Marcus Hearn | The Art of Hammer: Posters from the Archive of Hammer Films

To cop a line from the late Forrest J Ackerman, The Art of Hammer offers a feast for the horror fan. 



192 pages. Titan Books, 2010. $29.95 (hardcover)
Usually we think of advertising posters as being created for an existing product, but sometimes it works the other way around. James Carreras, managing director and producer for the legendary Hammer Studios, used provisional poster art to support his film pitches to American distributors. This proved to be an effective strategy as Carreras was the only British producer to get distribution deals with every major American studio, and often those deals were cut even before the script had been written or the cast lined up. Once the films were made and released, of course, posters played a similar role for Hammer films as for any other studio, as a method of selling the film to potential audience members.
The Art of Hammer: Posters from the Archive of Hammer Films collects over 300 posters advertising Hammer films and presents them beautifully in a full-color, large-format (12.8 x 10.1 inches) volume. The posters are presented chronologically by British release date (from 1951 to 1976: no posters from earlier Hammer films could be found), many with commentary by Marcus Hearn (co-author of The Hammer Story). To cop a line from the late Forrest J Ackerman, The Art of Hammer offers a feast for the horror fan.
Somewhat surprisingly for a studio who produced so many films, most of Hammer’s British posters were created by a few London ad agencies. These include Downton Advertising (whose artistic staff included Bill Wiggins, Renato Fratini and Arnaldo Putzu), Arthur S. Dixon (John Sockle, Vic Fair) and Allardyce Palmer (Tom Chantrell, who did the posters for every Hammer British release from mid-1965 to mid-1970). The emphasis in The Art of Hammer is on British and American posters with a selection from other countries, primarily Belgium, Italy and France.
The first thing I can say about these posters is that while they’re not all masterpieces, most of them are a lot of fun. Of course the famous One Million Years B.C. (1966) poster by Tom Chantrell is here: who could forget that image of Raquel Welch in her fur bikini against a backdrop of dinosaurs? Never mind that the last dinosaurs lived about 65 million years BC and Homo sapiens didn’t turn up until about 200,000 years BC—the dinosaurs were really not the most memorable thing about the poster anyway. While nearly everyone has seen that poster, how many remember the U.S. poster for When Dinosaurs Rule the Earth (1970)? Included in this volume, it’s a blatant rip-off of Chantrell’s classic featuring Playmate Victoria Vetri in a pose which leaves little doubt as to why she was cast in the lead.
Hammer posters were famous for their taglines as well as their art. Here’s my top ten favorites from this collection (in chronological, not preference, order):
  1. “They called me BAD…spelled M-E-N!” (The Flanagan Boy, a.k.a. Bad Blonde, 1953)
  2. “It kills…but cannot be killed!” (X…the Unknown, 1956)
  3. “We dare you to see it! We double-dare you to forget it!” (The Revenge of Frankenstein, 1958)
  4. “The terrifying lover who died—yet lived!” (Dracula, 1958)
  5. “Torn from the tomb to terrify the world!” (The Mummy, 1959)
  6. “In ten seconds…THOUSANDS will be blown to hell!” (Ten Seconds to Hell, 1959)
  7.  “Three shocking murders: did she DREAM them? …or DO them?” (Nightmare, 1964)
  8.  “Their oath was—TERROR! Their cry—BLOOD! Their goal—DEATH! (Night Creatures, a.k.a. Captain Clegg, 1962)
  9.  “Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet!” (The Mummy’s Shroud, 1967)
  10. “…and suddenly the screams of a baby born in Hell!” (To the Devil..A Daughter, 1976).
A few things become obvious as you leaf through this volume. One is the complete absence of cultural sensitivity, particularly in regard to Asians who are often portrayed as cartoonish, almost subhuman villains. Another is that damsels in distress were often featured prominently in poster art whether or not such a scene actually occurred in the movie. The poster for The Damned (1963), for instance, seems to promise a biker-gang exploitation picture as a gang of leather-clad young men, some brandishing switchblades, menace a young lady in a sprayed-on sweater and stretch pants. Imagine the disappointment of film-goers when the film turned out to be a science-fiction tale about radioactive children who may be mankind’s only hope to survive an atomic war.
Gimmicks also feature prominently in the advertising. If you attended Rasputin: The Mad Monk in 1966 you were promised a free “Rasputin” beard while the double bill of Dracula: Prince of Darkness and The Plague of the Zombies, also in 1966 promised “Dracula fangs” for the boys and “zombie eyes” for the girls. More than one poster carried warnings along the lines of the 1958 Dracula (“Don’t dare see it alone!”) or made pleas to potential audience members along the line of the poster for 1961’s Scream of Fear (“For maximum thrill…we earnestly urge you to see this motion picture from the start!”). Ah yes, those were the days.
You can see a preview of The Art of Hammer on the Titan Books website and read an interview with author Marcus Hearn here. | Sarah Boslaugh


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