Book: The Hammer Vault


There is nothing quite like a physical book. Sure, you can hold impressive libraries on a single e-reader, but the weight, the heft, the size, and the substance in your hands sometimes makes a difference. Some books aren’t just text or pictures. I say all that because The Hammer Vault from Titan Books is a book that justifies its existence as a book. It comes out December 20, and I think encountering it in a non-book form would detract from its joy.

Written and compiled by Marcus Hearn, the official historian of Hammer, The Hammer Vault covers the horror/sci-fi/genre output of the beloved studio starting in 1954 with The Quatermass Xperiment and ending in 2009 with Let Me In. The subtitle on the cover promises “treasures from the archive of Hammer Films,” and there is a real wealth of material here, all of it valuable, all of it agleam.

In his introduction, Hearn states that the book is not meant to be a comprehensive history of Hammer, and honestly, something like that would take hundreds of pages. Instead, it’s best to think of The Hammer Vault as something like a Taschen art book and Clive Barker’s A to Z of Horror. It’s not a complete history but more like a well-curated museum. Each film that is highlighted is given its due, with production stills, campaign booklets (essentially promotional brochures), script pages, lobby cards, behind-the-scenes photos, props, personal correspondence and notes, and so on. One of my favorite oddments in all of that is a curry recipe that was part of the promo material for The Brigand of Kandahar (1964).

Also on display are some gorgeous poster mock-ups, finished art, and preliminary art by Tom Chantrell. You can see his poster for Rasputin the Mad Monk (1965) above. You can see his first draft of the Quatermass and the Pit (1967) poster in the gallery. There’s an excellent promo piece he did for Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1973) in the book as well, which makes the movie look much more incredible than it really was, though I have a fondness for the flick regardless. (It was a joint production between Hammer and Shaw Brothers.)

Getting back to the book aspect of this book, I included the image above for a size comparison. Yes, at 13 inches by 10 inches, The Hammer Vault is comparable in size to your average claw hammer. It’s actually pretty heavy as well for its 175 full-color pages. Having only spent the last few days with it, I feel as if I have missed a lot of its hidden treasure and just skimmed the surface of what the book has to offer. There’s also a limited edition of the book that’s being released: only 1,000 are being made, each in a slipcase with special reproduction movie tickets, lobby cards, and additional exclusives. You’re basically getting more Cushing for the pushing — again, a justification for The Hammer Vault as a physical book.

Though Hearn says he’s not making a comprehensive history of Hammer, it’s still a rich collection of historical facts and artifacts. The Hammer Vault gives its readers a sense of the history of Hammer and even international film. You see how Hitchcock’s Psycho results in a few well-done psychological thrillers from Hammer, for instance. You also get a glimpse of old-fashioned foreign exoticism and Orientalism in movies like The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) and The Terror of the Tongs (1960). And all photographs are historical since hairstyles and fashion bear the fingerprints of their time. 

Part of me wishes Hearn would go on for pages and pages, but this is a book that’s about the artifacts and the stories they tell. Too much text would detract from the design. Hearn still makes the most out of the space he’s given. There are copious and detailed captions for each of the images in the book. With each film entry, Hearn fixes the film in the context of Hammer’s development.

The longest and most sustained section of text is for the Hammer movies that were never made. Seen above is one of them: Zeppelin v. Pterodactyls. The Flixist staff rues the fact this movie never came to be.

In addition to some production background for each film, Hearn often drops in trivia or an anecdote for added color. He notes that The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1972) was originally going to be called Dracula is Dead… But Alive… and Well… and Living in London — very Fearless Vampire Killers-esque. There’s also a goofy anecdote about The Devil-Ship Pirates (1963), which I won’t spoil here. I will only say it gave me a good giggle since it’s pretty absurd.

When I came to the end of The Hammer Vault, I was expecting some definitive conclusion or afterword, but instead the book stops after the final profile for Let Me In. Hearn simply writes that Hammer is revitalized, the future is wide open, that more projects are on the way. Beside the index is a blank page, which is fitting for a studio whose history has not yet ended.

Turn that blank page and you come to the end papers: a stone dungeon wall with cobwebs — so Gothic, so classically Hammer.

When you close the book, you turn it back around to look at the cover. And then you open up The Hammer Vault again, because this is a book you’ll want to flip through many times more.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.