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What Makes A Perfect Hammer Horror Film?

The Mummys Ring Master

What Makes a Perfect Hammer Horror Film?

People often ask me Kensington, dear boy what to you makes a perfect horror movie? Or more to the point... how can I rip off the best bits from the best in the business?

Well, it got me to thinking and hence writing, what makes a perfect Hammer Horror film?
Well, sit back in your armchair, pour yourself a nice stiff one and I'll bloody tell you...

First important thing is the setting and the classic Gothic backdrop. Also the cast of familiar faces, it's fair to say there's something very recognisable about a Hammer film. I think the Carry On comedy films are the only other franchise of films with regular almost ensemble casts.
Next key ingredient is something very close to my heart and going through my heart in fact...

In the 1950s, we might have seen the odd trickle of the old red stuff, but by the time of The Satanic Rites of Dracula in the 1970s, the blood and, "Kensington Gore" as it is known, was flowing aplenty. Hammer blood is always vivid red, giving it a theatrical appearance quite unlike the darker stage blood of more so called 'realistic' films.

Next important Hammer ingredient, is another close to my heart and other more private places and that is...


From the beginning, Hammer tapped into a very different 'vein' to other horror films, bringing sex and sexuality to the forefront. At first, this remained subtle; Dracula's method was to lure his victims in a way more akin to a seduction than a murder. A bit like my technique with my victims, I mean lady friends.
As the more permissive 1960s progressed, Hammer moved with the times to line up a string of beauties waiting to peel off their clothes for the sake of 'art'. The Vampire Lovers introduced lesbianism to the Hammer canon, while the aptly-named Lust for a Vampire featured an unprecedented amount of (always tastefully lit) female nudity.
Knowing their audience all too well, Hammer's male nudity never extended beyond a bare chest - usually just before it was stabbed, whipped, bitten or staked through the heart!

As in other films, Hammer had to hit the right note, pun intended, and hence music was key, see another pun there. (Don't worry dear reader I'm not going to point them all out)
Hammer music is, again, instantly recognisable. The theme tune (invariably conjured up by the great composer James Bernard) often spells out the film's title - eg the brassy 'DRA-Cu-Laaa!', the heavy drums of 'Plague of the ZOM-bies!' or the staccato beats of the theme from 'Vam-Pire Cir-Cus'.


The principal person responsible for the Hammer look was designer Bernard Robinson. Good old Bernie worked on over 40 Hammer productions. Robinson created numerous laboratories, tombs, crypts, castles and mansions, and skillfully adapted the filming locations to suit the film, often doubling or tripling up locations in films, which can be seen in such double bills as Plague of the Zombies/The Reptile and Dracula - Prince of Darkness/Rasputin.
Coupled with set design is the horrific make-up, specifically that designed by gore and fang specialists Phil Leaky and Roy Ashton. Those boys new their gore.

Location! Location! Location!

Hammer's home for their peak period was Bray Studios in Windsor. Just the other side of Slough, not far from Bray, lies Black Park. Offering a lake, thick woods and dirt-tracks lined with trees, the estate provided the film makers with a stunning backdrop for horse-drawn carriages to race, monsters to lurch and lost urchins to explore. Certain locations were used ad nauseum.
So, if you are watching a Hammer film and thought certain locations and scenes seemed familiar they more often than not were.

The Stars!

But the single most recognisable aspect of a Hammer Horror film is its stars. It's perhaps for this reason that pictures such as The Wicker Man are erroneously linked to Hammer simply because of the presence of Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt.
So, arguably, the perfect Hammer production would star Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed, Ingrid Pitt or Ralph Bates, with a guest appearance by say Michael Ripper as the pub landlord and Francis Matthews as the hero. It would more often than not be set in an Eastern European village surrounded by a forest and in the shadow of a huge scary castle. It would be based on a Victorian novel and feature a lesbian sex scene shortly before one of the women was killed (with plenty of blood and gore) while the climax to the picture would feature a dramatic chase through Black Park on a horse-drawn carriage.
And of course, its theme would represent its suitably lurid title... Revenge of the Scars of the Evil Vampire Zombie Risen from the Devil's Tomb, perhaps?

Now, I have given you the not so secret ingredients, I bet you all want to rush off and make one of your own? Well hold your wild horses... That's my job and in my forthcoming Kensington Gore's Hammered Horror collection of shorts and books.
So watch this space as they will be coming soon...

TTFN Kensington Gore

This piece will appear in full in the forthcoming Hammered Horror book "Kensington Gore's Hammered Hororrs The Mummys Ring coming in 2014.

Cover design by Joesph Talbot.

To read more Kensington Gore please go to...

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