Hammer Films?

“I had spent the previous two days watching about five monster movies on channel 5’s ‘Creature Feature’ weekend, reading several Conan books (I cannot recall which ones, but I always thought they were all pretty much the same), and stuffing myself with popcorn, doodling on a piece of graph paper.”

– Dave Arneson

The Hammer horror films of the ’50s-’60s- and early ’70s were an essential part of the OD&D inspirational corpus. These films – their style, their motifs – had a profound effect on the game’s monsters and, as others have noted, even on some of the player’s roles. The righteous, undead hunting cleric could be based on many of the “vampire hunters” in these classic films. As we return to the original game and its original influences, revisiting these films, in all their glory, is vital.

I loved these films as a kid – even though I probably never actually saw more than a scant handful of them. My parents would never have considered taking me to 42nd street – to one of the legendary “grindhouse” cinemas where I know these films and other, similar fare, were shown -and the better films from the studio rarely played on TV. Instead, I learned about these movies from magazines like the venerable Famous Monsters of Filmland, the psychedelic tabloid The Monster Times (a monster magazine written in the style of the rock critic Lester Bangs), and from the many books on the subject which I avidly collected.

The great horror author Thomas Ligotti once said that he preferred looking at the stills from various classic early silent horror films to actually watching the movies themselves. Little has been written on this phenomena, but back in the ’70s there many, many monster film books and posters featuring all kinds of pictures of classic film monsters. When we were kids, we depended on what they showed us on TV and on these books. We had to – in many instances – use our imaginations to fill out the details. I did this quite a bit.

Now, of course, all of the Hammer horror films are available on DVD. I have all of them – and have many books on the studio and its offerings. If you are interested in OD&D, there’s no excuse for skipping these offerings.

I would argue that even some of the films that have fallen through the cracks are worth looking for. The Gorgon isn’t one of the Hammer films that’s usually praised, but it was the first one I saw on DVD and I enjoyed the hell out of it. I could easily see having a women with that… “problem”… added to my campaign.

“The 1970s was verily the decade of the occult, to a level of national fascination (at least in the UK) that is hard to understand if you weren’t there. Tarot cards fell out of Christmas crackers; young children were turned onto drugs early by the latex fumes from werewolf masks; we were all building those Mattel Draculas and Frankensteins (more glue-sniffing opportunities) with The Carpenters on in the background; Hammer films seemed to run on a loop at weekends…”

Den of Geek

I tried to build all of those models – they were from Aurora and not Mattel.

As I steadily and purposefully go through each and every issue of the original Warren comics – Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella – it’s easy to see how Hammer style, TV’s Dark Shadows (I have many of these episodes on DVD too!), and other tropes combined with the early ’70s occult craze. This was a heady stew and it’s great to immerse oneself in that milieu again – just like 1973 never ended!

In OD&D terms, we are able to look at how all these vampires, werewolves, ghouls, zombies, and mummies and discover ways they may be appropriated for play. Even using the original encounter rules for the Outdoor Survival map means that the castle the players stumble into may be guarded by vampires. How would they discover this and how would it play out? Hammer films give one plenty of ideas. Part of what the DM needs to do, I suspect, is to give the monsters more of a back story. Why are the vampires guarding the castle? What do they get out of it and how do they survive? Is their presence known, or is it unsuspected? Too often, these creatures as mere combatants to be defeated. The films give us a chance to see how they can be introduced with more depth and focus.

The Internet has made it possible to have all of these items at our finger tips. Never before have such riches been so easily available. Back in the ’70s, I would never have dreamed of being able to watch any of these films, unedited, in my own home and whenever I wanted. I would have killed for a complete collection of all the Warren comics – let alone the EC ones from the ’50s and other, more obscure magazines. Now we have it all – and are perfectly set to use all of these tremendous resources to “reboot” D&D!

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