The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

A Collection of Writings

New!!

Anecdotes

Archaeology

Aviation

Battle of Britain

Biography

Books

Computers

Cricket

Films

Ghosts

Hammer

History

Horror

Motor Racing

Murder

Mystery

Pitt of Horror

RAF

Sci Fi

Travel

Vampires

Winston Churchill

World War 2

Ingrid's Obituary


The Hammer Films Story - Part Three

Takes the Hammer story through the difficult years of the Sixties. There are failures and triumphs. Although Hammer was fast becoming the word for Horror, the output varied from comedy through costume fests to melodrama. Highs like THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN, and THE CAMP ON BLOOD RIVER. Followed, of course, by the massively successful DRACULA in 1958 which shot Christopher Lee to fame. Lows were TEN SECONDS TO HELL and the critically mauled YESTERDAY'S ENEMY. By the end of the sixties Hammer was looking for new blood lines to investigate.
Oliver Reed in Paranoiac

Oliver Reed in Paranoiac

Hitting the jackpot with the Quatermass films and then coming up trumps with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was every bit as illuminating for James Carreras as the light that shone for Paul on the road to Damascus. With the memory of the real life horror of the Second World War beginning to fade, Hammer's Chief Executive made plans to provide the necessary frissons of fear on the screen .

When Jimmy Carreras asked me to come to his office to talk about the possibility of me starring in 'three' roles, VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), I had no idea that this was to be an association with horror that would last until today. I had made three of four films in Spain that loosely came under the horror/SciFi banner but after WHERE EAGLES DARE and a handful of American TV thrillers, I had rather seen my future in action drama. But I'm glad I had that meeting with Jimmy. Within a very few weeks I was picked up in a limo and driven to Elstree to start work on VAMPIRE LOVERS. Success had proved the studio at Bray too small to sustain the rate of output the front office required. This became obvious after the THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN was put out on general release. The Curse took £6,000,000 at the box office and more than justified its £200,000 budget.

Obviously the follow up film would be measured against the Frankenstein success. Jimmy Carreras called in the writer of the hugely successful Quatermass to pen THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN (1957), Nigel Neale. Like the Quatermass story, The Abominable Snowman had been a successful TV series under the name of THE CREATURE. The dour Neale was still unhappy about what had been done with Quatermass. Val Guest was brought in to helm and Peter Cushing had his second outing for Hammer as the seeker of the legendary Yeti. Forrest Tucker returned as the obligatory American. Shot in the Pyrenees and Bray, production designer Bernard Robinson's sets dovetailed seamlessly with the great outdoors. The film was another success and confirmed for Carreras, if any more evidence was necessary, that horror was for Hammer.

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

The horror stories being recounted by prisoners released from the barbaric Japanese POW camps were still bloody currency in 1957. THE CAMP ON BLOOD ISLAND was, allegedly, a bundle of true stories strung together for dramatic impact. Hammer had just done a deal with Columbia and when the film opened to good reviews it looked like they had scored again. Timing was bad. The Japanese were trying to heal old wounds and complained. The film still did good business but its voracity was tainted by association with the Hammer name. Jimmy Sangster was given the quill for THE SNORKEL. A tight drama that did reasonable but not spectacular business. It was the seminal Hammer thriller, the style of which was to be reprised many times over the coming years. When Val Guest suggested UP THE CREEK as a vehicle for a comedian he had recently seen, Carreras gave him the thumbs up. Peter Sellers was the comedian and he justified Guest's faith in him.

But it was the next true Horror film the fans were waiting for. And they got it in the shape of DRACULA (1958). If anything was needed to prove that the Hammer directors were doing something right this was the film to prove it. Again Sangster came up with a workable script on which director Terence Fisher could flesh out his growing reputation. And the music composed by James Barnard hit all the right notes. Dra-cu-la, the underlying theme music for the film, was mesmeric. And of course there was the dynamic duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee playing Van Helsing and Dracula respectively. Lee only made it on camera for 7 minutes - but what a 7 minutes. So great was the film's reception that Carreras instantly ordered 3 of the next 6 non-horror films, already scheduled, to be cancelled.

