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A Thing Of Unspeakable Horror: The History Of Hammer Films

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30 review for A Thing Of Unspeakable Horror: The History Of Hammer Films

  1. 5 out of 5

    F.R.

    Contrary to what some reviewers of this book say, I’m going to crawl onto the limb of a creepy old tree and say that the author, Sinclair McKay does actually like Hammer Horror films I find it hard to imagine that anyone would go to the time and effort to write a book about Hammer films while disliking them, so I think he likes them fine. Besides, he’s clearly invested enough time and energy in them to know what he’s talking about, There’s a flippancy to the book’s tone though, a need to constant Contrary to what some reviewers of this book say, I’m going to crawl onto the limb of a creepy old tree and say that the author, Sinclair McKay does actually like Hammer Horror films I find it hard to imagine that anyone would go to the time and effort to write a book about Hammer films while disliking them, so I think he likes them fine. Besides, he’s clearly invested enough time and energy in them to know what he’s talking about, There’s a flippancy to the book’s tone though, a need to constant make jokes and point out flaws, rather than necessarily extol the virtues. Being a Hammer fan is like being a classic era DOCTOR WHO fan, one loves the flaws almost as much as one loves the good bits. So, we can acknowledge those parts that now look cheesy and crap (and maybe always did look cheesy and crap), even laugh at them, but we don’t necessarily want the rubbish to be the main focus. All that is to say I enjoyed the book more that some readers, but I just wished it had a clearer view on what was actually good about the films, as well as – and this is the more important point – that it had greater depth. I can’t imagine anyone reading this book who wasn’t already invested in the world of Hammer Horror. But it’s too superficial and skirts over too much to really please those of us who are already invested in Hammer and, since no one else is going to pick up, it made me wonder quite what the intended audience was. I for one would have liked to read more about MANIAC and PARANOIC, the supernatural thrillers of the early 60s – the entire set of which here gets one paragraph. The whole is breezily written by a man who clearly knows a great deal about his subject and (despite what some online might say) manages a few good jokes. However, Hammer fans – and I can’t see anyone else ever pick this up – will probably be left wanting more.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

    Breezy and readable, this is a history of Hammer, the quintessential British horror film studio of the 50s and 60s written by someone who is obviously a fan. As such, some of his preferences and assessments are open to debate by fellow fans, but it also means that the book is written with a fondness for Hammer horror, initially the most extreme, gory thing staid British critics and censors in the 50s had ever seen, but increasingly a never-never land unto themselves. McKay is somewhat repetitive Breezy and readable, this is a history of Hammer, the quintessential British horror film studio of the 50s and 60s written by someone who is obviously a fan. As such, some of his preferences and assessments are open to debate by fellow fans, but it also means that the book is written with a fondness for Hammer horror, initially the most extreme, gory thing staid British critics and censors in the 50s had ever seen, but increasingly a never-never land unto themselves. McKay is somewhat repetitive at times, and the narrative occasionally loops back on itself. Still, he does a good job of contextualising the rise and fall of Hammer against the overall history of the horror genre, the British film industry and Britain's social and economic upheavals during the years of Hammer's activity. It's a chatty, sometimes gossipy overview of the amazing career of an iconic production house. It could have done with more analytical depth and some of the stated facts are a bit dodgy, but this is a good overall introduction to its subject matter, if a bit more like an extended blog post or newspaper supplement article than I would have liked.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Corey

