DEAD OR ALIVE: BRITISH HORROR FILMS 1980-1989

PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

This collection of reviews, as the title suggests, covers the movies made in Britain during what was arguably the least profitable time for UK cinema. Video had all but killed the act of ‘going to the pictures’ and the films being made would sneak straight out onto tape or, worse still, never see the light of day at all.

The wonder of this pool of titles is the diversity. Well-known highly budgeted films rub shoulders with the ones that have hardly been heard of. And although the book may not look much – the current version is a ‘festival edition’ printed in black and white with few photographs (and those that are included are lower quality) – an expanded, fully-illustrated version is due next year from US publisher Midnight Media. What it lacks in panache, the book makes up for in content. Laid out chronologically, with numerous writers tackling the reviews, there are plenty of gems to (re)discover. There’s even an invaluable appendix of short films, a neglected area of cinema if ever there was one.

This is, of course, Buxton’s second decade-centric review book, as his Shrieking Sixties was released several years ago and should be on everyone’s bookshelf (the ‘70s were skipped since the brilliant Ten Years of Terror did them so well), and Dead or Alive is a worthy follow-up. The writing is fun, informal and informative. Due to the different assortment of writers, the style doesn’t become predictable or samey. Some films have more attention than others, and thankfully, it’s not the obvious ones, either. The 1984 slasher Don’t Open Till Christmas is given two separate reviews (as are a few more films) and the biggest word count. It’s also represented in one of the appendix sections, as the feature-length ‘Making of’ is covered too. While the movie itself is an enjoyable mess, the critiques here both highlight the low points of the film, while celebrating the shear ludicrousness of it all. Director Derek Ford’s next film, The Urge to Kill (originally intended to be called Attack of the Killer Computer) is also covered, and instantly makes the ‘track down’ list!

There are some dubious entries – Aliens, for example – where the British involvement is negligible, but enough to class it as such, but these are not included at the expense of other films. Where else will you read about Cliff Twemlow’s Moonstalker, or indeed, his unfilmed project The Pike? Or Torment, one of the forgotten films of Michael J. Murphy, who’s Invitation to Hell was a VHS hit, and who contributes the foreword for the book. Sadly, Murphy passed away before publication, but his endorsement is fitting. It’s an impressive collection of assessments of an often derided era of horror cinema, but certainly one that provided its fair share of classics.

While this Festival Edition is decidedly lo-fi (a hardback version is available on Lulu, but it's pricey), it’s a cracking read, and certainly worth any horror fan’s time. 

DEAD OR ALIVE: BRITISH HORROR FILMS 1980-1989 / EDITOR: DARRELL BUXTON / PUBLISHER: RAMPAGE PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW


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