The House of Hammer
David Howe delves into the vaults and brings back the low-down on this cult title from the 1970s.
Skinn's first attempt at a genre magazine pre-dates this by several years. He was working at IPC and, through his interest in horror, came up with an idea for a magazine called Chiller. This was to contain features on Doctor Who, Hammer films - all the things that he was interested in. Eventually, however, the publishers decided to call it The Buster Book of Spooky Stories. Dez did two issues of this and then moved on to work at Top Sellers.
It wasn't until issue 2 that the magazine's visual identity was established with the popular formula of a full colour Brian Lewis cover, together with a more stylised logo.
Future issues saw artist, John Bolton joining the team and adapting many films into comics, as well as numerous feature articles and information on, not only the work of Hammer Films (which was rapidly decreasing as the years passed by) but on other genre films and trends that were emerging during the 70s.
The format that Dez instigated: reviews, photographs, features and news on all aspects of the genre (covering films, television, magazines, books and fan-related happenings) is still with us today. Indeed, following The House of Hammer, Dez started up Starburst magazine in 1977, using the same basic format and the same writers. Starburst is still going strong today - albeit with a different editor and different writers (although John Brosnan's 'It's Only A Movie' column is still there!) - testament perhaps to the validity of the original concept.
The House of Hammer successfully ran through 18 issues but for issues 19 and 20 its title changed to House of Horror. The reason for this was purely commercial. The magazine was set to break into the American market and the American distributor suggested that the current title would confuse people into thinking it was a woodworking magazine - distributors say some odd things!. Therefore House of Horror was agreed upon as being a suitable alternative. However, Jim Warren, the American publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, amongst others, put together another low print run magazine, also called House of Horror, which hit the US newsstands just before the British one was due to be distributed. By American law, it is the magazine that arrives on the newsstands first that owns copyright on the title. Therefore, Warren immediately prevented distribution of the British House of Horror as he already owned that title. To get around this difficulty, Dez found an American printer that could print an opaque block over the words 'House of' on the covers of all the magazines and replace it with something else, thus avoiding the titular clash. He then contacted Jim Warren to explain the situation and gave him the option of licensing the magazine himself and getting the money that would have otherwise have been paid to the printers to change the title. Warren took the money and licensed the title. Therefore for two issues, the magazine was House of Horror (this being the number that had been printed at the time) and from issue 21 it became Halls of Horror (which is what the words 'House of' would have been overprinted with if Warren had not licensed the magazine) thus ensuring its own individual identity once more in the American market.
Disaster struck three issues later, when the British publishers decided that there was more money to be made in other areas, and disbanded the whole department. Halls of Horror temporarily ceased to be after issue 23 in August 1978.
Flash forward to 1983. Dez had been independently publishing a magazine called Warrior that was doing well and he decided to re-launch Halls of Horror on the success of Warrior. Just before this, to test the waters, issue number 24 was published, containing just comic-strip reprints from the earlier issues. That did very well and paved the way for number 25 (Volume 3 Number 1). For the re-launch, the design was handled by the Warrior people, and the writers were a combination of Dez's contacts, and the editor, Dave Reeder's contacts. Writers included Ramsey Campbell, Tony Crawley, John Fleming, Steve Jones, Michael Parry and David Pirie and the mix of features and articles remained pretty much as before.
House of Hammer was one of the best magazines of its time, and is fondly remembered by all who bought it. It had a style and a look all of its own, and the combination of Brian Lewis' covers and John Bolton's comic adaptations made it an essential collectors item for all fans of fantasy artwork.
With thanks to Dez Skinn.