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English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema Paperback – 7 Mar 2002
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This is the first book to trace the rise and fall of the Gothic genre from its nineteenth century beginnings to the present day, encompassing the lost films of the silent era, the Karloff and Lugosi chillers of the 1930s, the lurid classics from Hammer's house of horro and the explicit shockers of the 1970s. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Profusely illustrated with many rare photos - including a small but sumptuous colour section - Rigby's survey charts a predictable course (most of the major Hammers are covered, along with selected titles from the likes of Amicus and Tigon), with a few surprises along the way ("The Corpse", "Tower of Evil", "Expose", etc.), and his comments are supplemented by invaluable production details and a review of the social circumstances in which these movies were first exhibited. Moreover, the book suggests that British horror films were stifled by a hostile critical response that was entirely at odds with the genre's commercial popularity. Along the way, Rigby takes well-aimed pot-shots at Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky (who seemed to blame everyone but himself for the artistic shortcomings of his lesser works, many of which he wrote himself), and screenwriter Christopher Wicking ('banned from the set [of "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb"] after an altercation with producer Howard Brandy') for his obscure, elliptical plot structuring. Most curiously of all, however, Rigby spotlights Hammer's undignified treatment of Christopher Lee, who appears to have been sidelined in favour of Peter Cushing until the late 1960's, when Lee was finally given 'leading man' status (ie. no fangs or monster makeup) in "The Devil Rides Out".
The longer reviews are perceptive and engaging, and the introductory section is crammed with relevant information, but the final chapters - detailing the decline of British cinema and the corresponding slump in home-grown horror movies - are less thorough and too dismissive. Virtually everything is rubbished, with predictable expceptions ("The Shining", "Hellraiser", "Dust Devil", etc.), while some of the best efforts of recent years (such as Simon Hunter's remarkable shocker "Lighthouse", the equal of any Hollywood horror movie produced in the last two decades) are thrown away in a couple of sentences. Moreover, though Rigby makes a valiant attempt to utilize actual on-screen titles (even the punctuation of "--And Now the Screaming Starts!" is presented correctly!), he perpetuates a number of common mistakes ("The Quatermass Experiment" rendered as '...Xperiment', 'Theatre...' instead of "Theater of Blood", 'Witchfinder General' instead of "Matthew Hopkins Witchfinder General", etc.) whilst tut-tutting over some of the errors quoted from other sources ('Quatermass II [sic]'). Reservations aside, however, few other reference guides hit the bullseye as often as this one, and "English Gothic" ultimately deserves its growing reputation as a definitive work. Fans will embrace it wholeheartedly.
NB. Favourite put-down: In reference to his amateurish, marginal effort "Razor Blade Smile", director Jake West is quoted as saying: "This is what filmmaking IS. It's action, it's effects, it's girls in rubber", to which Rigby offers the well-deserved riposte: "It's also, presumably, an illiterate script, laugh-a-minute postmodern posturing, and an unflattering blow-up from 16 to 35mm..."
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Any list of films is always going to be subjective and I can think of some films that I would have included in the Top 100 and a few that I would have left off but at least the other films are mentioned. I found ENGLISH GOTHIC to be comprehensive but not judgmental. While I understand Rigby's starting the list in 1954 with THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT for that's when the horror boom begins, I would have included a handful of earlier films like THE GHOUL (1933), DEAD OF NIGHT (1945), LATIN QUARTER (1945), and THE QUEEN OF SPADES (1948) but he does discuss them in the prologue. As of the writing of this review, I have seen 86 of the Top 100 and will try to see the others although some titles like SHADOW OF THE CAT (1960) and CORRUPTION (1968) don't appear to be currently available in any format.
The style and format is at once readable and also entertaining. Though it is possible, even advisory (and certainly enjoyable), to read the entire book from cover to cover, its format (the chronological order, along with side bars on every page giving details of key films) makes it a great reference tool to dip into from time to time. English Gothic is without doubt one of the finest, most compelling and exciting books I have come across on this subject.
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