SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ It's that time of year again: THE RAINDANCE FILM FESTIVAL in London! On now.. See you there!

Saturday, 4 May 2013


By Wayne Kinsey and Gordon Thomson
Published by: Peveril/ 2012


This review of an essential book delving into Hammer locations like a bloody fang into the neck from dear old Chris Lee - expertly drawing blood and soothing the soul - was originally written for, and published at, cult film website STRANGE THINGS ARE HAPPENING, late last year. Now slightly updated for the following reason...

This year (2013), and in fact - this very month of May, marks the Centenary of the birth of Hammer film star and much-loved horror icon (and perfect gent) - Peter Cushing. I met Peter Cushing at a book signing as a boy and I've never shut up about it since! To mark the anniversary, SEAT AT THE BACK - CINEMA MAGAZINE will be publishing celebratory reviews in the great man's honour...

First up, this review of 'Hammer Films On Location' from last year that includes many locations that Peter Cushing will forever be immortalised with - whether hunting down Dracula within a hallowed glade, or chasing a glowing great hound across across a lonely moor.

All this excitement reaches a peak in one big celebratory party in honour of Peter Cushing being held in Whitstable at the end of May - fun and games aplenty, all tinged with just a tiny whisper of sadness that this much-loved actor is no longer with us to enjoy the celebrations or still stitching together monsters from scratch and stabbing those vampires (well, mainly his great friend Christopher Lee) through the heart with a Hammer-sized stake (and a Hammer-sized stake is, as we all know - enormous!).

Enjoy the darkness...  

 - An On Location Review!
There’s something about movie locations that I love – and quite often obsess over. Whether it’s the hotel setting and freezing maze seen in 'The Shining' and the sinister swaying fields of 'Children of the Corn' or the quiet, terrified coastal resort of Hitchcock’s 'The Birds' and the leering rocky terrain of 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' – location can define the films we love the most.

Take the blisteringly hot Outback location of Nic Roeg’s 'Walkabout', a film that effortlessly leers over its location as much as a focus of attention as it relishes Jenny Agutter running around in the shortest of skirts or skinnydipping when the opportunity arises. Most of all, this barren, seemingly lifeless (but actually busting with life below the surface) landscape is used by Roeg here as: friend, enemy, saviour and stranger alike. Location is so vital to this film that it may as well have its own co-starring credit.

Imagine a really bad movie in terms of script and acting. I’m talking the worst of the worst. If it takes place in a rustling field of barley on the top of a lonely coastal cliff path, shot moodily at sunset, with crashing waves below - I’ll probably love that bad film a whole lot more (call me shallow if you like!).Location and cinematography are as important for me to be able to appreciate a film as the screenplay, cast or direction. It’s also true that a great script can be scuppered by flat cinematography or a terrible choice of location shoot, but I think there are few film studios that conjured up a sense of place as well as Hammer. When they shot entirely in studio, the results were never as much fun. Thankfully, most Hammer films went outdoors and filmed those near legendary day-for night-scenes and that creepy fog-drenched debauchery, mostly in the nearby likes of Black Park in Buckinghamshire.
Like the most poetic of peepers, the Hammer house camera focused on all kinds of sin and Satanism, bloodlust and ravishing goings-on in the local woodland. Most recently, Hammer were back at their spiritual home in the Black Park woodland to shoot their adaptation of Susan Hill’s classic ghost story, 'The Woman In Black' (2011). It was a fine return.

Yes, the one thing that made nearly all the Hammer films so memorable (often alongside the terrific scripts, swarthy direction and now legendary cast) were those gorgeous countryside locales that happened to be right on their doorstep - just outside the famous Hammer film studios at Bray. These woods and the Bray backlot were shot from every conceivable angle - you never would have guessed that the same stretch of woodland appeared in so many films under different identities! Until you read through the new book on the subject - 'Hammer Films on Location', and suddenly the odd stretch of woodland road or gravel pit (since filled in)  and grander placemarkers such as Oakley Court (owned by an eccentric French gent in a top hat with an organ in the hallway that “made a terrible noise”) or the decrepit old mansion called Down Place (later to be renamed ‘Bray Studios’) become, by the last page - old and dear friends.
Other locations in the surrounding area of Bray include: the 18th Century lake at Black Park from whose murky depths the lovely - but dead - Susan Denberg was fished out from in 'Frankenstein Created Woman', Frensham Ponds in Surrey that doubled for Dartmoor in 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' or Chobham Common, also in Surrey, where Peter Cushing tries to run over a local beggar girl with his horse-drawn carriage in 'The Evil of Frankenstein', a place where a plague of zombies also once descended – you can’t help but wonder, when all goes quiet, whether the old Hammer crew are missed as much by the locations themselves as they are by the hordes of Hammer fans that yearn for those effortlessly atmospheric movie-making days of old.

