Monday, 10 October 2016

Electric Dreamhouse - Midnight Movie Monographs.

The Electric Dreamhouse Press is a new imprint created by editor Neil Snowdon and which publishes via PS Publishing. The focus of the imprint is cinema – in particular horror cinema – and its inaugural publications are the first two books in a planned series of Midnight Movie Monographs.
The movies under consideration are at different points along the spectrum of horror although both were made in the 1970s, arguably the most exciting decade in film history.

Theatre of Blood is a glorious mix of horror and black comedy and was released by United Artists in 1973. Directed by Douglas Hickox, it stars Vincent Price as Edward Lionheart, a Shakespearian actor on a bloody quest to dispatch a group of theatre critics who failed to honour him with an award, using the Bard’s plays as inspiration for the murders.
Given the subject matter, and tone of the film, who better to write a book about it than John Llewellyn Probert, a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of film and – more importantly – a deep love of the horror genre? It’s a fair bet that John knows exactly who the second assistant Grip on The Brides of Dracula was – a fact that even the actual second assistant Grip on The Brides of Dracula probably can’t remember. John’s love of the genre comes across in every book he writes (and on his review site The House of Mortal Cinema) and it’s on full display here too. This is a detailed analysis of the film but is written with such glee and enthusiasm that it truly is a joy to read. In his introduction, John describes it as more like a commentary track on a DVD than a weighty thesis and that’s exactly how it reads as, scene by scene, he explains what’s going on, why and how - adding priceless nuggets of trivia along the way.
The film is a favourite of John’s – and inspired his glorious Dr Valentine novellas – and was one he experienced for the first time back in the eighties as part of the horror double bills shown on TV. Such was my experience and I had to smile when I found out that I was not the only person whose abiding memory of the film was Robert Morley’s poodles… I was also pleased to see that John is still unsure as to whether Diana Rigg’s disguise was meant to fool the audience or not, even on first viewing as a callow youth I was never taken in by it and was therefore unimpressed by the “reveal” scene.
I loved this monograph, a perfect combination of information and fandom.

The second of the two books is Jez Winship’s analysis of Martin, George A Romero’s 1977 alternative take on the vampire legend.

I have a suspicion that my first (and only) viewing of Martin was as part of the aforementioned horror double bill series, though I may be mistaken. (I shall ask John Llewellyn Probert, he’ll know). Whenever it was, my memories of it are less substantial than those of Theatre of Blood (although those of the latter were enhanced by my viewing of it at a night class run by the Tyneside Cinema a few years back) but, to my dishonour, I do remember being less than impressed by it. This is something I can only put down to youthful arrogance and naivete – “art house” were dirty words to me back in the day… (Thankfully, I have obtained a degree of maturity now. In film appreciation at least).
This book is a lot more formal affair, a more detailed – if not forensic – analysis of the film. These books are of course monographs – in effect personal opinions – but there’s a weight to everything Jez puts forward in this book and, after reading it, if you weren’t already you’ll be very aware of how much thought and care is put into making a film even down to the details of the camera angles employed and the props used – even a paperback book glimpsed for only a few seconds in one scene has a deep significance.
I loved reading these books. Genre films –and horror films in particular – often have a bad press, dismissed as throwaway entertainment, lacking in any artistic merit. This is patently untrue of course and books such as these are proof, if it were needed, that the reality is quite the opposite.
Do you need to have seen the films to enjoy the books? Err… yes, probably. The structure of both volumes is the same, in that the authors describe the film scene by scene, adding insight and information as they go. In truth, once you’ve finished the book, you’ll technically have seen the film as everything that happens has been described. My tip: Watch the film, read the book, watch the film again.

Neil has created something good here – something really good. The list of forthcoming titles is impressive, as are the authors lined up to present their thoughts and opinions on some classics of horror cinema. It’s a project I hope to see going from strength to strength, and I wish it every success in the future.

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