Peter Hoskin

Bookends: Flesh and blood

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Every Friday, on the Spectator Book Blog, we'll be publishing the latest Bookends column from the magazine. For those who haven't come across the column before, it's a 250-word review of a recent book – somewhat shorter than the rest of the reviews in the print edition – and well-suited to the blog format. Anyway, here's the latest:

Flesh and blood

Flesh. Lots of flesh. That was the simple promise of a Hammer horror film. In this collection of classic Hammer posters (The Art of Hammer by Marcus Hearn, Titan, £24.99) we have cleavages, writhing torsos and shining thighs aplenty. But it’s not just that kind of flesh. Over most of our female subjects leers a monster (usually played by the magisterial Christopher Lee), threatening to butcher their curves and leave behind a carcass. Little wonder that the blood-red acrylic is applied so liberally.

More interesting, although generally less striking, are the posters that don’t follow the formula. The horribly sensationalist advert for The Camp on Blood Island (1958) carries the tagline, ‘Jap war crimes exposed!’ A playful poster for Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) has a black-and-white shot of a woman’s neck adorned only by two pink plasters.

A Ladybird-style image for The Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) hints at the range of Hammer’s productions and target audiences. And best of all is the gimmick for promoting Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966): ‘Get your Rasputin beard free as you enter the theatre!’        

The book begins with a disapproving quote from a Sight and Sound critic, writing in the Fifties. ‘Only a sick society could bear the hoardings, let alone the films,’ he frowns. Yet now we collect those hoardings in hardback – and, on the whole, they’re really quite charming. So just what does that say about us? Answers on a postcard to Dracula’s Castle, please.