In later years, Hammer films moved away from Bray and shot on stages at Pinewood and Elstree. As the authors of this new book detailing Hammer film locations in exquisite detail suggest - for many it just wasn’t the same, even though Hammer still managed sometimes to sneak back to those favourite locations of old. To those deep, twisting, autumnal woods with endless paths that always seemed to meet in the middle amid plenty of lush (as good as alive) undergrowth to run through as a certain man in a flapping cape gave chase.

In 1966 it seemed that Hammer’s home had been staked through the heart at round about the same point that cast and crew said farewell to Bray and headed off to Elstree to film 'Quatermass and the Pit' in 1967 (incidentally, film years stated for the movies under scrutiny in the book relate to the year they were filmed on location, not the year of release - and this review follows that same path).

There’s little doubt that the best years of Hammer’s life for many fans (though personally I often love some of the later Hammer movies, post-Bray Studios, the best) started in the mid-50s, when films such as 'The Curse of Frankenstein' and the earlier Quatermass instalments were shot, all the way up to that final Bray Studios-based location shoot in 1966 for 'The Mummy’s Shroud' – a period when the famous Bray Studios backlot also housed Dracula’s castle, a set that towered over the fresh-necked locals (usually assisted by a Les Bowie matte painting of mountains as a backdrop) or the village where Frankenstein’s work spread suspicion like a flaming torch in a pile of dry timber.
Hammer would also travel to nearby villages to film on location, irrespective of which studio they were based at, and these quaint English villages have now been immortalised in the world of British horror forever - whether the modern-day locals  like it or not! Wherever Hammer headed to, I think it’s fair to say that these were people who knew how to use a location better than any other home grown film company - then or since.

Even in the present day, shooting on modern-revival Hammer films such as the wonderfully eerie 'Wake Wood' (2011) where the rural Irish locations in the village of Pettigo (itself a place seeped with local legend) are used to brooding, earthy effect - a Hammer horror film remains familiarly distinctive of place, and somehow timeless.

'Hammer Films on Location' ends with the studio’s often criticised as flawed but still outstanding (I personally like this Hammer film better than any other) 1975-lensed Satanic horror; 'To the Devil a Daughter'. Author Dennis Wheatley whose novel formed the basis of the screenplay, vowed never to work with Hammer again as the film had – in his view - desecrated his work. It didn’t matter, Wheatley had no chance to prove he meant it as 'To the Devil a Daughter' was to be Hammer’s last shocker until a majestic revival (that had a quick initial toe dip in 2008 with 'Beyond the Rave') in the atmospheric, excellently creepy child-vampire remake 'Let Me In', released in 2010. Hammer hasn’t let up since, with next year’s "let’s-make-a-poltergeist" thrills of the currently in post-production, Jared Harris-starring; 'The Quiet Ones' looking equally ready to thrill.

It would be interesting to one day see a follow-up to the current book detailing the location shooting on modern-day Hammer productions as well as that missing chapter on TV forays that resulted in 1980’s hugely enjoyable, eternal 'Hammer House of Horror' and the (less directly connected to original Hammer, more Americanised and less interesting) follow-up; 'Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense' (1984). 'Hammer House of Horror' showed the same flair as its big screen predecessors for picking the best: country road/ cottage in woods/ local shopping parade or suburban semi where pipes would burst and spray kids at a birthday party in the traditional colour of the Hammer flag – one colour red.

'Hammer Films on Location' is written by Hammer expert Wayne Kinsey and former Hammer employee and film industry insider, Gordon Thomson. I say written, the better word to use here is probably ‘investigated’ and it’s Thomson who provides most of the field research and photographs while Kinsey comments and places the shots in context as well as providing brief, informative reviews of all the films listed. Kinsey admits in his introduction that he has never been a huge fan of location hunting, but as the book progressed and his co-contributor sent back such fascinating snaps of locations in present day disarray or unspoilt beauty as intact as the day the Hammer crew left for home - he became gripped by the location-hunting bug, and went out scouting for those familiar areas used by Hammer as well.

