Sunday, November 27, 2011

Caroline Munro On the Buses

I had only ever watched Mutiny on the Buses and given that this comedy trilogy was Hammer's financially most profitable venture – Did someone say they didn't successfully try new ways in the 1970s? - was always somewhat ashamed that I had missed out on watching all three productions so when I discovered a cheapo set of those flicks in town (a steal at just €2.50) I had to splash out and dedicate the weekend to a journey back into a time when birds were crumpet and men were henpicked.

Well, what can I say? If you can stomach this kind of comedy these movies aren't all that bad. They sure aren't the worst of their kind but I wouldn't exactly call them examples of comical genius either.

What fascinated me most of all, however, was finally being able to see Caroline Munro's first appearance in a Hammer movie.

Hang on, I hear you say. Wasn't her first role in Dracula A.D. 1972 to be followed by the seminal Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter?

Sure.... Legend has it that James Carreras discovered her on one of her Lamb's Navy Rum billboards and straight away decided to offer her a contract.

Just where, however, did he see her billboard? Could it have been here?

Yes, watch the original On the Buses and you can clearly spot her a couple of times on a giant billboard right next to the bus depot.

Wanna see more proof?

So unless someone supplies me with evidence to the contrary I will remain convinced that constant exposure to her image during the filming of this comedy left him unable to resist her charms and compelled him to cast her in somewhat meatier roles and Hammer history was made.

Don't bother looking for her in Mutiny and Holiday on the Buses. By the time these were shot, her billboard had already been replaced.

Matthew's Watching Hammer Top Ten

Encouraged by Holger's decision to republish his Top Ten Hammers (see here), here's mine, also lifted from the fine and much lamented Watching Hammer blog.

Comparing the two lists, I guess I'm slightly surprised that mine and Holger's list have only one film in common; perhaps even more surprising is the fact that it's Dracula AD 1972!
Incidentally, I watched this again recently and was stunned by how little attention Caroline Munro gets: not only is she the first victim, killed off the moment Dracula reappears, but note just how little of the dialogue goes to her, and just how few close-ups she is given, not just in the party scene (where you can blink twice and even imagine that she's not present at all) but also in the ritual sequence - at which she ultimately proves the central presence. Watch as the camera pans around the assembled gang, and observe how few times it lights on Caroline.
For the studio's big new star discovery this is simply inexplicable.

Lovely to then watch Captain Kronos for the first time in maybe twenty years: the contrast was so great it almost nudged Kronos into a revised top ten.
In fact, in the year or so since I posted the below, I've caught up with several of the Hammer Films I had not seen at the time, and reacquainted myself with others I had only seen once and a while ago. I now think Curse of the Werewolf is a much better film than I remembered, and a few others have 'rearranged themselves' in my affections too.
But as my ultimate choice of ten, I stand by what I originally posted, as follows.

Right. The brief is to pick my ten favourites, not necessarily the ten I think are the best. But pride of place has to go to Phantom, which is my favourite, but it’s my favourite because it’s also the best, and nobody seems to think so but me. Incredible how a film’s reputation can continue to be influenced by its original reception, and how people decades later can watch this so sure it’s going to be the lacklustre disappointment they all said it was in ’62 that they come away still believing it’s the lacklustre disappointment they all said it was back in ’62. Personally, I’d triple-bill it with Curse of F and the big D and challenge any newcomer to spot the difference – saving, of course the regrettable absence of Messrs Cushing and Lee, not that Gough and Lom aren’t fine and dandy in their roles. I can’t think of a single thing about this film that isn’t superb. It’s the best re-imagining of the plot we have on film, it’s atmospheric and spooky, and it has a terrific music score (including a fake opera devised for the film by Edwin Astley; my second favourite fake opera devised for a film after the one Oscar Levant wrote for Charlie Chan at the Opera). There’s also not an ounce of flab on it anywhere, which you can’t always say about Hammer in the sixties. You can slice big slabs of fat off Curse of the Werewolf and Dracula, Prince of Darkness, but here we’re back to the 82-minute tightness of the very originals. I’ve written elsewhere about the magnificence of the film’s editing but it needs repeating: just watch the scene prior to the abduction of Christine by the dwarf and note how superbly Fisher combines music, staging and (mis)direction, so that we get that magnificent shock when she opens her curtains, with the sound of the window being pushed down acting as a percussive bridge between the lush romantic music of this scene and the scary organ music of the next. A true masterpiece.

My mother wasn’t too keen on my obsession with Dracula and horror movies as a kid, and eventually being allowed to see them was a major milestone in my life, so nostalgia must inevitably loom large here: all those countless lunchtimes and midmorning breaks at primary school huddled over my friend Steven’s copies of Horror Movies (by Alan Frank) and House of Horror (edited by Allen Eyles), gazing at the pictures, and trying to imagine what those movies could possibly be like. I still get that odd feeling, when I watch, say, the brain operation in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, that I am watching a still picture come to life, as if someone had deliberately recreated The Night Watch on film or something. My memory tells me that the first Hammer film I ever saw – illicitly at a friend’s house – was The Satanic Rites of Dracula, but for some reason that didn’t make the kind of impression on me I would have expected it to, looking back. What did, was the short season of classics BBC2 showed at Christmas, 1984, when at last I caught up with Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, the first two double-billed.
There’s no point me boring you with why Dracula is brilliant – everybody knows it’s just one of those movies with nothing wrong with them whatsoever; that you can watch over and over again without even slightly dimmed pleasure. I will, however, put in an extra word for Curse – fractionally my favourite of the two - as it is too fashionable now to claim that it is an enormously important film but not a great one, and that it was only with Dracula that everything really clicked for the first time. I’ve always found it a barnstormer from first to last, fully the equal of its more cherished follow-up. I love the grotty Eastmancolor, I love Hazel Court – always the queen of Hammer for me – and I love the rumbling opening bars of that theme music. It excites me rather more than Dracula.

Interestingly, that 1984 season consisted of the earliest Bray films and this – which, to make things even odder, they showed first. I’ve often asked myself if nostalgia is the main reason why I think this is far and away the best film the studio made in the seventies. But no, I absolve myself of the charge: this is a masterpiece, pure and simple. In a sense it is an original, of course, not really the fourth mummy film but a first adaptation of a Bram Stoker novel, very compellingly told with some beautifully photographed sequences, great music and – as it’s the seventies now – very gory scares. But it’s spooky in an almost Val Lewtonish way. I love the Egyptian flashbacks, filmed at night, and so much more atmospheric than the usual sort, bathed in unsubtle, baking arc light. And then of course there is perennial Carry On bit-parter-cum-set dressing Valerie Leon, who – let us first note – is entirely credible, and memorably otherworldly, in her one and only dramatic lead, before adding as supplementary information that yes, she is also built like the world’s most sexually attractive battleship. (If you can imagine such a thing.)

Funny thing, but I actually got quite blasé about Hammer after that. Talk about ungrateful. By the time I saw Risen From the Grave, some time in ’85 I think, it was like I’d been watching Hammer films all my life and I remember thinking ‘ah, look: here’s another of those cute little Hammer films I used to be obsessed with…’ Now I know better. It’s the best of the post-Dracula Draculas, and the most Bray-like, in its look and atmosphere, of all the post-Bray Hammers: those scenes of the young lovers scuttling over the beautifully designed rooftops are just gorgeous. And then we have Veronica Carlson; we have an excellent opening theme and title sequence; we have a fabulous (albeit physically and chronologically impossible) post-credits sequence; we have some fascinating theological angst involving a stuffy cleric and a cocky young atheist (borrowed, along with a couple of giveaway visual ideas, from the recent film of Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons); we have the heavy use of amber-edged filters which is always distracting but not unattractive; we have some complicated business about Dracula being able to pull the stake out that annoys vampire purists – always a good thing, and most of all, of course, we have a grand finale involving Christopher Lee falling off a cliff and getting kebabbed on a giant crucifix.

