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Frightmares: A History of British Horror Cinema

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The horror film reveals as much, if not more, about the British psyche as the heritage film or the social realist drama. But like a mad relative locked in the attic, British horror cinema has been ignored and maligned. Even when it has been celebrated, neglect is not far behind and what studies there have been have been have concentrated largely on the output of Hammer, th The horror film reveals as much, if not more, about the British psyche as the heritage film or the social realist drama. But like a mad relative locked in the attic, British horror cinema has been ignored and maligned. Even when it has been celebrated, neglect is not far behind and what studies there have been have been have concentrated largely on the output of Hammer, the best-known producers of British horror. But that is only part of the story. It s a tradition that encompasses work by both celebrated auteurs such as Hitchcock and Polanski, as well as a series of opportunistic, often-unashamed hacks. Frightmares is an in-depth analysis of the home-grown horror film, each chapter anchored by a close study of two or more key titles, consisting of textual analysis, production history, marketing and reception. Although broadly chronological, attention is also be paid to the thematic links, emphasising both the wide-range of the genre and highlighting some of the less-explored avenues. Chapters focus on the origins of British horror and its foreign influences, Hammer (of course), the influence of American International Pictures, notably their Vincent Price films, and other American filmmakers, the savage Seventies and the new wave of twenty-first century British horror.


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The horror film reveals as much, if not more, about the British psyche as the heritage film or the social realist drama. But like a mad relative locked in the attic, British horror cinema has been ignored and maligned. Even when it has been celebrated, neglect is not far behind and what studies there have been have been have concentrated largely on the output of Hammer, th The horror film reveals as much, if not more, about the British psyche as the heritage film or the social realist drama. But like a mad relative locked in the attic, British horror cinema has been ignored and maligned. Even when it has been celebrated, neglect is not far behind and what studies there have been have been have concentrated largely on the output of Hammer, the best-known producers of British horror. But that is only part of the story. It s a tradition that encompasses work by both celebrated auteurs such as Hitchcock and Polanski, as well as a series of opportunistic, often-unashamed hacks. Frightmares is an in-depth analysis of the home-grown horror film, each chapter anchored by a close study of two or more key titles, consisting of textual analysis, production history, marketing and reception. Although broadly chronological, attention is also be paid to the thematic links, emphasising both the wide-range of the genre and highlighting some of the less-explored avenues. Chapters focus on the origins of British horror and its foreign influences, Hammer (of course), the influence of American International Pictures, notably their Vincent Price films, and other American filmmakers, the savage Seventies and the new wave of twenty-first century British horror.

21 review for Frightmares: A History of British Horror Cinema

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    As the author of Frightmares states in the introduction, British horror cinema has been much maligned. Horror is seen as even more of a third class genre than in the United States. There is the expectation that British cinema should be serious high drama. Throwing in the persecution of horror by the BBFC and their censorship of video nasties and you can see why horror has had such a difficult time. Coverage in the book begins in the 1930s with The Ghoul. As you would expect, there is considerable As the author of Frightmares states in the introduction, British horror cinema has been much maligned. Horror is seen as even more of a third class genre than in the United States. There is the expectation that British cinema should be serious high drama. Throwing in the persecution of horror by the BBFC and their censorship of video nasties and you can see why horror has had such a difficult time. Coverage in the book begins in the 1930s with The Ghoul. As you would expect, there is considerable coverage of the Hammer horror era. This includes examination of titles such as The Satanic Rites of Dracula. The Video Nasty era was another section of particular interest to me. You will find lots of gems as the author moves through the decades. There were many titles I’d never heard of that I now want to catch up on. From the modern era he takes a look at Dog Soldiers and Eden Lake. It isn’t an exhaustive book covering everything. It’s more a look at what the author feels are the most significant films. It is a fairly academic title in that there are lots of quotes and notations. He examines themes and influences on British horror, both political and from other cinema. There are some black and white stills from films. It’s an interesting read but due to the niche nature, possibly not as accessible to all horror fans. I’d say you have to be interested in the subject to enjoy the book fully.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Nette

