Hammer at 80: Westminster event announced

'A Hammer Film Production' title card from Dracula (1958)On Saturday 8 November, Westminster Central Hall in London will be hosting an event celebrating Hammer Films.

The British studio, famed for its classic horror output, was founded in 1934, making it 80 years old. To say ‘happy birthday’, a large cast of players from Hammer’s history will be gathering to meet fans, sign autographs and talk about their experiences making cult gems such as Vampire Circus and Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell.

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Scream-age fang club: Hammer Horror Day 2014

Advert for Hammer Horror Day 2014Update 11 June 2014: Sadly, this event has been cancelled, with a view to staging it next year instead.

Says organiser 10th Planet: “With great regret, due to contractual problems Hammer Horror Day has been postponed until 2015. We are sorry for any inconvenience. All refunds will be given over the next week.”

In the meantime, Hammer fans might want to turn their gaze towards an official event that’s happening in Westminster on Saturday 8 November.

Below is my original article about the event that 10th Planet planned to run.

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Hammer Blu-rays: What the Devil is going on?

Hammer blu-raysIf you have an interest in vintage British horror films, you can’t have failed to notice that Hammer’s UK Blu-ray releases this year have got fans of the studio in a bit of a dither. Battles have raged online over various issues, from image and audio quality to aspect ratio and framing, and, perhaps most controversially, CGI tinkering.

To its credit, Hammer has responded in detail to many of the issues, even recalling and reissuing one product to correct an audio fault. However, there is still much about these discs and their problems that confuses me, and there are still a few questions that Hammer has yet to even try to answer, despite saying that it will.

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Straight on till Hackney: Shane Briant and friends

Shane Briant autograph“You are invited to attend a day in celebration of Shane Briant.”  So ran the (A5, stiff and rather good-looking) ticket that I received in the post back in May, after despatching a £30 cheque to Donald Fearney. A newbie to Mr Fearney’s legendary Hammer-themed get-togethers, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew that the opportunity to meet Shane Briant – for the actor would be in attendance at this celebration – wasn’t one I should pass up.

The venue was to be the Cine Lumiere in Kensington, where Briant’s final film for Hammer, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, would also be screened.  However, a couple of months before the big day, some behind-the-scenes kerfuffle led to the event having to be relocated and the screening scrapped. Hence, last Saturday morning, I made my way up to Hackney to visit a church hall called the Round Chapel.

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Taste the blood of… John Carson: Signing and Q&A

John Carson autograph on a Taste The Blood Of Dracula publicity stillThe success of January’s Barbara Shelley and Linda Hayden signing seems to have spurred events organiser 10th Planet on to book more Hammer actors. Last Saturday, in a conference room at Barking’s library, I had the pleasure of meeting John Carson, who starred in three of the studio’s films: The Plague Of The Zombies (1966), Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970) and Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1974).

As you can see from the pictures below, John is a man who belies his 84 years, though to see him looking so well was just one of this event’s joys. The other was hearing him speak in those instantly recognisable tones. If he’d brought along some voodoo effigies, by the end of the morning I would definitely have been working in his tin mine as a zombie slave.

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Blood and ink: Barbara Shelley and Linda Hayden signing, 15 January 2011

With Barbara Shelley at a 10th Planet signing, January 2011As much as I enjoy attending 10th Planet’s Saturday-morning events in Barking, my day usually starts with a groan. The act of rising before the sun does might be easy – nay, compulsory – for vampires but, let me tell you, it hurts when you’re more alive than undead.

Of course, when I put it like that, the solution seems obvious – I need someone, or something, to put the bite on me. But, to be frank, I don’t much fancy the whole ‘fang-growing, coffin-dwelling, blood-drinking’ thing.

Someone who might, though, is one of the two actresses I met at last Saturday’s signing – namely Barbara Shelley, star of Dracula: Prince Of Darkness, a 1966 sequel in which Ms Shelley is bitten by Christopher Lee’s titular count and ends up… well, let’s not spill the beans when we could be spilling blood. The red, sticky stuff can also be seen in a fair few other films on Barbara’s CV, such as The Gorgon (1964) and Rasputin The Mad Monk (1966). Unsurprisingly, she’s been adopted by the classic-horror community as an icon of 1960s horror, and Hammer in particular.

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Confessions of an autograph collector

Robin Askwith autograph on a Queen Kong pictureTo some, Memorabilia, the twice-yearly signing/collectors’ fair held at the Birmingham NEC, is the once proud, now underachieving older brother of Collectormania and the London Film & Comic Con.

Its recent guest lists seem to have drawn more tuts of dissatisfaction than any other show of its kind, both online and offline – primarily, it seems, because there haven’t been enough guests from modern science-fiction shows or the latest genre films. “The weakest line-up there’s ever been,” complained one forum member in the run-up to last weekend’s event. At the show itself, I overheard someone bemoaning the “Z-list celebs”.

You can’t please everyone. Personally I think that, while there are good reasons to criticise Memorabilia’s organiser, MCM Expo (they’re certainly no Showmasters when it comes to dishing out pre-show information), its guest list isn’t one of them – not this year, anyway.

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I was a teenage Halls Of Horror reader

Mark Gatiss picking up The House Of HammerOn Monday night, watching A History Of Horror With Mark Gatiss (a jewel of a series from BBC4), I was struck by one scene in particular. As Gatiss stood in an Aladdin’s cave of collectable pulp treasures, he picked up a copy of The House Of Hammer magazine, the look on his face saying all that needed to be said. But he said it anyway: “This is a Proustian moment for me. This brings back a rush of unbelievable happy memories.”

Gatiss said that when he was 11 or 12, he was obsessed with the magazine. However, after his parents discovered, at a school parents’ evening, that he’d been writing gory stories, they banned both the magazine and horror movies. Gatiss chuckled as he recalled sneaking downstairs soon afterwards to watch Hammer’s The Revenge Of Frankenstein while his parents were in bed. “And that,” he said,”was the end of my horror exile.”

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