WARNER BROS (WILLIAMS)
The End of HoH
Artist Bill Phillips returned as cover artist this issue, beautifully spotlighting our long-overdue comic strip adaptation of Brian Clemens’ Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1973).
We’d produced a sequel to the film across our first three issues, so it was about time we adapted the real thing!
We couldn’t get our hands on the release poster for the film, so as our History of Hammer series had made it to 1958, we ran the exquisite Belgian poster for that year’s Revenge of Frankenstein. Now having seen the Kronos poster (below, both the North American quad and the UK one sheet), I think we made the right choice anyway!
As well as writer Steve Moore and artist Steve Parkhouse’s adaptation of the film (below), Van Helsing’s Terror Tales featured the welcome return of artist Pat Wright as Steve Parkhouse made a second comics appearance this month, but this time as writer of “The Hounds of Hell” (below, right).
Here’s one for trivia hounds. We were apparently much faster than I’d anticipated in sorting out the US title problem. While my memo on the previous page suggested there may not be a US edition of #20, there was! And adding to the confusion for collectors, a strange hybrid it was at that.
While the UK issue was printed with the House of Horror title, a US edition was distributed, but with the new Halls of Horror cover logo (see visual right).
Obviously I’d no way of knowing when producing this issue (under any title!) how little time we had left, how soon the axe would fall. But it’s interesting looking back at this issue’s editorial some of the fascinating things we had planned for future issues…things which were never to happen.
On the comics adaptation side, I had added a new writer. America’s Doug Moench would hopefully have been better received than artists Neal Adams and Dick Giordano had in issue 18. He’d won the Eagle award in 1977 for his Master of Kung Fu scripts at Marvel Comics while he had also been a prolific contributor to DC’s Batman titles. Despite it never being drawn up at the time, his script is still here in a filing cabinet waiting for such a day! Interesting also that the promised artists were a combination of John Bolton and Pat Wright. I felt their art styles would mesh well and a combination would mean a quicker turnaround.
I’d also sent a script to one of the UK’s absolute top comics artists, John M Burns. Brian Lewis and I would meet up with him every month for the Society of Strip Illustration lunchtime booze-ups and he was secretly envious of the awards and increased profile Brian’s work in HoH had achieved, so he happily agreed to accept the challenge. Renowned for his work on TV strips for Look-In, his black and white Modesty Blaise newspaper strip and much more, John (below, with examples of his work) would have been a perfect addition.
Hammer’s own Chris Wicking also took to writing for us, with his initial script being an adaptation of Hammer’s Revenge of Frankenstein for artist Paul Neary. In fact he was intending to handle much more, as Chris and I spent many a lunchtime discussing how we would produce link stories between Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein films.
Why links? Because by publishing the adaptations we were creating an easily accessible permanent record of all the inconsistencies that sequels threw up, something not noticeable when watching films a few years apart at the cinema! What inconsistencies you may ask. How about where Dracula’s manservant Klove so suddenly and conveniently appearing, enabling him to bring back his master at the start of Dracula, Prince of Darkness? Or just how did the Baron survive the guillotine at the end of Curse of Frankenstein? And just who did provide Shandor with the lowdown on how to deal with vampires?
Complementing the text side, we had planned a look at the growth in importance of visual effects on the screen, a series of features by no less than Hammer’s make-up ace Roy Ashton. It would have been to die for! Ah, such plans…
This issue’s features were as solid as ever, among regular favourites were our reviews of the increasingly wacky horror films then being released and the tie-in overview of screen vampire hunters to back up our adaptation. The issue’s centrepiece was a look at the work of “young Canadian writer-director” David Cronenberg in an appropriately entitled Doctors of Death article by John Fleming. But the surprise hit was a single page item, “Draw a Monster”.
We were inundated with replies, some of them positively stunning, and quite a few by readers who went on to high profile work in comics. Sadly, once again, we never had time to show the results. But as I’ve still got them all, maybe at the end of this page we’ll embarrass a few famous names and upload some of the entries… if I can lay my hands on them!
And another shuffle around of the contents. No film adaptation this month, hence no tie-in back cover poster. Instead the back cover went to a film reviewed by Tony Crawley, veteran Japanese director Kon Ichikawa’s original 1976 classic, The Inugamis (which was retitled as the far-less dramatic The Inugami Family on release). Heralded in Japan as second only to the legendary Akira Kirosawa, Ichikawa bizarrely remade this Japanese giallo horror whodunnit almost identically in 2006, even with the same lead actor but with its original title. An homage to himself perchance?
