Down in the basement of a building hundreds of years old seems a fitting place for an exhibition of horror and larger than life (or should that be death?) monsters. Thankfully there’s plenty of light to greet the visitor and what is on offer is a great experience for anyone who may be new to Hammer Horror, those who grew up hiding behind cushions watching late night Friday showings of the films like me, or the serious student of British film history and this iconic and innovative film production company.
This exhibition fast forwards from Hammers early years to the late 1950s and through to the late 1970s. This is where Hammer Horror invented the gothic image of horror and became a by-word for horror in film generally at its highest peak, before its gradual decline. The exbition has been curated by centre co-ordinator Elizabeth Wheelband, with contributions from Professor Steve Chibnall, Dr Matthew Jones and PhD student Kieran Foster, all from the Cinema and Television History Research Center.
The exhibition came about following DMU’s undergraduate course on Hammer in the 1990s and academic works by associated professors. Dr Jones explained when I met him that when Hammer were seeking a suitable home for their archives they sought a keeper who would continue to carry out academic research and further public engagement. This exhibition does just that.
The archive materials on display include those that will be familiar to fans such as posters and stills for specific films, but also those known only by keen enthusiasts and collectors such as playing cards, LP records of Dracula, Ingrid Pitt mugs and magazines of the period such as Monster Mag and Little Shop of Horrors. If you’re anything like me, these items of memorabilia would be enough to pique your interest, but it’s the special items in the collection that are really fascinating. I spotted scripts for films like Dracula and Vampire Lovers, some with handwritten notes, typed letters and press releases, a Press book for The Reptile and much more. These items illuminate the background to the films themselves and are quite a treasure trove gathered from the studio itself. There are contributions from collectors and the private collection of Professor Chibnall himself.
Kieran Foster was on hand when I visited to talk about a particularly interesting display featuring scripts and treatments for some of the unmade Hammer films such as Nessie, Vampira and believe it or not, from the late 1970s, a proposal for Dracula on Ice! It was fascinating to hear about these items and the lengths Hammer went to in order to continue their development of horror films although these, thankfully in some cases, never developed further.
Hammer changed hands over the years being owned by film companies in America and the exhibition also details the most recent chapter in its history with films such as the highly popular The Woman In Black starring Danielle Radcliffe.
This is a fine exhibition put together by very knowledgeable and passionate experts that will resonate with hard core fans and casual visitors alike. Now if you don’t mind, I’m off to the cellar to watch Plague Of The Zombies in peaceful darkness – at least until the monsters come out of the screen!
Catch The Hammer Horror Exhibition at De Montfort University Heritage Centre in The Hawthorn Building on The Newarke until September.