Death Line by Sean Hogan /Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me by Maura McHugh/Theatre of Blood by John Llewellyn Probert/Martin by Jez Winship
There is now a sizeable library of books about films of the macabre that could rival the wildest imaginings of a Jorge Luis Borges, with every possible tributary of the genre examined in forensic detail. There is, however, one area which is yet to be explored in such profusion: books about individual films. But a remedy is at hand – the enterprising Midnight Movie Monographs from PS Publishing are to be commended for beginning to plug this gap, commissioning volumes on some of the most intriguing examples of the genre – and, what’s more, marrying the subject films to the perfect writers to address them. All of the books listed above are treated by their authors with enthusiasm (although, of course, you would expect nothing less), but also with a clear analytical frame of mind that addresses the subject with an appreciation of context: the background to the making of the films and the degree of intelligence (or ghoulish fun in the case of Theatre of Blood) with which the films are made. The contributors are from a variety of backgrounds (the writer Maura McHugh has done intriguing work in the comics field), but all are in command of their subject movies. In fact, one of the most striking entries is written by a filmmaker who works within this very genre…
Recently, British horror films and younger directors have touched on different sources of evil and menace than the Gothic. It is that an index of the low esteem in which both politics and big business are held in the early 21st century that there is often a metaphorical conjoining of evil with the great and good of society; it is a recurrent theme in the hybrid horror/crime films such modern British directors as Ben Wheatley and Sean Hogan. Evil in the modern age is no longer located in foreign aristocracy or supernatural creatures — but in the pillars of the establishment. Or – how about the London underground? Sean Hogan has chosen Gary Sherman’s cult horror film Death Line – and Hogan’s taste for urban horror in his own work as filmmaker makes him the perfect fit for this study. Hogan once said to me (when I was interviewing him for my British Gothic Cinema): ‘Certainly, if you’d have asked me what I wanted to emulate when I was first setting out to make films, I would have said the 70s new wave of US horror. Those films made a massive impact on me when I was younger, and I imagine that I might have dismissed a lot of the Gothic tradition as old hat at that point. But it’s all part of the same road you end up travelling along.’ Gary Sherman, an American in London, managed to synthesise the gothic tradition with a very modern urban setting, and produced (as the study notes) an anomaly in British cinema made on the slenderest of budgets, its critique of the English class system rendering the subject very British, as does its quotidian setting: the London underground plagued by cannibalistic monsters. Hogan is the perfect guide to Death Line (and produces his own metafiction inspired by the film).
Maura McHugh is a writer with a pronounced taste for the bizarre and the off-kilter; her books include Twisted Myths and Twisted Fairytales, while her comics work (sometimes co-authored with Kim Newman) shows a similar predilection for the pleasingly unorthodox. All of which makes her the perfect author for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch’s cult film continuation of his groundbreaking television series. McHugh has the full measure of the director’s surrealistic vision, and in prose that is always cogent and expressive, she executes a double task: analysing material that resists analysis and obliging readers to pick up the DVD of Lynch’s film once again. And what more should a film book do?
A similar degree of commitment to the films they are writing about may be found in Jez Winship’s thorough study of George Romero’s neglected modern-day vampire project Martin and John Llewellyn Probert’s celebration of the camp Vincent Price favourite Theatre of Blood, a film that functions as a parody of the genre while delivering the requisite frissons.
The news that Tim Lucas (whose arm-straining volume on Italian horror maestro Mario Bava is absolutely definitive) has delivered a forthcoming volume on the underrated portmanteau movie Spirits of the Dead (with its delirious Fellini episode derived from Poe) is welcome news indeed. It goes without saying that this is a series that belongs on the bookshelves of every aficionado of the macabre.
Death Line by Sean Hogan /Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me by Maura McHugh/Theatre of Blood by John Llewellyn Probert/Martin by Jez Winship are all published by Midnight Movie Monographs/PS Publishing