As a huge fan of horror and science fiction films of the 'Golden Age' of the genre, I've always had a particular fondness for the (generally) more sophisticated and cerebral output of the British studios. As was the case for many of my generation ('baby boomers'), my introduction to these great films began with the legendary Hammer Studio's remakes of the classic Universal monster films, kicked off by the seminal Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee vehicle 'The Curse of Frankenstein'. I recall being scared silly as a child by the indelible image of Christopher Lee's bloodshot, snarling visage in the staircase scene from the superb 'Horror of Dracula', of having my heart race with excitement while watching Lee's turn as 'The Mummy', and, like a drug addict, anxiously awaiting the next chiller to be exported to U.S. movie screens. For those who harbor similar memories, 'English Gothic' is for you (this review is of the 2nd edition).
There have been numerous other books that took a turn at this historically important product, but none (at least that I've read) comes close to this book's comprehensiveness, style and sheer reading pleasure. Author Jonathan Rigby (an actor himself) infuses this masterful work with insightfulness and attention to detail that could well serve as a model for others. Beginning with a chapter titled 'British Horror in Embryo', it concludes with the sad (but accurately titled) final chapter, 'British Horror in Retreat'. In between one will find a veritable treasure trove of detail, the effect of which is to present the reader with a unique contribution that is at once both somewhat scholarly yet readily accessible. While this loving treatment of British horror films (broadly defined, as it encompasses related mystery and science fiction titles as well) stands on its own, the book offers much more. It provides for a fascinating sociological context as well: the output of British studios, both in quantity and theme, reflect the socio/political milieu of the times. In addition, it does what no similar book has done, which is to provide a sense of what British Gothic film making was really like. It's almost like being an invisible observer, hovering over the studios during production. Even movie fans that do not care for horror films would find this aspect of the book worthwhile.
The book's 260-plus pages give appropriate focus on the aforementioned grandfather of British horror, Hammer, without cutting short the contributions of other notable studios (such as Amicus and Tigon), as well as the sometimes complex co-production arrangements between these studios and those of other countries (for example, the collaborations between Hammer and such American production companies as AIP, Universal and Warners). Such detail is very informative. It's surprising how many such films, perceived as American, were in fact British productions (such as 'Fiend Without a Face' and 'First Man into Space').
While American readers will find themselves at a slight disadvantage with the lack of familiarity with references to established British character actors, television programs, scene locations and the occasional slang phrase, this is a minor distraction. If you're a fan of British horror/science fiction, or simply of film making in general, 'English Gothic' deserves a place in your library.