Book Review: The Art of Hammer

As I said in my review of the coffee-table book The Art of Drew Struzan, the art of creating movie posters is something that’s been lost in recent decades, with that decline speeding up in the last decade or so as studios gravitate toward photographs that are mashed together or altered slightly to look more artistic. That shift is unfortunate since poster creation used to be an art-form but is now just one more place to fulfill some sort of contractual obligation.

The new book The Art of Hammer shows that off in its own unique way.

If you’re not familiar with the legendary Hammer Films you really need to be. Through the middle six or seven decades of the 20th century the studio turned out movie after movie that was designed to shock and amaze the audience. Most commonly associated, at least at first, with “B-movies” the studio churned out a lot of science fiction and noir drama before finding its most well known identity in the 1950s as the “House of Horror,” producing countless takes on classic horror characters such as Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster as well as many other stories, many of which starred either Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee.

The Art of Hammer collects the posters for about 100 movies produced by Hammer Films between 1950 and 1979, the three decades where the studio was really swinging for the fences and the artwork on display is fun and fascinating to explore.

As the introduction states, the purpose of the art featured on the posters was not, in many cases, to accurately reflect the plot, characters or setting of the movies it was selling. So there in the notes to many of these posters there are explanations that nowhere in the film does this or that image or character appear, despite the prominence it’s given in the design. Sometimes that’s done just because the image on the poster is more alluring and sensational and so is more likely to bring people into the theaters. Other times that’s because the poster is being produced well before the movie is produced and is based only on rough plot points.

Because the posters over the years were produced by various artists there’s no consistent theme to the works on display here or single evolution in style that’s apparent. But there are still some common themes that are notable in the works here.

The artists never missed an opportunity to use the image of a woman screaming, generally while wearing something revealing. How much is revealed changes over time and reflects societal shifts. So in the 1950s a female might be wearing an extremely low cut dress with a slit up the side of the dress revealing her leg. Then in the late 60s or 70s she’s wearing an extremely skimpy bathing suit or some sort of tattered clothing that covers barely anything.

As some of the notes also point out there was a shift in the lat 60s and into the 70s to include more day-glo pop art colors in a nod to the psychedelic goings on in the youth at the time. Contrast that to the two or three colors used on many of the earlier posters, many of which were muted or used very sparingly as backgrounds for the black-and-white people in the foreground.

The artwork on display in the book is going to be appreciated most deeply by those with a love either of the films Hammer produced in this time period or of movie poster design in general and would make a fantastic gift this Christmas season for someone in either of those categories. It’s a great collection of a specific portion of movie marketing history that is worth capturing for its genuine sincerity in how the studio approached selling its movies.

You can buy The Art of Hammer (affiliate link) at Amazon.

(Disclosure: This is based on a review copy I received from the publisher at no charge. My thanks to Titan Books for sending that to me so I could check it out.)

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