Thursday, October 2, 2014

What Hammer Means To Me (Guest Article)

My friend and author/comic book writer Troy Brownfield has done me the honor of writing a guest piece for this retrospective series.  Troy is one of the biggest Hammer Horror fans I know.  Among the many things he creates/writes for, he has just recently published a Dracula novel of his own and has on an ongoing comic series from Dynamite that feels very Hammer inspired called The Blood Queen.  Once again, I'm humbled and ecstatic that he's come on board to be a part of this retrospective!

What Hammer Means to Me

I can’t tell you exactly when I discovered Hammer. I know that it was more than 30 years ago. I can remember at a certain point being functionally aware that there were two sorts of “horror universes”, each with their own takes on Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Mummy, one expressed by Universal (the black and white) and one expressed by Hammer (brilliant color). During my youth, my primary delivery system for horror was Sammy Terry, Indianapolis’s own local horror host ( I recall with perfect clarity seeing several Hammer classics on his show, along with the likes of Mario Bava’s Baron Blood, the Charles Band produced Laserblast and oddballs like The Navy vs. The Night Monsters.
But Hammer was special. Of that there was no doubt. I loved the classics. I even had three of the Mego Mad Monster figures (Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Mummy; somehow, no “Human Wolfman!”). There was something extra-terrifying about Christopher Lee as the Count. Those piercing eyes, the fierce demeanor . . . Lugosi was awesome, but Lee was unsettling.
On a family trip in the very early ‘80s, we stopped in Plains, Georgia, notable solely for being the birthplace of President Jimmy Carter. In a tiny shop on the town’s main street, I picked up a copy of Great Monsters of the Movies by RobertK. Davidson, dated 1977. It was aimed squarely at the kids audience (which I was), but it intelligently discussed the silents, Universal, Hammer, Toho and more. I loved the hell out of that book. Around the same time, I found the Crestwood HouseMonster Series in my school library, which opened my eyes to even more stuff (Count Yorga, I believe, got a mention), but kept up my interest in the core.
I have an internal point of contention with which hammer film I actually saw first. I want to say it was Horror of Dracula, but I’m much more certain that I saw Dracula: Prince of Darkness before any of the others. That one stuck with me for a long time. It’s tense. It’s creepy. It has a small cast, and you can feel the menace tightening. Christopher Lee famously doesn’t say a God damn word the entire time and still completely commands the screen every second that he’s on it. Barbara Shelley makes a great vampire, but Suzan Farmer gets to handle some action beats as the heroine, even helping to shoot the ice out from under Dracula in the climax (crazily enough, in real life, she was married to Ian McShane at the time). I remember my eyes widening as Klove murders Alan, strings him up over the open coffin, and runs his blood on Dracula’s ashes to revive him. You didn’t see that in the other films, and certainly not in color. (Best bit: Klove is so considerate, he has a pillow in the sarcophagus. The Master must be comfortable!) Admittedly, I was probably only around eight at the time, and some of those bits would come back to mind at bedtime. Dracula’s body coming back together, and his hand grasping out as he prepared to emerge? Seriously, at that age, that’s some bad shit.
Regardless, I was a fan. Those books, the televised access to movies, the chance encounters with other forms of horror on TV (Night Stalker! The Glick window sequence from ‘Salem’s Lot!) . . . they left their mark. As I got older, I discovered more things: John Carpenter, Stephen King, George Romero, and on and on, and shared them with lifelong friends like Shawn and Terry, and newer friends like Brandon and Curtis. But in many ways, the first love stays a first love. In 2006 or so, I became friends with Scott Licina; Scott would later run the Fangoria Comics/Fangoria Graphix lines, and we would share many  adventures. I became his Associate Editor, and we literally spent hours talking about Hammer. Scott knew as much about those movies as anyone I’d ever met. He was friends with Ingrid Pitt (along with many other horror folks; we spent a memorable night hanging out with Ken Foree in San Diego in 2007 at parties for Troma and Rue Morgue). True to his vampire loving nature, he opined at length on Vampire Circus and I told him how I wanted to do a comic based on Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter. You know as well as I do that those are the things that make friendships.
This year, after having written comics for a while, I was presented with two great opportunities from Dynamite. One was to do a comic based in part on the idea of Elizabeth Bathory; the other was to do a Dracula novel. The first thing that my mind went to for both was, yes, Hammer. Consider Bathory and Hammer. Countess Dracula. The Karnstein films. How could I not be influenced by that? Or the Dracula novel? Editor Hannah Elder and I talked about how it had to be erotic and scary and action-packed. Well, damn, kids. That’s Hammer. As I wrote, I couldn’t help but picture Van Helsing as Peter Cushing. Some people love Hopkins. Some people (misguided souls) love their Hugh Jackman. But just as Whovians have their own Doctor, I have my own Van Helsing (whom, now that I think of it, essayed the Doctor a couple of times himself).
So Hammer is special to me. And it always will be. It all is. Universal has become for me the old reliable, the thing you want to share with your children first. Hammer was the first crush, the thing that you knew might be a little bit dangerous, but weren’t quite sure why. It is as it always was. Mysterious, bold, thrilling. At least, that’s what it means to me.

Troy Brownfield is the writer of the novel Prince Dracula, comics like The Blood Queen and Grimm Fairy Tales vs. Wonderland, and webcomics at His single biggest home video complaint is that the divided Hammer rights prevent complete comprehensive collections in one place.

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