The Fascination With British Gothic Cinema
Year after year, books continue to appear on the subject of British horror film and the ways in which they vary from US horror output. They can generally be summed up like this.
US Horror films – the great silents featuring Lon Chaney, the 1930s Universal cycle, 1950s SF leading to ‘The Fly’, ‘Wax Museum’ etc, the AIP Poe films, ‘The Exorcist’ changing the rules, 70s indie horror, the 1980s slasher cycle, torture porn, the return of the supernatural, ‘found footage’ films, the ‘Twilight’ effect, TV horror, remakes.
UK Horror films – Silent Hitchcock, introduction of the ‘H” certificate (for ‘Horror’), the Tod Slaughter films, ‘Dead of Night’ and the portmanteau films, Hammer, censorship, the Hammer wannabees (Tigon, Amicus etc), ‘Peeping Tom’, more censorship, the Peter Walker films, horror on TV, a handful of independent UK horror films.
Within this timeline, though, several superb volumes have been written that transcend mere outlines of genre cinema. The first is Raymond Durgnat’s ‘A Mirror For England’, who follows British films from austerity to affluence, taking in the influence of the Gothic along the way. It became a benchmark of fine cinema writing, and has been reissued.
Kim Newman’s ‘Nightmare Movies’ has been reworked before and will no doubt be again – quite right too, as it’s a seminal volume written by a witty master critic whose knowledge of world horror cinema is second-to-none. Its scope continues to deepen and grow, and my copy is tattered from overuse. It has not been bettered.
Now comes Barry Forshaw’s ‘British Gothic Cinema’ – Barry’s an old friend who knows whereof he writes, and he takes a slightly different approach, wondering what actually constitutes the gothic in cinema. His sections on Hammer are erudite and revealing, especially in the consideration of Cushing and Lee’s crucial roles in defining British gothic. I would have like to have seen a final chapter on the use of gothic tropes in British comedy (‘The League of Gentlemen’ etc) but it was probably outside the remit. The book will appear at the end of October.