Today’s generation say they prefer the Hammer pictures because they left a great deal to the imagination. There was no foul language, no gratuitous violence and, in the end, good always triumphed over evil.
~ Peter Cushing
In March 1995, a new monster magazine launched — the UK-based “Hammer Horror”.
Issue #1 (which someday I hope I’m lucky enough to own!) featured a delightful 6-page look at horror’s hero, the inimitable Peter Cushing.
Published a year after his death, Hammer Horror #1 worked a little Frankenstein magic, combining quotes and images to create a compelling look into the world of horror, as told through the eyes of its (arguably) greatest star.
Whoever uploaded these magazine scans online, this fan of Hammer horror thanks you. I’ve highlighted a few of my favourite quotes, but click on any image to view a larger version so it’s easier to read the rest.
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Peter Cushing — The Hammer Years
Hammer Horror Magazine #1, March 1995
Van Helsing was sort of like a salesman for crucifixes.
I read the book when I knew I was going to play the character… and discovered that Stoker had described him [Van Helsing] as a little old Dutchman with a bald head and sporting a small beard. Therefore, all the production team got together and decided that it would be better to inject more vigour into the character. So I played the part more or less as myself.
My first spell of duty as Sherlock Holmes occurred when the Hammer production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was made. Tony Hinds, the producer, said how professional I was to have lost weight especially to portray the gaunt detective. I’m afraid I hadn’t been as conscientious as all that – ‘it was Spain what done it!’ — I’d been out there making “John Paul Jones”, and a bout of mild dysentery had fined me down.
When I saw the posters advertising the film [“The Mummy”] I noticed that Christopher Lee, who was playing the name part, had a large hole in his diaphragm with a beam of light passing through it, which was never referred to in the script, so I enquired how it got there. ‘Oh,’ said the publicity man, ‘that’s just to help sell the picture.’ Oh, I thought – that’s just not on. John Banning (my part) was attacked by Kharis, the mummy, so I asked [director Terence Fisher] if I could grab a harpoon hanging on the wall of Banning’s study and during the struggle for survival, drive it clear through my opponent’s body. And that’s what I did, thus giving some logic to the illuminated gap depicted on the posters.
In Rider Haggard’s “She”, I had to ride a camel. Now that is a mode of transport I do not recommend to the uninitiated, especially when that capricious quadruped takes it into its mulish head to sit down and/or get up, which was all too often my experience. That was not an achievement which has proved handy in later life, as I cannot quite see myself perched perilously on top of a hump, jogging down Whitstable High Street to The Tudor Tea Rooms for an afternoon snack, shopping-bag clenched between my teeth. Anyway, where would I park the brute?
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One of the things I most admire about Cushing is that he wasn’t just a superb actor who could believably and sympathetically bring to life any character he was playing. He had a creative technical eye, and paid attention to the details.
In Horror of Dracula (1958), the most memorable scene is at the end when Van Helsing runs along the refectory table, jumps onto the curtains and rips them down, exposing Dracula to the sunlight. He then uses two candlesticks to make the sign of the cross, trapping the vampire demon in a rather fiery predicament. It’s amazing, one of the great moments in cinematic horror history… and it wouldn’t have happened if Peter Cushing hadn’t suggested it.
And it was Cushing who questioned the depiction of a dramatic lightning bolt on the poster for Hammer’s “The Mummy” (1959) when such an effect wasn’t present in the film.
As we read in the article, once again it was Cushing whose practical-yet-dramatic sensibilities led to the inclusion of a scene to provide continuity between the advertisement and the actual film.
I think he realized that viewers aren’t stupid — they can and do pick up on such inconsistencies, and that ignoring the details hurts the film.
Much like his genre contemporary, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing gave 110% to every film he worked on. It didn’t matter how bad the script was, Cushing always delivered something he could be proud of. And it was his commitment to always go above and beyond which has cemented his place among the truly great stars — not just in the realm of horror, but film in general.
Until next time, unpleasant dreams . . .
“If only it was the picture that was to grow old, and I remain young. There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t give for that. Yes, I would give even my soul for it.”
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)