Oh yes, we must find room for this in a list of favourites. Had it been the ten best it might have been just edged out by Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), but that’s such a bleak and mean-spirited film; never one I turn to for pleasure. Unlike this beauty: so weird, so Grimm’s fairy tale, such excellent use of sets and locations: Black Park at its most verdant and inspiring, the old inn, those windy streets… Susan Denberg, kittenish one minute, savage the next, is terrific.
“You see: the hair has changed colour…” Somehow, we never doubted it would, Peter.

I caught up with most of the studio’s seventies output in my middle teens, when ITV launched 24 hour television and suddenly realised there were a lot of hours that needed filling. Mircalla to the rescue! I’m virtually alone in my (strange) love for this, I know (though I seem to remember David Pirie being surprisingly positive about it). But once we get past that naff Mike Raven prologue this is a rich, ripe stilton of a movie, and of all the Hammers that pussyfoot around with nudity and sex it’s by far the most happily, healthily and uncomplicatedly sexy. Does Yutte Stensgaard give a bad performance? I don’t know: how would a fresh-revived 19th century vampiress attending a girls’ finishing school behave in real life, d’you think? Until you produce the evidence to the contrary my guess is pretty much the way Yutte gives it to us, so lay off her. I also like the outdoor aerobics class.

8. DRACULA AD 1972 (1972) and MAN ABOUT THE HOUSE (1973)
Two wonderful evocations of London in the early seventies, and how I look forward to the day when I will only need to bend over backwards justifying my love of the second one. I mean, don’t you think it’s about time we stopped pretending Dracula AD 1972 is anything less than a classic? For years we had to pretend it was irredeemable rubbish, painful to watch. Now it’s at the guilty pleasure stage, so bad it’s good and all that. True recognition will come, so why not just save time and say it now: it’s great fun, exciting, scary, moves like a bat out of hell, and the change of time and setting works a treat.
And Man About the House is basically more of the same, only without the vampires.

Too young to have ever seen a Hammer at the cinema (I’ve still only seen one on the big screen: Dracula, at the Barbican in 1996) my memories of them are entirely bounded by the small – and square – television screen. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always nurtured a fondness for the TV films made under the Hammer House of Horror banner. Never saw any of those Mystery and Suspense ones; I gather they’re not so hot, but a good half-dozen of the first batch are more than commendable attempts to do what Hammer-proper died trying to do: make traditional but modern horror films. And this one is a masterpiece, as good as anything the studio did in the seventies, except for one annoying trait it shares with most of the series: an annoying pre-credits sequence that gives the game away before it’s even started. Unlike the majority, however, it does have a proper (albeit grim) ending, whereas most of them don’t end but just sort of stop, in a would-be Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected kind of a way, and you have to pretend it’s a Hammer feature film you set your video to record but the tape ran out two reels from the end. Set in a wonderfully creepy house in a wonderfully creepy forest, this has some great lines, real suspense, one of my favourite ever pull-back-the-curtains shock moments, Diana Dors being quite brilliant, and Robert Urquhart for circularity. A small thing of considerable beauty.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How to say “De curse of de hound is on you!” in Italian…

Okay, so now I've seen The Old Dark House (thanks, Holger!) and Shadow of the Cat (thanks again, Holger!) it really feels like I'm starting to get somewhere filling the gaps in my Hammer education.
I've also been dipping my first nervous toe into the waters of New Hammer, emboldened by the rather good trailers for The Woman In Black.
I'd been intending to post about all of these things, but the fact is I've also just seen Star Crash for the first time (damn you, Holger!!!) and I'm still recovering. My wife is feeding me hot soup and mopping my brow, and I'm wondering what I did with myself during the 38 years I spent before getting round to seeing it.
Someone remind me: what was the point of all those films that don't have Caroline in that outfit in them, again? This, surely, is what the movies are all about.

I once went to a film memorabilia fair where Caroline was appearing, but found myself - uncharacteristically, I must say - too nervous to approach her. Had I seen Star Crash at that time, I probably wouldn't have even had the courage to enter the building.

Anyway, while I'm still pondering the merits of The Old Dark House and The Resident, here is a little something that recently caught my eye.

I've known this picture all my life; for some reason my father possessed a set of the books, which were designed to accompany a BBC tv series on learning Italian. But the book gives no indication of who the sharp-looking cappuccino drinking girl is on the cover, and I never realised until I recently picked up second hand copies of the tie-in LP records.
As you probably know, it's Marla Landi, known best to we as the Spanish hellcat loose on Dartmoor in The Hound of the Baskervilles but in reality, of course, an Italian. Marla presented the series, but sadly, hers is not one of the female voices on the LP, so I still don't know what she sounds like in her native tongue. And one (but only one, oddly) of the three LP covers misnames her as 'Maria'. But she looks fabulous in her coffee bar clobber. I love the barnet, and the pointy shoes.
Now I just need to see her hosting Play School...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Unknown Peter Cushing: An interview with Michael McGlasson

More than six years in the making, The Unknown Peter Cushing explores the life and career of Peter Wilton Cushing with a focus on his familial acting legacy from grandfather Henry William Cushing, Peter's early stage career, and his life with his beloved wife Helen Beck Cushing. Often described as "The Gentle Man of Horror," Peter Cushing was much more than an actor, for he was also a talented painter, model maker, author, a lover of books and literature, and a poet. The Unknown Peter Cushing reveals facts about Peter’s acting ancestry via a journey through time from the early 1700's and up to Peter’s early days as a stage actor when he met his Helen, the guiding force of his life and the source of his creative spirit.

Michael McGlasson, the author of the book, has kindly agreed to a little interview for the readers of this blog.

HH: Michael, can you introduce yourself to our readers? What's your background and what other publications have you been involved in in the past?

MGM: I've been writing in some capacity for more than forty years, but it wasn't until about the late 1980's that I began to take writing seriously. At first, I sort of stumbled around in the dark because I couldn't decide which path to take. I wasn't sure if I wanted to write academically (which I still do) or stick to short stories, poetry, screenplays, and the like. Since I've always been a great fan of horror films, going back to the late 1950's, I figured that maybe I could write about the movies. Of course, people like David J. Skal and William K. Everson were way ahead of the game, so I decided to start doing research on horror film actors that others had kind of ignored. By the late 1990's, my interest in Peter Cushing had grown considerably, and after reading his Autobiography, I became fascinated with his ancestral past. At about this time, I ran across Christopher Gullo through his Peter Cushing Museum and Association website. To my great surprise, I found out that he was writing a biography on Peter and then we sort of got together and one thing led to another. I ended up editing his book In All Sincerity. . . .Peter Cushing and we became great friends. Outside of the movies, I've had material published in academic journals on Edgar Poe, Bram Stoker, Christopher Marlowe, and Sir Henry Irving, plus some poetry and few articles in the Journal of Dracula Studies. One of my poems is slated to appear in The Spirit of Poe anthology by Literary Landmark Press. All of the proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go to help save the Edgar Allan Poe House in Baltimore which the city plans on closing because of budget cuts.

HH: How would you summarise your book to potential readers? What would you say is its unique selling point?

