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A New Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema Paperback – 19 Dec 2007
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'A New Heritage of Horror is the best study of British horror movies and an important contribution to the study of British cinema as a whole.' --Martin Scorsese
David Pirie has at last updated his landmark volume...For horror fans, this will be manna from Heaven, for along with Jonathan Rigby s English Gothic, this remains a cornerstone work, packed with revealing opinion and brow-raising data excavated from the vaults...This highly welcome update will be greeted with open arms by horror devotees who will at last be able to see for themselves what all the fuss has been about Howard Maxford --Film Review
Long been regarded as a trailblazing classic…with A New Heritage of Horror, David Pirie has revised his original work, bringing the story up to date. --Sight & Sound
About the Author
A former Film Editor of 'Time Out', David Pirie turned to screenwriting with a string of successful productions of a gothic or noir flavour from 'Rainy Day Women' via Lars Von Trier's 'Breaking the Waves' to 'The Woman In White' and 'Murder Rooms'. Critic Tise Vahimagi recently noted that while Pirie's film noir-influenced works may be among the most satisfying of that style on TV, it is with his Gothic screenplays that he excels as a genre writer.
Top customer reviews
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.
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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