Director: Russell Wall
Tomahawk Films

When one thinks of the various elements that made Hammer's horror and science fiction films so memorable, the names of actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, as well as screenwriters and directors such as Terence Fisher, Jimmy Sangster, Freddie Francis immediately pop into the head. But we must not forget the men who made the monsters and brewed the blood in Hammer's first decade of macabre mayhem: Phil Leakey and Roy Ashton. Leakey, followed later by Ashton, were Hammer's main monster makers and this two-part British-made video documentary--the combined efforts of Russell Wall and Bruce Sachs who also penned the slick book Greasepaint and Gore : The Hammer Monsters of Roy Ashton--focuses on the two men and their creativity.

The first part (1:17:42) examines Hammer's association with Phil Leakey (who passed away in 1992) in their early Bray Studios days, and includes extensive interviews with him. Leakey shares details about creating monsters and effects for a number of Hammer titles (namely X THE UNKNOWN, the first two "Quatermass" movies, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HORRROR OF DRACULA) and shows off some of the real props, including Christopher Lee's fangs (complete with tiny blood pump), as well as the glass eye used for his turn as the Frankenstein monster. Among the interesting subjects covered, Leakey talks about making the severed bird-pecked head for CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, creating the effect of drowning it in acid, and naturally being disappointed that it wasn't used in the film. This also causes a great quote when Leakey brought his work home, telling his wife, "Don't cook anything tonight dear I'll need the oven to bake a rubber head." You even get to witness him re-working his make-up magic on some willing subjects, and this segment also features recent interviews with Christopher Lee, Jimmy Sangster, Hazel Court and Val Guest, who shares a hilarious anecdote about Brian Donlevy's hairpiece during the shooting of QUATERMASS II.

Part Two (1:13:54) deals with Roy Ashton (1909-1995) who came in as Hammer's chief monster maker after Leakey left the company in 1958. In this documentary, even though Ashton is seen in front of the cameras, there are no sit-down interviews with him as in the Leakey segment. Rather, his story is told through actual audio recordings conducted by him, as well as memoirs as told by his wife, Elizabeth. Ashton liked to sketch out his creations before working on them, and many of those drawings are on display here. Some of the best include the many different concepts considered for the monster in EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN when Hammer was given the sanction to copy the original Karloff concept. Some of the other films focused on are THE MUMMY, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH, PARANOIAC!, CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, THE GORGON, SHE and DRACULA - PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Aside from Lee, Sangster, Court and Guest, the Ashton segment also has on-screen interviews with Freddie Francis, stuntman Eddie Powell, Barbara Shelley and Janette Scott.

If you think specials on Hammer have been done to death, this effort is a pleasant surprise. It takes two innovative, creative and rather underrated forces behind the company as its subject and never fails to center on them specifically. In other words, there is no filler here; Hammer footage from theatrical trailers is only shown to illustrate a point, and outside narration (by do-it-all Wall and Sachs) is kept to a bare minimum, letting the people who were actually there say it all. And that's where the strength of this show lies--in the interviews. Any Hammer enthusiast will find these discussions gripping, and in the case of Christopher Lee and Barbara Shelley, it's some of the best talks they've done on the subject.

Both Leakey and Ashton have individual still galleries, comprised of behind-the-scenes stills, shots of props, sketches and other cool stuff. An Easter Egg on the main menu will treat you to a shot of Lee and Shelley, reunited for this documentary.

Currently, the disc exclusively available from Tomahawk Films in England and you can order it though their Web site. It's an NTSC Region free release, so that means all you U.S. consumers can play this must-have release for Hammer DVD collectors. (George R. Reis)