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This book is obviously exceptionally relevant to my interests! The main body works its way through each of the sixteen vampire films made by Hammer from the 1950s to '70s, covering the production process for each one followed by commentary on the story itself, its themes and its cultural resonances. It also sets the Hammer films themselves into the wider context of the evolving vampire genre through opening and closing chapters on screen vampires before and after their heyday, as well as references to related contemporary productions in the main chapters.

The source material is a combination of other published work (contemporary reviews and publicity, more recent books on Hammer, its stars and its productions) and interviews conducted directly by Hallenbeck himself over the years - often for his articles in the occasional horror magazine Little Shoppe of Horrors. Because I spend most of my time reading academic books, I struggled a bit initially with the fact that the publications Hallenbeck had used weren't properly referenced (e.g. via footnotes), but their authors and titles are provided in the text and / or in a bibliography at the back of the book, so I eventually realised that they were all traceable - it's just that actually doing so would require a bit more digging than it might have done. In fact, this book is as well-researched as could reasonably be expected given that it isn't aspiring to academic levels of rigour and support.

I didn't feel I'd got a great deal out of either the opening or the closing chapters, basically because of what they were taking on - giving a bird's-eye overview of a large number of films in a short number of pages. It was never going to be possible to say anything very original about them in that context, so most of it I already knew or could have read on the relevant Wikipedia pages if I didn't. But the main chapters have a lot of interest and detail to offer, even for someone like me coming to them with a very good knowledge of these films already, while Hallenbeck's commentaries on the stories are good at drawing out the themes and dynamics at work within them.

Some points I found particularly interesting follow below:

In re the references to vampirism as a survival of an ancient pagan cult in Brides of Dracula, Hallenbeck says that producer Anthony Hinds 'professed himself to be enamoured' with pagan religion (p. 64). This rings true from the content of several of the films he was involved in, which certainly reflect a prurient thrill around paganism, but it's one of the statements in the book which isn't properly referenced - it might come from an interview in Little Shoppe of Horrors #10/11 which is listed in the bibliography, but that isn't fully clear, and Google isn't bringing up anything much to support it. That's annoying, because I'd like to know more about it.

Hallenbeck cites interviews with both Andree Melly (Gina in Brides, p. 63) and Barbara Shelley (Helen in Prince of Darkness, p. 94) saying that they were explicitly encouraged by Terence Fisher to play up the lesbian connotations of their lines after they have been transformed into vampires (respectively, "Put you arms around me, please - I want to kiss you Marianne" and "You don't need... Charles"). As he points out, Hammer later moved on to entirely explicit lesbian vampirism with The Vampire Lovers (1970), but it's interesting to know that it was consciously and deliberately being slipped past the censors in subtextual form as early as Brides (1960).

Shelley further states (same page) that to prepare for her role as a vampire, and particularly to lend herself the required air of 'evil and decadence', she drew on the days when she 'used to study the old Greek dramas and studied the use of that sort of feeling of the Furies'. Very interesting indeed to see her instinctively turning to classical archetypes there, in a markedly similar way to Bram Stoker, John Polidori and more.

Hallenbeck isn't a big fan of Dracula AD 1972 himself, but he gives it a fair write-up, and I was fascinated to note that this included multiple references to good reviews which came out on its original release. This isn't to say there were also some pretty luke-warm ones, but Variety liked its slick script and fast pace, and Films and Filming thought it had a fresh cast playing against a background of quality (both p. 163). That's interesting, because less fair-minded contemporary commentators tend to foster the impression that it was widely received as an ill-conceived mis-step even on first release (as opposed to dating quickly, which is a different matter), but that obviously isn't entirely true. It was also clear by this point in Hallenbeck's book how much Hammer's real problems in this period stemmed from struggling to get proper promotion and distribution for their films - i.e. if audiences were slipping away, it's partly because they simply didn't know about or couldn't access new releases, rather than necessarily because they hated them (though I realise that if audiences had remained really keen, the distributors would have been sure to cater to them).

He's not a great fan of Vampire Circus (1972) either, the difference there being that this time I agree with him (LJ / DW)! Indeed, he introduces it thus: 'The vampire as child-molester. If that sounds like a distasteful idea, it was only one of the many in Hammer's Vampire Circus...' That's without even mentioning the supposed monster attacking people in the woods which is actually quite clearly a sock-puppet. Hallenbeck's behind-the-scenes details do cast quite a bit of light on why I didn't much enjoy it, though - e.g. I noted in my review that this was director Robert Young's first film, and he was clearly a bit out of his depth, and Hallenbeck fleshes this out by explaining the time-pressures and poor communication from the producer and head office which exacerbated the problem.

Beyond those points, I obviously generally enjoyed revisiting and expanding my knowledge of the Dracula films, and also came away feeling I must (in most cases re-)watch their other non-Dracula films (apart from Vampire Circus and Captain Kronos, both of which I've seen already within the last few years). As luck would have it, the one I want to see most, Kiss of the Vampire, was on the Horror Channel yesterday, so I now have that safely recorded and ready to enjoy in the full light of Hallenbeck's commentary. It's definitely one I'll keep taking down from the shelf as I revisit these films over the years.

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    Ciao caro.
    Ho ascoltato la canzone Domine Salvum Fac su youtube. Ripete la parola Domine due volte dopo che segue Salvum Fac e non capisco oltre. Ma mi sembra che il testo non corrisponda del tutto…
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    Yes, that's it. Just having someone in charge who isn't actively making things worse for the world is a big relief.
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    There are many, many doubts and worries. But still, there is an enormous rock of anguish that has been weighting on my soul since the first days after that monster's election which has now lifted.
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