a rather depressing and cynical TV series in the late 70s. The film was rather dated; Kneale had written the script in the 60s and it reflected his dislike of the culture of the time. Kneale was a great writer and Quatermass is a great creation. Before his death Kneale came up with a treatment for a story about a young Quatermass fighting the evil in the Third Reich; it would be nice to see that revived.

In the late 70s, Hammer came very close to making a film called ‘Nessie’ about the Loch Ness Monster. Now that would have been fun.

Having pillaged Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula ‘, Hammer considered an adaptation of Stoker’s ‘The Lair of the White Worm’, eventually made by the late great Ken Russell (the film is bonkers, but well worth watching!). They also considered a film about Stoker called ‘Victim of his Imagination’, going so far as to produced artwork for it.

A film called ‘Jack The Ripper Goes West’ was considered, wherein the Ripper would continue his reign of terror in America.

A pirate film called ‘Mistress of the Seas’ was on the table at one point. (It didn’t leave the table to make it as far as the seas, though, again, poster artwork was produced. This was common with Hammer, a poster was produced, and if finance was found, they made a film to match the poster. Sadly, I can’t see studios doing that today)

Of course, Hammer were tempted to return to the well of Dracula, with such titles mooted as Dracula Walks The Night and The Dracula Odyssey. There was to be a film set in India called ‘Kali-Devil Bride of Dracula’. Well, you can’t fault the title, and they went so far as to produce a poster for it. A similar idea was ‘The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula’, set in 1930s India. And in a pleasing end to my review, showing things come full circle (there is an old Irish saying, ‘What’s yours won’t pass you by’), this was finally produced as a radio play, adapted by and starring the great Mark Gatiss!

‘Not dead which eternal lies’ indeed! Long may it be so!

Published by McFarland | www.mcfarlandpub.com

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (http://toendallwarscomic.wordpress.com/writers/).