MGM: Well, first of all, the book is not a true biography because I only cover Peter's life and career from the time of his birth in 1913 and up to the death of Helen in 1971, just like Peter's autobiography. However, the chapters on Peter's early ancestor John Cushing and his grandfather Henry William Cushing are heavy in biography. What I've discovered about Peter's grandfather should appeal to most readers and I hope they see the connections between Henry Cushing and his grandson. I guess that anyone who likes Peter Cushing the actor would find the book a good read. I should mention that 90% of the information in the book on Henry Cushing has never been published anywhere except of course in the original source material.

HH: With its strong emphasis on Cushing's genealogical family history, this is a very unique publication but would you recommend it as an introductory book for a beginning Peter Cushing fan? What do you see as your target audience?

MM: I would recommend that anyone interested in Peter Cushing should read his autobiography first and then read the book. My reason for saying this is because at least they would have some familiarity with Henry Cushing, due to Peter's brief but fascinating account of his grandfather and other acting relatives in the first chapter of his autobiography. As to the audience, my intention was not to target any one group, such as lovers of British theatre or Sir Henry Irving. If you happen to be a fan of Peter Cushing, then I guess that's the target audience.

HH: It is obvious that this was painstakingly researched. Can you describe the research process from the first idea to the final product? What resources were made available to you? Are there resources you wish you'd have had access to but didn't?

MGM: The first time I read Peter's autobiography, I became fascinated with his family acting past. What little information Peter provides about his grandfather Henry Cushing, his aunt Maude, step-uncle Wilton Herriot, and the long-lost "Uncle Bertie," was enough to get me started. So I began digging for more information. I contacted libraries, special collections, bought books on Ebay and from other booksellers; I also bought a short-term subscription to the web-based The Era and The Stage, two theatrical newspapers that were popular during Henry Cushing's stage career at the Lyceum. These two sources gave up more than I had imagined. First I found Henry Cushing's obituary, then his funeral notice. Then I started looking in the London Times that provided information on the plays that Henry Cushing performed in at the Lyceum. Then I discovered his opera career. One thing led to another, and soon I had a foot high pile of information. Of course, Christopher Gullo helped out with some special items. Unfortunately, I could not uncover a photo of Henry Cushing. Sure would like to know what he looked like! Maybe Peter in the flesh! Also, Joyce Broughton supposedly owns some of Peter's personal family items, but she told me most of it was gone. Sold I guess or given away. If I would've had the money, I would've flown to London to start digging in the British Library and its excellent newspaper library which also helped out with the book.

HH: What was the most challenging part of the research and how did you overcome it?

MGM: The hardest thing was taking all of the information I had found and making sense out of it. All of the information just piled up and trying to sort through it all, keeping things in order like dates, places, names, etc., was pretty damn hard. It took me at least a couple of months to read it all and then arrange it chronologically. Fortunately, I was already familiar with Sir Henry Irving which helped greatly. All it really takes is time and enough dedication to putting it all down on paper in a way that people will understand it.

HH: Had you done genealogical research before? Maybe for your own ancestors?

MGM: Not really, but I did some research on my own family history several years ago. It takes a special talent to be able to sort through thousands of documents and pinpoint what you really are looking for. As to my own ancestry, Scotland is home base. In Gaelic, my surname means "Son of the Grey Lad." Also, I discovered that my Scots ancestors did not belong to a specific clan; they had their own clan, their own tartan, and heraldry. The most exciting, or maybe I should say depressing, thing was that all but one of the male members of the McGlasson clan were killed at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 between Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal Troops of King George II. The only surviving male member left Scotland and settled in Virginia in 1750. So my American heritage goes back more than 250 years.

HH: In your personal opinion: Do you believe that there is a connection between our ancestors and ourselves? Can the “spirit” (for lack of a better word) of our forefathers influence our personality or choices? Some of the similarities between Cushing's history and some of his ancestors are quite striking: Do you believe these similarities are ultimately random or in some way predetermined?

MGM: Like I mention in the book, Peter certainly knew when he was a young boy that he wanted to be an actor. He even mentions his "lineal blood" stirring within him. Without a doubt, the actions of our ancestors greatly affect ourselves, meaning that whatever an ancestor decided to do at some point in his life, such as pick up arms against the King of England and die on the battlefield, affects the future lives of his ancestors. I don't believe in fate or destiny, nor do I think it's random. Perhaps pre-determined but only mathematically. The big wheel in the sky keep turning and sometimes it stops at just the right point in time. It overlaps with the past and things tend to happen again. But it is eerie in many ways.

HH: Do you have any new projects up your sleeve?

MGM: I've decided to take a very different path through Robert Frost's "lovely, dark, and deep" woods this time around. My next project will be on Linda Lovelace. Yes, I know what you're thinking--"Are you nuts?" Well, maybe. But this will really be a challenge because of the lack of solid and reliable primary sources on her life and career as an "actress." Should be a lot of fun.

Thank you for discussing your book The Unknown Peter Cushing, now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bear Manor Media, and other book sites.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Watching Hammer Top 10

This post first appeared on Watching Hammer (where it is still available to view). Unfortunately this post was also the last one to ever appear on that blog that had burned fast and bright. I have no idea what happened to the owner. My emails have gone unanswered and I am aware that other people who had tried getting in touch have also not received a reply. I sincerely hope that all is well with him and that he just lost interest in updating the blog. If anyone reading this is in touch with him, please pass on my message.

In the meantime I decided to re-post my Top 10 Hammer movies on my own blog as well.


When Watching Hammer first approached me with his request for a Top 10 of my favourite Hammer movies my first response was: “Hell yay”.

Followed by a “What have I done?”

See, as a general rule I don't do lists. Don't get me wrong: I love lists. Love reading them. Love ticking things off them. Or contemplating what's missing from them. But compiling them????

The trouble is that my mind is flighty. I don't have A favourite film or book; I have favourite films and books. And their number is legion. And what I may consider my favourites often depends on my general mood, the company I am with, or even the time of day or where I am right now. And even then a lot of my favourites aren't necessarily indicative of an overall general inherent quality, but of heavy bouts of rose tinted nostalgia. I could endlessly discuss the merits of one film against another, but the moment someone mentions that they prefer one because it reminds them of their childhood or teenage years I just back off as I get it. No point in arguing when nostalgia steps in as it inevitably does with regards to classic movies.

And speaking of which: I was born a little too late to watch the Hammer movies in the cinemas. I do remember walking by a picture house when To the Devil... a Daughter was first shown, but I was way too young to even contemplate sneaking in to see it. In Germany at the time we had Sunday kiddies matinees that often showed classic movies so I watched a number of those (such as The Crimson Pirate) there and if memory serves me well I also saw Hammer's own When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth in one of those. And, yes, it was the nudie version. (Us Germans never minded showing some innocent bit of skin to young impressive teenies.)

In the meantime I have also seen some of their movies on the big screen courtesy of Don Fearney's fabulous events, though anyone who knows me also knows that I tend to spend more time shmoozing there than attending movie screenings. Heck, prior to its DVD release I had only seen the last half of his Hammer Vampires documentary as I spent the first half having lunch with Caroline Munro. (Sorry, I just have to rub this in any chance I can.)

As for watching my earliest Hammers, I feel like I knew them already before seeing them on German television (a snowy, black and white one in my bedroom) as I had spent hours reading up about classic horror movies from borrowed library books and had kept pouring over those images until they were already ingrained in my memory way before I even saw them as proper movies.

Part of the difficulty of deciding on my Top 10 Hammer films is not only that I find it hard to make a Top 10 of anything (never mind a Top 10 of my favourite production company), but also that I simply haven't even seen all of the movies yet. I don't even own all of their DVD releases and from the ones that I do own I am ashamed to admit that I still haven't even watched them all.