The book is lovingly designed by Steve Kirkham (veteran of many creative film design projects and DVD cover art) and it’s worth mentioning his hard work on this project - what a task Steve had to arrange the many photos (often in vibrant full colour wonderfully showing off the autumnal hues or arranged meticulously in panoramic order) around the place-specific text and make sure we don’t get lost, or even bored, along the way! He succeeds, and best of all, creates a clear path that grabs our attention, and makes sure we don’t stray too far into the woods where certain death and drowning in murky lakes awaits. OK, maybe that’s taking things a little too far, but after 300 pages worth of Hammer Horror location minutiae, you’d feel the same respect as I do right now - reviewing this book could have killed me! Instead,  it’s a read-it-in-one-go kind of page turner - and a work of reference that you, literally, want to be a part of and go exploring in the woods with too.

The simply-arranged layout works well in the decision to devote a chapter to all of the Hammer horror films shot on location between 1952 ('The Four-Sided Triangle') and 1975 (the sleazy farewell of 'To the Devil a Daughter'), taking in such classics as 'The Curse of Frankenstein' (1956), 'The Mummy' (1959), 'Countess Dracula' (1970) and 'The Curse of the Werewolf' (1960) along the way. The comments about the locations are moreish, well-researched and lovingly detailed, and the introductions to the films compelling and exciting - this is a book that will make you want to rush out and buy a Hammer boxset the next day (or same night) to both spot the lake or woodland ditch as well as enjoy the films!

Wayne and Gordon’s adventures into the world of Hammer locations are sometimes easy to report back to the reader about: a backlot village set, impressive as it is to revisit, isn’t hard to remember or find in the archives. But sometimes, the locations used, were literally impossible to trace or identify and a huge amount of detection work was needed. The photos used in the book rely on comparisons between location stills from the movies back in the day (and if you are a Hammer fan, some of these pictures of cast and crew in the early morning mist of, say - Chobham Common, are essential to have in your collection) and the same locations as they exist right now.

Some of the locations used in the films had no obvious identifying features. Gordon was soon on the case, interviewing local farmers and residents (some of whom had lived in the area for many decades and remember the arrival of the Hammer film crew), or talking with park rangers or former Hammer crew members to discover where scenes were filmed. Only rarely do they fail. Gordon seems to have visited every inch of woodland in the Buckinghamshire and Surrey area for the sake of this book, and many of the locations are today only able to be identified by trees that have survived over half a decade or tree stumps that show the fallen. He also used his contacts within the film industry and the Hammer family to work out locations from schedule sheets or personal diaries of location and production crew. While many of the locations today are now (perhaps sadly) golf courses, hotels, or private houses kept free of public gaze, most of the new owners seem to have welcomed the authors in with open arms (and possibly capes!), allowing comparison shots between then and now to be taken and displayed side by side in the pages of this book.

If you’ve even wanted to know which lake Andrew Keir was eaten alive by piranhas in (Black Park lake for 'The Pirates of Blood River' filmed in 1961) and where only a few of the live piranhas were left behind in the lake by film crew after the location shoot had wrapped (just joking on that point!), or if you wish to trace the imposing building where Christopher Lee’s depraved Father Michael possessed the soul of a young (and incidentally, completely nude) Nastassja Kinski (British weather, must have been freezing – poor girl) in 'To the Devil a Daughter' - then this is the book for you!

