Denis Meikle

Born: 1947 | Birthplace: Glasgow | Educated: Alleyn's School | Spouse: Jane | Children: Sarah, James | Resident: East Sussex

Published works: A HISTORY OF HORRORS-The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer (1996), JACK THE RIPPER-The Murders and the Movies (2001), VINCENT PRICE-The Art of Fear (2002), JOHNNY DEPP-A Kind of Illusion (2004), THE RING COMPANION (2006), ROMAN POLANSKI-Odd Man Out (2007), MR MURDER-The Life and Times of Tod Slaughter (2019) |

Revised editions: A HISTORY OF HORRORS-large format (2011), MERCHANT OF MENACE-The Life and Films of Vincent Price (2015), ROMAN POLANSKI-The Horror Films (2016), HAMMER-The Haunted House of Horror (2018) |

Contributor to: The Dark Side magazine, Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine

A HISTORY OF HORRORS-The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer

Scarecrow Press

WHEN A History of Horrors was published in 1996, it was after almost six years of writing and intensive research. There was no world wide web in those days, and so no easily-obtainable list of Hammer's films or even the number the company produced. There was that august institution the BFI, of course, but as I lived on the South Coast, ventures through its hallowed portals had of necessity to be occasional, and subject specific. The intitial source of materials on which to draw devolved to decades of cuttings, a personal collection of stills and posters, various books and magazines (including many years of Films and Filming), a 1973 company-instituted puff-piece from Lorrimer called The House of Horror and the 1987 BBC documentary, 'The Studio That Dripped Blood'. Help was offered by several avid collectors of Hammer ephemera, an early breakthrough came in a vast quantity of material from the BBFC in reponse to a request - and kindly arranged by James Ferman, then-Secretary of the Board - and things began to take better shape when interviews were secured with Bryan Forbes, Jimmy Sangster and Peter Cushing (who also agreed to pen a Foreword). But instrumental to the progress of the work in those early days was long-time Hammer fan and editor of Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine, Dick Klemensen, whose loyalty and unflagging devotion to the cause were a continuing inspiration.
      It was Dick who supplied me with an address in the Canary Islands for Michael Carreras, the former Managing Director of Hammer Films, to whom I duly wrote. One day, quite out of the blue, the phone rang. 'Hi - Is that Denis? This is Michael Carreras,' said the voice on the other end of the line. Struck suddenly dumb, I foolishly muttered, 'I don't know what to say...' 'Say "Hello Michael",' came the genial reply. Michael had unfortunately been diagnosed with cancer a few years prior and had been making regular visits to London to attend his Harley Street doctor, so a meet could be arranged at which we got on exceptionally well. As a result, Michael opened many doors which would otherwise have remained closed to me, which included persuading a number of highly-placed individuals - some of whom were oddly inclined to fight shy of talking about Hammer at the time - to submit to interview: former company directors Tony Hinds and Brian Lawrence, Kenny Hyman, Wolf Mankowitz - and the notoriously recalcitrant Christopher Lee.
      The more that was revealed to me about the inner workings of Hammer and the two families who had created it, the more interesting the company and its personnel became, and what had begun simply as a book about Hammer's films ended instead as a biography of the company itself. Such was the impact of Michael's involvement in the project that A History of Horrors remains the only work on Hammer to have gained the cooperation of all those who were key to the company's success, with the exception of Sir James Carreras, who had died a mere six months after I'd started on the book; with the subsequent passing of many of those concerned, there will never now be another like it.
      Michael was an extraordinary man - gracious to a fault; charismatic, courageous and captivating in anecdote, but he carried with him the tragic air of one who remained haunted by the past; he had never quite been able to resign himself to the fact that he was the man in charge when Hammer was forced into liquidation in 1979. I tried, in my small way, to ameliorate this sense of failure by according him what I believed to be his rightful place in the story. But though he read and approved the final draft of the book, he sadly died before he could see it published. I had organised a 'last supper' for him prior to his final hospitalisation, attended by those who were still close to him and his devoted wife Josephine - Jimmy Sangster, Tony Hinds, Ken Hyman - and others from the 'old days'; of the invitees, only Christopher Lee was unable to attend (to the relief of those present, it has to be said). Michael was frail by then but it was a happy occasion nonetheless - two weeks later, and he was gone. I wrote his obituary for The Times. It was an honour to have known him, especially during the last days of his too-short life.       

