2017/UK/Directed by Marcus Hearn
Written and directed by noted Hammer scholar and author Marcus Hearn and produced by the folks behind Diabolique magazine, HAMMER HORROR: THE WARNER BROTHERS YEARS is an entertaining and fairly deep and thorough examination of the genre films which the legendary Hammer studios produced in conjunction with Warner Brothers between 1968 and 1974, a period which saw some of the best and most daring, as well as some of the more experimental and strange, titles emerging from the studio. The infusion of money from Warners saw the films reach a new level in terms of production values, while the distribution which Hammer received from the deal also saw their films gain more visibility in terms of worldwide distribution.
By the time Warner Brothers became involved with Hammer with DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE (1968), the beautifully-lurid, gothic horror productions which made the studio famous across the globe had already been around for a decade, and while they were still turning out popular films, cinema - and the world in general - had changed immesurably, and what had been horrific and shocking about films like THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) now seemed rather quaint and tame compared to the new wave of cinema that was pushing boundaries and taking advantage of more tolerant censorship laws, movies such as BONNIE & CLYDE (1967), NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) THE WILD BUNCH (1969), MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969) and EASY RIDER (1969), not to mention more provocative UK horror features like Michael Reeves' WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUERER WORM, 1968). In an attempt to keep up with the times, Hammer began upping the ante once again, both graphically and thematically, with Terence Fisher's superb FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and Peter Sasdy's TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA (1970), as well as the strange and rather obscure CRESCENDO (1970). Other Hammer movies produced with the help of Warner's during this period included the rather oddball science-fiction film MOON ZERO TWO (1969) and the prehistoric adventure WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) with Victoria Vetri.
When Warner Brothers was sold and changed hands in June of 1969, the new owners sadly decided to cut right back on their dealings with Hammer, effectively limiting their involvement with the studio to just one film per year, a period which saw the release of DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972), THE SATANIC RIGHTS OF DRACULA (1973) and the much-maligned kung-fu/horror hybrid THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (1974). Sadly, by this point Hammer were once again being made to look somewhat antiquated in the wake of THE EXORCIST (1973) and the more provocative, grimy and transgressive British horror films directed by the likes of Pete Walker, such as HOUSE OF WHIPCORD (1974) and FRIGHTMARE (1974). Indeed, Warner did not even bother with a US release for the the last two films they produced under their deal with Hammer, with both THE SATANIC RIGHTS OF DRACULA and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES sitting on the shelves for several years before getting a belated stateside release (under various titles) by small independent distributors.
Along with a number of rare production photos and archival behind-the-scenes footage, HAMMER HORROR: THE WARNER BROTHERS YEARS features new on-camera interviews with stars like Veronica Carlson, Madeline Smith, Caroline Munro and John Carson, as well as director Peter Sasdy along with noted Hammer fans and historians Joe Dante, Jonathan Rigby, Denis Meikle and others. My own personal highlights from the documentary are those which cover CRESCENDO (a film rarely discussed in other Hammer books or documentaries) and the scenes that were cut from various films for their US release (such as the controversial rape scene in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED and Victoria Vetri's nude shots in the otherwise kid-friendly WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH).
In many respects, HAMMER HORROR: THE WARNER BROTHERS YEARS is like a feature-length (101 minutes) version of the excellent featurettes which Hearn has put together for many of the non-Warner Hammer Blu-rays that have appeared over recent years.With most of the Warner Hammer Blu-ray and DVD releases being sadly bare bones affairs, this documentary provides the perfect accompaniment for these films, and should appeal to both die-hard Hammer fans and general cinema buffs and historians alike.
More information on the documentary can be found at the Diabolique website at the following link: