As British as a Jammy Dodger and boasting equal quantites of viscous red gloop, Hammer Films is enjoying a vampire-shaped renaissance with the acclaimed Let Me In. Okay, it’s set in wintry New Mexico rather than Old Blighty but Matt Reeves’ reimaging of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel and the release of a new book of Hammer artwork gives us a wonderful opportunity to cast an admiring eye over some of the classic posters and rarities in the studio's archive. Gathered from private collections and dank crypts the world over, The Art Of Hammer offers nearly 300 fabulous and freaky posters to pick from. Some you’ll know, many you won’t. We’ve picked eight favourites to share.
Professor Quatermass (Brian Donlevy), a warped scientific genius in the Beaker mould, launches a missile into orbit. It crashes in the English countryside killing two crew members and turning the third into the poster's giant wolf-like creature with three front legs. Its terrifying power to shapeshift, absorbing all it encounters, causes alarm across Britain, not least because, as the poster suggests, all Britain has to defend itself is an early version of Daft Punk and some kind of reflective dish. Set up in 1934, this was Hammer Studio’s first foray into horror, a X-rated film as barkingly brilliant as the poster. This one boasts the movie's US title: 'The Creeping Unknown'.
Hammer did comedy, too. Quatermass director Val Guest lept from X to U-rating with this family-friendly Ealing-style slapsticker. Naval officer and part-time inventor David Tomlinson is consigned to the Royal Navy’s creaking HMS Berkeley after developing a worrying new rocket system (Hammer were big on rockets). A scheming Peter Sellers, comely Liliane Sottane and a boat-load of jaunty old tars await. As the poster – easily Hammer’s jolliest – suggests, substantial how’s-your-father’ing ensues.
Hammer’s answer to French noirs like Les Diaboliques, Hysteria was one of a spate of ’60s low-budget thrillers the studio turned out. With names like Fanatic, Crescendo, Nightmare, Paranoiac and Maniac, the posters didn’t need to do much more than scream the title and leave the rest to the fertile imagination of a crime-saga-loving public. Still, this one does, foreshadowing Saul Bass’ Vertigo swirls with creepy aplomb, even if Robert Webber looks like he’s eaten something that seriously disagreed with him. The film was in black and white so we’ll never know if Webber really was that green in the flesh.
Cushing! Tucker! Snowman! It’s all there on Hammer’s brilliantly OTT poster, as bright as the sun glinting off the Himalayan snow or the man who decided that poster taglines should always be written in the style of death threats. Cinemagoers weaned on Smell-O-Vision and the Tingler would have attended any film threatening to freeze them to their seat with a serious sense of trepidation. The film saw scientists Friend (Forrest Tucker) and Rollason (Peter Cushing) set out across the Himalayas to track down the elusive Yeti. Yeti proves unhappy to be tracked down. Much blood is shed. Like the Quatermass, the schlocks are overseen by director Val Guest from Nigel Kneale’s telly script.
How could we not pick a Curse Of Frankenstein poster? Their first colour movie, it made Hammer Horror a household name, was its first international smash, spawned several sequels, was the forbear of other classics such as Dracula and The Mummy, and launched the careers of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. All that and it revived the Gothic horror craze… Hell, the poster’s all right too.
What would be better than The Curse Of Frankenstein? Or Dracula? How about...(lightning strikes far-off tree)..The Curse Of Frankenstein and Dracula, in the screen’s greatest double creature feature? (Thunder rolls, fade to black…) Some lovely floaty head work from the poster designer here, as well as a fantastically distorted tombstone or two. Makes you wish there were still drive-in movie theatres around, doesn’t it?
Dracula Has Risen from the Grave might be a far darker film that the previous three Hammer Draculas (think women’s bodies stuffed in bells), but the poster has a somewhat wry, sarcastic tone, replete with a stylised black-and-white shot of a beautiful Hammer hottie’s neck boasting a safety-first pink Band-Aid or two. ‘(Obviously)’ should appear on more movie posters, we reckon. You know, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (Obviously) or It Lives Again (Obviously). Get on it, Hollywood (Obviously).
The Art Of Hammer: Posters From The Archives Of Hammer Films is out now and available from Titan Books.
Delicately creeping into the giant footprints left by Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula is yet another stone cold classic, creating cinema’s defining image of Vlad the Impaler, the unquestionably brilliant Christopher Lee, who has a nasty habit of vanting to zuck your blud, the naughty little sausage. It’s no five-star stunner, but it changed the Vampire genre into something sexier, edgier and gorier, creating a garish British triumph. And that final image of Dracula peeling in the sun’s rays? Just amazing.