Argentinian artist Ricardo Villagran (who was to move to the US in 1982 to work for American comics) provided the Dracula cover painting (above) to tie-in with a feature which pushed the usual film adaptation out of the issue, an absurdly overdue in-depth interview with Christopher Lee.
The interview was conducted by East Africa-born HoH regular Alan Frank, whose 1974 Horror Movies book had introduced many impressionable youngsters to the medium and who became a governor of the British Film Institute in the year 2000. Because of the interview’s size – it was the longest we had ever run – we tidily sectioned off the end product into Lee on Horror/on Dracula/on Hammer/on Lee (!).
I always felt we were treading a fine line with HoH. Unlike the intense US fantasy film glossy Cinefantastique, we were producing a mass market title, not one aimed 100% at fans. But neither did I believe in almost ridiculing the genre the way Forry Ackerman did with his equally mass-market American title Famous Monsters of Filmland – riddled with bad puns and an almost condescending approach to words and picture layout.
As an aside here, I recently read an article written by Forry in which he revealed Jim Warren’s 1958 pithy brief for what was initially to be titled Wonderama. “When he [Warren] came out to my home and saw that, indeed, I did have 35,000 stills, the next thing I knew I was sitting at a dining room table with an old mechanical typewriter, and he was sitting opposite me with a sign which read, ‘I’m 11½ years old and I am your reader. Forry Ackerman, make me laugh!’” For the full story, see here.
He continued, “Well, that didn’t make me too happy; I had really wanted a serious publication. I had no original intention of funning around with fantasy films. But that was what was required.” Hence Famous Monsters of Filmland. Ah, dear old Forry – the man who so disliked the original genre label Scientifiction that he coined the word Sci-Fi. Perhaps we’ve been wrong to criticise him so!
For ourselves, I didn’t have such a narrowly-focused publisher. Like Cinefantastique, we hoped horror fans would buy it, but we knew there weren’t enough of them! Like Famous Monsters, we were in high streets and had to appeal to that market of the curious, maybe not 11½ years olds, but teenage boys who weren’t old enough to see X certificate films. Ironically, when talking about all this on the Internet over 30 years later, I’m feeling the same concerns about maybe getting too geeky here!
But in-depth lengthy interviews were something I was cautious about running… unlike behind-the-scenes features!
I’d always imagined we would have full access to the inside story on all of the new Hammer horror films, to be able to show readers how they were made and provide exclusive news and visuals. I’m sure that was Hammer’s belief too, so we could each benefit from the other. But we were too late, it was more of a one-way street. Hammer had stopped making horror films.
I sometimes imagine how much more successful the magazine would have been, had we had access to forthcoming Hammer blockbusters and been able to ride the publicity wave upon their release.
As it happened in the real world, by broadening our horizons with a new title (albeit not by intent) we no longer felt apologetic about the amount of non-Hammer content we featured. So this issue we did run an extensive “making of” feature about a forthcoming film, it just wasn’t a Hammer film.
But as I’d learned when producing film tie-in poster mags, you can never predict which available-for-magazine-coverage new films will be the big hits. The makers of good-as-guaranteed flops always want you to work with them, it’s spotting the soon-to-be-winners that’s the toughie!
In HoH 21 we went with EMI’s Peter Cushing-starring 7 Cities to Atlantis. We had exclusive material, storyboards, script, access to the cast and a location photographer in Malta. Never heard of Peter Cushing in 7 Cities to Atlantis? That’s because Cushing was replaced at the last minute by Daniel (Vault of Horror) Massey – taking on a role which echoed his father Raymond Massey’s most famous part in HG Wells’ Things to Come (1935).
The cast also included Peter (Onedin Line) Gilmore, Michael Gothard – best remembered by then as the witch-hunting fanatic who defiles Vanessa Redgrave and tortures Oliver Reed in Ken Russell’s 1971 horror film The Devils, Singin’ in the Rain‘s Cyd Charisse, Shane Rimmer (Scott Tracy’s voice in Thunderbirds!) and Doug McClure – who had previously worked with the John Dark and Kevin Connor production team as star of their Burroughs trilogy The Land that Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core and People that Time Forgot. As we said in print “we’ve yet to see the finished movie”.
We should have got a clue from their track record, from Doug McClure being in it, from them changing the title at the last minute to Warlords of the Deep (which led to some expensive cover plate changing for us and nasty cut ‘n’ paste shadows every time the title appeared in the text). But we pressed on regardless, stubbornly. And foolishly. Eight pages (that’s one more than Christopher Lee got!) and even more promised for the next issue.