It’s not all woodlands, unspoilt villages and gorgeous hidden manor houses though. Some chapters detail city locations and busy roads where car chases took place, with constant comparison shots to guide the way. Whether searching the streets of Chelsea for locations where Peter Cushing’s Van Helsing tracked Christopher Lee’s Count Dracula across swinging London in 'Dracula AD 1972', or the scene of the rooftop chase across the historic buildings of Manchester for 1959’s 'Hell is a City'; no location is left in limbo. There’s even a chapter at the end of the book detailing Hammer’s overseas locations that included the French Pyranees for 1957’s 'The Abominable Snowman' as well as their comedies, most notably 'On the Buses' that was filmed around Borehamwood (if you’ve ever wanted to know the precise location where Olive’s detached sidecar came to a stop, then this is the chapter to read). Then there are the period dramas including 1967’s 'A Challenge for Robin Hood' (filmed at Bodiam Castle in East Sussex) and those awesome visits to the years when dinosaurs ruled the Elstree backlot in such gore-splashed, furry-bikini clad Saturday morning classics as 1965’s 'One Million Years BC' (filmed in Lanzarote) or 1969’s 'When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth' (filmed in Gran Canaria and Furteventura).

The Hong Kong locations and the horror story of a shoot for the Hammer/ Shaw Brothers's 1973 conjoining on 'The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires' is also detailed down to the would-be field-sized ‘deserts’ of Hong Kong that director Roy Ward Baker describes the shooting of as “a hopeless mess”. Then there is the time in Israel for 1964’s 'She' when an Israeli special effects crew member blew two fingers off his hand in a controlled explosion that went wrong at the same time as there was an “accidental blast of buckshot” into the bottom of Bernard Cribbins. The location of this injured bottom is currently not known!

'Hammer Films on Location' is a book not just for Hammer fans, location geeks or even those, like myself, wishing to stand in the same spot where Nastassja Kinski was seduced by an excommunicated priest (more on this personal mission later -although I've just realised I've mentioned this scene three times too many already!) but also an ideal read for those with a fascination or even a casual interest in local history or perhaps just looking for some unspoilt countryside to wander through and find the odd gothic mansion hidden in the middle of some deepest, darkest wood at the weekend.

Possible walks to attempt (and there are enough to challenge even for the bravest of active weekenders) are mapped out clearly for the reader; described and plotted in some detail – as good as any guide book of local areas you will ever find. If local bookshops and tourist centres in the Bray, Borehamwood, Weymouth, West Wycombe and Chobham Common area or city centre destinations such as Manchester’s Arndale Centre or those along London’s King’s Road don’t stock this book, I think they are missing out on one of the best, most detailed and unstuffy guides to some of the most gorgeous, iconic and sometimes quirkiest of film locations you could hope to go a-hunting for.

Of course, much of the focus of Hammer Films on Location remains on the beautiful Bray area and right at the start of the book is a map; ‘Gordon’s Tour of Black Park Locations’ that you can follow and use as a quick reference  if you wish to see the majority of Hammer haunts favoured at this unspoilt local beauty spot in one go.

Some visits to a few of the locations detailed are not without some risk. Coastal destinations, with some pictures taken by Gordon high up on clifftops, trace a quite thrilling journey across exposed areas of headland and towards isolated caves used for the 1961 shoot in Weymouth and Portland (Hammer literally splashing the boat out here!) of the radioactive-kids flick 'The Damned'. In fact, on many occasions, our man-on-the-spot takes his own life (and sometimes wallet) in his own camera-blistered hands, to take comparison shots from on top of towering rooftops or along lonely stretches of woodland.

While many of the locations listed in the book are now designated 'Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty', not all the dense woodland is unspoilt or fly-tipping free or even all that friendly – there were areas where locals advised the authors not to hang around for too long as they were now so rundown and isolated that these shaded glades were ripe for muggings or the doing of rude things in the dark (and by which I refer to not the kind of 'dogging' that the Hound of the Baskervilles would be likely to make an appearance at). Of course, should this be your thing then this section of the book may also be for you!

The area singled out as being major ‘no-go’ or certainly ‘watch your back at’ is the suitably-named ‘Scratchwood’ nature reserve at Mill Hill, used in the 1970 location shoot for ' Scars of Dracula' as well as (one of my favourite Hammer horrors) 1969’s 'Taste the Blood of Dracula' for which we are reliably informed: “According to the web, the wood and car park has developed a dubious reputation with voyeurs and people allegedly cruising for sex (the police even suggesting this is encouraging muggings at the site) – so be warned if casually location hunting as you may have more than just Dracula to worry about!”

I remember once exploring local woodland, a beautiful and seemingly unspoilt area, at dusk - with family in tow. As we retraced our steps to the car, suddenly the area seemed unexpectedly more popular. There were 4x4s scattered everywhere with single men mostly sitting alone in the driver seats. Headlights started to come on. Old condom packets, I suddenly noticed, littered the ground. It was like a scene from 'Village of the Damned' but with horny older men instead of scary young kids.

