Monday, 16 May 2011

Unmade Movies: Hammer Studios' Unproduced Vampirella Movie

Anyone who's known me for along time that a few of my passions include watching old classic horror movies & comic book collecting.

When I was a teenage, I was going though my local comicbook shop's backissue bins (Polar Quest Comics) & found some old issues of Warren's Vampirella Magazines which featured a sexy live model on the cover & declared that 'Vampi Goes Hollywood'.

Vampirella #67
I learned that in the 1970s the London based movie studio Hammer Films, who were best known for bringing back the Classic Universal Movie Monsters in (un)living color to a new generation of filmgoers starting in the late 1950s with movies like as the Curse of Frankenstein & The Horror of Dracula, were looking for their next movie project. Tastes in Horror Movies were changing by the 1970s, audiences no longer cared for Hammer's Gothic Styled movies, preferring such films like Rosemary's Baby & the Extorist. Hammer Films ran ads in Warren Publishing's Horror magazines asking the Fans 'What should be their next movie?' They answered VAMPIRELLA!!!

Curse of Frankenstein

Horror of Dracula
Vampirella's orgins began in 1969 when Warren Publishing's owner Jim Warren wanted to launched a new title to supplement their ongoing series of Horror magazines. Eerie & Creepy were the flagship titles, with a motley selection of horror stories in each issue. As a counterpoint to the male, ghoulish presenters of Uncle Eerie & Cousin Creepy, it was decided that the new title should be fronted by a female - & a Sexy one at that!
Creepy Magazine #1

Eerie Magazine #46

Forrest J Ackerman & James Warren (reputedly inspired by the film Barbarella starring Jane Fonda) came up with the idea of a "vampire-ella". And a rising star in the art world was asked to create the front cover illustration, the legendary Frank Frazetta provided the world with their 1st glimpse of Vampirella.

Jane Fonda as Barbarella

Vampirella Magazine #1

Forry J Ackerman in the Ackermansion
James Warren with model Marion Moore for Famous Monsters cover
Artist Frank Frazetta
Credit for her distinctive & minimalist costume always seems to go to Frank Frazetta, though true Vampirella aficionados will acknowledge that Trina Robbins had the idea & Frank Frazetta brought it to life.
In an interview with Park Cooper of Silver Bullet Comics, Trina states "It's true -- I described it over the phone to Frank Frazetta, who to this day, I've actually never met. His original cover art of Vampirella looked a lot like my idea, but her costume shrunk more with each issue & by now it doesn't bear any resemblance to what I designed."

Vampi by Trina Robbins
Hammer Films made a deal with Warren Publishing & the Vampi movie was under way.
The Producation began in 1975 with Hammer Studio head Michael Carreras going into a partnership with Warren Publisher Jim Warren, who did not want to give up any creative control on his character.

Vampirella Movie Poster

Michael Carreras at Hammer House 1977

Jimmy Sangster wrote the outline, which was embellished by John Starr, Lew Davidson and Christopher Wicking, makes Vampi an alien from the planet Drakulon who works as an agent of the SODS (Space Operatives for Defence & Security) with her partner, a elderly magician named Pendragon (who replaces Vampi's more sexier boyfriend Adam Van Helsing in the comics, which made no sense to Me). Together they fight the Akrons, an invading alien race.

For the Director, Carreras thought of ethier Gordon Hessler or John Hough who were Hammer Films main stays.

Then Carreras began looking at some of their famous Hammer Films "Glamour Girls" to fill-in Vampi's trademark outfit (or lack of).

One of the 1st actress offered the role was Caroline Munro, who was the only Hammer Glamour Girl they ever signed to a long term contract, making Dracula AD 1972 & Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter for the studio. Hammer did some test shots with Munro in a makeshift outfit they had. But despite liking the role, Munro turned down the part due to the required nudity the movie called for.

Caroline Munro in Dracula AD 1972

Munro 's Hammer Screentest
Munro: “During my time with Hammer there was talk of me starring as the lady herself, Vampirella, & there is a publicity shoot I did for Hammer Films with long black boots, large leather belt, & a small white tight outfit – very Vampy. They produced a script which was all nudity & not much else, so I decline the part. Shame about all the nudity because what a great character it would have been to play, kind of my own Modesty Blaise”.

Caroline Munro
Other Hammer Glamour Girls auditioned for the part of Vampi included Valerie Leon who had work on Hammer's adaptation of Dracula writer Bram Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars, renamed Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971). She to turned down the part cause of nudity.

Valerie Leon

Valerie Leon in Blood From The Mummy's Tomb

Valerie Leon in Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (1971)

There was one Hammer Glamour Girl during this time that I remember who would have been a nice choice, Polish actress Ingrid Pitt, who starred in Hammer's The Vampire Lovers, a film based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla (which pre-dates Bram Stoker's Dracula novel), and Countess Dracula, a film based on the legends around Countess Elizabeth B├íthory. In both movies she appeared nude, which made her a perfect candidate. Unsure if Hammer even auditioned her around this time. She had a sexy accent & body to boot!