So needless to say the following Top 10 is sorted chronologically. If I can't even decide on a proper Top 10, what chances do I have to organise the list in any other order but a time line? Also bear in mind that the answers I am giving today may not be quite the answers you get from me next year or even next week. You will also notice that I will at times cheat and throw in a few other suggestions that could equally make it to the list.

One thing that you may, however, observe is the absence of any Frankenstein movie. Yes, I do like their Frankenstein films and they would easily make it into a Top 20, but overall I don't find the whole Frankenstein genre quite as intriguing in general (not just with Hammer) as some of the horror myths and legends. But if you wanna know: My favourite Hammer Frankenstein is The Revenge of Frankenstein. Or maybe Frankenstein Created Woman. (See what I meant with me being so indecisive?)

Without further ado.....

The Hound of the Baskervilles

I love Hammer movies and I love Sherlock Holmes. So needless to say I absolutely adore Hammer's Hound adaptation that successfully walks a wonderful tightrope between the more typical Gothic Horror scenes of the flashbacks and the Whodunnit of the actual Holmes tale. Peter Cushing is an excellent Holmes but more importantly Andre Morell is one of the first cinematic Watsons (or even THE first?) who doesn't come across like a bumbling idiot. The rest of the cast is first rate as well with a special mention to Christopher Lee who actually plays quite a dashing romantic hero role for a nice change. Not continuing this movie with a proper series of Holmes adaptations will for me always be one of Hammer's most tragically wasted opportunities.

The Mummy

Hammer's Egypt never looked better. Christopher Lee gives a standout performance for the most part entirely through the eyes. Yvonne Furneaux is by far Hammer's most attractive female Mummy fodder (even though it appears she doesn't much like to be reminded of it now). And "Props" Cushing manages to hold it all in place while running and walking with a limp.

Most importantly, however, this is not filmed in the style of their usual Gothic Horrors but more like a haunting, beautiful yet slightly nightmarish dream with imagery not likely forgotten in a long while.
Oh, and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb ain't half bad either.

The Curse of the Werewolf

I really can't properly remember what had been my very first proper Hammer movie. If I'd hazard a guess I would say it's a tie between The Curse of the Werewolf and The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (another worthy contender for a Top 10 Hammer list).

From all the classic horror myths, the Werewolf legend is perhaps the most humane and tragic with its plots of innocent men accidentally being turned into creatures of the night and needing to fight their urges every month for a few days while for all intends and purposes remaining utterly normal all the days in between the full moon.

No wonder that the Werewolf myth has long been one of my favourite sub-genres. And Curse of the Werewolf is classic Hammer Horror at its best. The scenes of aristocratic debauchery and the rape of the young girl (Yvonne Romain) by a disgusting looking beggar (played by Richard Wordsworth) remain as potent and memorable as when the film was first screened. And who could forget Oliver Reed's tragic performance that turned him into a star from that moment on? I can't! No wonder this movie has remained a favourite of mine from the very first moment I had managed to put my eyes on it.

The Kiss of the Vampire

I have a confession to make here. If I was hard pressed and had to make a decision between never seeing a Hammer Dracula again or any of the non-Drac Vampire movies, I'd drop the Count without a second thought like a hot spud. True, all their non-Dracs probably would not have seen the light of day if it wasn't for their Stoker adaptations and interpretations but there is generally way more originality in their other vampire outings than in any of their more famous movies.

Kiss of the Vampire is a wonderful case in point with a number of very atypical vampire hunters: a pair of honeymooners on the one side joining forces with a crazy alcoholic against a coven (is that the right term?) of vampires resembling a modern day cult led by Noel Willman.

Other cases in point that I equally love: Vampire Circus or Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter. In actual fact the one non-Drac Vampire movie that I don't hold in such a high regard as most everyone else is The Brides of Dracula, a beautiful movie with wonderful characters but marred by a train wreck of a screenplay.


She would not only prove to be Hammer's most expensive movie ever but an excellent Boys Own style adventure yarn that easily stood the test of time. Though Bernard Robinson has done wonders to create fantastical worlds with little budget at Bray, it is nice to see Hammer actually film on location for a change (in Israel to be more precise). Strangely enough the company actually toned down the grisly and violent scenes of the source novel and focused entirely on the classic adventure aspects.

Bah, what am I saying: It's got Ursula Andress, the world's most beautiful woman at the time playing the world's most beautiful woman. What more do you want?

'Nuff said.

Dracula – Prince of Darkness

It may be a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but as much as I like the original Dracula (I refuse to call it Horror of...) I do prefer its follow up Dracula – Prince of Darkness. There's something to be said about a gruff gun wielding priest and vampire hunter called Shandor; an oh so properly mannered lady who becomes a man (and woman) hungry vampire and writhes venomously on a table before being staked by a bunch of guys holding her down (with all kinds of nasty connotations); a sequence in which one of our Everyman heroes gets sliced open like an animal at a meat processing plant to revive the Count. Seriously if it's a question of Dracula vs. Dracula – Prince of Darkness, the original always loses out for me.

Rasputin the Mad Monk

Because Christopher Lee told me to. You know, he has studied the history of the Romanoffs extensively and as a child had even met Prince Yussupoff.

But all jokes aside: The legend of Rasputin (and this film is indeed more legend than history) is utterly fascinating and never has it been captured better than in Rasputin the Mad Monk with one of Lee's most riveting performances and a death scene that is more drawn out and captivating than that of any of his Draculas.

The Devil Rides Out

With The Devil Rides Out Hammer proved that they couldn't just do stunning looking Gothic but also stunning looking Art Deco Horror. This is a superior change of pace from the usual Vampire and Frankenstein flicks and it is nice to see the Devil given his dues as well with a mesmerising performance by Charles Gray and Christopher Lee as a very convincing hero for a change.

In actual fact I have a special place in my heart for all of Hammer's Dennis Wheatley adaptations. Yes, the author himself doesn't appear to have been too enamoured by The Lost Continent and To the Devil.... a Daughter but based on my perception of the very few Wheatley novels I ever read, I can't say that I give too much on his opinion in this matter.

There's something to be said for a film like The Lost Continent that on the one hand dares to show not one single likeable main character and on the other hand goes completely trashy with Dana Gillespie's big balloons. Also, To the Devil.... a Daughter has one of the most truly shocking and uncomfortable scenes in any Hammer movie ever. So much for them only ever going the safe road until the end.

Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde

Doesn't the title say it all? This is Doctor Jekyll and SISTER Hyde played by the wonderful Ralph Bates and Martine Beswicke. That alone is such a great twist worthy of my Top 10, but then Jack the Ripper is also brought in. So what's not to like?

Incidentally, and this may only indirectly be reflected in this list in the titles that also ran, I do think that some of Hammer's output in the 70s has been unjustly maligned. I am losing count of the number of times that I hear that Hammer lost the plot with their later productions and never really learnt to go with the times blah blah. Truth is that they did attempt to go new ways in the 70s but that these weren't accepted by the general public. Nevertheless some of the company's most interesting productions were from their last couple of years in business: Apart from Dr Jeckyll and Sister Hyde I would also light a candle for Captain Kronos, Vampire Circus, To the Devil.... a Daughter and Straight On Till Morning as well as for a number of others that fall into their more established series.

Dracula AD 1972

This film has always been a guilty pleasure of mine way before when I even knew I was supposed to feel guilty about loving it. This may just have been one of the very earliest Hammer Dracula films I have ever seen and it took me years to learn that I stood pretty much alone in my admiration for this groovy classic. Then the Internet came along and over the years I gradually discovered that there were a couple of other folks out there who also seem to get great enjoyment out of Dracula A.D. 1972.