Clearly, if you do go delving into hidden woodland it’s best to know whether you are in a safe and clean area or not. This book lets you know and spares your blushes. Luckily most of the locations Hammer used that exist today, such as Black Park, remain as lush and gorgeous as when they were first seen on the big screen. Although, there is a reminisce from Christopher Lee about the time he filmed scenes in the Black Park lake for 1961’s 'The Pirates of Blood River' in which the entire crew ended up chest high in the muddy water: “It was agonising,” remembers Lee, “because your boots filled with water and there was God knows how much mud and broken glass in this lake which we found out later was condemned.”

Halfway during the reading of this book, I developed the urge to go out and explore some of the locations mentioned; and I did. I focused in on two areas of initial interest. First up was the unspoilt picture postcard beauty of the village of Hambleden in Buckinghamshire, listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Hanbledene’. This village was used for Hammer’s 1966 shoot on the film 'The Witches' that starred Joan Fontaine who had acquired the rights to the novel 'The Devil’s Own' by Norah Loft (that had been written under the pseudonym ‘Peter Curtis’). This book was then adapted into the screenplay of 'The Witches' by Nigel (Quatermass) Kneale.

Not far from the village of Hambleden is the imposing and mysterious mausoleum of Sir Francis Dashwood (the founder of the Hellfire Club, and a man of dubious repute whose club was also a probable inspiration for Hammer’s 'Taste the Blood of Dracula') to be found above the village of West Wycombe. This was the location used for the climatic scenes of 1976’s 'To the Devil a Daughter', featuring Christopher Lee and Nastassja Kinski. The film was based on the Dennis Wheatley novel, who was also a personal friend of Christopher Lee at the time.

Hambleden itself, the site of 'The Witches', remains untouched by modern day invasions of High Street stores or tourists. I took a picture of the local Butcher’s shop called ‘Wheelers’ that you can spot in the movie and that - perhaps unexpectedly - remains unchanged to this day (as seen in a series of comparison shots in the book, including one taken by the Hammer art department showing their measuring stick in use!).

There’s a wonderful tearoom in the village too that’s part of the post office (also trebling up as the local store!) on the village square where an elderly couple, a single family and a weather-beaten farmer sipped at cups of tea and nibbled cakes on the day I visited.

In the centre of the village is an old church with an arched gate - just the right height for a horse and carriage to pass through and a stone monument too, that (if I didn’t know it was actually real) could almost have been placed there by the Hammer props department! I took a picture of the quite eerie village hall too that was short of windows the further round the building you went - just ripe for all kinds of secret goings-on. This village hall was actually used as the location for Heddaby School in 'The Witches', and today is mostly unchanged in appearance.

Despite its quaint nature, Hambleden does have its sinister secrets, and a few years ago the remains of newborn babies were found stored packed tightly inside cigarette cases in a local museum, where they had remained in storage for over 100 years (having been excavated from a sprawling and mysterious Roman villa site in the area). Some theories led to a suspicion that the villa was once the site of a brothel and the babies that resulted from the services rendered, were killed at birth. Other stranger speculation focused on a ‘mother goddess cult’ where having babies at a shrine earned you spiritual protection. The ones stored away were those that were stillborn. A carving on one of the bones that had been excavated was thought to indicate sacrifice of some kind, and while nothing has been proven conclusively - the mystery has rumbled on.

Surrounded by stunning, vibrant woodland and countryside, Hambleden village also has an old-fashioned pub - the ‘Stag and Huntsman’, with a separate darkened side bar that has its own door that doesn’t lead through to the more modern beer garden (with BBQ in full burn - with plenty of steak, but no other kind of stake, in evidence) or main bar (dotted with drinkers). Or lead anywhere in fact. The room is dark and dusty, even on a bright day, with an odd assortment of bottles and jars, books and farm equipment (perhaps), that aren’t fake or bought in big boxes like the kind of ornaments you may find in your local Wetherspoons.

