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Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror Reviews

This made-for-UKTV documentary, narrated by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (who died shortly after it was complete), chronicles the rise and fall of Britain's Hammer Films, the "House of Horror." Founded by William Hinds, Hammer which started life as a scrappy, opportunistic little organization producing "quota quickies:" low budget pictures made to take advantage of government funds designated to help the British film industry compete against pictures from abroad, especially the US. Hinds merged his organization with Exclusive Pictures, a distribution company started by Spanish-born Enrique Carreras and their sons, James Carreras and Anthony Hinds, gradually built the company into a modestly successful concern, concentrating on properties familiar enough to UK moviegoers that they were guaranteed a built-in audience. Writer-director Ted Newsom focuses on the company's history starting with THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT (1956), Hammer's first modest foray into the genre that would make its name, and follows it to the bitter end in the 1980s, when its desperate recycling of its horror properties generated ever diminishing returns. In the mid 1950s, at the suggestion of a theater-chain executive with whom they had a longstanding relationship, Carreras and Hinds made the decision that changed their fortunes and made "Hammer" synonymous with horror. They mounted a full color version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957), starring Cushing as the obsessed doctor and Lee as his pathetic monster. From that point forward, Hammer meant lavishly produced horror pictures that pushed the envelope in their depiction of sex and violence, while Cushing and Lee — who made the role of Dracula his own — emerged as full-fledged horror icons. Newsom interviews an articulate selection of Hammer veterans, including James Carreras and Anthony Hinds; directors Freddie Frances, Roy Ward Baker and Val Guest; prolific screenwriter and sometime director Jimmy Sangster; composer James Bernard — whose distinctive scores helped establish a distinctive Hammer atmosphere — and several of the "Hammer Girls" whose charms were as important to the Hammer mystique as its monsters. The documentary's greatest drawback is that the many clips are taken from trailers rather than the films themselves; this cost-saving decision produced shorter clips but allowed the filmmakers to use more of them, a trade-off that does detract significantly from the overall effect.