Book reviews can be hard. Writing about movies is a breeze but when you have to take hundreds of pages of plot and sift out the finer points for recommendation and the points for criticism, it can be a real chore since reading a book can be a really inconsistent investment of your time. Movies are freakin’ simple when all you have to do is remember that 90 minutes of your life and tell people what you thought worked and didn’t work. Now consider reviewing a book that is little more than hundreds of pages of pictures and nothing more. You see my dilemma.
The Art of Hammer by Marcus Hearn is just such a book. With a brief introduction into the art-department and marketing practices of Hammer Films, that wonderful and distinctly British institution of exploitation, there’s not much else to read. Fundamentally, it’s a book collecting the many posters that graced theater walls between the 50’s and the 70’s when Hammer reigned supreme in the world of gothic horror. That’s it. Going into this, you’re either going to be a fan of Hammer Films already or you’re a fan of movie art. There’s a definite venn diagram there and if you don’t fall within those spheres, chances are this is a coffee table book that you’re going to pass on but if you qualify, you’re going to end up with a treasury of gorgeous movie art.
Separated into the various eras of Hammer’s existence, there’s a definite theory and philosophy at work in the ways that Hammer chose to advertise their movies. While the book doesn’t highlight the early years of the Hammer institution, it begins on the upswing of the studio’s prominence and the often understated artwork grows in confidence and complexity over the years, into its halcyon days but then manages to remain relevant and interesting even as the studio was on the decline. Movie art is often the most key ingredient to securing funds to make the movies as well as drawing people in to buy tickets to the shows. What begins with photo collages and posters inspired by the works of Saul Bass eventually give way to bold illustrations that are reflected in the work of some of Hollywood’s hottest artists, such as Drew Struzan. The presentation of these posters is sparse as each page shows between one and three posters but the make up of the book is high quality and is the sort of thing that movie and horror fans are going to want found lying around in their living rooms. The Art of Hammer is a lush production loaded with hundreds of posters, some very familiar, many extremely rare.
Titan Books is turning out some of the most exciting and engaging books on the topic of Hammer Horror. With biographical The Hammer Story and the profile of Hammer’s legendary femme-fatales, Hammer Glamour, there’s no finer outlet for all things Hammer. The Art of Hammer adds to this collection of Hammer info and while it doesn’t add much in the raw data department, it’s a beautiful, high-quality archive of the marketing that Hammer used to get people to spend money on them.