On the comics front, this issue saw the third solo appearance of Father Shandor – Demon Stalker, and started to move towards one of my personal goals as it brought together the various strands of Hammer’s gothic horror world.
Following a two-page “story so far” recap of how Shandor was expelled from a Transylvanian monastery for using the black arts to defeat the demon Angorfarax, the Skinn-Moore-Bolton trio took his wanderings to Karnstein, home of the equally fanatical descendants of the Twins of Evil puritan inquisitors two hundred years previously. I’d always loved the image of Peter Cushing in that outfit and this was a great opportunity to repeat it!
After another of John Bolton’s centrespread extravaganzas, the story ended with a key tie-in, as Shandor rode on towards Karlstadt, for a between-films meeting with Van Helsing from whom he would learn of another unholy threat, that of Count Dracula (above, right).
This was the first of many intended explanations of Hammer between the films that we set out to smooth over, in this case building up to Shandor’s awareness of how to defeat the Lord of Vampires in Dracula, Prince of Darkness.
Whether it’s an editor looking for consistency and logic or a picky fanboy wanting some trivial continuity, this stuff mattered to me!
Despite the reader outcry over us featuring a US comicbook artist a few months earlier, I risked the same again with Van Helsing’s Terror Tales this issue – again with a Brian Lewis head of narrator Peter Cushing stuck on for consistency. Possibly because Bernie Wrightson was more in tune with horror than Neal Adams, nobody complained about it this time (pages 1 and 5 shown above, left and right).
Another great Brian Lewis cover painting. The black and green title might have been a mistake though!
For the back cover we went with Hammer’s 1961 Terror of the Tongs, to tie in with that issue’s History of Hammer feature, which covered their 1960-1963 releases as we had run the poster for The Mummy inside the magazine. But it really was a gem which deserved full colour treatment! Here it is below…
In fact, with the exception of the blue and black French one below (which translates as Curse of the Pharaohs) there were some great posters for this 1959 classic (although no other country had America’s love of those strange black and white comic strip frames down the side!). For my money, the Italians got the best looking imagery despite their obvious need for proof readers… Cristopher? Fourneaux? Three names in all and they got two wrong!
The success of The Mummy led to no less than three sequels, shame we only got around to adapting one (1967’s The Mummy’s Shroud in issue 15). Although looking at the posters (below), while 1971’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb was pure class, the mummy’s face on the 1964 Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb poster makes it look more like a Carry On film!
The Mummy’s Shroud artist David Jackson returned to painstakingly illustrate The Mummy for us while the Van Helsing’s Terror Tale was a great four pager, “The Hand of Fate” by Steve Parkhouse and Sergio Goudenzi (below, right).
The editorial this issue starred somebody who was possibly our youngest reader, eight-year old Russell Campbell. He’ll be 40 by now. And no, I didn’t wear sunglasses to the office. These Easy Rider jobbies were slightly tinted though. And kipper ties were very fashionable in 1978!
John Fleming finished his four-issue tribute to the films of Michael Reeves, covering the 1967 Boris Karloff chiller The Sorcerers as well as kicking off a new series, Flashback, looking at horror films released exactly ten years earlier, in this case June 1968. He got off to a great start with Mario Bava’s long-banned Revenge of the Vampire, starring Barbara Steele, which had been made in 1960 but not released in the UK until 1968.
John Brosnan overviewed Hammer’s Mummy quartet in Terror from the Tomb, while Tony Crawley concluded his in-depth look at Warlords of the Deep with a further eight pages. Tony’s news section, Media Macabre, included a warning of a new $15m Irwin Allen disaster film, Circus, Circus, Circus. Didn’t matter how often you said the word, Irwin, nobody was listening! There was also a snippet that director Brian De Palma had finally got the green light to adapt Alfred Bester’s Hugo Award-winning book The Demolished Man – a property he’d been pushing since 1965. Unfortunately we’re all still waiting…
My editorial column promised great things for future months, sitting as always adjacent to a subscriptions coupon. But it wasn’t to be. My tiny fiefdom was ticking along merrily. House of Hammer, MAD Magazine, Tarzan and the rest were all viable little earners and doing their bit to support our swanky offices and management overheads.
…But nothing else was! Book publishers WH Allen (best remembered for their Target imprint range of Doctor Who paperbacks) were our new masters and while my “youth group” was prospering, Roger Cook’s men’s magazines were floundering. And without their contribution, we just weren’t big enough to pay for all the overheads of our entire floor in Columbia-Warner House, 135-141 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1.
The first I knew of this was when our production director Ron Letchford called me into his office one late summer’s day in 1978. “Close the door,” he asked as I walked in.
