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A Pictorial History of Horror Movies

de Denis Gifford

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This is not a review (I'm still not comfortable doing that) merely a reminiscence. My parents bought me this book when I was six(!) years old, to keep me occupied in the car during long trips. Amazing photographs. A dark journey from Edison and Melies to the then current horror films of 1971. I owe a large chunk of my (some say) disturbing imagination to this book. My bible from 1973-1980. ( )
1 vota | Hank_Kirton | Aug 18, 2014 |
A Pictorial History of Horror Movies was first published in 1973 and had already gone through eight reprints by the time my copy was produced in 1976. It evidently found a ready market in 1970‘s Britain, although it’s a little hard to discern exactly who was doing the buying.

The book’s immediate inspiration would appear to be the magazine “Famous Monsters of Filmland”, although Gifford generally restricts the punning to the captions running under the book’s many illustrations. To be precise, the dust jacket boasts that of “more than 350 stills and posters, 16 of them in colour”. The colour images are printed full page on glossy pages bound around the signatures - the traditional method for glossy colour reproduction in a book, as (for example) the Folio Society still do it today.

However, the book isn’t directly aimed at teenagers; rather, the main text is unapologetically nostalgic, starting at the birth of cinema, and really becoming disillusioned before the 20th century reaches the halfway point. In addition, once sound arrives, the focus is wholly on English-language cinema (and that, overwhelmingly on Hollywood).

Turning back to the images, while some directly illustrate the text, the majority of the black-and-white ones are in single- or double-page spreads of roughly thematic groups (for example “Murders and Monkeys” features a still of Irving Pichel from “Murder by the Clock”; a poster and a still from the Lugosi/Florey “Murders in the Rue Morgue”; and a still from a 1954 remake entitled “Phantom of the Rue Morgue”).

These images also range further afield than the main text, for example to Italian and Japanese films. They also go beyond the text’s time-frame, almost to the then-present (i.e. 1973). They also include more gore than Gifford evidently cares to see on screen.

In fact, the real market for this book would appear to be pre-teens who were devouring late-night double bills of horror films (from Universal to Hammer and Tigon) in the 1970s (almost in confirmation, Mark Gatiss of “The League of Gentlemen” references this book in his Foreword to Jonathan Rigby’s “Studies in Terror”.

Unfortunately, although I’m the right age I wasn’t among this bloodthirsty brotherhood, and so I don’t read this book through a warm glow of nostalgia. Reading it now, the book deserves more than acknowledgement as a pioneering effort, now superseded.

There are faults; mainly an unbalancing preference, as said, for the main Hollywood studios in their Golden Age pomp, devaluing what came after and what any other country/culture (including the UK) was producing.

This makes him seriously undervalue the output of the British studios, including Hammer (apart from the creaky old melodramas of Tod Slaughter). Also, he is positively scathing about Roger Corman.

That said, he’s still worth reading: he makes a thorough survey of the relevant films of the silent era and he’s generally level-headed whilst still fan-boy thorough with regard to his beloved 30’s and 40’s.

Plus, there’s the occasional snippet of eyewitness testimony to early-to-mid 20th Century cinema-going, now disappearing from living memory.

I should also say that some of the full page colour images, in particular, are still striking and (I think) not widely reproduced elsewhere: A close-up of Christopher Lee in Mr Hyde facial make-up (from “I, Monster”); a curious contemporary but looking-out-of-time poster for “Son of Kong”; Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey made-up as burnt corpses from the end of “The Sorcerers”.

I must also mention the reproduction of a poster for a 1902 British film entitled “Fight with Sledge Hammers” (“The Most Thrilling Film Ever Taken.”)

The book includes as an appendix a list of 165 horror films available as 8mm or Super-8 films at the time of going to press. Dreyer’s “Vampyr” wasn’t to be had, but you could buy “Mother Riley Meets the Vampire” (but with no sound).

Finally, the dust jacket painting is by Tom Chantrell, who produced many classic Hammer film posters (and I think, worked as a production artist). This book gives him a chance to portray the classic monsters of Gifford’s favourite era, alongside Cushing and Lee (and that wouldn’t be “Kitten Kong” from an episode of The Goodies by Godzilla’s left leg, by any chance?) ( )
2 vota housefulofpaper | May 1, 2012 |
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