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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on 5 February 2008
This is definitely one of the most engaging and thought-provoking books on horror films I've read. The original edition of this book, published in 1973, has built something of a reputation for being the first serious in-depth study of English horror films - it was reading about this book in Jonathan Rigby's excellent 'English Gothic' which encouraged me to buy this book. And am I glad I did!

First the bad news. It's been poorly proof-read - possibly because of late delivery of the typescript (which would explain a lot of the book's shortcomings): the occasional missing full stop and comma isn't so much a problem, but when you come across a statement like 'Dracula was an invented image of Christ' you have to do a double-take to realise that there must be a typo ('inverted' surely). The index is very far from comprehensive - frustrating when the text refers to 'Selwynism' and there's no entry in the index to help you discover what Pirie means; downright frustrating when there are dozens of films covered in the text which simply don't register in the index. Finally, Pirie is rather light on films pre-dating Hammer's - Jonathan Rigby's book is much more informative in that area.

The good news is the text itself is clearly written by an enthusiast who has thought deeply about both the films and their literary background (Pirie is especially good on comparing the Dracula films with Bram Stoker's original character). He has also had access to many files from Hammer (the studio which is - inevitably - the main focus of his book) which reveals much about why and how certain films were made (most intriguingly the still little-known Joseph Losey film 'The Damned' - a seriously flawed movie IMHO, but still v interesting - which appears to have been an attempt to cash in on the success of 'Village of the Damned'). Sometimes his enthusiasm for Hammer product makes Pirie a little strident - in his fulminations against the 'realist' tradition of British cinema, for instance; or intolerant of anything which doesn't fit his concept of British horror, witness his rather puritanical disdain for 'The Abominable Dr Phibes'.

The book has been extensively revised in this new edition, Pirie revising his opinion on certain films and acknowledging the sterling work done in recent publications (eg Wayne Kinsey's 'Hammer: the Bray Studio Years'). A final chapter, 'Towards a New Horror Mythology', usefully brings the book up to the films of 2007 (including such recent fine works as 'The Others' and 'The Descent'), though there are - perhaps inevitably - few profound insights, though plenty of sound judgements, and some sloppy writing (a sudden sprinkling of exclamation marks around pp197-98 again suggesting minimum proofing). Altogether, though, an excellent book which I urgently recommend to all fans of British horror films.
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on 4 December 2009
Some good news on this great book which answers most of the minor criticisms in the other reviews. According to an interview with the author that I saw, the mistakes were largely due to a poor re-retyping of the original book and a minimal index. However, the first print run of the new edition sold out and now the publishers have done the decent thing and given us a revised edition with all those problems gone and a greatly expanded index, making it THE book on Hammer and the English horror film unmarred by errors. The section I like best is the author's astonishoing analysis of the UK horror film's battles with the censor all laid bare here in what is a fascinating and sometimes shocking read. Overall I would wish he'd written a bit more about UK television and horror but that is a minor point. The main fact is now the glitches are sorted out this stands head and shoulders above every other book on this subject.
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on 11 May 2010
As a long time aficionado of old style horror films and English horror films in particular, I have taken an equally long time to getting around to reviewing this seminal work on the genre but better late than never. I find it ironic that this book was first published in 1973, the year that THE EXORCIST first appeared on moviescreens and changed the nature of mainstream horror forever. I not only read it many times but I went out and tried to see as many films that it listed as possible checking them off as I caught up with them. I made the common mistake of loaning it to a friend who after keeping it forever, finally admitted that he had misplaced it and had no idea where it was. It didn't matter as I had most of it (at least the list of films) committed to memory.

35 years, several books, and countless horror films later, Mr Pirie has updated his tome just in time for most of the films he discusses to have made their appearance on DVD so that they are available to be viewed in conjunction with the book. Some of the major titles, WITCHFINDER GENERAL for instance or the infamous "Sadian Trio" (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, CIRCUS OF HORRORS, PEEPING TOM), have finally been issued in their original versions on Region 1 so that they can be seen and appreciated here in the U.S. (some like THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW or Michael Reeves' THE SORCERERS still haven't made the trip across the pond). While some have already gone out-of-print, they are almost all readily available in used copies or downloadable from outlets like Amazon which is the best way for most people to catch up with them.

