Originally a two-part TV documentary screened by the BBC in 1994, Flesh and Blood has been reformatted and expanded by its director Ted Newsom to a mammoth two-and-half-hour running time and is still as captivating as ever.
Narrated by Hammer veterans Peter Cushing (the recording was mere months before his passing) and Christopher Lee, it tells you everything you need to know about the history of the famous British film studio. There’s plenty of interview footage from those who made the films - from both in front and behind the scenes - and this newly extended version contains more film clips. The original version ran about one-hour-forty-minutes and movie footage was made up of mainly public domain trailer clips, so the quality was poor, to say the least. That’s been remedied here, but those who remember the first version will be pleased to hear that the rarer footage - filmed on-set of Frankenstein Created Woman and Dracula Prince of Darkness is all present and correct.
Key players in the Hammer story are all present and correct: head honchos Michael Carreras and Anthony Hinds (whose father was the original ‘Hammer’), scriptwriter/director Jimmy Sangster, directing legend Val Guest and cinematographer Freddie Francis are amongst the heavy hitters. Actors such as Hazel Court, Caroline Munro, Veronica Carlson, and David Prowse reminisce with rose-tinted glasses, while Carreras (who had also died by the time the original version aired) and Hinds are brutally frank about the struggles to keep everything going.
Cushing’s narration is occasionally heartbreaking as we can hear how frail he had become (he’d been suffering from prostate cancer), but he still manages to bring his very special spark to the clinical but informative script.
Another change in this version of the doc is its presentation in 16:9 widescreen rather than the 4:3 TV standard it was filmed in. We were concerned by this, as we’ve seen too many ‘stretched’ and ugly-looking botch jobs over the years. We’re happy to report that it’s been handled very well here, with nothing important lost in the cropped sections. The quality of the interview footage, however, does betray the source material. With many of the clips coming from now vintage videotape, it’s a real mixed bag. An effort has been made to clean up the image and sound and make it a more even affair, but considering that many of the interviewees are no longer with us, it’s fantastic that the extracts exist at all. Notably missing, however, are actors Michael Ripper (who appeared in more of the studio’s films than anyone) and Barbara Shelley, but we can only assume this oversight was due to lack of available coverage.
Added (and feeling rather tacked on) is mention of the modern incarnation of the company (including soundbites from one of the current owners), but modern history is of little consequence when one has such a legacy to look back on.
Whether you know the Hammer story inside and out or not, this is a wonderfully entertaining run through the ups and downs of one of the UK’s biggest film exports.
FLESH AND BLOOD: THE HAMMER HERITAGE OF HORROR / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: TED NEWSOM / STARRING: PETER CUSHING, CHRISTOPHER LEE, ROY WARD BAKER, VAL GUEST, ANTHONY HINDS, MICHAEL CARRERAS / RELEASE DATE: JULY 30TH