Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bruce G Hallenbeck: The Hammer Vampire

Finished reading the book earlier this month so might as well come up with a short review as promised....

For regular subscribers of Little Shoppe of Horrors the name Bruce G Hallenbeck over the last couple of decades has been a guarantee for first class genre research and he has easily established himself as one of a handful of leading Hammer Historians worldwide. Though Dick Klemensen is quite clearly the creative brain behind the venture, it is writers such as Hallenbeck who ensured that LSoH has been continuously available since the 1970s.

The Hammer Vampire represents the first time that Bruce dedicates an entire book to an aspect of Hammer history. Right from the start it is very apparent that this is not anything he put together over the course of just a few weeks or even months. This is the work of a lifetime. Even the acknowledgments include the likes of Ralph Bates who already passed away nearly two decades ago.

The book takes a very in-depth look at all sixteen Hammer Vampire movies: the Dracula and Karnstein series as well as the individual entries such as Kiss of the Vampire or Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. When discussing those movies Bruce is able to rely on his extensive interviews with all key Hammer staff to provide fascinating insights into the making of these films before subsequently reviewing those productions and their initial reception.

The book is richly illustrated and though I still don't like its cover (and never will) the inside pages are an absolute beauty. Tons of often rare black & white as well as colour photos adorn the entire oeuvre. Open the book at random and admire the visual treats on display. The pictures I took of some of the pages will not do the book justice but should give you an overall idea.

Mention Hammer to a general movie fan and the first thing they will come up with is Dracula. The Dracula movies (and to a lesser degree all its other vampire flicks) have been the cornerstone of the company during most of its heyday and are still remembered most fondly. As such these are the films that have already been most extensively written about before and it often appears that nothing much new could be said that hadn't been said before. Yet this is the genius of Hallenbeck's approach that he even finds new nuggets in the most unlikely places. His analysis of Carol Marsh's child-like performance mixing her coming-of-age and of-sexuality is very succinct and had me tempted to view the film again for the umpteenth time.

One common thread in this book is that every new Dracula production emphasised a new approach at how Hammer and its artists took a look at society. This is of course more than just painfully obvious in the likes of Taste the Blood of Dracula (outwardly respectable members of society visiting brothels to fulfill their decadent needs) or Dracula A.D. 1972 (a fun picture telling us a lot about how the older Hammer guard *believed* that the younger generation was living it out in Swinging London). I don't, however, recall anyone before making a such a concentrated attempt to highlight all the different takes each of their Dracula movies had on looking at society and at the way religious symbolism was handled in them.

While discussing all the vampire movies, Hallenbeck also puts these into a wider context and focuses on other similiar genre entries both from the UK and abroad and thereby charts the way Hammer gradually lost its hold over the fans and from a market leader slid into the role of a market follower.

All in all this was a fabulous read that I would recommend to anyone reading this blog. Longtime readers of LsoH may occasionally get a sense of Deja Vu as some of the material is also quoted in this book but you can't really blame a writer for referencing himself and it is nice to see the material all packaged together in one big bundle.

The book was published by Hemlock Books and though it is available through Amazon you may get it faster by ordering directly with them. In actual fact (commission be damned) I am not even going to include an Amazon link for this review as Amazon US lists this as being available for $83 from a private seller (the letters WTF were invented for this kind of deal) and Amazon UK has the regular rates but order times of 1-2 months.

The first print run had sold out quickly and new copies have now been made available. Later on this year the same team will also publish a similar book dedicated to Hammer's Sci Fi and Fantasy movies. Given that this is an area that hasn't been covered as extensively yet this could be even better than the current volume.


Anonymous said...

It really is a fabulous book - a real labour of love. Like you say, I enjoy how he puts each film within the context of other vampire movies, and evolving culture. A great read.

Neil D Vokes said...

Thanks to my very generous mate,Denis Meikle,I should be reading this luscious tome very soon...;o)

Holger Haase said...

Make sure you put a few hours aside, Neil, as you won't want to put this out of your hands. Promise.

Neil D Vokes said...

I just received the book (again,thanks to good mate Denis Meikle) and you're right,H2, I'm gonna have to make time for this beauty- the pics/design of the book alone is distracting- i can't wait to sit down and take a bite out of it...;o)

Holger Haase said...

Glad you like it. And nice to hear you have such generous friends. ;-)

Neil D Vokes said...

The fellows whom I am proud to call friend are both a good,loyal lot AND generous...who could ask for more...;o)