    Fascinating account of the Hammer horror films era. I wish there had been more about their noirs. And I wish the author hadn't dissed Clockwork Orange as if its 'ultraviolence' is somehow distasteful compared to Hammer's gentler horror films. Minor quibbles. Fascinating account of the Hammer horror films era. I wish there had been more about their noirs. And I wish the author hadn't dissed Clockwork Orange as if its 'ultraviolence' is somehow distasteful compared to Hammer's gentler horror films. Minor quibbles.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    Hammer Films may have been founded in 1935 but it only produced anything of consequence, other than the first of its Quatermass series in 1955, when Peter Cushing emerged as Baron Frankenstein in 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1957). Until its final demise as film maker in 1979 (although its story really ends in 1974 to all intents and purposes), it became known for a peculiarly English Gothic take on themes originally developed by Universal Studios in the 1930s but derived from English literary m Hammer Films may have been founded in 1935 but it only produced anything of consequence, other than the first of its Quatermass series in 1955, when Peter Cushing emerged as Baron Frankenstein in 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1957). Until its final demise as film maker in 1979 (although its story really ends in 1974 to all intents and purposes), it became known for a peculiarly English Gothic take on themes originally developed by Universal Studios in the 1930s but derived from English literary models. There was Dracula, Frankenstein and the Mummy as well as a homegrown Quatermass series and Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard and Dennis Wheatley adaptations ('Hound of the Baskervilles', 'She' and 'The Devil Rides Out' respectively). Highly variable in quality, its keynote stars were Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee with Ingrid Pitt as perhaps the best known female star in the vampire series. Sinclair McKay's book is readable, as it should be from someone who was Deputy Features Editor of a major newspaper, but only in a workmanlike way. There are few complaints to be had about his general judgements, his occasional gossip is amusing and the brief accounts of key films and the useful context in the cinema of the period or (with perhaps less usefulness) the wider culture and politics of the period are well judged. The photographs are also largely new and capture the day-to-day work of the studio well. His weaknesses are an excess of repetition - 'embonpoint' appears to be a favourite word and he might have done with a thesaurus to hand on a few occasions - and he has a somewhat jumpy attitude to chronology. As with all jobbing journalists, deep analysis is not his strong point. His matey jokiness can also pall on occasions. His attempt to defend the studio's films against the charge of sexism is noble but it is a bit forced - although it is true that strong women characters did start to appear in the mid-period. But why quibble? - it is an enjoyable and nostalgic read and it does allow one to place the key films where they should be in the story. The picture he paints is an affectionate and practical one - of a business first and foremost based on trying to give the public what they wanted at the lowest possible cost. They lucked out on a talented team of actors, designers, composers, directors and writers who could churn out some low cost art from little more than the producers' tried and tested method of producing the poster first and worrying about the product afterwards - and using the same sets over and over again as if they were a touring repertory company. Hidden within the text is a bigger story of national economic decline that McKay constantly alludes to but never quite develops as an analysis. This studio was artistically British in every respect but it had a colonial relationship to its backers. The financing was largely American and its product was dictated to a considerable degree by the expectations and requirements of the bigger American market, that is, when it was not being forced into the straitjacket of producing homegrown rubbish like 'On the Buses' (1971-1973) to grab that brief moment between there being a television in every home and the arrival of colour. The American public wanted Christopher Lee so this very fine actor was stuck into a role, the near-monosyllabic red-eyed Dracula, that was way below his level of talent. Fortunately, for his long term career, the non-Hammer roles of Scaramanga in a Bond movie and, for his long run reputation, in the 'Wicker Man' (as well as a few more interesting roles at Hammer such as the Duc de Richelieu in 'The Devil Rides Out') made sure that he did not suffer the fates of Bela Lugosi and of Boris Karloff as the eternally typecast B-movie horror actor. Alongside the American Vincent Price, Cushing and Lee are respected as actors and as persons in a way that eluded the Universal generation. The book is thus servicable but is not great - a reasonably sound and entertaining guide to a cultural phenomenon. In 1957, the humourless Tribune complained that 'Curse of Frankenstein' was 'depressing and degrading for anyone who loves the cinema'. By 1973, it was being outgrossed (in horror as well as cash) by 'The Exorcist'. Cinematic horror moved inexorably back to Hollywood where, with occasional brilliant outings from the UK such as the recent '28 Days' series, it has broadly stayed. with only periodic challenges from East Asia. As so often, and especially in matters of sex, music and violence, the United Kingdom was a research laboratory for Anglo-Saxon cultural experimentation, usually on a shoestring budget, until big American money felt confident about throwing significant dollops of its capital at better produced and resourced productions of its own back home. The renaissance of American horror starts in the 1970s and parallels the collapse of independent British horror which, in turn, had arisen as the run of Universal and later science fiction films from the 1930s to the 1950s tailed off. Once a product had been tried and tested in its smaller English-speaking market, the original small creative sources could be happily abandoned, the best talent attracted to America and the British left to pick up the pieces. Even today, UK Government policy towards the creative industries appears to pander to this Atlantic model, throwing educational resources into creativity in a race against time to see how much global capital can be attracted to London (in particular) before the talent gets pulled overseas again. Never was the 'creative destruction' of capitalism more clearly represented than in British film-making of the 1970s. The story of Hammer is thus a minor tragedy of national decline and not one restricted to the 1970s. McKay documents how freebooting US studios became more strictly capitalist enterprises and how creative decisions worked through uncomprehending Committees. American executives could not understand the amused English interest in devil worship and had no context for Quatermass. We were lucky that 'Devil Rides Out' and 'Quatermass and the Pit', two of the finest horror films of the period, slipped through the net. In the end, the studio lost its way - neither able to push the boundaries as did the smaller end of the native market (in films such as the brilliantly dark and sadistic 'Witchfinder General' or the perversely misunderstood 'The Wicker Man') nor invest in the production values and new thinking that might have created a new range of horror or adventure products (or take the studio into new creative territory altogether). It was the American funders who kept pushing the studio back into churning out variable versions of the old Gothic classics. A sign of decline was the decision to create a Kung Fu Dracula movie ('The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires' (1974)) in a vain attempt build up an East Asian funding base out of Hong Kong. The film is not that bad but it is not that good either. After a tired Dennis Wheatley retread and a tolerable attempt to re-make a Hitchcock with American stars, the studio was dead five years later. As for Hammer, there has been a recent attempt to revive the brand as an internet horror series (with some creative but not much commercial success) to attract traffic into MySpace. It seems not to have worked and MySpace appears to be having little success against the pretensions of the new kids on the block, Facebook and Twitter. But the original films (or rather a few of them) are now classics that stand with the Universal horrors as icons of popular culture, watchable over and over again as comfort food and, for the British, alongside the 'Carry On' series, as proof that, indeed, the past is another country.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kira

