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Hammer’s dracula

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Abstract

Several years ago, I received a strange request from England’s Heritage Lottery Fund, the body which distributes ‘good cause’ lottery money to national heritage projects.1 Would I comment on an application for funding to house in a museum a large collection of artefacts associated with Hammer horror films — mainly ‘special effects makeup’, the Phil Leakey and Roy Ashton collections — from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s? There was a detailed inventory in the package that included some ‘dental appliances with a reservoir of blood, operated by the actor’s tongue’ from Dracula (1958), eye inserts, a ‘box of rubber noses and oriental eye pieces’, moulds for scars, plaster-cast heads of Christopher Lee and Peter Gushing, prostheses and make-up boxes including the ingredients of Kensington Gore (fake blood), plus assorted pen-and-pencil sketches, pilot-drawings, character designs, production photos, scrap-books, press cuttings and documents. The main focus of the collection was on films from The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) to The Reptile (1965). Did they, or did they not, deserve to be considered part of the national heritage? Were they ‘national’ or an offshore product of Hollywood? What was their ‘historical importance’? What was their cultural impact? And their effect on the post-war British film industry?