The House of Hammer was an influential British horror movie magazine that was initially published between 1976 and 1978.
The magazine was the brainchild of comics editor Dez Skinn, who had most recently been editing a revived version of Monster Mag for publishers Top Sellers (one of several imprints of Warner Bros publishing division Williams). Skinn initially conceived of the magazine under the title Chiller, but walking past the Hammer offices each day, he suddenly realised that a tie-in with the world’s most famous horror film production house could be beneficial. A meeting with Hammer was arranged and, thanks to the influence of Hammer’s then script editor Chris Wicking – a comics fan who knew Skinn’s work – a deal was quickly made.
The first issue of House of Hammer was published in 1976. The initial idea for the magazine was for it to be essentially a Hammer Films fan publication, but it quickly became obviously that there would not be enough new Hammer product for that to work (in fact, the second issue ran a piece on To the Devil a Daughter, which proved to be the only Hammer horror film made during the lifetime of the magazine) and so it took on a broader horror film remit.
The content of the magazine reflected Skinn’s comic book roots. Most issues lead off with a comic book adaptation of a Hammer Film, starting with the 1958 Dracula in issue one. This story usually provided the cover image too and, from issue 9 onwards, the original poster art for the film would usually appear on the back cover.
The magazine featured a back-up strip to close each issue, normally in the form of Van Helsing’s Terror Tales, short ‘twist-in-the-tale’ stories tied to Hammer by the presence of host Van Helsing, shown as a very recognisable Peter Cushing. Early issues also featured new stories featuring Captain Kronos (though the film Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter would not be adapted as a comic book until issue 20).
The magazine would also run several strips featuring the ongoing adventures of Father Shandor, the savant from Dracula Prince of Darkness. The other main Hammer connection did not appear until issue 18, when a monthly History of Hammer feature was launched.
Accompanying the comic strips were film articles, news and reviews, often including a feature tying in with the main comic strip (for example, a piece on Mummy films running in the issue where The Mummy’s Shroud was adapted).
Writers contributing to the magazine included Cinema X editor Tony Crawley (whose opinionated news column Media Macabre and contentious reviews would often split reader opinion), John Brosnan, Denis Gifford (who wrote a continuing guide to 1930 horror), Barry Pattison (whose Horror Around the World articles were among the first to cover Mexican horror in any detail), Tise Vahimagi (who wrote a regular column on horror merchandise collecting) and John Fleming.
At a time when horror magazines were still very much rooted in the past (US ‘monster magazines’ of the 1970s often still finding Hammer a bit modern and crude, let alone more recent movies), HoH (as it became known to fans) offered coverage of films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Crazies, Death Trap and Homebodies, and ran features on David Cronenberg, Dario Argento and George Romero.
Artists working for HoH included Paul Neary, John Bolton, David Lloyd, Brian Bolland and many more who would become big names in the British and American comic book industry. The majority of the magazine’s front covers featured artwork by Brian Lewis, who also contributed several strip artworks. One shameful deviation from this was a blatant bit of cashing in, with a Star Wars photo cover on issue 16.
With issue 19, the magazine changed it’s title to Hammer’s House of Horror in order to take advantage of a US distribution deal (the US distributors apparently thought that House of Hammer sounded like a DIY magazine). However, Famous Monsters of Filmland publisher Jim Warren managed to spoil this by publishing an ‘ashcan’ edition (a small run of a few hundred copies to establish copyright) of a magazine called House of Horror. HoH was forced to change titles again, to Halls of Horror on issue 21.
However, the end of the magazine was close. Financial difficulties with new publishers WH Allen saw the magazine division closed in 1978, HoH 23 being the final issue. Skinn would move on to become editor at Marvel UK, taking his recently-launched science fiction magazine Starburst with him, but Marvel were not interested in House of Hammer.
The magazine stayed in limbo until Skinn launched Quality Communications, a publishing company that first gave the first hint of a revival in 1982, when a reprint edition featuring the comic strips illustrated by the late Brian Lewis appeared, still using the Halls of Horror title and numbered as Volume 2 Issue 12. The magazine itself would return in 1983 as a quarterly publication, but this short-lived revival was plagued with difficulties.
The first new edition (issue 25 contained numerous reprinted articles from earlier issues, along with the comic book adaptation of The Monster Club that Skinn had been commissioned to produce as a promotional item for the film. Horror and fantasy magazines had changed considerably since the initial demise of HoH in 1978, and the rough-papered, poorly printed black and white HoH revival seemed crude compared with the full-blooded and full colour glossy thrills of Fangoria.
Issue 27 saw the final comic strip adaptation – Brides of Dracula, a left -over strip from the original run – and also featured the HoH Video List, and attempt to list every horror, science fiction and fantasy film available on VHS or Betamax at the time. Although riddled with errors and omissions, this was an invaluable guide for fans at the time.
Unfortunately, the magazine fell victim to the Video Nasty hysteria of the time, with distributors reluctant to carry horror movie magazines. The atmosphere of the period was captured in Ramsey Campbell’s column for the magazine and the reader’s letters, and although the new edition was rapidly improving, sales were not. A plan to spin the video guide off into its own magazine Video Fantasy were scuppered by distributor disinterest, and a Dracula Special, with reprinted HoH strips, also flopped. Issue 30 once again ran the Video List (in expanded form) taking up 22 pages of this final edition.
In recent years, Skinn has floated the idea of a further HoH revival, and is known to have been colorizing some of the old comic strips…