This quiet, almost secretive side bar has a private feel, decidedly not for tourists, though I’m sure visitors would be welcome (although when I visited this particular side of the bar, the landlord mysteriously went missing from behind the counter and never came back!). It’s a room that feels unchanged over many decades, just like the butchers next door or the village hall round the corner or the house next to the village hall that has decidedly strange objects worthy of the Hammer prop department cluttering up on a window shelf (all rusted metal boxes and strange wood carvings covered in cobwebs and long-forgotten purpose). Or – if there is some kind of purpose, it may well be best not to let the visitors know until sunset, when the cackling starts, the cauldron boils and the locals meet in a circle in the hall around a strange occult symbol carved in stone at their feet.

Of course, I could be wrong. The objects could be childish toys that became boring, the side bar a modern extension dusted-up to look ancient, and the tearooms just for tourists with a pretend farmer from the local amateur dramatics group there once a week to make up the numbers.

I don’t think so though. The buildings here all burn quietly with history and age; the church stands proud and central to village life - and the pub room has the feel of a place that becomes full of chatter late at night; where local farmers and committee members after a meeting at the village hall go to talk about things that we (as strangers) don’t need to hear. Things needed to be discussed in the weekdays out of season when only the usual faces are left in the village, sitting down at those scuffed-oak tables with the froth of the local ale overflowing from the jug-handled glasses they’ve kept hidden behind the bar for at least a few decades or more.

That’s what Hammer horror films did to me as a boy. I grew up thinking the locations used in their films conveyed real history - were how rural villages in period settings used to be. I still do. I don’t know how accurate Hammer films were of place, setting and story in reality, not all the time anyway (and at the end of Hammer Films on Location book there’s a wonderful playful postscript from author Wayne Kinsey comparing ‘the real Transylvania’ with the Hammer version as seen in the films) - but I don’t really think accuracy matters. Hammer has its own kind of history and timespace where all locals are either buxom or brain-transplanted, where the beer is always flowing and where everyone meets for a bit of occult playtime and a brandy at the village Squire’s house at midnight. If that’s not accurate, I don’t care – I can visit the locations in this book and pretend.

But 'Hammer Films on Location' is also a book tinged with some sadness. Before and after comparison shots often show locations full of cast and crew and vibrant with life, alongside recent pictures of the same place where once proud buildings stood but are now no more; with only occasional ruins left as evidence, sometimes – if we are lucky - to the fact they were ever there at all. Trees, once proud and magnificent, now felled and stumps left in their place; beautiful willow trees overhanging rivers and lakes (evidence used as markers in on-set photos from when the Hammer crew came to visit) now no longer to be seen in the present day comparisons being made. Can a location develop a sense of ‘being alive’? I wondered this as I browsed through so many old photos in this book.

In some of the pictures taken in the days when the film crew stood alongside stars such as Cushing and Lee in these secret forest glades, the undergrowth seemed to be more alive and vibrant than it ever does in the modern day comparison shots. Is it just the sunlight playing tricks, or the fact that the film crew chose locations that were especially stunning at the time, locations clearly in bloom? Or could, (like houses left alone and unoccupied for years, with windows boarded-up and that, upon being discovered and having new owners move in, are often said to have a sense of sadness seeping through the walls when the doors are first opened) such places – old film locations – when we are no longer looking, get lonely too?

Just before work started on this book, there was a devastating fire at one of Hammer’s favourite locations (and an area I know and love too) - Frensham Common in Surrey. Owned by the National Trust, it’s an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; a Special Site of Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. It was used as a location for 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' as Dartmoor (the specific area is actually called ‘Vampire Flats’ but only named after an RAF Vampire jet that crashed there in 1948 - not anything to do with the Hammer vampire mythology!). The authors of this book are clearly devastated by the fire, and seeing the location post-damage, it affects them a great deal, reporting at the very start of the book that: “Frensham Common was the site of a dreadful fire which started at 13.50 on Sunday 11 July, 2010. More than 80 firemen, 23 fire engines and a police helicopter were sent out to combat the blaze as it rapidly swept through 200 acres of tinder-dry heathland. Trees were exploding and flames tore along the roots under the dry heath as the inferno took almost 48 hours to control, reducing the beauty spot to a scorched landscape etched by its many sand tracks”.

