Shock Theatre was a collection of trading cards based around Hammer Films productions that was produced by Topps for distribution in the UK in 1976. The cards have become extremely collectable, especially in complete sets.
Each card features a colour still from a Hammer Horror film with a red border and a humorous caption underneath. The back of the card features more jokes (under the heading ‘Shocking Laffs’ and a serious caption describing the scene pictured and (usually) identifying the film. The cards are 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches in size, the standard American trading card format for the time. The cards were sold in packs of three, together with a piece of hard chewing gum that was usually thrown away. Although aimed at – and sold to – children, this collection of stills from then-recent X-rated films caused no controversy.
The collection was originally released as a test series in America – as Shock Theater – in 1975, but never achieved wide distribution. The US edition differs considerably from the final UK collection, as it features a wider variety of films (including Horror of Frankenstein and Curse of Frankenstein) and monsters. In the US edition, fourteen of the cards are from Frankenstein films and one from a Mummy film, whereas the UK version has just four Frankenstein cards, the rest being from Dracula films. It’s likely that this was a rights issue, as all the films featured in the UK edition were financed and/or distributed by Warner Brothers. The films in the UK collection are Dracula Has Risen for the Grave, Taste the Blood of Dracula, Dracula AD 1972, The Satanic Rites of Dracula and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed.
The US version also changes the captions on some cards. Card 14 features a scene from Dracula Has Risen from the Grave where Christopher Lee reaches out for Veronica Carlson, who is dressed in a see-through nightgown. The UK edition is captioned “Dear, your finger nails are a disgrace” while the US version has the more suggestive “Not tonight dear… I have a headache”. Card 47 in the UK edition is captioned “I have a real drinking problem” while the US version says It’s the heartbreak of Psoriasis!” The US edition also duplicated the same image with different captions on three cards.
Interestingly, both versions have missing and duplicated numbers. The US version has no number 47, but two number 17s, while the UK version has no number 17 but two 47s! There is no explanation for this, but the most pervasive rumour is that it was a deliberate mistake to make people think they had not completed the set, and so keep buying.
The full set is available for viewing (alongside samples from the US test edition) at www.strangethingsarehappening.com/hammercards.html