Jimmy Sangster was back in the sew-your-own-ghoul mood for THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958). Dr. Frankenstein is resurrected and becomes Dr. Stein. Stein agrees to transplant a brain into a 'perfect' body. And does! Unfortunately it doesn't last and the perfect body manifests all the old body's deformities and turns into a monster. TEN SECONDS TO HELL was not a happy film. Even the heavyweights drafted in from Hollywood, Jeff Chandler and Jack Palance. couldn't get it out of the mire. Or maybe it was because of them?

FURTHER UP THE CREEK (1958), with Frankie Howerd substituting for Peter Sellers, was a disaster but I ONLY ARSKED, with a crew nicked from the popular TV comedy, The Army Game, did enough business to justify its screen space. Another biggie was about to be unleashed. THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959). It was a case of rounding up the usual suspects and letting them loose on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic. Peter Cushing, Andre Morell and Christopher Lee brought the whole story to life through sheer intensity of purpose. Only dodgy character was the Hound. It was a bit under par even for the level of special effects of the day. The film turned out to be a 'sleeper'. It didn't do much when first released but over the years its popularity has grown. Its slow start probably explains why Hammer never returned to the rich treasure chest of the Sherlock Holmes adventures.

The gritty war drama YESTERDAY'S ENEMY was a return to the Burmese jungle. The twist was that the Brits, in their attitude to the locals, were indistinguishable from the Japs. A prickly subject. Predictably it won the crits over. There's nothing they like better than a bit of Brit bashing. In some people's almanac it is one of Hammer's best movies.

Hammer Film Posters - The Evil of Frankenstein & The Nightmare

Hammer Film Posters - The Evil of Frankenstein & The Nightmare

Back to horror for THE MUMMY (1959)Lee and Cushing were once again in opposing corners. It did better business than even Dracula and cemented the relationship between Universal-International and Rank. Posters of this film are not particularly hard to find but some of the variations coined in the States can bring a bonus with them. It has a dynamic script by Sangster, sets by Bernard Robinson and fancy photography by Jack Asher. The terrifying scene where Lee as the revivified Kharis bursts through the French windows was shot in the main house at Bray. The windows are still there today.

THE UGLY DUCKLING, a spoof Jekyll and Hyde, starring Bernard Bresslaw, came and went, to be followed by THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY. For me James Barnard's music made this film. Somehow it managed to ameliorate the brutality and be a constant reminder that we were watching a drama and not real life. Which wasn't easy as the story seemed so real. DON'T PANIC CHAPS (1959) was the sorbet after the curry. A chance to bow 1959 out with a much needed laugh. Because NEVER TAKE SWEETS FROM A STRANGER (1960) was no laughing matter. It marked the debut Hammer film for Oscar winning director Freddie Francis who was to become one of the mainstays of later productions. The film tackled the nasty subject of paedophilia and was years before its time. Crits tended to accuse Hammer of exploiting a tragic subject while folk like the RSPCC welcomed the no-nonsense look at a forbidden subject. Sticking with gutsy realism Val Guest agreed to direct HELL IS A CITY (1960). It is one of his favourite films . It also impressed the crits who gave it a unanimous thumbs up. It was shot in Manchester with Stanley Baker in the lead.

Hammer's first serious bash at the Jekyll and Hyde story was written by Wolf Mankowitz and starred Paul Massie, Dawn Addams and Christopher Lee. Oliver Read also showed up as a 'young tough'. It found little success. It was time for another blood and gore horror film. Hammer had now become THE horror company. All else was pretension. BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) served up everything Hammer promised but it wasn't enough. In spite of the by now, well verse technical crew and a brilliant cast, led by Peter Cushing it met a storm of criticism. It's easy to point to the lose of Lee from the Dracula spot as the cause but his stand in David Peel did a great job and the story manacled to the camera by the triumvirate of Jimmy Sangster, Peter Bryan and Edward Percy put fresh blood in the veins of the old story. But it was gritty story time again. Carreras switched Sangster onto produce another story set in the mysterious East. THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961) was neither a critical nor box office success,

Val Guest led the crew to France in his role as producer, writer and director for THE FULL TREATMENT (1961). It opened to a lacklustre reception and was not one of Val Guest better ideas. It was time to go back to the Greenwood for a follow-up adventure of the forest dweller in green tights. Peter Cushing played the evil sheriff in THE SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM (1960) to Richard Greene's Robin. Greene was fresh off location for The Adventures of Robin Hood for American television. It should have been good but it wasn't . Which goes in spades for the next production, VISA TO CANTON (1960)

All this time Oliver Reed had been lurking around making himself a bit of a reputation - and not just for being a hopeless drunk. THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) has an interesting background. The story was adjusted to fit the set. The set had already been made for a film that was jettisoned after the Catholic Church took against the script. The Producer, Anthony Hinds, fancied chancing his arm at writing the story and used the pseudonym 'John Elder'. The story was good, the acting wonderful, the make-up exceptional. What it didn't have was enough of the monster and transformation scenes loved by the fans of horror. It has matured better than most.

