Hammer Time!

I love Hammer horror films.

Always have, ever since I first saw them in the early 1970s on Sinister Cinema (our schlocky local TV equivalent to today’s Svengoolie, Elvira, and so on.) Sinister Cinema was what my town’s teenagers watched late Saturday night before Saturday Night Live showed up.

I saw a lot of cool movies for the first time there. Often they were cut to ribbons and you had to sort of shrug off the braying commercials of local electronics salesman Tom Peterson, but even so, I was still enchanted with the classic horror on display like Universal’s Dracula and Bride of Frankenstein, along with other not-so-classic fare like Blood and Lace and I Bury the Living.

I often would watch these movies during a night babysitting for one or another neighborhood families, after I’d fed the kids and put them to bed. To my great frustration, parents had an annoying habit of arriving home right at the climax of the film being shown and then I’d miss the ending. (It took me fourteen more years to see the ending of Blood and Lace, and no, it was emphatically not worth it, but it was satisfying to scratch the itch nevertheless.)

At the same time I found Sinister Cinema, I was discovering the original books many of these movies were based on like Stoker’s Dracula, as well as fun pop culture appreciations like Nancy Garden’s books.

Of all the horror entries in the Sinister Cinema library, it was the Hammers I loved best. They had a visceral power that came through even past the hokey horror-host introductions and the endless Tom Peterson bellowing about LOW LOW PRICES.

Christopher Lee’s Dracula, especially, was how I thought of him– a proper Victorian gentleman that could instantly transform into a savage snarling animal. Those were the versions that imprinted on me, and to this day, when I read new stories about Dracula, it is Lee’s version I see in my head.

A few years ago I stumbled across a DVD of Dracula AD 1972 in the bargain bin and snapped it up in a fit of nostalgia, and it reminded me of how much I adored those movies. Julie had never seen any of them and she fell in love with them too. So, as often happens with our household, I went looking for more and we were on a bit of a binge there for a few months.

Turned out there were lots of discount Hammer collections out there, and today they occupy about half of the horror-movie shelf here. We enjoy them all, even the outliers like The Snorkel and Scream of Fear.

I wasn’t the only one that loved those movies. As it turned out a lot of other people did too. Hammer horror conventions are a regular thing in the U.K., and former Hammer girls like Caroline Munro and Veronica Carlson can often be found in attendance, treating all us middle-aged stuttering fans with indulgent, matronly affection. (Here are Martine Beswick, Caroline Munro, and Madeline Smith from a panel in 2014, looking like a trio of cool aunts.)

This is a great writeup of one such affair if you are curious.

Some of us grew up and found ways to turn pro, and it’s one of those fellows I want to tell you about now. His name is Joshua Kennedy, and his particular favorite Hammer is The Gorgon.

He’s become a low-budget indie filmmaker with over a dozen features under his belt, and right now he’s a man with a dream. Let him tell you himself…

That’s right. He wants to get the band back together… and he’s already got all the cool aunties on board. Plus Johnny Alucard himself, Dracula AD 1972‘s Christopher Neame.

The Indiegogo campaign is here. Julie and I kicked in $25 for the DVD but there are a number of great packages for contributors.

And I’m also boosting the signal here. If you have a similar affection for these classic films, consider dropping a few dollars their way. Do it for Joshua and for me, for Caroline and Veronica and all the other cool aunties, and for Nancy Garden. Let’s make this happen.

Back next week with something cool.

12 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    Kate Bush has a song called Hammer Horror. Not entirely useful, but I thought I’d mention it. (I’d link to the YouTube but her clips are… not as good as her songs…)

    Madeline Smith looks like Carrie Fisher.

    To my great frustration, parents had an annoying habit of arriving home right at the climax of the film being shown and then I’d miss the ending. (It took me fourteen more years to see the ending of Blood and Lace, and no, it was emphatically not worth it, but it was satisfying to scratch the itch nevertheless.)
    Reminds me of what happened to me with a G-Force two-parter (about man-eating plants). I saw part one several times, but it took me over twenty years to finally see part two. (Also not worth it, also itch-scratched.)

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Oh, man. Tom Peterson. Sorry, but just the mention of that guy’s name brought back so many memories (or perhaps flashbacks would be a better way to put it). Braying, indeed. I think that’s actually a charitable description – and a bit of an insult to donkeys…

  3. Hal

    Dracula AD 1972! I got that for a low, low price a few years ago too. Amusing movie. Most memorable thing in it? The outrageous shot of the gorgeous Stephanie Beachum which showcases her breasts in a diaphanous nightie on one side of the frame and Christopher Lee’s King Vampire on the other. Ladies and Gentlemen, Hammer in the early Seventies!

      1. Le Messor

        He mentioned something else, but didn’t say what that was.

        Sorry things aren’t the same; it’s been a loooong time since I’ve seen original Hammer Horror, but I do remember liking them a lot, which is more than I liked Lady In Black (which I did like).

  4. frasersherman

    Annoyingly the night shift job that I had right after college prevented me from catching a late-night horror show on Saturdays that ran lots of Hammers (the Mircalla Karnstein trilogy, for instance). At the time I had no way to know how easy it would one day be to see them so I was bummed.

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