“It’s all packing in, isn’t it?” I said to him. “Who told you?” he asked, obviously surprised. “Nobody. I guessed because you’ve never asked me to close the door before,” was my reply. And I was right. He explained that our parent company was moving into “new media” and away from periodicals.“So can I buy the rights to continue MAD?” I asked, buoyant from my ‘evening job’ of publishing Starburst out of hours. “No, I’ve got that one,” he replied. “Would you like me to continue editing it?” I asked. “No, I’m going to do that,” he said sheepishly, having no editorial experience whatsoever but obviously looking to keep costs down.
“How about House of Hammer?” I asked. “Yes, you can have that one,” he replied. So I did. Contracts were drawn up, for all the editorial rights and the printed copies – tens of thousands of sales returns languishing in our distribution depot near Leicester. I wanted them because I knew the old Thorpe & Porter practice of reissuing unsolds at “sale prices” through seaside newsagents each summer and didn’t want any underpriced competition.
This did of course create a few problems for me: where to store almost 100,000 magazines and where to get the money to actually buy all this!
But let’s go back to issue 23, and those last few days before we knew we were taking our final curtain call…
Over the prior six months or so a tenacious artist had been submitting samples of his work on a regular basis. So regular that I soon became familiar with both his name and his style. But while his work perfectly suited groups such as the British Fantasy Society, I felt it was too dated to sit comfortably alongside the likes of John Bolton and Brian Lewis. I was polite (I hope) but I always passed on his offers.
Or at least I always said no until I needed an artist whose style would suit Hammer’s 1957 Quatermass II. And I thought David Lloyd would be perfect. It was the start of a long relationship across several companies.
By contrast and once again under his Dave G. Chester nom de plume, Dave Gibbons drew up the dark-humoured four page Van Helsing’s Terror Tale, “Mrs Murphy’s Murders”. Regular contributor Steve Moore had written this little gem and one of my great regrets concerned another of his scripts.
He’d come up with a marvelous tale about an artist who had created a horror magazine cover visual so dark and evil that would slowly drive anybody to insanity and death simply by having looked at it. In the story the artist mailed the work to his publisher who was so impressed he telephoned him to sing his praises.
But by then the artist lay dead at his drawing board, his eyes bulging and his mouth a rictus grin. The punchline was, of course, that by the time the cause of his death (and the publisher’s soon after) was realised, over 200,000 copies of the title featuring this killer cover were already being delivered to shops.
I thought this was such a great story and racked my brains to think of a suitable artist to draw such a strip and the visual which would drive anybody mad who saw it. Then I remembered Ken Reid, the man behind Frankie Stein and Faceache at IPC! His work had always been held in check by his editors, but it had a leaning towards insanity like nobody else I knew.
In fact, when I worked with him on Buster, I’d said to my editor that he reminded me so much of US artist Basil Wolverton that I thought it would be nice to send him a Wolverton book I’d just bought. “No, he’d bad enough as it is, don’t encourage him!” was the reply.
For those not in the know, above left is one of Ken’s toned down offerings still guaranteed to dement impressionable young minds in 1977 from Whoopee! and facing, a typical Basil Wolverton montage. Ah, the fun we had in store.
Above is an old American comicbook I just found which coincidentally touches on a similar theme. It’s from 1952 and a small company named Toby Press. The story and art inside is a bit of a letdown but I’ll bet it was one of the most thumbed comicbooks on the rack that month! The ghoulish green was a bit of a cheat, but how could any 10-year old resist the challenge to crack a cover like that?
On the features side of issue 23, we reviewed a mixed bunch of new horror including Peter Weir’s The Last Wave, Alan Bates, Susannah York, Tim Curry and John Hurt in The Shout, William Shatner in Kingdom of the Spiders and the perplexing The Redeemer while Media Macabre covered Brian De Palma versus the US Catholic church, Pope Satan, The Hills Have Eyes, Nosferatu and a Roger Corman comeback(!).
John Fleming’s Flashback looked at the 10-years earlier Rosemary’s Baby and Tise Vahimagi overviewed the 1950s 3-D craze in “Unlike Anything You’ve Seen Before”.
But the jewel in this issue’s crown was Sitges 1977. Denis Gifford was there, as one of the fantasy film judges, enabling us to cover such then-new films as David Cronenberg’s Rabid, Peter Cushing in Tender Dracula and Michael Winner’s The Sentinel.
