A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford

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Cover art by Tom Chantrell.

Halloween approaches so here’s a book that suits the season. Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies was published in Great Britain by Hamlyn in 1973. A large-format hardback of just over 200 pages, this was a cheap production for wide distribution, and evidently sold well: my edition from 1980 is the 12th reprint, and the book was still in print in 1983, in a slightly longer edition with a new cover.

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For a generation of British kids Gifford’s book made an indelible impression, not least because of its ubiquity. It was always easy to find—for years I didn’t have a copy of my own because I invariably seemed to know someone who did—and its mostly black-and-white pictures featured a great deal of imagery that was generally forbidden to those of us under the age of 18. This may seem surprising to Americans, or those in more liberated European countries, but Britain has always had an uneasy relationship with the horror genre despite the legacy of Gothic novels and ghost stories, never mind Dracula, Frankenstein and the rest. Literary manifestations command a grudging acceptance if enough years have passed since first publication but Britain’s moralists and censors have fretted over pictorial horror for decades, especially the film and comic-book variety.

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La Belle et la Bête (1946).

Almost all horror films screened in Britain over the past century were for audiences of 18 or over, while horror films on TV were never shown before 10pm. That scene in Halloween (1978) where the kids are watching The Thing From Another World on television in the early evening would have been impossible here. In 1982 we had the start of the “video nasties” panic, a particularly disgraceful episode for those eager to interfere in other people’s entertainment, and an issue that rumbled on for the rest of the decade. As for print media, I still have a leaflet from the late 1980s given to all applicants of UK passports which lists “horror comics” along with weapons, drugs, poisons, etc, among the items forbidden from import into Britain. This climate gave Gifford’s guide an illicit charge it might not have had if published elsewhere: the book delivered a concentrated dose of the forbidden.

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Vincent Price as Doctor Phibes.

Denis Gifford (1927–2000) was, among other things, a comics artist, a comics and film historian, and a collector of comic books and horror ephemera. Most of the material in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies is from his own collection, and an excellent collection it was. More than 300 stills run through the entire history of horror cinema from the earliest Méliès shorts to German Expressionism, Universal horror, Hammer horror, AIP monster movies, Toho monster movies, and on to the garish efforts of the late 1960s; he even manages to get in a still from Carry On Screaming. The accompanying text is concise but authoritative, although I doubt anyone ever used the book as a serious study. Yet for a 12-year-old this was a perfect introduction to the genre, as well as a dizzying intimation of hundreds of films yet to be seen. In place of the films you had pictures implying entire worlds of mystery and terror, many of which are so good they give very unrealistic expectations of the films from which they originate. Some of the most memorable examples for me have been those which are more atmospheric or eerie than horrific, like the sinister child at the window in Mario Bava’s Operazione Paura (1966) aka Curse of the Dead. (See this post for more about the extended life of Gifford’s still.) But there were also plenty of monsters, grotesque makeup effects and even some gore; a female friend of mine was obsessed with the picture of a blonde and bloodied young woman with an axe buried in her head (see below). Looking at the book today I suspect Gifford’s punning captions may have been a nod to Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine with a devoted readership but not a title I ever read myself.

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Peter Cushing (The Skull; 1965).

All the pictures here are from an upload of the entire book at the Internet Archive. Gifford isn’t around to complain about this but the book may not remain there for long so enjoy it while you can. A few more pages follow. For an earlier appraisal of the book’s impact on impressionable minds, there’s this piece by Dave Tompkins.

Continue reading “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford”

Psychotronic Video

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I was going to wait until the weekend to mention this but it’s too good to be lodged in a collection of links. Michael J. Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (1983) has long been one of my favourite film books, a collection of reviews by Weldon and friends written for Weldon’s NYC fanzine, Psychotronic TV. “Psychotronic” was Weldon’s umbrella label for the low-budget fare that would usually be avoided by other reviewers: “horror, exploitation, action, science fiction, and movies that used to play in drive-ins or inner city grindhouses.” A small handful of actors were considered psychotronic enough (on account of their appearing in many psychotronic films) that Weldon claimed their presence in any film made it psychotronic even if it contained no overt genre or exploitation content. So the Encyclopedia lists Fellini’s 8 1/2, for example, simply because Barbara Steele appears in it. Likewise, Casablanca is psychotronic because of Peter Lorre. As I recall, the other psychotronic actors were John Carradine (“the greatest PSYCHOTRONIC star of all time”), Vincent Price and Boris Karloff.

