Roy Ashton of Hammer Films

By Michael Corvin


      For this episode, we jump across the pond to jolly
old England for this issues make-up artist-craftsman.
Roy Ashton was to the Hammer Films what Jack
Pierce was for Universal Studios. A master make-up
artist who created their line of horror monsters in the 1950’s and 60’s much in the same way Pierce did for
Universal in the 30’s and 40’s.

      Born in 1909, Roy Ashton has had a glorious career as not only a make-up artist that he is best known
for in the film world, but also as a member of the Metropolitan Police Department and later after being
drafted into the army where he was tasked with creating weapons and spy gadgets. A lover of music, Roy
enrolled in the Royal Academy of Music where he studied singing and in 1947 after the war, he joined the
Intimate Opera Company.  Within the Opera company, he would tour the country doing sometimes three
shows a night. But it was his other talent that got him invited by actor Orson Welles to work on the movie
Mr. Arkadin as a make-up artist. You see, even before his embarking into music, Roy had applied for an
apprenticeship with the Gaumont British Film Corporation where he designed wigs for the movie Tudor
Rose in 1936. Although music was his true passion, working in films was what paid the bills and when
forced to stay with the Opera company or work in movies Roy had to stay in films for it was the more stable
job.

      After working on the movie Arkadin with Welles, it was on the production of the film, Invitation to the
Dance that he worked as an assistant with Phil Leakey, the head of Hammer’s make-up department, who
later introduced Roy to the studio. The two worked on The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, Dracula 1958,
and The Revenge of Frankenstein when Philip Leakey had a falling out with the studio. Leakey’s departure
from Hammer opened the door for Roy to take over as lead make-up man and his first task was to create
the hellhound for the movie The Hound of the Baskervilles.  

      Ashton’s next project was The Man Who Could Cheat Death where he turned an actor into a living
cadaver. His work was so impressive that famed make-up wizard, Dick Smith, best known for his work on
The Exorcist took some tips from Ashton when working on his own film Little Big Man. Roy followed up
with Hammer’s own view on The Mummy where much like Pierce’s undead creature, used the wrappings
that it was buried with plus a dehydrated face to create his creature. Of all the Hammer movie remakes of
the Universal films, the Mummy was maybe the nearest thing to what Universal had nearly 30 years before.
Still the title creature looked amazing as Roy turned actor Christopher Lee into the films monster star.

      Maybe Roy’s best work ever was for the 1960 Hammer horror classic Curse of the Werewolf, where
he tuned actor Oliver Reed into a flesh-hungry werewolf. It was Ashton himself who wanted Reed in the
lead role for he thought the actor’s bone structure would work well with the creature make-up.

      Straying away from making his werewolf creature too much like Jack Pierce’s two creatures, the
Werewolf of London and the Wolf Man Roy was said to have no knowledge of what the other two beasts
looked like.  However he took his creature a step further by creating a full upper body fur suit that the actor
wore along with furry hands. Sadly his werewolf only shows up at the very end of the movie giving the
creature little screen time but when it does show itself, it’s very impressive indeed.

      Ashton’s werewolf-like Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein Monster was also the first time ever that
horror fans got to see these creatures in full living color…..something of a rarity at the time.   Until then, only
a hand full of werewolf films had been made after Universal ended their run of the Wolf Man and all films
had been made in black and white. Like with all Hammer horror films, the blood flowed red and the
crimson stuff ran down the fangs of Ashton’s werewolf.

      Other films in the Hammer line would follow like The Gorgon, The Kiss of the Vampire, The Skull along
with a Hammer remake Phantom of the Opera which must have brought back so old memories for Roy of
his days with the Opera Company he sung for. Even though Roy worked so closely with Hammer’s horror
line, he also had time to work on other projects such as the 1968 science fiction classic 2001: A Space
Odyssey based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke and the Blake Edwards comedy The Pink Panther. He
would return to horror though with such terrors as The Reptile, The Plague of the Zombies, The House that
Dripped Blood, The Devils, Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror.

      Later in Roy’s career, he lent his talent to such American films as Star Wars, Flash Gordon and
Raiders of the Lost Ark. Roy Ashton sadly died in 1995 at the ripe old age of 85, but the film legacy that he
left lives on in each and every movie he ever worked in and out of Hammer.
Making Monsters:
Spotlight on Hollywood's
Makeup Artists