But also in Sitges was our latest writing recruit, Belgium’s Gilbert Verschooten, who got us an exclusive interview with Dario Argento on his teaming up with George Romero for Dawn of the Dead. And he even got a cute little photo of Dario absorbed in reading our very own magazine!
Magazine production being what it is and the cancellation being so abrupt, I’d already lined up the main features for the next few issues. Here are mock-ups of the covers for issues 24 and 25…
In hindsight, as great a piece of art as Brian Lewis’s cover for issue 24 was, it wasn’t really much of a shop window for the issue’s content, visualising as it did the Van Helsing back-up strip. Quite why I wanted to run a cover without screaming DRACULA any bigger than a topline seems somewhat contrary, especially as there was a fine budget-busting piece of poster art I could have adapted.
Not being able to resist the challenge, I’ve put together an alternative (right)… showing what I should have done in 1977!
Along with much of its feature content, the Brides of Dracula adaptation did finally appear, when I relaunched the title in 1983. But the one I was really looking forward to, issue 25’s adaptation of The Devil Rides Out, never did. As already mentioned I’d had the script completed, by American writer Doug Moench, a Hammer fan best remembered for his wonderful creation of Bane – the villain who literally broke Batman’s back – but the title’s cancellation came before a single page could be drawn up.
The company’s final Halls of Horror ended with an inside back cover half page ad for the launch of the British edition of Savage Sword of Conan. Ironic, as I’d be editing that title myself within two years. The other half page was for “MAD leftovers”. Guess I qualified for that title too!
Talking leftovers, there’s a funny story attached to that…
When I bought the publishing rights to HoH because the original publisher was moving into investing in videos instead of magazines, I also bought all the unsold copies – because I knew otherwise the distributor would flood the market with “sale price” issues and totally undercut any new ones I created.
But I didn’t realise how many copies that would be (back in the days when you actually got unsolds back instead of now when you get a single sheet of paper – an affadavit – telling you to go to regional depots to pick up unsolds before they’re pulped).
There were almost 100,000 of the buggers!
Titan Distributors, or Comic Media Distribution as they called themselves back then, had just rented a somewhat dilapidated garage in Shepherds Bush for their stock of imported US magazines and comics. Because Mike Lake, director of such, was an old mate I asked him if I could store my HoH backstock there.
A year or so later, when they needed the space, we agreed they could keep half of them as rent and I’d take the other half away (to somebody else’s storage, Comics Unlimited‘s Alan Austin I recall).
So I took the front half and left them with the wall-propping rest.
It was another year later when Mike told me they hadn’t noticed a sink tap on same back wall had been dripping… and dear old HoH‘s blotting paper pages had soaked up gallons of water and turned most of them into pulp!
So beware of buying any copies listed as “water damaged”!
As if water wasn’t our only foe, I even added fire to the mix to cut down on the number of copies I had to store away! By this time, around 1980, a long-suffering girlfriend in Sidcup had her garage full of them. I really didn’t know what I was going to do with all this backstock but there’s a Youtube video which reveals all in this age of nothing being secret. Zoom along to seven minutes in for the fiery truth! Click here to view: You’re gonna burn
So as a suddenly unemployed editor, how did I get the money together (the equivalent of a house price in Yorkshire) to purchase the HoH rights and all those unsolds? You’ll have to skip to the end of the next section, Starburst, to find the answer to that. Because this wasn’t the final curtain for HoH. With all those 12-issue volume binders we’d sold, ending on issue 23 would have been just too messy.
So by 1982 it was back again! Now I simply have to write up the equally-heady intervening four years before we can get to that (how about Doctor Who, Marvelman and V for Vendetta for starters?).
The continued tale of HoH, when I find write it up, will tidily be placed on its new publisher’s page on here, the home of Warrior: Quality Communications. (Anybody need a route map for all this?)
But in the meantime if you horror buffs are left panting for more, you might also want to check here while you wait, as I recount how Milton Subotsky, the man behind Hammer rival Amicus, finally convinced us to work for him without us having to produce anything like The Attic of Amicus!
And if your mum threw out all these horrible monster magazines when you left home and you’re eager to relive your youth, you’ll be pleased to know that those lovely people in Quality’s mail order department are still working through selling off the remnants of those sales returns we bought in 1978 (ironically without issue one, which we sold out of a few years ago). Morale: Never throw OWT away! But you can order those remaining from here.
If you’d like to see further reminiscing on House of Hammer, there’s a nice little 10-minute US-made documentary also on Youtube: HoH
If that isn’t enough for you, bowing to popular demand in 2015 we made huge posters of three of the Brian Lewis HoH covers. Click here for details: HoH posters
Next section: Starburst Magazines