      The main motivator in writing A History of Horrors was the complete absence (in the early 1990s) of any worthwhile study of one of the most successful companies in British cinema history. But in the wake of its publication, the floodgates of interest in Hammer burst wide open. I take no credit for this; it seemed to me that it was an example of Jung's 'collective unconscious' in action - or of the wheel simply turning full circle. Towards the end of the long road to publication, two American authors beat me to the punch with a 'Hammer Filmography', which they began later but managed to bring out marginally earlier, and Marvel Comics published what ended up being a short-lived monthly magazine entitled Hammer Horror. But in the years since 1996, there has been no end of books trawling endlessly through Hammer's now over-familiar oeuvre, beginning with The Hammer Story from Titan Books and (not yet) finishing with increasingly anal probes into the minutiae of who stood next to whom in Black Park during the shooting, for instance, of The Pirates of Blood River. Fan interest in the company is at an all-time high. A History of Horrors may not have been the instigator of the revival of interest in Hammer among the fan fraternity, but it undoubtedly reinvigorated many of those who had worked for the company in its heyday to finally realise its historical worth, and to no longer to consider it - as some had beforehand - as a 'blot' on the British filmmaking landscape whose sometimes questionable business practices were best not recalled for public consumption.

Michael's 'last supper'.  L to R: Jo Carreras, Ian Lewis, MC, DM, Jimmy Sangster, Frank Godwin, Dick Klemensen  The book's unofficial 'launch' at the London home of Jo and Michael Carreras.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                     L to R: Roy Ward Baker, Caroline Hyman, Mary Sangster, Ken Hyman, DM,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Jo Carreras, Jimmy Sangster, Tony Hinds

Denis Meikle's new book, A History of Horrors, is not only the answer to ­every Hammer fan's prayers, but of the best books ever written ­about any film studio. This book's true greatness is in Meikle's eloquent,­ witty style that divulges his shrewd savvy and intelligence at work.
                                                       --Mark Miller, Little Shoppe of Horrors

 A superb book. A History of Horrors is, without reservation, the best film ­history book in at least a decade, a compulsively readable account of a ­dream factory whose fascinating output was unique in the world of cinema.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            --Bill Kelley, Times Syndicate
Meikle is that rare commodity, a genre writer who can really write, and A­ History of Horrors is a gripping read, painting a vivid portrait of the­ corporate horrors in which Hammer became increasingly mired as the years ­passed.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 --Jonathan Rigby, Shivers
Many have written about Hammer but none...more comprehensively than Denis ­Meikle in this new history. A very solid book, dense with information, good ­judgement, and an eye for foible.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          --Roy A Fowler, Stage, Screen & Radio
A History of Horrors is far and away the best book I've read about the­ business of making horror films. It achieves this without ever sounding ­like an accountant's report, without misrepresenting anecdote as history, ­and without sacrificing the essentially human story of its protagonists. As ­far as I'm concerned, Hammer has found its historian.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          --Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog
A History of Horrors is the sole book to have been written with the­ participation of Hammer's main players, which makes it the only true and­ accurate account of the company's history to date. A remarkable­ achievement.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      --David Whitehead, Book and Magazine Collector
Meikle's style is eloquent, authoritative, and never dull, and he presents ­a fascinating treasure chest of heretofore untold facts and stories behind­ history's most prolific horror studio. A History of Horrors is highly ­recommended!
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                --Peregrine Devlin, Filmfax
With unprecedented access to a wealth of previously unpublished files...A History of Horrors is rich in original research. All in all, a fascinating study which offers a unique insight into the company's key figures, their successes and failures, the rise of Hammer and its eventual fall.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           --Mike Murphy, Dark Terrors
This is the first book to provide an in-depth history of the huge phenomenon that came to be known as Hammer Horror. In doing what it sets out to do - charting the company's rise and fall as shown in its horror films - A History of Horrors succeeds admirably.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              --MJ Simpson, SFX

In 2009, Scarecrow decided to publish a large-format, more pictorial edition of A History of Horrors in both hard and softcover. Accordingly, I was asked to revise and update it. This I did, adding enough new material to warant the word 'update' and supplying a good many new stills in the process (though their reproduction left something to be desired). It gave the title a new lease of life for a time, even if Scarecrow's European import facility was so low-key that the book's presence on the UK market still failed to register with many prospective British readers - as was the case with the original edition.