Horror Films, written by Alan Frank, was published in the UK in 1977 by Hamlyn Books. It was Frank’s third book on the genre, after Horror Movies and Monsters and Vampires, but while those two volumes were essentially photo books giving a general overview of horror films, Horror Films aimed to give a decade by decade history of the genre. The book includes a foreword by director Terence Fisher (The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy).
Frank was notable at the time for being one of the few people writing books about horror films that were not wedding firmly to the idea that films stopped being good at the start of the 1950s. Frank is enthusiastic about Hammer films – the early ones, at least – and the longest chapter in the book is devoted to the 1970s, even though the decade was only midway through when he wrote it.
Unfortunately, Frank fell into the same trap as his predecessors, by condemning what he sees as an increase in bad taste and unseemly material in the genre. It is, of course, all a matter of personal taste, but some statements seem rather ludicrous when read today. For instance, his description of The Vampire Lovers – “full frontal vampirism and explicit lesbianism… Fantasy gave way to as much nudity and overt sex as Tudor Gates’ script could extract from what had been some promising source material” – while hardly unique, is a gross misrepresentation of the film (which is currently ’15’ rated by the not-exactly liberal British censors!).
House of Whipcord is dismissed as “British exploitation cinema at its lowest common denominator” (“written as clichés by screenwriter David McGillivray in a series of voyeuristic scenes of sadism and violence. McGillivray found in his director Peter Walker the perfect complement to his own abilities”), while The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is also savaged for its tastelessness. This prudishness makes the inclusion of full page, full colour gory images from the likes of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell seem rather hypocritical.
He also makes the mistake of critiquing films that he obviously hasn’t seen, stating that I Eat Your Skin was made in 1971 and was as “equally repulsive” as I Drink Your Blood – something that viewers of this creaky black and white movie might find hard to agree with. And the book rather embarrassingly ends with five pages about the 1976 King Kong, which is pretty excessive. Clearly, it was felt that this would be the big film at the time the book was published, but it has the feel of a promotional piece rather than real film criticism.
However, there is much to admire in the book. It’s more thorough than most mainstream horror film guides of the period and while dominated by British and American films, does acknowledge genre productions from across Europe, South America and the Far East. It’s often opinionated, but that’s no bad thing – while you might not agree with the author, at least you know he is expressing his own opinion – too many horror books in the 1970s and 80s were written by critics who made it clear in their other work that they hated the genre, but who would swallow their pride, take the money and write gushing nonsense about films they despised.
Like Denis Gifford‘s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies before it, Horror Films played a major role in building the obsession and feeding the desire for information amongst youthful genre fans at a time when precious little solid information was available about these movies in books or magazines. While obviously now outdated and superseded by more thorough reference books and online sources, it is still worth picking up if only for the extensive and beautifully reproduced film stills.
David Flint, MOV!ES and MAN!A