Director: Ted Newsom
Image Entertainment

England's most celebrated independent makers of gothic horror, science fiction and fantasy films--Hammer Films--has been written about and seriously critiqued in books and magazines for decades, but visual documents on the company only materialized in recent years. In 1987, the BBC produced "Hammer: The Studio That Dripped Blood," which ran under an hour and barely touched the surface, and 1990's "World of Hammer" was merely a series of clip shows hosted by Oliver Reed. Originally airing on British TV in 1994, Ted Newsom's FLESH AND BLOOD: THE HAMMER HERITAGE OF HORROR presents an entertaining and informative history of everybody's favorite fear factory, and features narration solely by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee--it would be the last time the duo would work together, as Cushing died soon after.

FLESH AND BLOOD starts off by looking at Hammer's early days, the successful 50s "Quatermass" films, their hugely popular Frankenstein and Dracula series, their dinosaur/cavemen epics, and a lot more. Those interviewed in one way or another are: Hazel Court, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jimmy Sangster, Roy Ward Baker, James Bernard (whose famous Hammer scores provide the soundtrack), Martine Beswick, Veronica Carlson, Michael Carreras, Joe Dante, Freddie Francis, Val Guest, Ray Harryhausen, Anthony Hinds, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Ferdy Mayne, Caroline Munro, Christopher Neame, Ingrid Pitt, Raquel Welch and Yutte Stensgaard. The narration (by Newsom) adequately tells the Hammer story, and Christopher Lee delivers his lines with robust energy, clearing showing that he is proud to be part of this cultural phenomenon. Obviously ailing at the time, Cushing doesn't sound himself, and although he struggles on occasion, he pulls through alright and even tells a few anecdotes with sincerity. The interviews as a whole are excellent, and although most were conducted in the 1990s, some are older: Stensgaard's is from the early 70s during the time of LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, Cushing is only seen onscreen from his 1975 appearance on Tom Snyder's late-night program and Anthony Hinds' interview dates back to the 1987 BBC documentary. Of course you could name other important people not included (Michael Gough, Herbert Lom, Roy Skeggs, Victoria Vetri, etc.), but those involved well-represent Hammer. All the conversations clearly imply that these people had a rewarding time working for Hammer, and the late Michael Carreras sums things up best: "I'm not giving you bullshit, they [Hammer movies] were made by people who cared."

FLESH AND BLOOD is pretty much all-inclusive, though it tends to only skim over some important topics (the "Karnstein" trilogy for example), and unnecessarily chastise Hammer's later films when they discuss the company's "fall." With the interviews shot on videotape of varying quality, much of the Hammer movie footage is taken from theatrical trailers since it would be impossible to afford the rights to film clips which are owned by so many different interests (a highlight is black and white behind-the-scenes footage from FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED). But with its minor flaws, FLESH AND BLOOD is an irresistible scrutiny of a name in horror that will never die in the public's eye, and this release belongs on every collector's DVD shelf right next to all their Hammer titles.

This title was previously available on VHS from Anchor Bay, who to date have released the most Hammer product on DVD, but this digital version comes courtesy of Image Entertainment. A promotional trailer is also included as an extra. (George R. Reis)