Why Does Dracula Never Grow Old?
He’s the IP that never needs fresh blood. His fans still lap him up. What’s the appeal?
The thirst for new material from the old Hammer Films studio is extraordinary, and an entire industry built up around this esoteric corner of the entertainment industry. The above volumes have been republished with new sections bringing the Hammer story up to date.
The company was founded in the 1930s and found fame in the 1950s with a huge output of modest movies in which their arch staginess became part of their charm. When I was a child I looked back at the Universal horrors with disdain. But history repeats; now you can go and see teen comics on film like ‘The Suicide Squad’, in which a walking shark rips out a man’s spinal column. Back then, the British Board of Film Censors were arguing over whether a drop of blood on a nightgown suggested menstruation.
Hammer is why I wrote ‘Hell Train’, because I so admired its creative ethic, its working methods and the strange little cottage industry it created.
The above volumes are the official Hammer art books, as opposed to histories like ‘The Hammer Story’. They look back to Hammer’s glory days, when a film could be green-lit immediately because one of the stars was going on holiday soon.
Hammer famously prided itself on detail. Looking at the way in which the costumes and decor complemented one another you can tell it was a family working together, conferring and learning from film to film. We’d seen the gothic designs before, dressed slightly differently from one film to the next, and it didn’t matter.
Titan have done a beautiful job with the artwork here, which looks far more sumptuous, glossy and blood-gorged on the page than it ever did in the high street. For anyone hitting sixty there are images that have survived in the mind for decades, even though they’ve long been superseded. The Hammer double bills were perfect date movie material, with much screaming and placing of the hands across the eyes. Seen now, they play out like courtly comedies of manners, with intelligent scripts and forgivably shoddy effects.
When Hammer branched out and tried making family adventures, it couldn’t find an audience for film franchises like the H Rider Haggard ‘She’ sequel. Instead, they stepped onto unsafe ground in their hunt for new audiences. They no longer had partnerships with much-needed US distributors who knew where they stood with Dracula and Frankenstein.
I ended up working for Hammer several times over, not in the golden days, and always with new management in charge. Most of our projects ended in a tangled chaos caused by inexperienced producers and lost funding – with the exception of ‘Hammer Chillers’, a set of high quality audiobook stories.
The newly updated art books have replaced my old copies. Those of us who lived through the painful collapse of the British film industry still have these to enjoy, at least. They were certainly more elegant than comic book carnage.