    There is this odd feeling growing up through the veil of time, that with passing decades gives more spice to the Hammer horror films; while new titles are trying to set up new challenges or goals in rat race, whatever Hammer films standardized, is almost impossible to be kicked out of the genre canon. Author of this particular book, presented all facts, names and key dates in a very free way. In this position, each theme or topic is separated in a chapter, which makes easier for a possible reader There is this odd feeling growing up through the veil of time, that with passing decades gives more spice to the Hammer horror films; while new titles are trying to set up new challenges or goals in rat race, whatever Hammer films standardized, is almost impossible to be kicked out of the genre canon. Author of this particular book, presented all facts, names and key dates in a very free way. In this position, each theme or topic is separated in a chapter, which makes easier for a possible readers to find whatever concrete they need. Me myself as a huge fan of these old productions: I enjoyed the lecture and finished it the same day my reading has started. Felt not bored at all, but more amused and refreshed by the writing and language style used for presented in written form informations.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Absolutely loved it! Informative and fangtastically fun.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    The author clearly has an affection for the studio, though he can’t help but laugh a bit at their efforts. It’s a solid and interesting history of the studio and its decline (written before the studio's resurrection). The author has a tendency to get ahead of himself in the narrative and I was surprised at the absence of Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, my favorite and one of the best late-era Hammer flicks. The author clearly has an affection for the studio, though he can’t help but laugh a bit at their efforts. It’s a solid and interesting history of the studio and its decline (written before the studio's resurrection). The author has a tendency to get ahead of himself in the narrative and I was surprised at the absence of Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter, my favorite and one of the best late-era Hammer flicks.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    This was a wee bit all over the place in terms of a chronological appraisal of the hammer films. I was disappointed one of my favourite films, the swashbuckling/western/horror mash up 'Kaptain Kronos Vampire Hunter', only got a few sentences. Still, I enjoyed it and there's no doubting Sinclair's love and enthusiasm for the films. This was a wee bit all over the place in terms of a chronological appraisal of the hammer films. I was disappointed one of my favourite films, the swashbuckling/western/horror mash up 'Kaptain Kronos Vampire Hunter', only got a few sentences. Still, I enjoyed it and there's no doubting Sinclair's love and enthusiasm for the films.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    Being a Hammer Fan I feel this gave a brillant insite into how the Hammer company worked and how Hammer keeped its stamp on the films it made.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    A fascinating look at the history, influence and impact of Hammer Films. A must read for anyone interested in film history in general, and British film in particular.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mick Meyers

    very good read with a nostalgic feel for the subject.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alex Johnstone O’Neill

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

  14. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

  15. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jason Coffman

    A decent history of Hammer Films, but the writing isn't that great. A decent history of Hammer Films, but the writing isn't that great.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nic de Lisle

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert J.E. Simpson

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

  22. 5 out of 5

    John

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sidney

  24. 5 out of 5

    Graeme Finlayson

  25. 5 out of 5

    Liquidlasagna

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  27. 5 out of 5

    Richard Brown

  28. 4 out of 5

    Vahid Ness

  29. 5 out of 5

    Greg Turnbull

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

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