Ingrid Pitt in the Vampire Lovers

Ingrid Pitt in the Vampire Lovers

Ingrid Pitt as Countess Dracula

Two more interesting canditates I thought of both appeared as Vampirella in 1973 at the 6th Annual New York Comic Art Convention. A sexy actress & exotic dancer named Angelique “Destiny” Trouvere & a 14 year old girl Heidi Saha They were  featured in a November issue of Vampirella # 29, “2 Vampirellas stun 5,500 at 1973 Comic Art Convention.

1973 Comic Art Convention

Vampirella #29

Angelique Trouvere was well known at convetions for appearing in sexy homemade costumes & would have liked to portrayed Vampirella in a movie, but Jim Warren felt that she was way to "stutty", wanting someone with more "class" (What did he think he was making? High Art? It was a Horror movie with Nudity!) 

Angelique Trouvere as Vampi

Angelique Trouvere as Satana

Angelique Trouvere as Red Sonja
14 year old Heidi Saha is undoubtedly the youngest Vampirella model to wear the costume in public. Now a day a young girl wearing such a skimpy outfit in public is normal, but in 1973 it raised many eyebrows! Heidi was the daughter of Art Saha, a well known sci-fi editor & was President of the New York Science Fiction Society & President of First Fandom, so it is no surprise that she should accompany him to the 1973 Comic Art Convention. Heidi appeared wearing a professionally tailor made Vampirella costume, which many felt was unfare. Heidi's parents had befriend Warren Editor Forrest J Ackerman, who was so taken with Heidi that he published one of the rarest & most sought after Warren magazines - the infamous "Illustrated History of Heidi Saha", a single issue magazine that Warren Publishing released in 1973. Vampirella, Creepy, & Eerie carried large advertisements for the magazine & for a poster with Heidi dressed as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. Her parents had hoped that this would help Heidi with an acting career. It's unsure if Ackerman even suggested the young Heidi for the Vampirella role to Jim Warren.

Heidi Saha as Vampi

Heidi at 1973 Comic Art Con

Heidi and Forry

Finally Michael Carreras cast the half Irish-Cherokee Native American actress Barbara Leigh, who starred with Steve McQueen in Junior Bonner (1972) & posted for a Playboy Pictorial May 1973 (measurements at 35C-22-35, at 5'7"), so she had no problem with the nudity. Hammer Films signed her to a 6 picture deal, Hammer Films seeing a series much like the James Bond fanchise 

Sexy Wet Barbara Leigh

Barbara Leigh & Steve McQueen on the set of Junior Bonner

Barbara Leigh

For the role of Pendragon, Carreras considered casting a well known American actor like Gene Kelly to appeal to the US Box office, but his agent wanted to much money. They finally  settled for a Hammer Film Alumnus, Peter Cushing, who had played Prof. Van Helsing in 1958 Horror of Dracula film, later better known as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars (1977). He seem to be looking forward to working on the project with his co-star, sending her a letter about it.

Gene Kelly

Peter Cushing

Peter Cushing's letter
Shakespearean actor Sir John Geilgud was Carreras 1st choice for the Commander of the SODS, adding some class to the film.

Sir John Geilgud
The Vampirella trademark costume was made by Western Costumes, a costume company famous for making costumes for all the big Hollywood Movie Studios in the 1940s & 70s, with boots made by DiFabrizio.

Barbara Leigh did a photo shoot for Warren & Hammer as Vampi, which did appear on a number of Warren's magazines. Carreras even sent Cushing & Leigh to the November '75 MonsterCon to publicise the forth coming movie.

Barbara Leigh prepares for photo shoot

Barbara Leigh & Forry J Ackerman at MonsterCon '75
But the movie began to fall apart when Jim Warren started to argue over merchandising rights. Hammer Films resources were also stretched, having gone over budget over the proposed Co-production of a Loch Ness Monster movie with Japanese studio Toho called Nessie movie with Euan Lloyd. By 1978 the Vampirella movie was dropped (as well as Nessie), Barbara Leigh's movie went nowhere & both Hammer Films & Warren Publishing were soon bankrupt by the 1980s.


Nessie Movie Poster
In 1996 a direct to video movie starring Talisa Soto as Vampi (who played Princess Kitana in 1995 Mortal Kombat movie), Roger Daltrey (lead singer of the Who) as the villain and Corinna Harney,& directed by Jim Wynorski. Movie got bad reviews from critics & fans (who hated the crappy costume to the bad script).

Talisa Soto as Vampi

Talisa Soto as Vampi
The Who lead singer Roger Daltrey
Not sure if 1975 film would have been any better, but Boy, I would have Love to have Seen Barbara Leigh in a X-Rated Comic Book Movie.

Barbara Leigh as Vampirella

1 comment:

  1. Awesome article, thank you so much, it was a great read.
    Just saw the 1996 movie by Wynorski (of course, it was bad), but I really didn't know that Hammer wanted to do it. I would have loved so much to see their version of Vampirella... that's too bad.