The chapter focusing on 'Hound of the Baskervilles' has a film still of Holmes’s (Peter Cushing) and Watson’s carriage on the heath along with a comparison shot today showing a burnt and barren landscape that looks more like a scene from an apocalyptic 'Planet of the Apes' movie, than a possible stand-in for the wilds of Dartmoor. As sad and angering as the damage is, you can’t help but think – ironically - that should a movie scene requiring such a devastated landscape ever be needed, this could be the place, at that point, to be. I asked myself, quietly, whether I was starting to think like a location scout from the Hammer Film Studios - and this when I was still only at Chapter Six!

Other reveals covered in the book include many of the missing or damaged Hammer locations - old friends, including the once famous Chelsea Drugstore (that Peter Cushing runs past in 'Dracula AD 1972') along London’s King’s Road that was once “..modelled on Le Drugstore on Boulevard St Germain in Paris. Inside customers would find bars, a chemist, newsstands, record stores and other concessions. A popular service was the ‘flying squad’ delivery service run by the store where purchases were delivered by young ladies in purple catsuits on flashy motorcycles”. Referenced in The Rolling Stones track, 'You Can’t Always Get What You Want', there is a comparison shot of what the building has become today – Big Mac and fries anyone?


Other equally notable historic locations, of their kind, such as Toddington Services on the M1 (as seen in 1971’s 'Fear in the Night' where Ralph Bates and Judy Geeson stop off for a bite to eat and probably a trip to the loo) are also no more – completely redeveloped and now dominated by a Burger King logo. The Shell Haven Oil Refinery where the giant steel domes grew alien lifeforms in 1956’s 'Quatermass 2' have also gone, demolished just a few years before work on this book commenced.
Perhaps even sadder is the difficult time the authors had trying to identify locations used in 1959’s 'Hell is a City', as the famous Arndale Centre had swallowed up many of the locations used for the movie, a situation further complicated by the rebuilding of the Centre following the IRA’s devastating bombing of the site in 1996.

Despite the loss of a number of distinctive Hammer landmarks to report back on and visit today, this book is more about survival than regret. We keep returning to many familiar locations and markers used in film after film, and by the end of the book, a willow tree by a pond or a roundabout or a road that familiarly dips or an old oak tree still standing are described almost as if they are old friends. Which to the reader, as well as the authors - they have now become. It’s an especially poignant description when a tree is often described as being “the same one as seen in a previous Hammer film at this location” but that now, in the present day comparison shots, appears much “taller” than the last time we saw it - almost as if they are like children that once played on the Hammer film set and who are now, like us; all grown up.

Finally, as the second part of my location visit inspired by this book (and there will be many more visits to come, pages already marked as places to go to) I headed to the scene of one of my favourite Hammer films; 1975’s 'To the Devil a Daughter' - Hammer’s final horror, until the recent revival that is. The ending of this film, with a nubile Nastassja Kinski menaced by a threatening, suitably demonic Christopher Lee, reached its climax at the Dashwood Mausoleum in West Wycombe Park.

The Mausoleum was built by local eccentric and all round bon viveur, Sir Francis Dashwood and now houses his - and his family’s - ashes. Dashwood’s good friend, and fellow Hellfire Club member, Paul Whitehead, left a directive for Sir Francis to be given his heart in an urn upon his death, and that the urn was to be kept in the Mausoleum. This unfortunate urn was stolen by an Australian soldier in the 18th Century, and the empty casket placed in the Hellfire Caves. The ghost of Whitehead is supposed to have haunted the caves and the village ever since. There is certainly an oppressive, eerie atmosphere both in the caves and on the hill where the Mausoleum overlooks the village and the area for many miles around - totally dominating the natural landscape.

Down in the Hellfire Caves...


My best Christopher Lee impression!
It’s the perfect location for Hammer to have chosen to shoot the climactic scenes of a film which had already taken in such modern day London locations as the Brompton Oratory, Tower Bridge and especially St Katherine’s Docks – an area that gives this film such a unique and refreshingly modern feel. At the Mausoleum, Kinski and Lee stand facing each other within these curved Portland stone and flint, Hellfire-hallowed walls to film an iconic, but undoubtedly controversial, scene. Kinski’s character Catherine has her innocence and life threatened by Lee’s Father Michael as he summons her towards him in a dark arts ceremony intended to unleash an ancient evil as planned from Catherine’s unnatural birth. Catherine’s protectors, among them Richard Widmark’s lead character of John Verney and Denholm Elliott’s Henry Beddows, have seemingly failed (in the case of the unlucky Henry Beddows - most certainly) and the girl walks towards the master of ceremonies, her robe falling away, amid the tall imposing walls of the Mausoleum - a place steeped in perfect forbidden legend and mythology for such a demonic ritual to take place.

