CFP: Hammer Film Productions: A Laboratory for Modern Horror

June 10-12, 2015.

Organizing committee: Gilles Menegaldo, Université de Poitiers, gilles.menegaldo@univ-poitiers.fr ; Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris, Université Paris Ouest,, apaquet-deyris@u-paris10.fr, Mélanie Boissonneau, Université Paris 3/IRCAV, boissonneau.m@gmail.com

Venues: Wednesday 10 June : Université Paris Ouest Nanterre, Thursday 11 June : Université Paris 3- Sorbonne Nouvelle, Censier Center, Friday 12 June: Cité Internationale, Fondation Lucien Paye

The recent re-edition of the famous French magazine Midi-Minuit Fantastique (Rouge Profond), recent DVD and BluRay editions of Hammer films and the revival of Hammer Film Productions in 2007—all call for a re-assessment of the role played by this independent British studio which, twenty years after Universal, gave new life to the mythical figures of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy and the Werewolf through modern incarnations more in tune with the evolution of social trends in Great Britain.

Hammer studios were created in 1934 by Enrique Carreras and William Hinds. After a modest beginning in which a distinct style could already be noted, especially in science fiction films like Four Sided Triangle (Terrence Fisher, 1953) and The Quatermass Xperiment (Val Guest, 1955), the studio had its first major hits with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958), both directed by Terence Fisher and starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, all of whom left an indelible mark on the genre. From 1955 to 1979, the studio produced approximately 150 films and two successful TV series in various genres: science fiction, exotic adventures such as The Stranglers of Bombay (Terence Fisher, 1959), comedy, war films and crime dramas. But the company quickly became associated with the horror genre and the recycling of Gothic figures that have now become modern myths.

The cultural and aesthetic homogeneity of Hammer films has, for one, much to do with the fact that they are often based on Victorian novels. This coherence is also due to collaborations between directors, composers, cinematographers, and costume and production designers. Terence Fisher is generally considered to be the company’s most emblematic filmmaker, having directed five instalments of Frankenstein (1957, 1958, 1967, 1969, 1974), three of Dracula (1958, 1960, 1966), as well as The Mummy (1959), The Hound of the Baskerville (1959), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961) an The Phantom of the Opera (1962). Other directors who have gained some recognition include Freddie Francis, John Gilling with The Reptile (1966) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and Peter Sasdy. Jimmy Sangster, who wrote The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula and The Mummy among other films, is probably the most famous screenwriter. Jack Asher was often in charge of the film’s flamboyant cinematography, Jack Asher of production design, James Bernard of music. Though the narratives often favour the male characters, much of the films’ success stems from their “scream queens,” like Barbara Shelley, Ingrid Pitt, Veronica Carlson, Martine Beswick, Valerie Gaunt and Carol Marsh, who are usually limited to the parts of victims. Indeed, the films exploited both violence and eroticism, in spite of censorship. Thus, one of the aims of this conference will be to determine the specificity of the Hammer style.

This conference invites speakers to reconsider the history of Hammer Films. Various periods will be examined and the assumption that the Bray studio of the 1960s represents the company’s golden age will be interrogated. The appearance of similar albeit smaller companies like Amicus and Tigon or of brief horror film cycles in British cinema will be considered. Scholars can resort to various theoretical and methodological frameworks to analyse the films: film history, semiotics, psychoanalysis, gender studies, postcolonial studies, acting and performance studies, etc. The question of the films’ reception in Great Britain and around the world will be central, along with the matter of censorship—e.g., the “Japanese versions” of Horror of Dracula (1958). The conference will also involve individuals who collaborated with the studios (actors, technicians), journalists and other people who helped Hammer films gain recognition. The conference will also feature screenings and round table discussions.

Below are some of the aspects that can be dealt with:

  • the major mythical figures and their evolution (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.)
  • themes and motifs: the mad scientist, witchcraft, the family, figures of (legal, scientific, religious) power, etc.
  • the relationship between the films and their context, notably the 1960s
  • the representation of the Victorian era and the colonial empire
  • the representation and function of women in the narratives
  • modes of transgression and forms of repression
  • symbolic systems, recurrent metaphors
  • aesthetics: set design, camerawork, colour, editing, music and soundtrack
  • Hammer stars and acting strategies
  • the recycling or parodying of the Hammer touch in films produced by Aardman studios or Roger Corman, or in the films of Mario Bava, Roman Polanski, Tim Burton, etc.
  • comparative studies between Hammer films and successful British horror films like The Innocents (Jack Clayton, 1961), Burn, Witch Burn (Sidney Hayers, 1962), Don’t Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973), etc.
  • Hammer productions that do not belong to the horror or Fantastic genres
  • the new Hammer productions of the 2000s

Scientific committee: Mélanie Boissonneau (IRCAV), Laurent Jullier (Nancy, IRCAV), Gilles Menegaldo (Poitiers), Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris (Paris Ouest Nanterre), David Roche (Université Toulouse 2 Jean Jaurès)

Proposals in English or French, including title, 300-word abstract, selected bibliography and author blurb, should be sent by February 20th, 2015 to:

Mélanie Boissonneau: boissonneau.m@gmail.com, Gilles Menegaldo: gilles.menegaldo@wanadoo.fr, Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris: paquet.deyris@yahoo.fr, David Roche: mudrock@neuf.fr

Selected Bibliography

Barnett, Vincent L. “Hammering Out a Deal.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 34.2 (June 2014): 231-52.

Bigorgne, David. “Un Goût Hammer.” CinémAction 112 “Le Surhomme à l’écran” (2004): 132-41.

Bourgoin, Stéphane. Terence Fisher. Paris: Édilig, 1984.

Caen Michel, Stanzick Nicolas, Midi-Minuit Fantastique, intégrale augmentée, vol. 1, Pertuis, Rouge profond, 2014.

Coe, Jonathan. “Hammer’s Cozy Violence.” Sight and Sound 6.8 (August 1996): 10-13.

Dixon, Wheeler Winston. The Charm of Evil: The Life and Films of Terence Fisher. Metuchen, N.J. and London: Scarecrow Press, 1991.

—. “The End of Hammer.” Seventies British Cinema. Ed. Robert Shail. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. 14-24.

Forshaw, Barry. British Gothic Cinema. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Gaffez, Fabien. “En nous les anomalies du monde : Touches sur la Hmmer Films.” Positif 553 (March 2007): 76-80.

Hearn, Marcus. Hammer Glamour. London: Titan Books, 2009.

Hearn, Marcus and Alan Barnes. The Hammer Story: The Authorised History of Hammer Films. London: Titan Books, 2007.

Huckvale, David. Touchstones of Gothic Horror. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

—. Hammer Films’ Psychological Thrillers. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014.

Hutchings, Peter. Hammer and Beyond: The British Horror Film. Manchester and New York: Manchester UP, 1993.

Kinsey Wayne, Hammer Films, The Bray Studios Years, Reynold and Hearn, London, 2002.

Kinsey, Wayne. Hammer Films: A Life in Pictures. Sheffield: Tomahawk Press, 2008.

Meikle, Denis and Chrostopher T. Koetting. A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009.

Rolinson, Dave and Nick Cooper. “‘Bring Something Back’: The Strange Career of Professor Bernard Quatermass.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 30.3 (Fall 2002): 158-65.

Stanzick, Nicolas. Dans les griffes de la Hammer. Lormont: Le Bord de l’eau, 2010.

Wilson, Brian. “Notes on a Radical Tradition: Subversive Ideological Applications in the Hammer Horror Films.” CineAction 72 (October 2008): 53-57.

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