Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 22, 2011
Last week I included Marcus Hearn’s latest book, The Hammer Vault: Treasures From the Archive of Hammer Films, in my two part list of Favorite Film Related Books of 2011. This week I got the opportunity to ask the author a few questions about his new book as well as discuss Hammer’s enduring legacy. The studio best known for its gothic horror films has continued to gain new fans and produce new movies including THE WOMAN IN BLACK, which is scheduled to be released in February of 2012.
Movie Morlocks: You’ve written numerous books about movies, television and music but in recent years you’ve focused a lot of your attention on Hammer horror films and published some of the most renowned books about the British studio including The Hammer Story, Hammer Glamour and The Art of Hammer. What inspired you to start writing about Hammer films?
Marcus Hearn: Ever since I started working with Hammer in 1994 I’ve felt that the company and its films have been undervalued in England. Which is strange, given that Hammer is this country’s most successful independent production company. The best of the films have now been critically rehabilitated, but it’s depressing when they’re overlooked or misrepresented as camp or trashy. So I guess I’m on something of a crusade!
Movie Morlocks: I appreciate your approach. And the devotion you’ve shown to archiving and preserving Hammer film history is commendable. It’s even led to you being crowned the ‘Official Hammer Films Historian.’ That must be a real honor! What do you enjoy most about your work? The actual research and documentation? Or the writing and compiling of all the information you’ve gathered into a readable book?
Marcus Hearn: It certainly is an honor, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities it brings me. More than anything else I love discovering new material, but we don’t lose sight of the fact that the archive’s preservation relies on its continued commercial exploitation. We have to find ways to bring this material to as wide an audience as possible. That way we can keep Hammer prominent, which in turn helps to support the new releases.
Movie Morlocks: Your latest book is called The Hammer Vault: Treasures From the Archive of Hammer Films and it’s full of rare publicity items including photos, concept art, production notes, script excerpts and much, much more. As a longtime Hammer fan I found it absolutely fascinating to read and I was surprised to find that so much of the material was new to me. How did you go about selecting the material that was included?
Marcus Hearn: Along with the designer, Peri Godbold, I spent months panning for gold in the archive. For previous projects I usually targeted particular boxes or filing cabinets for the information or illustrations I knew they contained, but this was the most extensive trawl yet. The aim was to present a visual history of the company’s horror years, a history in objects. I tried to include at least one item on every page that the fans won’t have seen before. By the time Peri and I finished we realized we had enough material for three books, but I wanted to keep the book accessible so we were strict about what we included.
Movie Morlocks: One of the many things I liked about the new book was the inclusion of actual script pages and letters exchanged between cast members and crew. The letters illustrating the dispute between Bette Davis and film director Alvin Rakoff for example were really interesting. And I was particularly touched by the addition of Peter Cushing’s personal script pages for the films he made following his wife’s death. I’ve often read about how depressed Cushing became after his wife Helen passed away but seeing him randomly writing her name and circling it on various Hammer scripts spoke volumes about the grief he was experiencing. What are your favorite materials in the new book?
Marcus Hearn: Much of what is printed in the book is rare, and was originally produced in very limited quantities. The letters are special because they’re unique. They were never meant for a general audience, but we were careful with the material we selected and I think that some of them, such as the Bette Davis correspondence, serve as valuable historical documents. The annotations that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing made on their scripts are also unique, and reveal so much about their respective approaches. In Cushing’s case, the script annotations provide greater insight than you could ever gain from an interview.
Movie Morlocks: I was surprised to find that you also incorporated materials for some of the new Hammer films such as LET ME IN (2010) and WAKE WOOD (2011), which I watched recently and really enjoyed. What do you think about Hammer’s latest horror offerings? And do you think their new films will have the same kind of lasting power that early Hammer films had?
Marcus Hearn: There was no reason not to include them, as they’re legitimate Hammer productions. I was only sorry that the pressures of time meant that we couldn’t include more about THE WOMAN IN BLACK, which is due out in February. We have, however, gone some way to redress that – people who have purchased The Hammer Vault can access an online Vault entry for THE WOMAN IN BLACK at www.hammerfilms.com. Only time will tell if the new films have the same longevity. The important thing is that Hammer continues to produce quality horror films without compromising its legacy. THE WOMAN IN BLACK is a powerful film that should appeal to a young audience, while older viewers will very much recognize it as a Hammer horror. And I think that’s quite an achievement.
Movie Morlocks: Your book will undoubtedly appeal to horror film fans and Hammer enthusiasts. But I think the detailed production notes you’ve included in The Hammer Vault will intrigue anyone who’s seriously interested in British film production. Who do you hope to reach with your new book?
Marcus Hearn: Primarily the Hammer fans, who have been loyal to the company and our books, but also anyone who has an interest in the mechanics of film marketing and promotion. I hope that people who are interested in British film history will take a look, but one of the messages of the book is that Hammer was an international company. They may have been based in London, but unlike many of their contemporaries and successors in the British film industry they marketed their films to a global audience. That’s probably one of the secrets of their success.
Movie Morlocks: You’ve published four books about Hammer films over the last five years. That’s almost a book a year. Do you have plans to write any more?
Marcus Hearn: The 2007 publication of The Hammer Story was actually a revised edition of the book that Alan Barnes and I wrote in 1997, but the last three years have been quite intense. It’s time to pause and recharge my batteries, but I hope I’ll continue to work with Hammer on other projects. I’ve just directed some documentaries to accompany the forthcoming Blu-ray archive releases, and we’re editing the programs now.
Movie Morlocks: I’ll be looking forward to that! And lastly, I’d personally love to see you write a book about the male actors that appeared in Hammer films including big name stars like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed as well as lesser-known performers such as Michael Ripper and Shane Briant. In other words, a book similar to Hammer Glamour, which focused on female Hammer film stars. Is there any chance my wish might be fulfilled in the future?
Marcus Hearn: The idea has been mentioned a few times, but I think the fans are predominantly male and they might not find the photographs quite as appealing. Maybe we just need to give some thought to an appropriate format. But not until I’ve returned to Frankenstein’s laboratory to recharge those batteries!
Soon after our interview was completed I got the sad news that director Don Sharp had passed away at age 89. Sharp directed some terrific Hammer films, in particular KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1962) as well as THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1963) and RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK (1965). Marcus Hearn wrote a thoughtful obituary for the deceased director that you can find on the official Hammer site: Don Sharp (1922 – 2011)
MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
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