Bette Davis in The Nanny

Bette Davis in The Nanny

In Halifax it was big business but it didn't travel well. A WEEKEND WITH LULU was for the 'domestic' market. It had actors and a plot which could more suitably have been put on ice for the age of the Carry On film. The one joke in what was reputed to be a comedy was that the Lulu of the title was a caravan - or an ice cream van to be correct. It was back into the safe hands of Jimmy Sangster for TASTE OF FEAR (1961). It also gave him a shot at producing. Susan Strasberg and Ann Todd handled the plot while Ronald Lewis and Chris Lee did what they had to do to link it together. Which wasn't easy. But Columbia liked it and forged another link in the chain with Hammer. Main filming was at Elstree. Bray was busy with WATCH IT SAILOR (1961). Another that should have been saved for Carry On honours. Virtually a two hander CASH ON DEMAND (1961) got reasonable reviews and did reasonable business. Andre Morell and Peter Cushing put in performances that couldn't have been bettered as the Bank manager (Cushing) and the Bank Robber (Morell). The change in Cushing's character from an uptight, parsimonious snob to a more amenable bloke under Morell's urbane influence is a marvellous bit of work. THE DAMNED(1963) combined bikers and radiation. Cut massively it was almost incomprehensible. Chris Lee tells a nice little story about making THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962) The script called for them to walk across a river. A stunt man (6ft 4ins) went first. Lee (6ft 3ins) went second. Both of them were well up to their neck in the cold water. Michael Ripper, 'about five feet four,' followed!! Lee claims to have never before or since heard such language. Blood River was the first of three pirate films and did the business. The second was CAPTAIN CLEGG (1962). It showcased Peter Cushing and was one of the company's best productions. It was back to horror for the next film and a reworking of well travelled ground with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA(1962). The lead was written for Cary Grant but when he backed out it was taken over by Herbert Lom. Phantom is reckoned by many to be the turning point in Hammer history. From then on Jimmy Carreras, it is claimed lost his touch and the later films suffered from this. THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1962) was another well boiled dumpling. It had an excellent British cast under the direction of schlock/horror creator William Castle . It was kept on the shelf for three years. Sangster was back on the pen for MANIAC. One of his best and a model of maze writing. His next was also a psychological thriller. PARANOIAC (1963). It starred Oliver Reed and was the first of the Freddie Francis films. It was back to the Vampire theme for KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963). It was an honest try to stretch out the legend but was knocked off balance by dodgy special effects. NIGHTMARE (1963) , Sangster's third psycho horror was not up to the par set by the other two and he didn't return to the sub-genre.

The mid sixties were not a good time for the film industry in general. In spite of this Hammer still managed to corner a market out of proportion to the company's size. THE SCARLET BLADE (1963) proved that it was the story that brings a film in and it was more than just another swash buckler. DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES was co-released with the Scarlet Blade and was a feast for fans of costume drama. Chris Lee was exceptionally powerful as the cut-throat pirate. The Monster Lives is the message from THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN. Cushing reprises the Doctor but the script isn't there to give him confidence and it is one of his weakest performances for the company. Chris Lee takes on the snake haired harlot in THE GORGON (1963) Just for a change Lee plays the good guy battling Cushing's evil scientist. It was a milestone role for Lee and it led to other, more substantial hero roles - like the Duc de Richleau in Denis Wheatley's THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968)

Although it is often said that Hammer's decline started in 1963 the late sixties and early seventies produced some of the most memorable films that the company by the Thames was to produce. and introduced some of its most famous players.

(First published in MODEL & COLLECTORS MART).

PART 4 OF THE HAMMER STORY

THE HAMMER STORY

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt