Friday, January 21, 2011

Glen Davies: Last Bus to Bray – The Unfilmed Hammer

When I first heard of Glen Davies' 2-volume magazine publication of LAST BUS TO BRAY: THE UNFILMED HAMMER I was getting quite excited. Published as a special edition by Little Shoppe of Horrors these tomes were going to focus on all the movies Hammer had at one stage planned but then for various reasons abandoned. Yes, this was screaming niche niche market but I was ready to explore the murkey alleys of all the What Ifs that Hammer had once promised further. And LSoH always promises high quality research and excellent bang for your bucks. Some of the recent issues – such as the Amicus Special from a while back – were effectively standalone books in their own right for half the price of what it would have cost to have them properly published in either hardcover or paperback.

The moment LAST BUS was out I started getting emails from readers telling me that I may possibly need to lower my ridiculously high expectations and complaints were raised about anything from the general layout to the selection of photos as well as an abundance of typos and a general subpar experience.

So what is my stance now that I have read it?

LAST BUS is quite obviously a labour of love. Glen Davies has researched this subject extensively since the 1980s and it shows from the amount of info displayed here. The first volume deals with “The Glory Years” from 1950-1970, the second one with the “Decline, Fall and Rebirth” from 1970-2010. Some of the entries are short, others quite extensive. Whenever possible we get to read not just about the project itself but also what may have happened, whether it may have been filmed before or after it was dropped by Hammer. If it was based on a novel, then you can rely on additional info about the book, cover scans, short reviews etc. The author even highlights films that appear to have been announced by Hammer but were in actual fact spoofs concocted by fans such as DRACULA WALKS BY NIGHT, a “story which tied the legend of Vlad the Impaler and Sherlock Holmes into a vampire yarn set in London in 1895”. Or projects such as ROSEMARY'S BABY and DOCTORS WEAR BLACK (later to be filmed as INCENSE FOR THE DAMNED) that were suggested to Hammer by Terence Fisher but never adopted by the company.

So if you're in any way interested in that area of Hammer research, then on that level you won't be disappointed.

The trouble is that a publication such as this one cannot be judged on the general contents alone regardless of how fascinating they may be.

And one of the first things anyone is going to notice is indeed the abundance of typos and and other kinds of editing errors. Though richly illustrated there is a general feel of a slapdash approach to the layout. Now I have been raised on cheaply produced fanzines from the 1980s and overall this alone doesn't bother me too much if only the contents are worthwhile.

Those 80s fanzines, however, only cost a few pesetas. The retail price for LAST BUS, on the other hand is $32.95 for both editions combined plus postage. So when I ordered this I ended up paying a bit more than £30 (p&p included). That is a staggering amount for a small press publication and I could have easily have got an entire McFarland book for that deal.

So with that in mind I do feel that the publication would have been better off a) proofread and b) in the regular format (either as a regular LSoH or Special Issue) at the normal rate of around $8.95 (plus postage). Had it been published that way, I am sure I would have praised it to the hills. As it is I do, however, feel that it fails with its price-value ratio.

Now I absolutely adore the ground that Dick Klemensen is walking on. He has done more than ANYONE over the years to help carry Hammer's candle on and in his publication has always provided groundbreaking Hammer (and general Brit Horror) related research. And LAST BUS TO BRAY is indeed a typical example for the kind of publication that noone else but Dick would touch. It will be well thumped by me over the years (no doubt about that) but given all the numerous layout issues and the price it retails at readers may indeed think twice about forking out their hard earned cash for this LSoH Special.


Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Thanks for the review Holger. This was a title I was contemplating purchasing, but it is a total rip off. It is a niche product, but at the price you paid they wouldn't need to sell many copies to make a profit. I'm afraid this has been priced beyond my interest.

Unknown said...

I absolutely adore old Hammer - classics from 1950´s to 1970´s - but being woman with limited means I too may pass this.

Holger Haase said...

In all fairness to the Klem, I don't think he is in it for the money and even this publication will not make lots. Not that I would begrudge it if it did: I wish more fanzine publishers *could* make a profit out of their ventures but to my knowledge the only one who has been able to do so is Tim Lucas.
As it is fanzines have fallen by the wayside. I love the easy accessibility of the Internet but websites/blogs come and go and once they're gone, they're gone. Fanzines I could read years after they're no longer published.
I still mourn the passing of the Hammer Library site, an overview over every book, magazine and one-shot ever published about Hammer. Had that been made available as a publication, I'd have bought it.

Holger Haase said...

For the record, this is a message I got from Dick Klemensen after the review showed up on my FB page:

"from Dick Klemensen- as Nancy says, a very fair review. As far as price, it was expensive to produce and if anyone thinks Glen and I are getting rich off it, I welcome them to the wonderful world of fan publishing. 200 pages of color was expensive when done in small amounts. This was all laid out when it came to me - done just for friends. I didn't read it thoroughly enough before starting soliciting orders and paying an artist for the cover. When I finally did, I realized it really needed a major edit and rewrite. But I was in up to my neck by then. And I LOVED the contents and knew no one else would do it. So I bit the bullet - knowing the price, too, would be a turnoff. We've sold a couple hundred copies and I'm glad it is out. but I hope someday it can be properly done by a professional company versed in this. And it signals the end of the LSoH book publishing empire...LSoH magazine only. I feel bad for Glen, a good guy and true fan, that I didn't do my editorial job better."

I for one still hope Dick continues with some specials even if he may need to rely on buddies to do the proof reading.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

It's not so much the profit margin that bothers me. Like you Holger I'd be very happy if the publishers made lots of money and thus produced more material of interest. It is just simply too expensive for what it is. I understand the reasons behind the pricing though. Nice to hear the feedback from The Klem...thanks for publishing that.

Holger Haase said...

Shaun, I actually know where you're coming from. I think this could have been made available cheaper in a different format. If the colour reproductions raised the price, then I could have lived with black and white. From a word count perspective I would guess that it could fit into a regular sized LSoH. Even if it was a bit bigger than those, I still think that if it was published the regular LSoH way it would have been waaaayyyy cheaper, yet we'd still have the same basic contents.
It really is a pity as I do generally like the info in this publication.... but not at that price.

Headpress said...

Forgive the intrusion. But I thought you might care to know there's a review of Last Bus To Bray here, too:

Holger Haase said...

@Headpress: Excellent. Looking forward to your interview with Glen Davies. Drop us a line when it is posted online.