When I think of the young Nastassja Kinski, standing there naked and vulnerable to the forces of black magic in the centre of Sir Francis Dashwood’s foreboding Mausoleum; immersed in the grip of Christopher Lee’s (who had a stunt double for his own nude scenes you may be relieved to know!) demonically conjured-up occult powers way back in 1976 (at the end of not just this movie, but at the end of Hammer’s long reign of horror too - a reign that had started, in full throttle, with 'The Curse of Frankenstein' some twenty years previously) - I suspect that, somewhere below the Hammer cast and crew scattered around the location that day, deep down in the Hellfire caves that sprawl beneath the Mausoleum itself, old Sir Francis and his followers were guffawing their fullest approval.

'Hammer Films on Location' is a work of undying love for what remains the greatest British film studio of all time and serves as a poem of remembrance to all those blood-drizzled woodlands or gore-drenched moors that Hammer carefully chose to immortalise their films with. Locations that gave every film Hammer made such a distinctive (and often deliciously countrifide) look - a Hammer film was like taking a walk in an idyllic park with the menace of horror right behind you and more than just your own footsteps on the path getting louder and louder. It was all that Hammer films ever needed to scare us to death with:  wood and woodsman,  carriage and cape, hound and moorland. Cushing and Lee. Hammer - horror.

I had the time of my life with this book and while it's one that will be read and adored most by Hammer fans it will also be loved too by adventurous ramblers, day-tripping families and local historians - as well as those looking to pursue a career in film production and location scouting! The amount of time devoted by the authors to rediscovering and identifying locations whose whereabouts have been, over the process of time, completely forgotten - is staggering. Working through clues using a process of Holmesian-like deduction, these elusive locations are reclaimed for Hammer fans to seek out and visit should they wish. Believe me - it's exciting to be there in person. To feel part of the Hammer history. Perhaps surprisingly, many of these places are often unspoilt, after so many years eager to be found, rather like Christopher Lee’s Dracula waiting to be resurrected at the start of many a Hammer vampire sequel. If you do visit any of these places though, keep them safe.

Some locations, of course, are still unknown - including the site of the climax of another of my favourite Hammer movies and certainly my favourite 'Dracula' (and perhaps my favourite location too) - 1973’s 'The Satanic Rites of Dracula'.

In this film, Lee’s Count and Cushing’s Van Helsing battle it out one last time in a modern-day setting that sees Dracula now sitting behind a desk in a darkened office (often hidden in silhouette behind a glaring lamp) instead of within the more familiar castle walls and Van Helsing armed with a handgun as well as the usual crucifix - just wonderful stuff! The film’s thrilling climax; the fight to death in the hawthorn bushes in which Lee claimed to have genuinely had his skin torn to shreds during filming, doesn’t have enough identifying features to reveal its location to the authors of the book other than it was likely to have been filmed “within the grounds of Pelham House and could have been anywhere without further clues”.

While nearly every other Hammer location is identified, this one still waits to be found. I have no doubt that before long the authors will complete such gaps, but until then - I can just imagine a glade in the woods where no visitor steps, that is heavy with the atmosphere of the climactic battle that sees Dracula defeated with a mesh of hawthorn branches lying bloodily across his face as Van Helsing stands over his old enemy (and his old friend in real life too, but never until after the cameras get switched off) - triumphant for one last time in their many climatic Hammer battles between good and evil. The classic Hammer horror era as good as ended here as it did anywhere else, in that Cushing and Lee had the best sendoff; the most loving farwell, of all.

One last elusive Hammer location. Kept secret. Perhaps forever. There’s a part of me that’s on the side of that unknown hawthorn bush, the one that just may have had the last laugh. The one that knows it will never be found...


~ Remembering Peter Cushing, born May 26, 1913 ~

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer/ 2012

With thanks to David Flint at STRANGE THINGS ARE HAPPENING and all the team at PEVERIL PUBLISHING!


No comments:

Post a Comment