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The Screening Room

Hammer glamour: A history of horror's leading ladies

By George Webster, CNN

  • Hammer Film Productions is most commonly associated with launching the horror careers of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing
  • In the 60's the company gained as much notoriety for its glamorous ladies as its leading men
  • Beauties Ursula Andress, Ingrid Pitt and Raquel Welch all on Hammer's roster of starlets

London, England (CNN) -- There is a special place reserved in the history of film for the gothic kitsch of "Hammer horror."

During the 1950s and 60s, British Hammer Film Productions developed an international reputation for low-budget yet lavishly-designed romantic chillers.

Today, Hammer is most commonly associated with the career-defining roles of its leading men, namely Peter Cushing's Frankenstein and Christopher Lee in "Dracula."

Less commonly remembered is the wealth of highly-glamorous roles for distressed damsels and femme-fatales alike.

Continental beauties like Ingrid Pitt, Hollywood film stars such as Ursula Andress, and provincial English girls like Veronica Carlson, would all become leading ladies under Hammer.

However, with George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" setting a new standard in the portrayal of explicit gore and others, like Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby", offering audiences a more artful and sophisticated horror experience, Hammer began to fall out of fashion in the 1970s.

The company resorted to amplifying the sexual content of their films, with the likes of "To the Devil A Daughter" featuring a young Nastassja Kinski in the role of an infrequently-dressed teenage nun.

By 1984, having departed from films to concentrate on television dramas, Hammer ceased production altogether. Now, after over 20 years, Hammer is set to make a return to the big screen with an English production of Swedish vampire tale "Let the Right One In" scheduled for release in 2010.

The Hammer Festival, October 27th- November 15th, at the Idea Generation Gallery, E2, London More info: Glamour released by Marcus Hearn (Titan Publishing).