I frankly don't care that Dracula never ventures outside the desecrated church. Instead I really enjoy the exciting pre-credit fight between him and Van Helsing and the Kubrickian shot that brings us straight from a 19th century graveyard into the skies of shwinging London populated with modern aircraft. I also really dig the dialogue between all the cool cats and chicks that populate this movie. Alucard's death scene is genuinely exciting and, given the use of a shower, not anything we could have seen in any of the previous Dracula movies.

And lest we forget: Seeing Caroline Munro's quivering bossom splashed with blood is just as hot as watching Stephanie Beacham's perk nipples underneath her white gown.

Oh, and The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires is equally cool. Though Satanic Rites of Dracula sucks in a not very good way.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Flesh & Blood – The Review

I used to love comic books with a vengeance. And why wouldn't I? They got stories, dialogue, visual effects and cinematic angles just like a movie. In actual fact without real budgetary restraints they could cheaply tell stories that would break many a Hollywood studio's financial back. Given all the technological advances over the last one or two decades there should be a glut of fascinating material out there right now.

Yet for the most part I have given up reading current series.

I was raised with both the US superhero series as well as with a number of European (mainly Franco-Belgian) comic artists. Now that I am living in Ireland I have unfortunately lost track of recent developments “on the Continent” and with regards to the US stuff I have over the years unsubscribed from all of my favourites. Even friendly neighborhood Spiderman doesn't get a look in anymore after “One More Day” too many leaving me with fond memories of Bronze Age comic books that often were far more adult and ground breaking in their approach to story telling than many of the allegedly mature material out there now.

Even more importantly, they did tell stories properly! Little annoys me more in modern comic books than seeing superheroes fight it out over umpteen issues without any proper development. There was a time when it took me a good half an hour to read the 20+ pagers. Now I am glad if I manage five minutes of unimpressive reading time with them.

So have I completely given up on current comics?

Nope, there are some small pockets of resistance around fighting valiantly against the blandness that permeates the industry at large. Chief among them are artist Neil Vokes and writer Robert Tinnell. Then there is also Monsterverse, a new publisher who has recently impressed with his series of Bela Lugosi inspired Tales From the Grave.

With Flesh and Blood the three have now joined forces for what promises to be a very enjoyable Gothic Glamour ride. The first part of the saga is scheduled to be out in the next couple of days. Interviews with the two creators can be read here and here.

When I first heard about Flesh and Blood the idea was presented as a Hammer movie inspired comic book adventure from fans for fans leaving me with an equal amount of anticipation and reluctance. Anticipation because I love all things Hammer. (What a surprise!) Reluctance because Hammer for me is clearly rooted in the past and I don't particular relish the idea of simple rehashes. This is the year 2011. So please give me something that has a similar feel to the classics but with a modern take to it.

I shouldn't have worried.

Flesh and Blood is all that I hoped for and more.

Following the killing of Carmilla Karnstein, a motely crue of heroes and anti-heroes join forces in an epic power struggle against Evil lead by the one and only Prince of Darkness, Dracula.

The comic has all the characters one would expect from a Hammer (or indeed even a Universal) Monster Mash: Carmilla, Dracula, Frankenstein and a Werewolf. Even lesser known characters like General Spielsdorf from The Vampire Lovers are referenced. And, yes, we even get Van Helsing though in a nice twist not in any form you would have come across before.

Yet though aspects of it will feel familiar to Hammer Fans this is a totally independent story that may borrow from the Hammer mythology and imagery but then develops into something completely unique. The closest point of reference would probably be Kill Bill, a movie that was clearly influenced by a number of Tarantino's favourite genres (Martial Arts movies, Spaghetti Western etc) but then created an artistically unique vision of that world. And though it is fun for the hardcore fan to identify all those points of reference, the movie can be enjoyed without having ever seen a single one of those productions.

Same in Flesh and Blood.

As a Hammerhead I rejoice in identifying panels that were inspired by Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, character names drawn from the Hammer talent pool (Mr Ward-Baker) or lines of dialogue lifted from Hammer movie titles (“Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed”), yet none of that is essential to the enjoyment. The comic lives and breathes on its own. If you like classic horror stories with a modern twist, then this is for you.

The art work is simply stunning. The only other current artist who draws female characters as sensually as Vokes is Bruce Timm. And ironically both are huge Hammer Fans and have contributed to Little Shoppe of Horrors. Just goes to prove what a positive influence these flicks have on an artist's development.

I have rarely ever seen a comic where every single panel is a little masterpiece that I wouldn't mind have hanging on my walls. The imagery is glamorous, voluptious, moody, atmospheric, haunting and drenched in Bava-esque colours. Truly magnificent.

I am reluctant to reveal too much about the story and the teaser panels really speak for themselves. Suffice it to say I am definitely along for the ride. Books like these finally bring that good old comic loving feeling back to me and have me curled up and fully immersed!

It's the first installment in what promises to be an epic adventure with three more volumes following until the conclusion is reached after a total of 320 pages. No doubt Messieurs Vokes and Tinnell have a lot more surprises and gorgeous imagery left in store for us. This is the kind of material that New Hammer should be making if they were really serious about carrying on their tradition.

In the meantime, however, we have Flesh and Blood.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Flesh & Blood – An interview with Robert Tinnell

This is the second part of our Flesh & Blood cover this weekend. The first part, an interview with Neil Vokes, can be found here. A proper review of the comic book is in the works and should show up over the next day or two.

I provided the same questions to Robert Tinnell, the comic's writer.

I also know Bob from round about the same time that I met Neil as those two were hanging out in the same murky corners of the Internet chatting up Hammer, Eurotrash and all things cult.

My first experience with one of his works, however, was way back when I was still living in Germany and saw Surf Nazis Must Die for the first time. He was the producer for this Troma movie and at the time it was still possible to shock some of my German countrymen with the concept of Surfer Nazi Dudes Who Have to Pass Away as that idea was still a wee bit offensive then and some of my folks were still suffering from bouts of collective guilt.

Happy memories.

He also produced the award-winning and David Fincher directed Paula Abdul video for “Straight Up”. A quick look at IMDb reveals his true range. Prior to working as a producer he also was a production manager in some of Fred Olen Ray's movies (The Tomb, Armed Response, Prison Ship) before establishing himself as a writer/director (Frankenstein and Me, Kids of the Round Table). Frankenstein and Me already foreshadowed the Hammer slant that is also dominating Flesh & Blood.

With Neil Vokes he worked together for the Black Forest and Wicked West comics books. Tinnell also wrote Feast of the Seven Fishes which was nominated for the Eisner Award, EZ Street and The Chelation Kid.

Together with artist Ade Salmon he created the amazing The Faceless: A Terry Sharp Story for which he is currently writing a follow-up that I am awaiting probably just as eagerly as the remaining Flesh & Blood parts.

Your new comic book collaboration Flesh & Blood will be out later this month. I know of a bunch of guys who are eagerly awaiting this (myself included) but what would be your elevator speech if you met someone who hadn't yet heard about this?

ROBERT: I think FLESH AND BLOOD is the monster rally fans of ‘50’s/’60’s/’70’s British horror wanted to see and never got. When Universal did their rallies the films were very much rooted in German expressionism and a sort of never-never-land quality. Our approach is more grounded in Gothic literature – in the same way the movies that inspired us were grounded in the same. And of course, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN definitely did not have nudity. Plus we’re doing the book at Monsterverse who are setting themselves up to be a real force in horror comics – which, if you know anything about Kerry Gammill and Sam Park, is a no brainer. They are passionate about the medium and you’ll never meet two bigger monster geeks.

