It's (a longer) Hammer time...
1994 was a significant year for Hammer fans. Peter Cushing cast off from his mortal moorings to rejoin his beloved Helen at last, and he did so between episodes of the best Hammer film documentary ever made.
Flesh and Blood; The Hammer Heritage of Horror was written and produced by film-maker and horror historian Ted Newsom, who brought Cushing and Christopher Lee together for what was to be the final time, to narrate it.
|Peter Cushing, Ted Newsom and Christopher Lee at the |
narration recording of Flesh and Blood in 1994.
During a tribute to Christopher Lee recorded last year, Newsom recounted that Cushing was very frail and ill by this time, and unsure he’d be physically able to perform the work. Lee sat down with him and regaled his old friend with anecdotes, reminiscences and impressions until Cushing was soon howling with laughter. So much so that Newsom went from relief that aged actor was now re-engaged in the project, to concern that Lee would exhaust him too much to continue.
The resulting documentary was screened in two parts on british television, which I made certain I recorded, and re-watched many times, until it was released on DVD a couple of years later.
That disc then became the most replayed which I owned.
Flesh and Blood is exhaustive in the best possible way, and showcases fascinating interviews with everyone from Raquel Welch, to Joe Dante to a plethora of Hammer production alumni.
A lot of ground is covered with clips, trailers and behind the scenes footage, all of it woven together with the instantly recognisable voices of Lee and Cushing.
Although my collection of the actual films continues to grow, the authoritative history of the studio remained locked within that particular DVD case like a time capsule. The final, definitive word, from the people who were there.
|Together again, for the last time.|
Or so I thought, until Ted Newsom signed off on last year’s Lee tribute with the news that he was finishing work on a new, expanded version of Flesh and Blood, remastered and remixed with additional material.
I was instantly intrigued, but a little trepidatious as well - could a perfect work really be made better - or merely longer?
Something convinced me though; his mention that an ingenious sound editor had remixed Cushing’s narration, the result knocking a couple of decades off the original, admittedly frail-sounding, delivery.
Like many others, I wanted to give Newsom my money there and then, but his experience with distributors in the past meant that he was only going to make it available himself this time, so we’d just have to be patient.
Happily, the 'new' Flesh and Blood became available at the beginning at the year, and I signed up, pleasantly surprised to receive a DVD-shaped parcel a mere week later.
The Flesh and Blood redux is a fascinating experience. Aurally, Cushing does indeed sound like a more robust man in his 60’s rather than the ailing 85 year old he was. I’m assuming pauses for breath have been removed and the voice deepened - but however it’s been done, to someone like me who knows some passages by heart, it’s a complete success.
|The original Hammer's last gasps: an all-star Agatha Christie remake, their final horror |
with a Dennis Wheatley adaptation, and the sadly unmade Vampirella.
Visually, the nearest experience I can think of is the feeling we had when George Lucas re-released his Star Wars films in the mid 90s. there’s an excitement to see the new material, where and how well it’s been integrated. There’s no ‘Greedo shooting first’ nonsense here though. Instead, Hammer on television and the new films have been welcomed into the fold, recollections are expanded upon, facts filled-in and and we even get to hear from fans the likes of Martin Scorsese and John Carpenter.
This 138 minute documentary is not only essential for anyone who takes their horror films seriously, but should also be treated as a serious historical account of a lost era of British cinema, and the impact of a single film studio on global popular culture.
Sometimes more is more.
(Flesh and Blood - The Hammer Heritage of Horror is available only through Paypal: Just type in firstname.lastname@example.org)
|'New' Hammer has scored some hits like the atmospheric |
and scary Woman in Black (2012)