(back row) Carol Cleveland, Caroline Munro, (front) Martine Beswick, Madeline Smith, Caron Gardner, Vera Day, Renee Glynn.
13th - 14th July 2012
impressive array of stars and an eclectic lineup of Hammer films at the Phoenix
Square cinema in Leicester marked the launch of a brand new innovative
collaboration between Hammer and the De Montfort University. Their Cinema and
Television History (CATH) Research Centre have become custodians of the Hammer
script archive, meaning they will curate and catalogue the collection and make
them available for research purposes. They have also received a collection of
Jimmy Sangster items donated by his widow Mary Peach, including written
materials and photographs covering not only his time with Hammer but as a
successful independent writer and director.
order to celebrate this new relationship the university hosted a two day Hammer
festival attended by fans and academics keen to explore the history and
fascinating output of this uniquely British film company. Hammer were in
production for fifty years and are now making an impressive comeback with films
such as Let Me In (2010) and The Woman in Black (2012). Of
particular interest was the section devoted to the early days of Hammer hosted
by official studio archivist Robert J. E. Simpson. Renée Glynne, now
impressively spry at 86, was interviewed onstage about her work as a script
supervisor. She joined Hammer in 1948 and worked on many important early
productions including The Quatermass Xperiment (1955). She spoke about
her great friendship with American actor Dane Clark and parties with Eva Bartok
during the making of Spaceways (1953) in the manor house at Bray
Studios. Accompanying this was a rare screening of crime thriller River
Patrol (1948), a delightfully quaint police procedural about the problems
with silk nylon smuggling in ration-era London. For those who thought Hammer
started with fangs and Kensington Gore, this helped to put the studio’s
development into a wider context.
Day was also interviewed on her roles in Quatermass II (1957) and the
comedy short A Clean Sweep (1958), both of which she also introduced.
She recalled that in those days all the filmmakers and producers were after the
girls, but luckily she had an aggressively protective boyfriend. She had fond
memories of the much maligned Brian Donlevy, whose performance as Professor
Quatermass is often dismissed as bullish and inappropriate. According to Day he
had a very dry sense of humour and was fun to work with.
Virginia Wetherell made a couple of Hammer appearances, most notably in Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971), where she met future husband Ralph Bates. She was joined onstage by Martine Beswick as they joked about the film, held by fans as one of the better late Hammer films. Beswick told the audience that director Roy Ward Baker asked her on the day of her topless scene to do full frontal nudity and she refused. She was so angry with him that they did not speak to each other for a week. She also confirmed that she is quite happy to have retired from acting, whereas Wetherell is still waiting for the new Hammer to call!
The eclectic nature of this festival was demonstrated through some of the left field screening choices. Best known for her work with Monty Python, Carol Cleveland was invited to introduce Hammer's most expensive box office failure, the space epic Moon Zero Two (1969), in which she made a brief appearance. The film was impressively designed, but as Carol pointed out, it did not seem to be sure whether it was a comedy, a science fiction film, a horror or even a western. This uneven tone, plus the misfortune of coming out so close to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), meant it fared poorly and ceased any further all-out science fiction productions at Hammer. Caron Gardner was in attendance to introduce a screening of The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), an entry in the canon generally criticised by Hammer films although it still has much to recommend it, not in the least Peter Cushing's electric performance as the ever-inventive Baron. Another odd choice for the festival was Slave Girls (also known as Prehistoric Women, 1967), a film devised by producer Michael Carreras purely to reuse the doe-skin bikinis made for One Million Years B.C. (1966). Starring Martine Beswick, the film is something of a camp masterpiece, although she thinks of it as one of the worst films ever made. She also revealed that she has her own 35mm print of the film, which is occasionally screened for friends!
Marcus Hearn, Mark Gatiss, Jonathan Rigby
Veteran actor John Carson was on hand to introduce both The Plague of the Zombies (1966) and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972), the latter of which saw him reunited with co-star Caroline Munro and writer/ director Brian Clemens. One of the greatest television and film writers this country has ever produced, Clemens still regrets that this was his only feature film as director. Captain Kronos was marketed badly by Hammer, who at the time were unsure what to do with it, and his planned sequels never materialised.
Peter Cushing's last appearance as the Baron, Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1973), was introduced by the still radiant Madeline Smith, who described herself as awful in her first few acting roles. She states that The Vampire Lovers (1970) is her first film that she can bear to watch. She reminisced on working with Ingrid Pitt, and revealed that Terence Fisher gave her barely any direction in Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. Her character was mute, and she just floated through the film whilst all attention was given to the cast around her, which in many ways fitted the character. Perhaps inevitably she discussed the various nude scenes she has had to do through her career, leaving her interviewer (and festival organiser) Steve Chibnall somewhat flustered. She also revealed that the pay was very poor for those films, and she is still actively looking for acting and voiceover work.
One of Hammer's most infamous vampire films was Twins of Evil (1971), and director John Hough was joined onstage by star Damien Thomas, who thought that his co-stars the Collinson twins were essentially quite sweet and innocent (despite their appearance in Playboy), and he still regrets not getting to see them naked on set! Hough discussed his attempt in the 1980s to buy Hammer from accountant Roy Skeggs in partnership with Egyptian multi-millionaire Mohammed Al Fayed. Things could have been very different today for the company if that bid had succeeded.
The closing event of the weekend was the world premiere of the newly restored The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), introduced by writer, actor and lifelong Hammer fan Mark Gatiss, who had recently presented the television series 'A History of Horror', along with author and film scholar Jonathan Rigby. The new print has restored footage long since lost, and is presented for the first time in its original aspect ratio. It will be available in a three-disc blu ray/ DVD combo pack in October in the UK from Studio Canal, and looks fantastic.
Nic Ransome, representing the newly reformed Hammer, revealed some interesting details regarding the ongoing restoration of their back catalogue in collaboration with Studio Canal. They have thirty titles currently being worked on, and they are searching archives around the world for missing footage. Details of this can be found on their restoration blog: http://blog.hammerfilms.com/ As well as The Curse of Frankenstein, the next twelve months will see blu ray releases of The Devil Rides Out (1968), Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966), The Mummy's Shroud (1967), Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959) and a Nigel Kneale triple-bill of The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), Quatermass II (1957) and The Abominable Snowman (1957). Marcus Hearn, official Hammer historian and author of The Hammer Story and The Hammer Vault amongst many others, is producing brand new documentaries for each release and was amongst those conducting the onstage interviews. This is an incredibly exciting time to be a Hammer fan!