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English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema
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English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema (2004)

By Jonathan Rigby
Publisher: Reynolds & Hearn
ISBN-10: 190311179X
ISBN-13: 978-1903111796

Synopsis:
"An extensive history of the British Horror Film from early classics such as The Lodger through the golden period of cinema (ie- late fifties to early seventies, aka Hammer Films) to the recent genre cross-over Shaun Of The Dead."


Review by
Andrew Rowat
Follow me:
@horrorasylum
Review Date: 04 June 2005 My Rating: out of 5

 
 

Put simply, this is the definitive work on British horror films. Lovingly written, gorgeously decorated with some vintage black & white photos and always interesting - Jonathan Rigby forces us to confront our great heritage, the horror film. A genre he argues is a uniquely British one; sure, America may have adopted it in the 1970s with their trailer park slashers and the Germans were at its conception with gems like Das Cabinet Des Dr.Caligari but for decades the British were producing horror films that took on a life of their own, that carved their mark on cinematic history and laid ownership on this genre, much in the same way, Rigby points out, America has with the Western.

This is by no stretch a jingoistic glorification of British Cinema, Rigby always pays a debt to international influences such as the Universal Classics, Bride Of Frankenstein etc. It is refreshing to read of a time when there is a clear hunger for home grown product, the book comes into its own when he enters the Hammer period, there is a clear affection for these films, you also get the impression of a great wave taking over Britain. People loved these horror films, en masse!

Definitely enjoyable is the structured review by review format of significant works. I was slightly disappointed that the eighties horror films were not given this same attention, presumably as the mid-70s marked the end of the horror boom, expressed through To The Devil A Daughter - Hammer's final horror. Rigby is quite warm to this piece (which largely got undeserving criticism), i personally think this to be an underrated gem. Anyway, that minor gripe aside, the structure works very well and it's a particular joy to see uncredited masterpieces like Blood On Satan's Claw and House Of Whipcord having so much space devoted to them.

Rigby also discusses the social and economic backgrounds to the periods he is writing about, giving us a clearer insight into what the filmmakers are trying to say, or what popular trends they are reacting to. For example, the risible Dracula A.D. 1972 is a misjudged, almost laughable, attempt to keep the horror real for the kids by moving the dark aristocrat to modern day london amidst a gaggle of (not so) young and hip kids - who oddly display a recreational desire for satan worship. Rigby argues this would have been more effective if they had completely come away from the trappings of traditonal Gothic horror, ie - Abbeys, Goblets of blood, silly costumes etc. Rigby also recounts how British filmmakers have constantly tried appealing to the American market with casting Hollywood stars and pandering to American tastes (ie- the Exorcist, Blaxplotation, etc). Rigby argues that films are more successful and pleasantly received when they are made organically for an indigenous market (ie -The Wicker Man, Shaun Of The Dead, Dracula etc).

My favourite aspect of this book was the small touches, the front panel to each review contains a picture (a scene from the movie or some cast members jesting between takes) and a sample of quotations from the day, either a cast member or filmmaker's recollection of the experience or what they were trying to achieve or a sample from newspaper/magazine review occasionally cursing the film or, in deed, society for inevitably liking the film.

In the Third Edition there is a special section at the back devoted to Horror Television which is quite interesting, though perhaps not deserving of the extra 8 quid i paid, still mustn't grumble... this is an excellent summary of a century spent up to the neck in disused churches, bright red blood and busty virgins to the sound of bursting orchestral music. This book makes you thirst for those great movies of yesterday, surely that was Rigby's intention.




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