Little Shoppe of Horrors: Still the same home of Hammer horror
Everyone who knows horror knows Hammer Studios. If they don’t, they should.
For its most fervent fans, Hammer is horror.
The British studio, which specialized in Gothic horror and science-fiction from the 1950s through the 1970s, left in its wake a cinematic legacy that may never be equaled, much less surpassed. Just ask its fans. Just take a look at Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, Quatermass and the Pit, Brides of Dracula, The Gorgon or Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed!
Or just pick up the latest issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, the premiere “fanzine” devoted to Hammer horror and the golden era of British fantasy cinema. For 37 years, LSoH (as it’s referred to by “Shoppe regulars”) has offered a thorough account of Hammer’s films, good and bad… and those in-between — both with a sharp eye for detail and an unmistakable affection for the result.
Since its inception, Little Shoppe of Horrors has been the brainchild of editor/publisher/writer and all-around Hammer fan Richard Klemensen, the “Shoppe-Keeper.” In an exclusive interview with YES! Weekly that certainly fits the bill as a Halloween special, Klemensen — no boogeyman he — shared his thoughts on Hammer and horror and all things scary.
“Dracula Has Risen from the Grave was the one that made me a real fan and made the study of the films my passion and life-long interest,” he recalls. “I was knocked out by the memorable James Bernard score and the kick-ass demise of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, impaled on the cross. I was hooked forever.”
Having written a humor magazine in his teens, Klemensen began tooling around with the idea of a magazine devoted to Hammer horror.
“The first few issues were crudely done but grew in looks and content as I got more directly involved with British performers and production people in England,” he says. “Over the years, we’ve interviewed well over 200 people involved with Hammer Films and British horror productions.”
Klemensen, who recently celebrated issue No. 23 and birthday No. 62, makes his home in Des Moines, Iowa, proving once and for all that Hammer’s appeal knows no geographic bounds.
“Fantasy, much more than horror, defines the Hammer appeal,” he observes. “[The films capture] a time that probably never existed in the Neverland of a Transylvaniatype setting. They capture a mood, a feeling. You could just ’feel’ a Hammer film.”
The magazine has provided an outlet for a number of gifted writers and correspondents, including Ted Newsom (a friend of this reporter’s, which is why his name comes first), Denis Meikle, David Del Valle, Bruce G. Hallenbeck, Philip Nutman and the late Bill Kelley, to name a few. Each has brought a unique insight into Hammer that adds to the overwhelming comprehensiveness of each issue. That’s the goal, according to Klemensen.
The most recent issue, published at the beginning of this month to properly ring in the Halloween season, offers an in-depth look at the making of Plague of the Zombies and The Reptile, both made in 1966 and designed as second features. Over the years, however, the two films (both directed, back-to-back, by John Gilling) have gained in reputation as mini-classics. The 100-page issue features exclusive and extensive interviews, rare production photos, critical analysis and original artwork. It’s everything you could ever want to know about either film, but were afraid to ask… or just simply afraid!
A number of notables worked at Hammer during its heyday, both in front of and behind the cameras. The studio provided an early boost to the careers of Oliver Reed, Simon Ward, Stephanie Beacham and Jon Finch, but the two names most often linked to Hammer were Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, arguably the top screen (or scream) team in film history. In a series of films produced by Hammer, Cushing made the roles of Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing his own, and Lee — still going strong at age 86 and recently knighted by the Queen of England — is widely regarded as the greatest Count Dracula ever.
Needless to say, both actors have been prominent in many LSoH issues, and Klemensen has had the good fortune to befriend many Hammer alumni, including makeup artists Roy Ashton and Phil Leakey; actresses Ingrid Pitt, Veronica Carlson, Yutte Stensgaard and Suzan Farmer; actor Ralph Bates; director Terence Fisher; composers James Bernard and Harry Robinson; production personnel Hugh and Pauline Harlow; and many others. To say that Klemensen has lived every Hammer fan’s dream is an understatement. Through the magazine, he has brought many of Hammer’s classic horrors back from the dead (so to speak).
“What I do find disappointing is so many of the older Hammer production people and performers are gone now,” he laments, “and there are certain films we haven’t or may not be able to tackle because there are no new materials, interviews, photos, etc. with which to do them justice.”
That’s a principal reason that Little Shoppe of Horrors is only published once or twice a year. In addition, holding down a full-time job (in auto-parts distribution) and being a family man (Klemensen has two grown sons, five grandchildren, and is happily married to wife Nancy, who aids and abets publication of the magazine) sometimes takes precedence. If he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it right.
Over the years, there have been numerous ownership changes and just as numerous attempts to resurrect the Hammer name. At long last, these attempts seem to have found fruition. Earlier this year, Hammer Film Productions produced the thriller The Resident, starring Oscar winner Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Oh, yes, and Christopher Lee’s in it, too.
Trying to recapture the Hammer magic brings to mind the old adages of catching lightning in a bottle and of lightning striking twice … “I like the idea that there still is a Hammer, and I hope their films are successful,” says Klemensen, “but the Hammer we knew and loved is gone, and will never be back.”
Nevertheless, someone’s got to carry the torch, and it’s Klemensen’s lifework to keep Little Shoppe of Horrors fired up for Hammer fans both present and future.
“Every time I think I’m not going to have enough material, I end up with more than I can use,” says Klemensen. “I have a number of pieces lined up for the future. So as long as there is demand and my health holds up, I think I have things well into the future.”
For more information about Little Shoppe of Horrors, or to order copies directly (the best way to go), check out the official website: www.littleshoppeofhorrors.com.
Tell ‘em you read about it in YES!
Weekly — and that it scared you!