Flesh & Blood is not the first time the two of you have worked together. Previous collaborations include The Black Forest and Wicked West books. Can you describe how the creative process works between the two of you? Are you living relatively close by or in different parts of the States? How often do you get to meet in person during the creation of such a book and what major challenges are involved in this process?

ROBERT: Some years we see each other more than others – and at times we’re on the phone frequently. Although of late, my schedule has been so hectic we don’t get to talk nearly enough. But the thing is – our sensibilities and inspirations are so intertwined that it’s a fairly effortless process as far as collaborating goes. If you read my scripts to Neil, often they’ll digress into “can you draw this like the scene from so-and-so film?” and he’ll know immediately what I mean. But before we start anything we usually get on the phone for hours and riff. The other aspect to our working relationship that makes it successful is that we’ve now done so much work together that I’ve learned to write to Neil’s strengths. When I’m writing FLESH AND BLOOD I’m seeing it laid out as I know Neil will do it. And I’m rarely surprised.

How did the two of you meet for the very first time? And was it love at first sight? ;-)

ROBERT: We met at a Fanex convention many years ago – mid-to-late ‘90’s. But we never discussed collaborating for quite some time – I bet it was a good five-six years before we decided to do The Black Forest. Originally, we were just guys who enjoyed hanging in the bar talking films and comics. It honestly never occurred to me to ask him if he’d work with me. And then he was talking to Todd Livingston and me in the bar at a con one night and we told him about our idea for THE WICKED WEST – and that was originally what we were gonna do first. But then he decided he wanted to do THE BLACK FOREST – which we had written as a screenplay. Neil just does what he wants so - we did that first.

Though Flesh & Blood is an entirely original adventure lots of references to the old Hammer Horror movies can be discovered. In actual fact it often feels that this is the type of story New Hammer should have adapted if they had followed in the footsteps of Terence Fisher & Co. What is your own personal relationship with the Classic Hammer Horrors?

ROBERT: I remember my first exposure to Hammer was when KISS OF THE VAMPIRE was gonna be on TV. My mom wouldn’t let me watch it. And the imagery haunted me. It was a few years later – on a stormy afternoon – my brother and I watched Horror of Dracula – and freaked out. As time went on we started seeing more and more of these films – and I started recognizing the actors – not just Cushing and Christopher Lee but even folks like Michael Ripper and Veronica Carlson – and then eventually the name Hammer. And we started to seek them out. I was particularly inspired by Peter Cushing. As an actor, of course, but more by the types of characters he played. The smart warrior/scientist/monk guy – whether he was Van Helsing or Sherlock Holmes or even – or should I say especially – as Frankenstein in FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN – I particularly loved that take on the character. And, of course, I loved the women in the movies. Why lie? As I got a little older I got into horror movie magazines like THE MONSTER TIMES and fanzines like PHOTON and GORE CREATURES and LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS. Plus David Pirie’s brilliant study A HERITAGE OF HORROR which blew my fourteen-year-old mind and really opened me up to Gothic literature and film criticism and the codes and rituals and themes that ran through these films. Ruined me.

What are your favourite Hammer films and why?

ROBERT: HORROR OF DRACULA is my favorite. The elegance – the economy of storytelling – and the skill that Fisher brings to the direction – married I’m sure to my nostalgia for the way it shot a lightning bolt through my heart – all make it so important to me. A close second would be FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED. It’s a virtuoso piece of filmmaking, in my opinion. Creepy – subversive – Fisher at the peak of his powers. I do like FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN for the reasons mentioned above. BRIDES OF DRACULA is marvellous – and I’ve grown to appreciate DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS more and more through the years – it got some really suspenseful sequences. I love THE DEVIL RIDES OUT and THE VAMPIRE LOVERS. I think THE MUMMY holds up well. Look I love all the good ones! And tolerate many of the bad! And by the way, I haven’t even mentioned the Quatermass stuff – love them. Kneale’s approach was very much on my mind when writing the OPERATION SATAN back-up story that Bob Hall is drawing - the lead character in that will eventually enter the FLESH AND BLOOD storyline…

Any guilty pleasures (with regards to Hammer)?

ROBERT: Of course – LUST FOR A VAMPIRE. In spite of its flaws I think it’s entertaining as hell.

Say Hollywood came calling and Flesh & Blood was going to be adapted who would you like to see star and direct?

ROBERT: I think it would make an awesome mini-series – it’s too epic for one movie. But that being said – Guillermo Del Toro, obviously. Guy Ritchie. Someone who understands the genre but also recognizes our efforts to make characters into something more than cartoons.

I may be oversimplifying but some of the main differences between the US and non-US (in particular European) comic books appear to be that American comics for a large part are geared towards the monthly 20+ page market whereas a lot of the European material is allowed a much larger scope right from the start. I am in particular thinking about the works of Jacques Tardi, Milo Manara, Hugo Pratt etc. When reading your comics I often sense more of an auteur feeling along those lines. Am I talking through my arse? As writer and illustrator what are your influences and are you actually inspired by non-US comic book creators?

ROBERT: Calling myself an auteur would probably result in my getting eviscerated by outraged auteurs everywhere! Now, it is true that some of my films seemed to be better received in Europe – I just don’t want that “we’re huge in Denmark” label, you know? There are comics that have greatly influenced me that originated elsewhere. Lone Wolf and Cub. A lot of stuff Vertigo was putting out in the early ‘90’s that had a decidedly English sensibility. Years ago my buddy, Andy Sands, turned me on to Strontium Dog and it blew my mind. The storytelling is compact yet so evocative. Having said all that – there are themes and ideas I like to explore beyond just being a slave to plot and whiz-bang stuff. God knows I go back to Frankenstein enough. Tim Lucas does a pretty good job of analysing me in the intro to Flesh and Blood and I must admit it gave me pause and some newfound insight into my storytelling.

Writer, Director, Producer. How do you mainly define yourself and are there any special projects you have not yet tackled? What would you rate as your most personal project to date?

ROBERT: I’m actually starting to think of myself as “storyteller” and no longer let any particular medium define me. If anything I’m thinking about other things I’d like to do outside of film and comics. Stuff like installation pieces. I went crazy for vegetable gardening and I kinda view my gardens as art. Which is weird I supposed but it makes sense in my head. A friend recently described my gravitation towards maybe creating some installations as a desire for permanence. Like I have this crazy idea. There’s a tiny creek on my farm and I want to divert a little waterfall there – just long enough to create an Arthurian mosaic of the Lady of the Lake on the bottom. Then restore the flow. And not tell anyone. Just see if they ever see it. And before anyone gets riled up – I am devoted to restoring the ecology on my land – don’t want to trash anything or harm the ecosystem. But I do want to do this one little thing. Don’t know why – it just appeals to me.

As far as super personal? Probably FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES and EZ STREET are my two most personal comic works. I know the latter drove my wife crazy. Although in a weird way FLESH AND BLOOD is very personal. In film, both KIDS OF THE ROUND TABLE and FRANKENSTEIN AND ME. But there are bits and pieces of my personality and concerns and interests that run through all my work. Again – I’d defer to Tim Lucas.

Any memorable stories about Surf Nazis Must Die you would like to share?