    One of the things I love about cinema is the possibility it offers for discovery and immersion in new material and genres. After a long time consisting on a staple viewing diet of film noir, neo-noir and crime cinema, the last year has seen me delve more into horror. Don’t get me wrong, like many people my age, I have fond memories of watching horror movies on late night television in the seventies and VHS nasties in the various shared houses I lived in in eighties. But in the last year I have re One of the things I love about cinema is the possibility it offers for discovery and immersion in new material and genres. After a long time consisting on a staple viewing diet of film noir, neo-noir and crime cinema, the last year has seen me delve more into horror. Don’t get me wrong, like many people my age, I have fond memories of watching horror movies on late night television in the seventies and VHS nasties in the various shared houses I lived in in eighties. But in the last year I have really dived deep into horror cinema, exploring movies by theme and director. It’s almost akin to a re-education of sorts, a journey that has required learning a new cinema language and style. You need to be discerning about which guides you take on these journeys. One absolutely indispensable resource is the relatively recent ‘Daughters of Darkness’ podcast done by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, the editors of Diabolique Magazine. These women know their stuff, and their podcasts cover a fascinating selection of rare horror and exploitation cinema, gems too numerous to mention here, with well thought out and nuanced diversions into subjects as varied as medical science, sexuality, literature and the craft of film making. Another great guide is the recently released book, Frightmares: A History of British Horror Cinema, by screenwriter and author, Ian Cooper. There is so much interesting material covered in this book, it’s hard to do it justice in a quick interview. Cooper takes as his starting point, the argument that the horror genre remains the only staple cinematic myth Britain can claim to be its own. It’s a rich, varied, dark, and, above all, neglected tradition of fantastic, horrific and sensational cinema, which is the product of two ‘seemingly incompatible traditions: a celebrated literary history exemplified in the works of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson and an abiding lurid fascination with the dark side of life as seen in the end of pier Chamber of Horrors attractions, murder melodramas, Penny Dreadfuls, Jack the Ripper Tours and sensational tabloid newspaper accounts of infamous murders.’ Frightmares combines broad brush overviews of the successive stages of British horror cinema, their themes, influences and production, with an at times almost forensic examination of key films. After examining the early days of British horror cinema in the thirties and forties, he goes onto to analyse the lean fifties and the rise and fall of Hammer in the latter part of that decade. Despite becoming increasingly lazy and formulaic in the late sixties and early seventies, Hammer’s lasting achievement was ‘a successfully realised fictional universe carried over from film to film, which managed to invent…the hoary old gothic tropes of terrorised women, cruel aristocrats and haunted castles’. Some of the films he looks at in detail are The Mummy (1959), Vampire Circus (1972), the Frankenstein cycle, and Dracula 72AD (1972) – his lack of love for the latter being one of my few quibbles with the book. Cooper details the influx of enterprising American companies in the 1960s and Hammer’s imitators, Baker and Berman and Amicus, then goes onto traverses the soft sex and hard gore of ‘the savage seventies’ and the so-called video nasties. This period – the most interesting for me as it was the one I knew the least about – ranges far and wide and includes, in my opinion, a successful attempt to ‘reclaim Hitchcock for the British horror tradition, which is where at least a proportion of his output belongs’. The cornerstone of this argument is a detailed look at Hitchcock’s most sleazy and controversial film (and my favourite aside from his 1958 effort, Vertigo), Frenzy (1972), set in a decidedly down and out London held in the grip of a serial killer whose modus operandi is to murder his victims by strangling them with a necktie. Cooper discusses similar efforts, 10 Rillington Place (1971) and The Offence (1973), before looking at some of the lessor known lights of the British horror exploitation market of the seventies, Pete Walker, Norman J Warren, as well as work of expat directors, Roman Polansky and Spaniard, José Ramón Larraz (whose strange 1974 Vampyres Cooper reviews in detail). Cooper’s writing style is accessible and engaging. What makes the book a particular joy is the way the author was able to so easily move between sophisticated critical engagement with the subject matter to mucking in and enjoying the genre’s seedier cult aspects and nuances. This is as much evidence of his deep love of the genre as his deep knowledge of it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    V

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anna Tryptilene

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jon Y.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Zack Long

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kestrell

  8. 4 out of 5

    Court

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Woodhouse

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie McGarrah

  12. 5 out of 5

    Neil Sarver

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sean

  14. 5 out of 5

    Katerina Zavalnyk

  15. 5 out of 5

    Anahita

  16. 5 out of 5

    Murnau’s stolen skull

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Syme

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tara

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marla Cooper

  20. 4 out of 5

    Santeri

  21. 5 out of 5

    hannah Draper-Ord

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