PrintE-mail Written by Jon Towlson

The horror film reveals as much – if not more – about the British psyche than the more ‘respectable’ traditions of social realist drama and heritage cinema and yet it’s often relegated to a footnote in British cinema textbooks. At any rate, very rarely is its cultural resonance explored as deeply as it is in this thoroughly researched, enjoyably written and comprehensive book.

Author Ian Cooper works from the central premise that British horror is characterised by a very English fascination with gruesome murder (as best exemplified by the films of Hitchcock), and is distinct from the American tradition of ‘the carny, the freakshow and the EC Comic book’: British horror cinema is a potent fusion of the Gothic and the gory.

Cooper divides his study into six time periods. In ‘‘It’s Alive’: The Birth of Home Grown Horror’, he traces the early years of the British horror film from the quota quickie, through Amicus via Dead of Night (1945). Any survey of British horror has to acknowledge the primacy of Hammer; Cooper devotes his second chapter the studio’s work in detail, arguing that Hammer is itself an ‘auteur’, whilst also acknowledging the importance of key figures like Terence Fisher, Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman. Chapter Three focuses on the American influence via directors like Roger Corman (with his Poe series) and actors such as Vincent Price. This leads into ‘soft sex and hard gore in the savage seventies’, as Cooper discusses the works of Pete Walker, Anthony Balch, and other 1970s shockers that took British horror out of the Victorian past. The final chapter concentrates on British horror’s rise from the grave in the last ten years, with directors like Neil Marshall, James Watkins and Ben Wheatley continuing to push the boundaries of British horror whilst also respecting its traditions.

It is often when Cooper goes off the beaten track that the book is at its most rewarding: in Frightmares Andy Milligan gets to rub shoulders with Tony Tenser at Tigon (in the chapter ‘Bloody Foreigners – New Perspectives’), Sidney Lumet’s The Offence is studied as a variation of the 1970s cycle of excessive thrillers, and Robert Hartford-Davies’s The Fiend (1972) is given detailed consideration in terms of its ‘gospel sounds and sex murders’. Cooper’s discussion of lesser-known directors like Peter Collinson is equally insightful. Frightmares is witty and engaging throughout, with at least one laugh-out-loud moment (the way that Cooper describes Johnny Alucard’s demise in Dracula AD. 1972 is hilarious).

Frightmares is a more-than-worthy addition to the growing list of books on Brit-horror; and for the devoted fan, it’s a must-read.



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