Author Marcus Hearn is generally regarded as one of the world's foremost authorities on the history of Hammer horror films, those legendary British films often made with a minimum of production money by exceptionally talented actors, directors and technicians. Hearn's historical knowledge of- and passion for- all things Hammer were put to good use in his superb 2011 book "The Hammer Vault", which drew upon hundreds of rare photos and promotional materials, all gloriously bound in hardback by Titan Books. The good news is that Hearn and Titan have just issued a revised and expanded version that incorporates even more jaw-dropping goodies provided by Hammer itself along with a legion of private collectors. The result is short on text in order to do justice to the rich photographic production values. Hearn manages to convey essential information about the famed British studio that, like it's greatest moneymaker, Dracula- seems to have risen from the dead after decades of inactivity, periodically producing new feature films.
Hearn should especially be commended for covering the early days of the studio when it was primarily known for making Poverty Row-style potboilers on miniscule budgets before the company found its niche with an almost all horror production schedule. These early Hammer films were often very well made and quite entertaining and served as a valuable training ground for the people who would help elevate the studio to legendary status in the late 1950s-1970s. It was Hammer that made character actors such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee into screen legends. They also did the same with Raquel Welch in "One Million Years B.C." and gave prominent roles to a wealth of older actors who routinely found work in the back-to-back horror films that Hammer cranked out. The movies were certainly not all winners. With Hammer's success came the inevitable imitators, most notably Amicus Films, a British studio that shamelessly aped Hammer's style with great success- and occasionally lured away their two most prominent stars, Cushing and Lee. By the late 1960s the studio was losing its touch. With new screen freedoms in terms of censorship, an ill-advised strategy was implemented to replace intelligent scripts with an emphasis on blood, gore and tits and ass. Still, even the worst of the Hammer fare still qualifies to be included in the "Guilty Pleasure" category.
This book offers a remarkable assemblage of rare memorabilia and photographs many of which will be new to even the most hardcore Hammer collector. There also photos of storyboards, props and interesting curiosities that are all beautifully reproduced. I should take the exceptional step of acknowledging the book's designer, Peter Godbold, for his outstanding work on this volume. Many authors (including this writer) have suffered from having at least one of their books compromised by a designer who did not have a feel or appreciation of the subject matter. Gobold's layouts and choices of material elevate every aspect of the book. "The Hammer Vault" is a book you're likely to sink your teeth into (if you pardon the pun) and revisit on many occasions.