Book Review: 'The Hammer Vault' by Marcus Hearn


Marcus Hearn has one of the coolest jobs in the world. As the official historian of Hammer Films, he has unprecedented access to the archives of one cinema's most beloved studios. He's paid to immerse himself in the material as he works to document the inner workings and trace the lingering impact of the studio that brought the genre some of its most iconic images and performances.

In times gone by, this material would have been held back for those in the studio's inner circle. But times are different. Now, advance marketing for films includes peeks at raw footage and production diaries that show off the sets and makeup departments. Scripts get leaked online with regularity, allowing many in the target audience to dissect films well before their release – often while they are still in production. And no DVD or Blu-ray release is considered complete without copious amounts of behind-the-scenes information, often including making-of documentaries that rival the length of the film itself.

This culture has bred a new and growing niche in the film-related book market, that of the giant, glossy coffee table book full of production art, script pages, candid photos and other such ephemera. The newly resurgent Hammer Films has embraced this niche wholeheartedly and, under the steady hand of Marcus Hearn, has released a series of hardcovers through Titan Books that both capture the nostalgia that surrounds Hammer and give new-generation fans the "inside info" they have come to expect. It began with The Hammer Story, continued with Hammer Glamour and The Art of Hammer, and now has taken the next step with The Hammer Vault.

Vault leans heavily on the publicity aspect of Hammer Films, a task that they honed over the years into a finely tuned machine. Hammer's movies were usually savaged by the critics, and yet the lines to get into their new releases never wavered. Their formula was simple: play up the exploitative aspects and unique visual style of each film, and make sure to deliver up to their established standards of gruesome makeup and gallons of blood. As Hearn states in his introduction, little was left up to the imagination in a Hammer film, and the studio emphasized that fact repeatedly in its publicity material.

In The Hammer Vault you'll get glimpses of that material, everything from staged publicity photos (often of events that never actually occurred in the movies) to conceptual art and makeup test photos, all of which the studio used to sell its product to the theaters and to the audience. Hammer regularly supplied theater owners with campaign books that included a film synopsis, canned interviews with the stars, and promotional ideas for the exhibitors to employ. Hearn sprinkles these tidbits throughout the book, which is made up of two-page spreads concentrating on some of the studios most successful – and least successful – efforts.

In amongst the publicity materials, Hearn has included script pages, telegrams and letters that provide tantalizing windows into the inner workings of the studio. Many of the script pages include notes scribbled by the directors, while the letters often include handwritten annotations as well. There are photos of props that survive to this day, and even copies of the ratings certificates for many of the films.

This book is aptly named; there are treasures great and small tucked away in each corner, and those who wander in are liable to spend hours combing through its contents. Hearn has once again done a fabulous job of assembling the materials in a way that are fun to peruse at random, and that also work together to tell a cohesive and fascinating story. Don't pick it up unless you've got plenty of time to kill.


Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website). Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.