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The trouble with books of film reviews is that the passage of time makes them increasingly subject to omissions, so I was delighted when Weldon launched Psychotronic Video magazine in 1989. Not only was this a continuation of the encyclopedia’s film listings it was also filled with related features: interviews with character actors, cult figures and interesting stars; a regular music column which mostly covered the kinds of bands who would watch psychotronic films; a regular obituary feature; and pages crammed with bizarre and curious graphics: film ephemera, ads from old magazines, headers by comic artist Drew Friedman, and mermaid drawings by Weldon’s girlfriend, Mia. One of my favourite features, which ran from the first issue, concerned Weldon’s obsession with The Rivingtons’ Papa Oom Mow Mow and The Trashmen’s Surfin’ Bird, an ideé fixe which had Weldon cataloguing as many cover versions or film inclusions of the songs as he could find.

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Psychotronic Video ran for 41 issues until folding in 2006. I bought the first 23 or so then lapsed after the one comic shop selling it in Manchester was closed down by the IRA bombing of the city centre in 1996. Back issues are increasingly scarce (and not always cheap) so it’s good to find all 41 issues at the Internet Archive together with 10 issues of the even more scarce Psychotronic TV. The quality isn’t perfect—some of the scanned pages are subject to blurring—but I can now see what was in the rest of the magazines, and finally get to read the Timothy Carey interview in the one issue I missed, no. 6. Many of the actors interviewed with enthusiasm by Psychotronic Video have since died so the magazine is even more valuable for its insights into careers ignored by other publications.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Bikers and witches: Psychomania
The Cramps at the Haçienda

Weekend links 349

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• Before Stanley Kubrick fixed an image of Alex and his droogs in the popular imagination, artists could get away with playing on the threat of biker gangs as Wilson McLean does in this vaguely psychedelic cover from 1969. (McLean’s interpretation may possibly derive from a 1965 edition.) LibraryThing has a collection of Clockwork Orange covers from around the world which run the gamut of cogs, orange hues and variations on David Pelham’s famous Penguin design from 1972. Meanwhile, AL Kennedy celebrates 100 years of Anthony Burgess by examining the writer’s career as a whole, although the web feature still manages to get a photo of Malcolm McDowell in there.

• “Even bad books can change lives,” says Phil Baker reviewing The Outsider by Colin Wilson and Beyond the Robot, a Wilson biography by Gary Lachman. I wouldn’t call The Outsider a bad book but Wilson’s more wayward opinions (and later works) are best treated with scepticism.

• “Murtaugh refers to his subject’s ‘pervasive sense of doom’ and Welch himself speaks of ‘the extraordinary sadness of everything.'” David Pratt reviewing Good Night, Beloved Comrade: The Letters of Denton Welch to Eric Oliver, edited by Daniel J. Murtaugh.

• At The Quietus this week: Tinariwen bassist Eyadou Ag Leche is interviewed by Richie Troughton, Jane Weaver unveils a new song from her forthcoming album, Modern Kosmology, and Danny Riley explores the strange world of Ben Chasny.

• “A micro-history of cultural gatekeeping: once told by the censors what we may read, then by critics what we should, we are now told merely what we can read.” Ben Roth writing against the use of “readability” as a literary value.

• Yayoi Kusama’s amazing infinity rooms are at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC, until May. For the rest of us, Peter Murphy’s panoramic photo is still online.

• More music: my friends Watch Repair have become visible enough to be interviewed by an Argentinian website. The group’s Bandcamp page recently made three new releases available.

• Yet more music: They Walk Among Us, a new song and video by Barry Adamson, and Anymore, a new song and video by Goldfrapp.

• Earth and The Bug announce Concrete Desert, a collaborative album inspired by Los Angeles and the fiction of JG Ballard.

• Bad Books for Bad People: Episode 7: The Incal – Epic French Space-Opera Comics.

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 589 by Aisha Devi, and Secret Thirteen Mix 212 by Qual.

Eduardo Paolozzi‘s forays into fashion and furnishings.

