This is one very specific documentary – dealing with a clutch of films, from Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed to Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, made by Hammer Films in association with Hollywood giant Warner Brothers … when the firm had moved away from their old cottage industry studio at Bray and were operating in theory on a bigger scale with projects like Moon Zero Two and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth but actually struggling to keep up with a changing industry. Actually, the Warners-Hammer horror films – almost all Dracula-related – were more mainstream than some of the projects Hammer made at the same time with other partners, including several sexy vampire pictures and bizarre asides like Straight On Till Morning, Hands of the Ripper, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb, Demons of the Mind, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde and Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, not to mention all the TV spin-offs that followed On the Buses.
There was big backstage tsuris going on too, climaxing in a changing of the guard whereby long-lasting studio head Sir James Carreras sold the outfit to his own son Michael, knowingly handing down a poison chalice … though this doesn’t much go into the industry gossip. What we get are concise sections on each of the films, like extras for unannounced BluRay special editions (these films haven’t had the benefit of that treatment), with familiar value-for-money middle-aged bloke talking heads Jonathan Rigby, Christopher Frayling, Joe Dante and Wayne Kinsey. A few of the participants pipe up: John Carson and Madeline Smith are funny about the brothel scene in Taste the Blood of Dracula, Peter Sasdy talks Taste but obviously can’t go on to cover the rest of his non-Warners Hammer films, Veronica Carlson reminisces about the rape scene Sir Jimmy made Terence Fisher put in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (oddly repeating the observation that the inserted scene is out of place with the plot – when actually the climax is precipitated by Carlson’s traumatised character stabbing the next man who comes near her), Caroline Munro is sweet about Dracula A.D. 1972, and Renee Glynne talks continuity about Golden Vampires. Some of these films – the modern Draculas, the Far East adventure – were written off at the time, but have improved with age – and Rigby, Frayling & co make good arguments in their favour. I.Q. Hunter even sort of speaks up for Moon Zero Two and Rigby flags the precedent-setting gratuitous nudity in the would-be trippy Crescendo.
This is not your beginner’s Hammer Films doc – which is refreshing after the old ground has been so thoroughly tilled – and presumes quite a bit of contextualising knowledge on the part of the viewer. The thread between the films is that Hammer seemed to have an international lifeline in their relationship with Warners, but that didn’t help them get out of a slide towards inactivity … exacerbated perhaps by changes in the genre film business fomented ironically by a Warner Bros release, The Exorcist. If this is the story of the Fall of the House of Hammer, it’s only told lightly – the execs who wheeled and dealed and fretted and argued and fought are mentioned but not dwelled on much – and the dominant tone is of appreciation of and affection for the wayward films. Directed by Marcus Hearn.
It played at Frightfest.