Hearn's book is filled with hundreds of full-color images -- serious eye candy for horror and Hammer fans alike -- pulled from private collections and the studio's archives. The legendary British company's penchant for eye-catching marketing campaigns is demonstrated in page after page of iconic poster images, featuring some of horror's most memorable characters. These beautiful illustrations are also a testament to the power of painted poster art.
Hearn recently took us on a tour through Hammer history, discussing some of the famous film studio's artistic highlights -- including details about the most valuable Hammer collectibles, how he feels about Hammer's latest artwork for 'Let Me In,' and who is the studio's most famous poster girl.
How did you come to work for Hammer? Were you always a fan of the studio's work?
It started in 1994, when I was working for Marvel Comics and became the editor of a magazine called 'Hammer Horror.' I was interested in Hammer before I got the job, but afterwards I was absolutely hooked.
What's the most unusual piece of Hammer history that you've come across? Which is the most highly sought after, or has been auctioned for the highest price?
I think the most highly sought after Hammer collectible must be the UK quad poster for 'Dracula.' I've heard reports that there are only 50 in the world. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that on the rare occasions they come up for auction they fetch between £10 - 12,000.
Why didn't Hammer's earliest works (before the horror cycle) resonate as strongly with audiences? Was it just an effect of the time period and the War?
I think it's because before 1955 Hammer had very little that was unique. Most of the films were competent, but it took them 20 years to find an identity.
What was Hammer's overall opinion of Amicus Productions, and did it affect their working relationship with actors who would hop between companies?
From what I gather, talking to the actors and directors who were involved, it was all very friendly. It was a big market, and there was plenty of room for everyone. It seems surprising now.
The images in your new book, 'The Art of Hammer,' of the theater marquees with the larger than life posters splashed across them are quite striking. Were these just erected for the premier shows or did the bigger budget films always receive this kind of welcome from theaters?
These were reserved for first-run screenings in London's West End. I didn't include this in the book, but the actress Vera Day tells me she has never forgotten seeing the marquee for 'Quatermass 2,' with her huge face looming over the London traffic.
The lurid and often humorous taglines are a well-known feature of the famous posters. Which ones did audiences respond most favorably or vehemently to?
I think the lurid taglines almost served as a dare to the young audiences Hammer was appealing to. It was a surprise to discover that they were sometimes dreamed up by the poster artists themselves, but we have to remember that this was the era before all-powerful marketing departments. Critics at the time hated the posters as much as the films, but I find the taglines fascinating. 'Dracula's' "The terrifying lover who died -- yet lived," says an awful lot about Hammer's revolutionary mix of sex and horror. My favourite, however, is 'The Mummy's Shroud:' "Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet!" When else could that have been written but 1967?
Since many of the artists had free license when it came to the posters' designs, which titles had the biggest discrepancies between what imagery was on the poster versus what happened in the actual movie?
'The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb' and 'The Mummy's Shroud' both depict what appear to be giant mummies, which don't appear anywhere in the films. I think they have to be the greatest, shall we say, exaggerations.
Why do you believe the Belgian, Italian, and French posters were superior in their design amongst the other international posters?
I can't answer that, except to say that the artists delivered consistently superior work. Some countries, and I won't name them, have consistently less interesting posters, and I think this is reflected in the prices you now see on eBay. We tried to represent everything in the book, but among the international posters there is definitely a bias towards Belgian examples.
'One Million Years B.C.' is the poster that most Hammer art enthusiasts and collectors point to as one of the company's best designs. Aside from the appeal of Raquel Welch in a fur bikini, why was this marketing campaign so successful for Hammer?
What I find remarkable about it is that here was a film where, at least initially, the selling point was considered to be Ray Harryhausen's special effects. The poster artist Tom Chantrell instead chose to foreground Raquel Welch in that incredible costume. The effects in that film now seem a little dated but Raquel remains a screen icon, so I guess he knew what he was doing.
Was Raquel Welch Hammer's most famous poster girl, or does that title belong to Ursula Andress since the company promoted her as "The World's Most Beautiful Woman?"
I think the accolade has to go to Raquel, because she came to prominence in that film, and through that poster. 'Dr. No' made Ursula Andress a star, and I think Hammer capitalised on that success.
Do you have a favorite poster and what draws you to it?
I love the black US one-sheet for 'Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.' I admire its pop art sensibility and understated typography, which set it apart from so many of the sensationalist posters. I don't think it's a particularly rare poster, but I don't own it and I wish I did.
What makes Tom Chantrell's poster designs so special?
The colours, the energy, his versatility ... the images are so dynamic. All the more remarkable, given that he didn't always watch the films before he created the posters.
Is it true that Hammer had a type of fan club where people received free posters and publicity stills?
There was no formal fan club, but extra copies of the 'She'/'One Million Years' poster and the 'Dracula Has Risen From the Grave' poster were printed to give away to fans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. That's why there are so many near-pristine copies of those posters in the collectors' market. They're both well worth having, and a great place to start any collection.
It almost feels as though many of the posters in Hammer's later history were still clinging to the nostalgia of times past, even though the studio was trying to get away from the heavy, Gothic overtones that marked their movies. In your opinion, did the poster designs change throughout time the way that the films did -- becoming sleazier or more like caricatures than works of art?
It could be argued that Hammer themselves were struggling to shrug off their Gothic horror legacy, and this is probably reflected in the poster for 'Frankenstein and the 'Monster From Hell.' It's a film that Hammer fans love, but it was something of an anachronism in the wake of 'The Exorcist.' The poster designs changed in the 1970s, but this was more a reflection of new artists' techniques than anything else. In retrospect, we can see that the simpler, photo-led designs were leading towards the computer-aided montages that are prevalent today. The tradition of painted poster designs was all but over by the 1980s.
What's your opinion on Hammer's poster campaign for Matt Reeve's recently released 'Let Me In?' Do you ever wish the studio would go back to the days of painted poster artwork?
Only George Lucas and sometimes Steven Spielberg seem to do that nowadays, and that seems like an entirely appropriate way to market 'Indiana Jones' and 'Star Wars,' two film series that are obviously inspired by 1930's adventure serials. Hammer are reaching out to a modern audience, and it's only right that they have state-of the-art poster campaigns. I really like the 'Let Me In' posters -- especially the one-sheet of "angel" Abby in the snow. The key art may not comprise painted images, but these are clearly shots that have been specially composed for the posters and that's good enough for me.
If you could recommend one movie for a Hammer newbie to start with, which one would it be and why?
'The Brides of Dracula' is the best of the Gothic horrors. It's an erotic, elegant film with incandescent photography, a beautiful leading lady and Peter Cushing as the definitive Van Helsing. A treat from beginning to end.
'The Art of Hammer' is available in stores on November 23.