For some considerable time, the American publisher McFarland has been a source of the most astutely written books on various aspects of genre cinema; squarely aimed at the serious film buff rather than the casual browser looking for a selection of stills and some anodyne text (the latter is most emphatically not what McFarland trades in). The proof of that assertion can be found in three new titles beginning with David Huckvale’s Hammer Films’ Psychological Thrillers 1950 – 1972, in which Huckvale examines sympathetically and with insight the black-and-white Hammer series created in emulation of Hitchcock’s Psycho and (their most oft-plundered model) Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques. One might have thought that it would be difficult to find something new and interesting to say about this series (which began with Seth Holt’s excellent Taste of Fear, shortly to be remade by the newly revived Hammer films), as the films have been thoroughly covered (most recently by this writer; I talked about them in British Gothic Cinema for Palgrave Macmillan), but Huckvale proposes some new approaches as well as examining the films which were used as templates for the Hammer series.
Similarly, Rob Craig’s It Came from 1957 combines scholarship with enthusiasm in a study of a significant year in America genre cinema (the subtitle is A Critical Guide to the Year’s Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films), and while one might cheerfully have sacrificed the unnecessary plot synopses — along with some of the large amount of space allotted to cast and crew — the critical commentary in the book is stimulating.
As it is in Janet Leigh: A Biography by Michelangelo Capua, which is a salutary reminder of just how many excellent films the actress was in (most significantly, of course, Psycho and Touch of Evil). Capua reminds us that the actress was more than an attractive face and figure, and his study of a lengthy career is pleasingly informed. If there is a caveat, it is the same mentioned above with the Rob Craig book; we simply do not need lengthy plot synopses, particularly for some of Leigh’s more indifferent films; and surely a more striking cover design and cover shot could have been chosen? Nevertheless, as with the other books under discussion, this is a highly useful contribution to the film buff’s bookshelf.
Hammer Films’ Psychological Thrillers 1950 – 1972, It Came from 1957 and Janet Leigh: a Biography are published by McFarland