ROBERT: It all goes back to SURF NAZIS MUST DIE, doesn’t it, Holger? It will be etched on my tombstone. The entire process of making that film was such a happy, positive one. Peter George, the director, remains a good friend as does Jon McCallum, who composed the music. We worked really hard – and probably played a little too hard – and it paid off. When people ask me what I remember I usually go back to Peter wrecking the boat near the end of the shoot or the impromptu football game we had one night after wrap. Lots of aggression got worked out that night…

Last but not least: I hate the term “graphic novel”. What's wrong with calling a comic book a “comic book”? Discuss!

ROBERT: For me, I perceive the term graphic novel as pertaining to length – not quality. That’s not much of an answer, I know, but it’s the way it works in my head. I happily tell people I write comics.

Flesh & Blood – An interview with Neil Vokes

Mark your calendars, folks.

October 19 will see the release of the first part of Neil Vokes' and Robert Tinnell's new 4-part comic book ouevre Flesh & Blood which will be of special interest to all the readers of this blog as this is not just created by two of the biggest Hammer Horror (and Glamour!) Fans in the industry but also because the epic story contains a lot of Hammer related references.

Prior to the book release Neil and Robert have kindly agreed to an interview conducted by email. Both had more or less received the same questions and I had initially planned on posting this Q&A as one long post with both of their replies but plans changed when I received their answers. They simply were far too in-depth and detailed to have appear in just one single post. I therefore decided to release this interview in two parts, one with Neil's answers, the other with Robert's replies. Following that I will also post a review of the actual comic.

But for starters here are Neil's replies.

I first started chatting to Neil Vokes sometime in the early 2000s when I first joined the Eurotrash Paradise. At that time I had no idea who he was and mainly knew him as the witty defender of all things Bava, Hammer and Western.

I finally learned of him as a comic book artist with the release of PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE which incidentally maps the time when he moved from working for The Man and drawing other people's stuff to creating his own Vokesian universe based on characters drawn by him and created by a range of writers, first among those his good buddy Robert Tinnell.

As is often the case when you notice that someone you know socially is actually out there as a creator, I was initially a bit hesitant to approach his work. What if I didn't like it? Would I have to pretend that I did?

But I needn't have feared: PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE and even more so the two BLACK FOREST (for which he and Bob Tinnell won the Rondo Awards) and WICKED WEST books had me hooked as a fan. He also regularly published in “Little Shoppe of Horrors” and provided the chapter illustrations for two film books: IN ALL SINCERITY, PETER CUSHING by Chris Gullo and VINCENT PRICE: THE ART OF FEAR by Denis Meikle.

His style is very distinct, halfway between cartoon and realism, and his female characters just ooze good old fashioned glamour yet with a very modern sensitivity. I have since met him in person (together with Dick Klemensen and a bunch of folks from the ETP) for the last Fanex a couple of years ago and am proud to call him a friend.


Also look out for his contribution to BELA LUGOSI'S TALES FROM THE GRAVE # 2 and for DR. STRANGE: FROM THE MARVEL VAULT #1 ...and many, many more. He also just finished 50 sketch cards for the Hammer Films Trading Card 2 set and has also done some Iron Man 2 cards.

Your new comic book collaboration Flesh & Blood will be out later this month. I know of a bunch of guys who are eagerly awaiting this (myself included) but what would be your elevator speech if you met someone who hadn't yet heard about this?

NEIL: If you've ever enjoyed the old Universal Pictures monster rallies and /or Hammer Films' classic Dracula, Frankenstein, etc. adaptations, you’ll get a kick out of this new series- we gather together all the legendary characters from horror film and literature and throw them into one storyline where they all clash.

Flesh & Blood is not the first time the two of you have worked together. Previous collaborations include The Black Forest and Wicked West books. Can you describe how the creative process works between the two of you? Are you living relatively close by or in different parts of the States? How often do you get to meet in person during the creation of such a book and what major challenges are involved in this process?

NEIL: Basically Bob tells me what to draw and I draw what I want anyway- but seriously, we work out a story between us, with Bob doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to story construction and dialog. I’ll draw layouts based on his plot/script and work on the visual storytelling-kind of like being the director/art director/photographer/editor- then after I'm done, Bob goes in and adjusts the dialog and adds whatever captions, etc. that it needs. We don't live anywhere near each other-more the shame-but then, if we did, we’d probably get even less work done-lol. So we rarely get together for a face to face and work thru the Net and the phone. This seems to work for us, so far-but I wish we could do more in person.

How did the two of you meet for the very first time? And was it love at first sight? ;-)

NEIL: Pretty much- we met at a horror con thru mutual friends-we hit it off right away mainly because Bob was a filmmaker who loved comic books and I was a comic book artist who loved films. Sometime later we talked about some of his unrealized projects-THE WICKED WEST and THE BLACK FOREST-I thought the BLACK FOREST screenplay would make a very cool comic and Bob let me take a crack at it- the rest is history.

Though Flesh & Blood is an entirely original adventure lots of references to the old Hammer Horror movies can be discovered. In actual fact it often feels that this is the type of story New Hammer should have adapted if they had followed in the footsteps of Terence Fisher & Co. What is your own personal relationship with the Classic Hammer Horrors?

NEIL: I saw my 1st Hammers at a drive in back in 1964 at the impressionable age of ten-the reissue double feature of HORROR OF DRACULA and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN-I was already a film fan-I watched movies on TV all the time growing up- but horror and westerns are probably my top two favorite genres. Those two films by Terence Fisher with Lee and Cushing just blew me away- the visuals, the colors, the music, the performances, everything made my ten year old heart fall madly in love. I attribute much of my storytelling abilities to film-true I am very influenced by comic books, but when I draw a story I'm making a 2D film on paper-those Hammer classics went a long way to making me the artist I am today.

What are your favourite Hammer films and why?

NEIL: Damn- I pretty much love them all-lol- but I'd put virtually all of Terence Fisher's Hammer films at the top of the list-I'm a Dracula nut-as Bob is a Frankenstein nut-a perfect match. Lee’s performances as the Count are definitive for me-not so much the stories, which diverged from the novel a lot-but his characterization of Dracula is everything I think of when I read that novel or think about him when drawing. The Frankensteins, with Peter Cushing though are the better stories-His character actually has an arc, culminating in my favorite Baron film, FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED- a gripping, taut tale with Cushing's Baron in full on "I'm going to do these horrible things in spite of everyone else's feelings because I'm right and they are all wrong-so get out of the way!" Wonderful film. Then there's THE GORGON,CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF,THE MUMMY,BRIDES OF DRACULA-four of the most beautiful looking Hammers-and...Well, I could do the whole interview on what Hammers I love and why...back to FLESH & BLOOD.

Any guilty pleasures (with regards to Hammer)?

NEIL: Heh...I'll stick to one for now-probably LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES,which I saw in a Times Square theater in the '70s with COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE (or SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA)-GOLDEN VAMPIRES is not a great Hammer-the Kung Fu is poor, the editing a bit awkward, no Lee Dracula (awful!),etc. but it has Cushing's Van Helsing, James Bernard's score and an undeniable charm.

Say Hollywood came calling and Flesh & Blood was going to be adapted who would you like to see star and direct?

NEIL: We talk about films of our books all the time, Bob and I-maybe it will happen someday. But should it actually take place, Guillermo Del Toro is my 1st choice as director-his visual eye is glorious-Fisher meets Bava- the stars...Mark Strong or Jason Issacs as Dracula, maybe Ralph Fiennes or Jeremy Irons as the Baron, Scarlett Johannsen as Carmilla, maybe as the Countess, Eva Green as crazy Katya, Gerard Butler as Horst and Ryan Gosling or Jake Glyllenhaal as Van Helsing...but I'll probably have no say in the matter-lol.

