Last Bus to Bray vol 1
Last Bus to Bray vol 2
LAST BUS TO BRAY
The Unfilmed Hammer
Compiled by Glen Davies
Review by David Kerekes
Entertainment is like a job in a factory, on a production line to help carry it along. In order to run, the production line needs to balance the creative process with hard finance, which results in some residual waste when the balance goes awry. The business of films is no different, except that the production line is a lot longer and more prone to breakdown. Ideas fall off it that never make it to the screen.
So it is with Hammer Films, the British film studio that dominated horror and fantasy for three decades, through the fifties to the seventies. Hammer worked to a successful formula in that they managed to offset their budgetary constraints with a team of fine actors and technicians and a style that is timeless. A smattering of their landmark productions include: The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, X the Unknown, The Mummy, The Devil Rides Out, The Plague of the Zombies, Vampire Circus and The Abominable Snowman.
But for every picture that bore the Hammer name, there are many other projects that failed. Glen Davies has done a commendable job and collected the latter into a book.
Last Bus to Bray: the Unfilmed Hammer tells a chronological story of another Hammer, the Hammer that exists only in lost promise. The book is a history of the projects that slipped through the fingers of the studio, commencing with an aborted Dick Barton film in the late 1940s and concluding with the mooted projects of the new Hammer in 2010. The films of Hammer cover different genres, not just horror, but it's with horror they are typecast and indeed most fondly remembered. By the time horror was in decline in the seventies, the studio was unable to spring free of the terminal spiral in which it found itself. Chairman Michael Carreras was disappointed the studio wasn't able to branch out, but the irony is that Hammer's failures in horror are now more entertaining to read about than, say, their sitcom spinoffs are to watch.
There are some relatively well known unmade Hammer titles, thanks to posters by exemplary Hammer artist, Tom Chantrell. Zeppelin v Pterodactyls, Mistress of the Seas and Savage Jackboot are examples of films that exist only as posters. Some projects are the mere scraps of ideas, or are mapped out as shooting scripts, while others got as far as preproduction before collapsing. Nessie had the backing of David Frost, no less, when a deal with Toho went sour and he pulled out. Vampirella, based on the horror comic published by James Warren, had Peter Cushing and Barbara Leigh signed to star, and a publicity junket in full swing when Hammer fell out with Warren over issues of merchandising.
There is plenty more. The glorious sounding Vlad the Impaler (an epic of Biblical dimensions that Ken Russell didn't much care for), The Satanist (Christopher Lee and possibly Orson Welles in another adaptation of a Dennis Wheatley novel) and, my own favourite, Kali Devil Bride of Dracula (Van Helsing meets the lord of the undead for the first time, in India), as well as much for TV that failed to materialise (the series Moulin Rouge was to devote each of its thirteen episodes to a familiar face of the Parisian cabaret).
There has been some online debate concerning the production quality of this book, which cannot be ignored in a review of it. The book is split into two volumes (one covers the glory years of 1950-1970, and the other, the decline, fall and rebirth of 1970-2010), each volume resembling the size and format of the Lorrimer film books of the seventies. Neither volume is much over 100 pages, nor can they be purchased separately, so why two volumes?
I admire publisher Dick Klemenen's own Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine. It always looks great. Last Bus to Bray by contrast doesn't look great. It's awkwardly laid out and the text is riddled with typos. Dick Klemensen accepts all responsibility for the way the book looks and reads, while the reason for two volumes, he says, is a shortcoming on the part of the printers. Personally, I wish it was one volume, that it was better laid out and had been satisfactorily proofed. But I really don't care to knock the book too much. Whatever your opinion of unfilmed Hammer, Last Bus to Bray is a one-off; a unique and fanatical work on a wonderfully ephemeral subject.
[An interview with the author, Glen Davies, appears in HEADPRESS 2.4]
Last Bus to Bray
The Unfilmed Hammer
Compiled by Glen Davies
Published by Dick Klemensen, 2010
Little Shoppe of Horrors
3213 48th Place
Des Moines, Iowa 50310-2606 USA