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Hammer Films on Location (Book Review)

Official Banner for Peveril Press's "Hammer Films on Location"

Official Banner for Peveril Press’s “Hammer Films on Location”

There is magic to be found in movie locations, and for Hammer fans, the epicenter of that magic is London, England, home of the legendary “studio that dripped blood” that likewise includes everything from sprawling parks to spooky graveyards. It’s been thirty-eight years since the end of Hammer Films’ horror heyday, yet the past refuses to die in entertaining, historically accurate books such as Wayne Kinsey and Gordon Thomson’s Hammer Films on Location, out now from Peveril Publishing.Kinsey and Thomson capture the magic of Hammer’s early settings in the first location-centric book to emerge from the short list of people informed enough to write on the matter. If seeing where your horror, sci-fi, and fantasy film heroes have stood is one of the fascinations of life, then you’ll want to own this book, which is worth every penny of its somewhat steep price.

The book covers Hammer productions between 1952 and 1975, beginning with The Four Sided Triangle and ending with To the Devil a Daughter, considered as the last film of the company’s heyday before its resurrection less than half a decade ago. Whether or not readers have seen all of the sixty-two movies whose locations are featured, Hammer Films on Location will provide an opportunity to explore them thoroughly. In addition to loads of pictures, the book is full of quotes and tidbits from the film crews revealing how and why certain locations were chosen, what the challenges were with each location, and how those challenges were met. For example, an outdoor scene with Christopher Lee in The Curse of Frankenstein (1956) was shot along the Thames between Bray Studio and the Gothic mansion Oakley Court, “so close to the studio that we were able to lay out cables to it from the studio to light it.”

Hammer Films on Location is a definitive guide based on months of groundwork—literally. It’s typical Kinsey in that the research is exhaustive and yet the comments are down to earth and often funny. His co-author, Gordon Thomson, a forty-two-year veteran of the film and television industries whose work included a stint with Hammer at Bray Studios, conducted much of the location research, matching site photos with movie clips over the course of two years. The photographic comparisons let readers see how a location was used—and, in some cases, altered for the movies themselves. For instance, one will notice a lake scene shot in 1960 and used in the opening credits for Taste of Fear was enhanced with a matte painting of the Swiss Alps rising up behind the tree line of BlackPark.

Located near the famed Pinewood Studios, the 535-acre Black Park has been a Hammer favorite used many times to represent settings from varying from Transylvania to the Caribbean, forest to jungle. It’s where little Tania met her vampire Aunt Lucy in 1958’s Horror of Dracula, and also was the location of the crossroads where coach drivers approaching Count Dracula’s castle dumped their passengers in fright and quickly steered the horses toward home. Even the woodsman’s hut from Dracula: Prince of Darkness was located in BlackPark.

Other Hammer locations include villages and cities; churches, bridges, and country lanes; cemeteries, of course; and boats on water. All are indexed by both name and county, and the book includes a chapter on international locations, as well as one on Kinsey’s trip to the actual Transylvania in 2011.

Kinsey is a literary wonder. When he writes a book, one fears there will not be enough room for all the knowledge he shares. A pathologist by profession, he has followed his fascination with horror and fantasy to become a respected author and expert on Britain’s legendary “house of horror.” Now, with Kinsey having founded Peveril Publishing with designer Steve Kirkham, the author has his own exclusive outlet for his current books. Hammer Films on Location, the fifth Hammer related book from Kinsey, was published in September 2012 as the first book off press for Peveril.

Hammer Films on Location, a paperback, is hefty at 8 ¼ by 11 ¾ inches. The spine is three-quarters of an inch thick. The paper stock, coated for optimal photo reproduction, is heavy, bringing the weight of the book to three pounds.

If a trip to England is on your list, this giant of a book might serve as a personally guided tour on paper, but it could be awkward to carry around. Hammer Films on Location most certainly will serve the armchair traveler well. Either way, the journey will give fans an appreciation of how complicated finding movie locations can be, with BlackPark a perfect example. Fortunately, Kinsey and Thomson have gone to great trouble to map out some of the movie scenes for us while comparing the BlackPark of bygone years to the park today.

The optional 2 DVDs offered alongside the book are also highly recommended. The book pages are crowded because this is the work of a detail-oriented pair of authors. As a result of their number, many of the photos are small for the amount of detail they contain. Their high-resolution counterparts on the DVDs will leave viewers with a satisfaction one cannot get squinting through a magnifying glass. Bravo!

Hammer Films on Location is a thrilling book to own. With its companion DVDs, the package is complete and a treat for Hammer fans and others who love to see where their heroes have trod and film history was made. With the recent success of The Peter Cushing Scrapbook and plans for an eight-book series of coffee-table volumes titled Fantastic Films of the Decades (1930s-70s) to debut in 2014, Kinsey’s future looks busy.

– By Jane Congdon

About Jane Congdon

Jane Congdon, a Hammer fan since age thirteen, is an American author of two memoirs from Bettie Young’s Books: It Started with Dracula: The Count, My Mother, and Me, the story of her trip to Transylvania; and Mr. Joe: Tales from a Haunted Life (co-author), the story of a school custodian and his ghosts. A former English teacher, newspaper reporter and textbook editor, Jane retired from publishing in 2009 to write.

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