Cooking with Vincent [Price]

Moroccan Tape Stash

• Tin Toy Clockwork Train (1986) by The Dukes Of Stratosphear | Clock (1995) by Node | Clockwork Horoscope (2009) by Belbury Poly

Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste revisited

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Martin Hayes was in touch this week with news of a reprint of his commendable comic-book biography of Aleister Crowley. Martin was the writer of Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste, and RH Stewart the artist. The first edition, which I reviewed in 2013, was a paperback whereas the new volume from Markosia will be a hardback with revised text and some new content:

Aleister Crowley: Wandering the Waste, the critically-acclaimed graphic novel by Martin Hayes, Roy Huteson Stewart, and Paul McLaren is re-launching at LSCC 2016. A meticulously researched exploration of the life of Aleister Crowley, with a foreword by renowned Crowley scholar Richard Kaczynski. This new edition has been revised and completely redesigned with a new cover and additional bonus content—fully annotated and complete with bibliography and rarities.

Aleister Crowley: Wandering the Waste is published by Markosia and will launch at London Super Comic Con in the Excel Centre on Saturday 20th of February, 2016.

Written by Martin Hayes, whose previous projects include the graphic novels Project Luna: 1947 and Abominable Glory, along with several serials for Aces Weekly. With art by Roy Huteson Stewart, who has illustrated for Vincent Price Presents and FutureQuake. Lettered by Paul McLaren. Aleister Crowley: Wandering the Waste is a meticulously researched, intricately illustrated autopsy on the life of the Great Beast. 140 pages.

Martin and Roy will be signing at the Markosia booth from 2–3pm on the Saturday of LSCC. Martin will be there from 11–12 on the Sunday.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Konx om Pax
Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Rex Ingram’s The Magician
The Mysteries of Myra
Aleister Crowley on vinyl

Weekend links 277

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Sunday by Amanda Elledge.

• Coming from Strange Attractor this November: The Moons at Your Door, an anthology of strange tales selected by David Tibet. “The Moons At Your Door collects over 30 tales, both familiar and unknown from: Robert Aickman, Algernon Blackwood,  DK Broster, AM Burrage, RW Chambers,  Aleister Crowley, Sheridan Le Fanu, Elizabeth Gaskell, WW Jacobs, MR James, Vernon Lee, LA Lewis, Thomas Ligotti, Arthur Machen, Guy de Maupassant, Perrault, Thomas De Quincey, Saki, Count Stenbock, Montague Summers, HR Wakefield and Edith Wharton. The volume also includes extracts and translations by the author from Babylonian, Coptic and Biblical texts alongside poems and fairy tales.”

Gay-rights activists give their verdict on Stonewall: “This film is no credit to the history it purports to portray”. The only surprise about this episode is that anyone expected Roland Emmerich to make a historically accurate film in the first place. Related: Edmund White’s first-hand report written a few days after the riots.

• “If you hate [Boom!], I hate you, and I could never be your friend or your boyfriend. Divine and I had seen Boom! right before we made Pink Flamingos, and it’s about Elizabeth Taylor, retired, writing her memoirs, which is what Pink Flamingos was too, in a way.” John Waters (again) gives Hayley Campbell some dating tips.

• “We moderns may too-often suffer from a mixing up of historical sequences, but better that, surely, than risk raising a population that is entirely not-arsed about its past.” Julian Cope explores the Celts: Art and Identity exhibition at the British Museum, London.

• “But I am talking about psychedelic music, and obviously some of that comes from early psychedelic rituals, which are all about losing yourself…and I did come back into the world in a different way.” Natasha Khan on her new musical project, SEXWITCH.

• At Dangerous Minds: Vincent Price teaches the dark arts on his 1969 album An Adventure in Demonology.

• A trailer for Salthouse Marshes, “a short, landscape obsessed ghost story” by Adam Scovell.

• Rare video of Young Marble Giants playing for 45 minutes in Vancouver, 1980.

• A collection of Ghost Box posters and flyers designed by Julian House.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 163 by Ssleeping desiresS.

Ministry, a new photo series by Ellen Rogers.

Julia Holter‘s favourite albums.

Boom Stix (1962) by Curley & the Jades | Things That Go Boom In The Night (1981) by Bush Tetras | Boom! (1991) by The Grid