As befits this tribute to make-up artist Roy Ashton, Greasepaint and Gore is a handsome book that makes the most of Ashton’s designs, drawings and photographs, many of which are published for the first time. The images are reproduced lavishly on high quality thick paper and Hammer fans will enjoy the amount of detail and quotes from the like of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. The structure is a little adventurous as it attempts to cram in as much information as possible and occasionally the sidebar sections fall out of chronological order in the life story collection. However, there’s a spirit of enthusiasm that commends the project, especially as it was written posthumously with the help of Roy’s widow, Elizabeth Ashton.
The focus is on Ashton’s work at Hammer studios, although we also get an overview of his life and work, which is surprisingly varied, he was also a professional opera singer who made more than 2000 professional appearances. In fact, readers might be surprised to learn that he regarded his make-up as his ‘day job’ and the analysis of his make-up work on specific films is as much a story of unrealised potential because often the studio didn’t choose the best designs for reasons of time and budget. It’s revealed that, privately, Roy often felt his original make up conceptions were thwarted, and it’s odd to see this in a celebration of his work. Contemporary make up artists like Tom Savini have turned some SFX artists into superstar maestros but this book is a poignant reminder that previously such artistes were kept firmly behind-the-scenes and had little control over their art. The reproduction of his personal sketches also gives us a chance to imagine what his creations could have looked like. At times the bottom line dynamics of Hammer studios makes for uncomfortable reading. Often as fans we imagine that everything on set was perfectly planned, but these accounts show us Roy had to make amazing tricks happen at the drop of a hat and had to improvise like mad to retain his title ‘King of Horror’.
This is very much an entering of a private, personal space and we get the low-down on the pros and cons of the industry and a sense of what it was actually like to work in it. For instance, it’s revealed that during his training, Roy often had to work with real human hair that still had bits of dried scalp attached that came from the heads of executed prisoners from Russia. Roy’s work is old school, and we learn about how to make wigs and beards and masks as well as some of the ‘gore’ aspects that he worked on, which seem tame now compared to the all-out-gore of many modern horror films.
This is essential reading for fans of Hammer films and those interested in learning more about make up effects. There’s plenty to entertain the casual reader too. It would have been nice to have had a bit more on the post-Hammer work of Ashton, somehow the book lacks a conclusion to round everything up, but all in all, another triumph from this small press that specialises in the Hammer story.
The accompanying DVD brings to life some of the sketches featured in the book, and features stars such as Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley and Hazel Court paying tribute to the Hammer make-up maestros Phil Leakey and Phil Ashton.
The Phil Leakey feature documentary consists mainly of the man himself talking about his work and even demonstrating his make up effects on human guinea pigs which is a marvellous way to fully understand his work. Accompanying stills and clips illustrate his explanations and we find out such things like he had to take home model heads to be baked in his own oven as Hammer studios didn’t have these facilities. Interestingly, many of the feature speakers like actors and directors/writers talk about other aspects of the filming process rather than just Phil Leakey’s legacy. The director gets an excellent performance out of Christopher Lee, who I know from rueful experience often dislikes talking about his vampire and horror work. There’s plenty of anecdotes and backstage gossip to keep Hammer fans happy.
The Roy Ashton feature does not include a video interview with the man himself, as he passed away before filming. It does, however, make use of an extensive series of audio interviews that were made with him previously and makes more use of clips and stills to illustrate the points. His wife, Elizabeth Ashton, also takes part and recalls some of Roy’s more difficult experiences, such as him being called in at the eleventh hour to do the transformation scenes on She, a job for which the studio only scheduled one day and for which he was uncredited. The DVD repeats some of the information used in the book, but fans will find plenty to interest and entertain and both book and DVD are recommended for Hammer enthusiasts.