Focusing particularly on Hammer Films and the studios which tried to replicate their success (like Amicus, Tigon and Tempean Films), Barry Forshaw’s erudite, serious-minded overview of a subgenre will provide neophytes with plenty of useful pointers.
Sometimes, however, it seems like a string of reviews with little in the way of a unifying thesis. Some of the statements presented as solid fact – such as that Night Of The Demon is “generally considered the finest gothic film made in this country”, or that Night Of The Living Dead was influenced by The Birds – are debatable. The definition of “British Gothic” can seem so flexible as to be synonymous with “British horror”. And there are both surprising inclusions (like the BBC’s Christmas ghost stories and Hammer’s recent novels) and puzzling omissions: if both Pete Walker’s power-drill/cannibalism flick Frightmare and Shaun Of The Dead are worthy of discussion, why isn’t, say, Hellraiser ?
But the main problem is Forshaw’s offputtingly pompous style. Clearly no believer in George Orwell’s five rules for effective writing, he scatters inkhorn terms like locus classicus and sui generis like confetti, and never uses a short word when a long one will do. What’s particularly frustrating is that a fellow with such a sophisticated vocabulary falls back on the same phraseology time and time again. Pet words like “sanguinary” (he means “bloody”), “ineluctable” (he means “irresistible”) and “quotidian” (he means “everyday”) are repeated ad nauseum; ditto “nonpareil”, “shibboleths” and “amelioration”. Whenever three or four crop up on the same page, it’s infuriating.
Some of the high-flown cultural references are a bit much, too. We’re all for taking horror seriously, but comparing, say, EC Comics to Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos , Terence Fisher’s direction to Gustave Doré’s engravings, or the poster for Hammer's Dracula to Bernini’s painting The Ecstasy Of Saint Teresa can seem a little bit silly.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
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