If you love the films of Hammer and Amicus, movies that relied on atmosphere and characterization (to hide their low budgets), want to see how they evolved from the English Gothic literary tradition and then in turn influenced the development of the "Euro-Gothic" cinema, AND haven't given up on reading, then look no further than A NEW HERITAGE OF HORROR. It also chronicles the demise of both of the aforementioned companies as well as the different face of horror brought about by changing tastes, new technical developments (CGI for example), and the economic collapse of the British film industry at that time. For an old time horror fan like myself, the book is both exhilarating and depressing to read for it reminds me of what once was and will never be again.
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on 3 April 2012
I encountered this book in the form of its first edition when I was fourteen years old. I was a fan of Hammer films and eager to learn more about them. While I had already started seeking out books of film history, criticism and analysis I had yet to encounter anything as sophisticated and insightful as Pirie's A HERITAGE OF HORROR. This book literally changed the way I thought about cinema - and not only cinema. It opened my eyes to the literary influences on these films. Between Pirie's scholarly approach and thoughtful analysis and my inherent passion for horror, I developed an understanding of the thematic possibilities of not only the films that fell under the book's scope but cinema in general. Pirie manages to make the intellectual accessible. His defense of the British Gothic horrors - and the folks who made them - in particular, Terence Fisher - continue to resonate. I've read this book cover-to-cover several times through the decades and it never disappoints. Sure, I was a young teenager when I first encountered it and was clearly informed and inspired but also challenged thanks to my youth and inexperience with such an intelligent and articulate piece of work. That being said this is a book that will appeal to the most sophisticated reader of any age. As I matured and became a writer and filmmaker myself I returned to the A HERITAGE OF HORROR again and again for inspiration and to reinforce my understanding of how horror films function at their best. Pirie's efforts to place these films within the context of Gothic literature and Britain's Romantic literary tradition awakened me to creators and works I would never have pursued at the behest of a high school instructor - individuals like Radcliffe and Byron and Coleridge and the Shelley's and the Brontes and more. Understanding how a film like HORROR OF DRACULA fit into larger literary trends or in what ways WITCHFINDER GENERAL represented a shift from its contemporaries - I could go on and on - but the point is that Pirie's gift of context and relevance makes subsequent viewings of the best of British horror a richer experience. Fortunately, with the revised version of the book, he was able to build on his earlier scholarship, marry that to the perspective of nearly four decades, and expand the relevance of a text that, thankfully, never lost it to begin with. The first edition is the only book I keep locked in a safe in my house...
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on 4 February 2013
I saw most of the Hammer films when they first were shown in the cinema.I had not the slightest idea of the battles raging between Hammer and the BBFC.The author isto be congratulated for having so thoroughly researched their files.I found the censors views quite amazing at times.Furhermore i had always had the impression that John Trevelyan was a liberalising influence.This is clearly not the case as it now appears that in fact he was happy to go with public opinion rather than persuade it.I found the description of the behind the scenes happenings engrossing.I know that it will be a must for any horror fans.
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on 16 April 2008
Just finished reading A New Heritage of Horror a couple of days ago.

Overall I would say that I'm extremely impressed with it, despite the publishers best attempts to sabotage it with their incredibly slack production values. Pirie's ideas are always well thought out and persuasively argued, and he certainly adds more than enough new information to warrant double-dipping, for those who already have a copy of the earlier edition.

A Heritage of Horror remains largely a book about Hammer Films, though. Despite their pre-eminence, the amount of coverage they receive is slightly disproportionate, leaving a slightly "glossed over" feel to some of the sections on Amicus, Tigon, Corman etc. Not a problem for me (a dyed-in-the-wool Hammer fanatic!) but I can imagine it possibly irking some readers. There's a nice (but brief) section covering the horror films made between 1972-2007, but it has to be said that the last 35 years have hardly been a golden era for British horror. It's good to see that Pirie actually likes a fair amount of the more recent stuff, though, and seems to have a genuinely positive outlook for the genre's future in this country - possibly encouraged by the likes of Neil Marshall and the reemergent Hammer Films franchise.

Pirie pays a particularly inspiring tribute to Christopher Lee; an underrated actor who isn't always given quite the respect he deserves, and also continues to champion the reputation of Hammer director Terence Fisher, something he started doing long before the French critics declared Fisher as an 'auteur'.

My only real criticisms are aimed at the publisher (I B Tauris), not at David Pirie himself. Sad to say, but the book is absolutely riddled with typos and/or spelling mistakes, incorrectly attributed stills and several factual errors which tend to stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. It's as though Tauris have taken a draft manuscript and then published it long before it was really ready. I hate to say it, but last year Sinclair McKay was justly criticised for the amount of errors in his Hammer book (A Thing of Unspeakable Horror) - and Pirie's new Heritage has (if anything) even more errors than McKay's book.

Also, for such an expensive book you'd expect something a little bit more professional looking. The book has no dust jacket (despite the photo that amazon are using, which is on the paperback edition only) -, and is printed on rather flimsy paper stock. The actual print quality and stills reproduction is fine , however. I just imagine that Pirie wishes he had a publisher like Tomahawk or Reynolds & Hearn - somebody who might have treated the book with the deference it merited.

Maybe some of the 'glitches' could be ironed out if the book ever goes for a reprint, but if you can pick it up at the right price, though, I'd still highly recommend it.
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on 26 April 2013
This was a birthday present, and very well received . . . . . . . . . . .
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on 25 November 2015
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on 24 September 2012
I have not the slightest idea whether this is a good, average or disappointing book as I bought it for my 45 year old younger son as a birthday present! At his request.... I gave it to him without comment. To paraphrase a more distinguished writer than all three of us: I have no opinion whatever on this book!
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