I may be oversimplifying but some of the main differences between the US and non-US (in particular European) comic books appear to be that American comics for a large part are geared towards the monthly 20+ page market whereas a lot of the European material is allowed a much larger scope right from the start. I am in particular thinking about the works of Jacques Tardi, Milo Manara, Hugo Pratt etc. When reading your comics I often sense more of an auteur feeling along those lines. Am I talking through my arse? As writer and illustrator what are your influences and are you actually inspired by non-US comic book creators?

NEIL: As to "auteur”, well, I suppose Bob and I do tend to do certain thematic things in our books-Bob has definitely got a Frankenstein jones-but as we need each other and other collaborators to make our books, I think auteur is a bit much.

My main influences are American comics, but I do enjoy Moebius, Manara and some others- I think my stuff tends to differ from most American artists because of my love of film. Again, when I draw a story, I’m pointing a camera at a set and actors. If anything, my influences are Bava, Fisher, Del Toro, Welles and other visual storytellers in that vein.

Not counting Flesh & Blood what has been your favourite work so far and are there any dream projects you would like to tackle?

NEIL: My favorite creator owned book may very well be EAGLE (which has just been reprinted) because it gave me my first taste of artistic freedom back when I was still figuring out what kind of artist I was-and my fans from those days are still with me, thank was PARLIAMENT OF JUSTICE, which I did with writer Mike Oeming-that truly changed my career around for the better. It got me out of the "work for hire" gutter and brought out my true "voice" (and my love of ink wash)-I was allowed to break out of years of following the guidelines within corporate comics (which is not to say I didn't enjoy working on many of those books)-it lead directly to THE BLACK FOREST, FLESH & BLOOD and an ongoing partnership with Bob Tinnell. If you want to know my favorite work for hire comic then maybe CONGORILLA or TARZAN THE WARRIOR or SUPERMAN ADVENTURES or...heh-I dug a lot of them.

Dream projects? THE VOICE, written by Bob as another screenplay-a dark, goes for the gut horror tale with supernatural undertones-I’ve already laid out 22 pages and hope to finish it someday. EAGLE, of course-I dream of returning to that one all the time- Again I’ve started a new story and my old writing partner, Jack Herman has rejoined me to script it-someday…then there’s that adaptation of DRACULA I hope to do one day-hah-that’ll never happen-and who would want to see it anyway? There are a half dozen “someday” projects I want to do before I’m physically incapable of doing them (including new chapters of BLACK FOREST, WICKED WEST and FLESH & BLOOD) …time will tell.

Last but not least: I hate the term “graphic novel”. What's wrong with calling a comic book a “comic book”? Discuss!

NEIL: No discussion necessary-I agree- when asked by anyone what I do, I say I'm a comic book artist-calling myself a "graphic novelist" is like a garbage man calling himself a "sanitation worker"...nuff said...;o)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pirates of Blood River (German Film Program)

Scans of the Illustrierte Film-Bühne #6165, dedicated to The Pirates of Blood River (aka Piraten vom Todesfluss). This is a 4-page film program providing a lengthy synopsis amid the credits and a collage of crucial scenes. Scan 1 and 4 are effectively the front and back page, 2 and 3 are the interior pages and should ideally be held next to each other. As is, the text is unfortunately disrupted.

Alas, none of the images can even attempt to properly portray the truly awful faux French accents used by most of the actors (including Christopher Lee).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bruce G. Hallenbeck: Hammer Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Bruce G. Hallenbeck and Hemlock Books have done it again. Following their first publication (The Hammer Vampire: Read my review, buy the book, do it now!) the two have teamed up again and this time focused on Hammer Fantasy & Sci-Fi.

And just like the previous book this one's a keeper.

For starters: This is the first full length work dedicated to the Hammer Fantasy and Sci-Fi movies. As much as I have enjoyed most of the Hammer books that have come out in the last couple of years, most have covered well trodden grounds and either focus on general Hammer history or more particularly on their Gothic heritage. It's significant that a lot of the last few books about Hammer were very much visual treats. I love a coffee table book just like the next fan but the recent glut of those is symptomatic for the fact that, well, there really is only so much that can be said about them. Very soon we are going to have a situation similar to the Universal industry where writers have to depend on dragging out Dwight Frye's next-door neighbor's second cousin's grandson to come up with anything remotely new.

With Hammer we're luckily not quite there yet and some parts of their filmography are still relative Terra Incognita... or should I say Uncharted Seas? Their Sci-Fi and Fantasy output e.g. was only ever covered in a few articles here or there and even then primarily focused on some of the films individually but was never deemed sufficiently interesting enough to warrant a proper book.

Until now.

Hammer Fantasy & Sci-Fi is also a beauty to look at. Starting with one of the most stunning looking Hammer book covers I have ever seen it then follows the format of the previous work. It's richly illustrated mainly in black and white but also carries a coloured 8-page section in the middle.

So it's got a relatively unexplored subject matter. It's gorgeous to look at. But is it a good read?

And yes, this was a rhetorical question.

By now we already know that Hallenbeck is one of a handful of Hammer's most important historians. And he certainly hasn't started losing his mojo with this tome.

This is not just a film by film analysis. This is a proper history of those movies. Hallenbeck is not just contend to review the individual movies but also properly places them in a general Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Hammer movie timeline to depict what prior influences resulted in their productions and how they in turn influenced the next films down the line.

As such he bookends the Hammer chapters with a short history of Science Fantasy before and after. For the early years he even manages to draw attention to some films I had never even previously heard of (Verdens Undergang, Just Imagine). In the later chapter he highlights the similarities between James Cameron's Avatar and Hammer's Slave Girls making me for the first time wanting to see it. Avatar that is, not Slave Girls which I have already seen and enjoyed. And raises the possibility again that maybe, just maybe, New Hammer may eventually decide to tackle Quatermass one more time.

At first glance the films discussed in this book of course appear far more disjointed than, say, the Hammer vampire films reviewed in the first oeuvre. Needless to say Hammer's Science Fiction movies predated their Gothic Horrors and Hallenbeck does a great job in establishing a proper historical context for those.

He identifies the Dick Barton movies as the earliest examples of Sci Fi influence with Hammer. These were clearly part of their radio adaptations and quota quickies which led to them being involved with Robert Lippert, primarily in a series of Hammer Noirs though films such as Stolen Face also already displayed more overt Science Fiction elements. TV soon overturned radio as the prime source for entertainment, so Hammer continued the previously established trend to adapt the new medium's stories (The Quatermass Xperiment) which in turn eventually led to Hammer's more famous coloured Gothics. From then....

Ah, who am I fooling? It's all in the book and Hallenbeck narrates the history of events far better and way more in depth than I could ever do.

When it comes to reviews Hallenbeck is no undiscerning fanboy but he is able to see the beauty and fun in films that have often been unfairly relegated to the sidelines: Moon Zero Two, Slave Girls, The Lost Continent et al all get their fair due. When a turd is a turd he lets you know but in all cases he gives a very fair and always highly enjoyable evaluation of the film's merits and also includes references to Sci-Fi elements in their Journey to the Unknown, a TV show I have yet to continue covering to my shame.

Martine Beswicke provides the foreword and dispells the myth that she was one of the dancers in the Dr. No credit sequence, a myth that I was only too happy to embrace when I first came across it and probably did my fair share over the years to distribute further on. At last we can now lay this one to rest.

Denis Meikle is co-author of Chapter 3.

Hammer Fantasy & Sci-Fi is available through Amazon but I'll be damned if I give you that link as the best offers are directly from Hemlock where right now you can order this as well as The Hammer Vampire (in a new cover: Thanks for listening) for just £26.95.