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The Horror of Hammer

The Horror of Hammer
All Day
1987 / Color & b&w / various (flat) / 115m.
Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough, Oliver Reed, Barbara Shelley, - all your Hammer favorites
Writing credits and ?
Produced by ?
Directed by ?

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Trailer shows are always lots of fun. Filmex ( an extinct Hollywood retrospective film festival) used to have them frequently, and we loved them: in earlier days of home video, Sinister Cinema's long vhs reels of compiled trailers were always fascinating, giving us the first look at how our favorite fantasy films were marketed. More often than not, we found that the most popular films also had dynamite trailers, like Invaders from Mars. Them! had such a cartoony poster, I always wondered how they got anyone into the theaters, until I saw its wham-bam trailer.

All Day video has expanded their small but distinguished catalog of DVDs with a pair of new compilation discs, one on Film Noir movies and this collection of trailers from the Hammer studios. There are 53 original trailers here, arranged not chronologically, but by subject - with the Frankensteins, the Draculas, etc., in a row. The list is pretty complete, if you don't mind starting with 1955's The Quatermass Xperiment (here shown with its American title The Creeping Unknown). That leaves out some early Terence Fisher items, like Four-Sided Triangle. I also missed not seeing She and Terror of the Tongs (which I for some reason couldn't sit through on its one TCM showing ten years ago), but there were trailers on this reel I'd never seen before, like my ultimate favorite Science Fiction film These Are The Damned. There were also trailers for Hammers I still haven't caught up with, such as The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (presented under its House of Fear title), The Man Who Could Cheat Death, and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (soon to come out on DVD, methinks).

For those who've seen less, the disc is going to be a gold mine of Hammer goodies, essentially a moving picture book of the images and faces of Hammer's biggest and greatest. Hammer usually showcased their monsters prominently in the trailers, and they're all here, along with snatches of great music, trailer graphics, and audio bites: Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes: "There are many odd things to be found on the Moors (throws knife!) PERHAPS THIS will refresh your memory!"

Listening to the commentary tracks sounds like being in a living room watching the trailers with guys who know the movies well, and who are trying to explain them to a general audience. Ted Newsom, who seems the center of the talk, has an informative way of speaking, and Gary H. Smith and Stuart Galbraith IV guide and shape the discussion as best they can. There were times when I felt they weren't speaking at their true level of intimacy with the films, in the interest of being more accessible. If you get into a real across-the-table discussion with these guys, the conversation soon gets into details that are a lot more enjoyably arcane. But all in all I thought they did a good job, especially if you haven't read much about Hammer films.

Purists are going to have immediate reservations about the quality of the trailers, which of course varies because they obviously have come from private collections and are sourced from everything from good 35mm to faded 16. None are really pristine, although all are intact and in reasonable shape, something that couldn't be said about those old Sinister Cinema grab-bags. But there are some disappointingly dark or smeary trailers here, which might be the result of inadequate transfers or insufficient work in the digitizing process. So don't expect the kind of quality you see on other DVDs, for all but a few titles.

The treat for real Hammer addicts are a pair of featurettes Savant didn't even know existed. From When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, is a jaunty short subject which actually shows the Hammer headquarters and some of the personnel pretending to choose their next leading lady. A lot of nice publicity material surrounds the announcement of Victoria Vetri as the inheritor of the Raquel Welch cavegirl role. The other featurette is for Dracula, A.D. 1972, which shows a lot of Christopher Lee on and off the set, even putting his fangs on and taking them off. Both are rather interesting considering the tackiness of the featurette format. I'm sure Hammer addicts would like to see every bit of film shot behind the scenes on these movies, and so little exists.

There are a couple of things Savant didn't like about the programming on the disc. Someone apparently had access to dozens of those ten-second theatrical announcement filmstrips, proudly proclaiming the name of some unknown theater chain, announcing what starts Wednesday, etc. They come between each and every trailer, and are a distracting nuisance, flattening the tone and padding out the running time. Oddly, the chapter programming is all off: selecting a title lands you on the end title card of the previous trailer, which means you have to sit through the interstitial theatrical hoohaw to get to what you want to see.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Horror of Hammer rates:
Trailers: Excellent ... assuming you're a Hammer devotee
Video: variable: Fair to sometimes good
Sound: variable, but always clear
Supplements: commentary with Ted Newsome, Stuart Galbraith IV, Gary H. Smith, 2 short subjects
Packaging: Amaray case
Reviewed: July 23, 2001

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