Wednesday, 4 July 2007

100 European Horror Films

The first thing to say about 100 European Horror Films is that what it is really about is Eurohorror, defined by editor Steven Jay Schneider in his introduction as a post-1960 Continental European phenomenon in which generic boundaries were less important than greater explictness, in terms of sex and violence and transgression.

Its a definition that, not surprisingly, throws up questions as to the absence of the English Gothic and the inclusion of a small number of Central and Eastern European productions. For, as subsequent entries on the likes of Franco's Awful Dr Orlof and Ferroni's Mill of the Stone Women make clear, many Eurohorror films, particularly from Italy and Spain, need to be situated in relation to filmmakers like Fisher, while as Schneider himself notes this selfsame western Eurohorror context did not apply in the more (or differently?) censorious Soviet Bloc.

Insofar as the selection of 100 films is presented as an attempt at building a Eurohorror canon, there are likewise some awkward exclusions seemingly resulting from this policy. Polanski is represented by the The Tenant whereas its distaff counterpart Repulsion is absent, whilst Grau's Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue seems included and Larraz's Vampyres omitted for no obvious reason. Likewise, why (the Mexican) Del Toro's The Devils Backbone but not (the Spanish) Erice's Spirit of the Beehive?

In terms of the 100 films themselves and the approaches taken by the various contributors, the dominant impression one gets is of an updated version of the Aurum Film Encyclopedia approach, distinguished by the inclusion of a number of more recent films and the application of slightly more varied theoretical frameworks so that, whilst film psychoanalysis is still very much the dominant approach, it is not necessarily seen as the one true way to the same extent as 20 or so years ago.

The films are listed in A-Z order rather than chronologically or by country, with this proving a decision that makes it harder to see connections and contradictions when combined with the lack of an overall authorial voice.

The reader new to the form is left to note the line of necrophiliac descent from The Horrible Secret of Dr Hichcock to Buio Omega for themselves, whilst the likes of Rollin's visual quotation in The Grapes of Death of Katya's entrance in Bava's Black Sunday is left as an exercise for the viewer to discover – or not.

Fulci's Zombie is presented as his embrace of horror in the City of the Living Dead write up, whilst elsewhere the giallo – including Don't Torture a Duckling – is subsumed within the (Euro)horror framework. (His Beatrice Cenci is not mentioned at all, although I suspect it could likewise be read as a proto-horror predating the La Reine Margot approach by a good quarter century.)

These weakness is exacerbated by the absence of recommendations for further reading or viewing of the sort that one feels should be in an introductory volume of this sort, whether it be Immoral Tales, Alternative Europe or the longer Kinoeye and Senses of Cinema articles from which many of the authors pieces seem to have been derived.

Unsurprisingly the individual entries vary considerably in quality and insight. A good example of this are those on the krimi The Door with Seven Locks and the giallo / krimi crossover What Have You Done to Solange? Ken Hanke does an excellent job of outlining the krimi formula and what the filmmakers did with their Edgar Wallace source texts in updating them for contemporary German audiences. Neil Jackson seemingly attributes 1978's Rings of Fear to Solange director Massimo Dallamano, who had in fact died in 1976, and simply presents the film as “based on the Edgar Wallace story 'The Case of the New Pin'” without elaborating further. Whilst I cannot claim to have read the Wallace story myself, my gut feeling is that schoolgirls being killed by knives to the vagina; a schoolteacher carrying on an affair with one of his pupils and a back-story involving a backstreet abortion gone wrong are not things he would have considered suitable subject matter when writing in the 1920s.

Elsewhere one finds Suspiria being referred to as a film which meant “Argento's films have all been successfully distributed in the US” and thus ignores the very limited release given Inferno, the retitling and re-editing of Tenebrae and Phenomena or the straight-to-video fate of Trauma – if these are examples of successful distribution, what counts as failure? – while Tenebrae's score is attributed to Simonetti from Goblin, rather than three members of Goblin operating without the ability to use the name.

One of the most thought-provoking pieces is Mikel Koven's entry on Torso, where he situates the film, via its opening scenes, and the filone as a whole as existing between art and exploitation. Maybe this is in accord with his giallo as vernacular “cinema of poetry” thesis in La Dolce Morte, but I also wondered if the “literal” way in which the question is identified as being asked implied a degree of premeditation and self-consciousness that seems alien to the way it is presented as more unconscious art in that study.

Despite all I've said, I would heartily recommend this book to those wanting to know more about European horror cinema, precisely because the more interest there is in the subject the better. (And others like it for that matter – it would be a tragedy if the canonisation of a select body of Eurohorror texts means that other European and World genre cinemas are correspondingly marginalised.) Plus, as these brief notes hopefully indicate, there is a lot of material in the book sure to provoke reaction and debate...

1 comment:

brainbug said...

Thanks for including reviews of the reference material and books you are currently reading. I had never even heard of this one.