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Excellent updates of a classic original marred slightly by errors
on 8 February 2008
David Pirie's A Heritage of Horror published in 1972 or 1973 was the first attempt to take the British horror film boom of the late 1950's and 1960's seriously. It's a great read and lead to a much overdue critical re-examination of these films. Its unlikely that the work of later authors such as Dennis Mikele or Wayne Kinsey would have happened without Pirie's pioneering piece.
This is an update of his book, written over thirty years later. About 50% of the text has been re-written to take account of (a) what has happened since the original (b) new information which has come to light (c) Pirie re-visiting his opinions.
When Pirie wrote his original BBFC information was a closely guarded secret. Now it is a much more open organisation and there are various addiitonal sections detailing the filmmakers' struggle with the censors. Whilst the section on Hammer is heavily indebted to Wayne Kinsey's book on the Bray studio years, Pirie has done his own research at the BBFC to cover the so-called Sadean horrors and there is new material on the censor and Horrors of the Black Museum, Circus of Horrors and Jack the Ripper that is valuable.
Pirie has also re-evaluated Anthony Hinds' contribution to Hammer and gives him much more credit than he did originally. Basically, each chapter contains amendments and re-writes to reflect new information. What this interestingly reveals is that the original was largely written on spec without much inside knowledge about what really went on at Hammer in the period. For these updates Pirie is indebted especially to Kinsey who is footnoted numerous time.
The book has also been updated to cover the collapse of the British horror movie industry in the mid 1970's and deals with British horror post Hammer and Amicus rigght up to Creep and The Descent.
For an intellectual piece the book is extremely well written and it is very easy to read and follow the arguments. It remains the definitive intellectual argument for the British gothic horror movie.
Only a couple of quibbles - there are an alarming number of factual errors in it, many of which seem to be typos (the index of films titles at the end is especially bad including a movie called Curse of the Crimson Arrow and putting And Now the Screaming Starts under the title of Bride of Frankenstein). There are also a number of errors of fact (eg: on Curse of the Fly Pirie identifies Brian Donlevy as Carole Gray's lover when it should be George Baker(p 139), a picture titled Curse of Frankenstein is actually from Revenge of Frankenstein(p34), Night of the Eagle got an X and not a A certificate (pg 119), Jimmy Sangster was not forced to dub the song Strange Love onto Lust for a Vampire (p181)and so on). None of these detract from the argument that the book makes but they are a distraction. The second point is that several of Pirie's allusions assume a knowledge of literature or theory that very few people possess and he might have been better explaining them. Not all of us have PhD's in semiotics !
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading it.