Friday, November 29, 2019

More Books of Horror

Some more of the books that informed my love of horror and exploitation films.  First up here is David Pirie's The Vampire Cinema (1977).  This one I didn't originally borrow from my local public library - I instead read it in WH Smiths over several consecutive Saturday afternoons.  I couldn't afford to buy it, so had to hope that nobody else purchased it before I'd finished it.  Believe me, it wasn't easy trying to read an entire book without being spotted by the staff - I had to keep putting it back on the shelf and pretending to browse other books before going back to it.  I managed to read the bulk of it, but years later managed to obtain my own copy, the 1984 reprint shown above, from a remaindered book store.  Anyway, getting to the point, the book offered an interesting critical perspective on vampire films, putting them into an historical and cinematic perspective.  In terms of its critical approach, it is streets ahead of the Alan Frank books I looked at last time.  Most interestingly, it devotes a chapter to the 'Sex Vampire' of continental films, particularly those of Jean Rollin, which, at te time, was all new to me.  Equally interesting was the section on the 'New American Vampire', chronicling the seventies cinematic reincarnation of the blood sucker in US movies in films like the Count Yorga series, which often owed as much to Night of the Living Dead as they did to Hammer.  All in all, a hugely thought-provoking book.

The House of Horror (1977, reissued 1981 in the revised edition shown), offers an encapsulated history of Hammer films, covering not just their Gothic horror output, but also looking at their various crime, adventure, war and comedy pictures.  As well as looking at the films, it also offers detailed profiles of then Hammer owner Michael Carreras, director Terence Fisher and stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  It also provides a comprehensive filmography with plent of technical details about the films.  Best of all, it is copiously illustrated with stills and publicity shots from the films, along with a selection of posters, including several mock ups for projects that never materialised.  Light on critical analysis, The House of Horror focuses on the history of Hammer Films and, as such, is an essential reference work for anybody interested in the horror genre.  It was one of a series of relatively inexpensive movie-related books released by Lorimar in the seventies.  Most focused on the various genres of exploitation cinema and all boasted a plethora of stills and publicity shots.

Finally, we have Carlos Clarens' Horror Movies (1967).  My copy is an early seventies UK paperback reprint of a book which, at one time, was quite highly considered.  It was one of the earliest serious critical works on the genre and as such, quite influential.  The book presents a very comprehensive history and analysis of horror films.  Its greatest strength lies in its coverage of the earliest days of the genre, looking at both silent horrors and early genre talkies.  When I first read it, this was all new to me and opened up a whole new cinematic world to explore.  It quickly becomes clear, though, that Clarens, like many other critics of the era is ultimately quite conservative when it comes to more recent horror films.  While praising the first few Hammer horrors, for instance, he is dismissive of their later output and repeats the myth that they made 'stronger' versions of their films for the export market, (it was actually one of their rivals, Tempean, that would insert topless scenes into the continental release versions of their films).  He is also lukewarm about both the emerging Italian horror film movement and the output of Roger Corman.  Nevertheless, the book includes a comprehensive filmography and a pretty decent critical analysis of the older horror films CLarens clearly preferred.  For him, their focus upon fantasy was prefereable to the more graphic and realistic depictions of horror presented by the newer pictures.

So, there you have it, three more reference works that proved highly influential on my enjoyment of horror films for a variety of reasons.  Obviously, the genre has moved on, leaving all of them somewhat dated, (particularly the Clarens book), but all are still worth reading if you can manage to get hold of copies.

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