HAMMER GLAMOUR Review. [Hammer Time!]

Posted by John Gholson - September 14th 2009 @ 12:40 pm

Written by Marcus Hearn
Published by Titan Books.


Hammer Studios doesn’t really get the credit they deserve for creating the modern scream queen.  Our recent horror beauties like Julianna Guill and Betsy Rue owe a debt of gratitude to the British studio, who pioneered the inclusion of gratuitous cheesecake forevermore into horror films, for better or worse.  Hammer’s leading ladies, often fashion models making a detour into acting, became an integral part of Hammer’s marketing and are some of the best remembered visuals from Hammer’s body of film.

Titan Books’ HAMMER GLAMOUR serves as a companion book to author Marcus Hearn’s terrific THE HAMMER STORY, but it’s also of interest to any movie fan who appreciates the bygone sensuality of vintage glamour models.  This exhaustive hardback “coffee table” book boasts hundreds of full-color photographs–casual shots, set photos, and publicity stills–of pretty much every actress to ever work for the studio.  The book is categorized in alphabetical order, from Ursula Andress (SHE) to Raquel Welch (ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.), the greatest pair of bookends you could ever asked to be sandwiched between, providing informative biographies and “where are they now” information for even Hammer’s most obscure starlets.

I didn’t know that most of Hammer’s actresses were photographed between takes for glamour magazines (basically the FHM‘s and Maxim‘s of their day), and that those stills were used to publicize the upcoming movie in which the actress appeared.  Hammer’s most infamous success story is that of Raquel Welch, whose on-set photo of her impossibly bronzed body adorned in a fur bikini became iconic, seemingly overnight, and turned the film ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. into a runaway blockbuster upon its release.

My favorite Hammer ladies featured in the book (in no particular order) are the unconventional-looking Ingrid Pitt, whose sexual confidence absolutely dominates any of her co-stars, curvy brunette scorcher Caroline Munro, whose legacy as a Grade-A piece of eye candy outweighs her Hammer filmography, and doe-eyed HAMMER GLAMOUR covergirl, Madeline Smith, who cornered the market in playing Hammer’s quintessential virginal bimbo in three of the studio’s better horror films (TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL).  Countless men (and women!) have already sung the praises of 1960′s sex symbols Andress and Welch, along with those who had very strong post-Hammer careers like Joanna Lumley, Stefanie Powers, and Nastassia Kinski, but writer/historian Marcus Hearn gives just as much attention to lesser-known bombshells like Veronica Carlson, Susan Denberg, Valerie Gaunt, Kate O’Mara, Barbara Shelley and Valerie Leon (to name some of the desirable faces I recognized from my limited Hammer knowledge).

Hearn’s book introduced me to the dangerous beauty of Martine Beswicke (DR. JEKYLL & SISTER HYDE), the unbelievably gorgeous twin sexpots Mary and Madeleine Collinson (TWINS OF EVIL), curvaceous Marie Devereaux (THE BRIDES OF DRACULA), Hammer “Sex Symbol of the 70′s” winner Julie Ege (CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT), model-turned-fashion-designer Edina Ronay (SLAVE GIRLS), and Nordic goddess Yutte Stensgaard (LUST FOR A VAMPIRE), amongst others.  These ladies look so damned fabulous, I’m compelled to immediately seek out their films (especially TWINS OF EVIL–wowza).  Hearn’s intent is to shine a spotlight on these lovely ladies and their work, and the book is a rousing success in that regard.  I need to see these movies.

While the text is lively and the women are never boring, several of the pictures are compositionally lackluster.  My guess is that the cheapie nature of the pin-up magazines meant that they weren’t employing world-class photographers.  The result is that a number of the photographs featured here aren’t particularly flattering to otherwise drop-dead sexy women (Olinka Berova‘s full-page shot, for example).  However, I can say without hesitation that the number of fantastic pictures featured in HAMMER GLAMOUR easily outweigh the number of questionable pics, and the book’s attractive design work by Martin Stiff makes the minority of mediocre images easy to overlook in the final package.

I consider myself a fan of Hammer Studios, but I’ve only seen about one-third of their library (if that), and I came away from this book informed and impressed.  HAMMER GLAMOUR offers not only a crash course in the actresses they’ve employed, but interesting trivia on the production of the films these actresses helped make famous.  The book is a must-have for Hammer fans, and serves as a vital reminder of the highly-sexualized roots of the horror scream queen.

[Note: HAMMER GLAMOUR will be widely available on September 29th, 2009. ]

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