Saturday, 25 May 2013

Amicus Horrors: Tales from the Filmmakers' Crypt

I bought this new volume from Midnight Marquee, via the UK’s Hemlock Books, after seeing it on Troy Howarth’s Facebook feed.

A book about Amicus would be very welcome, I thought, especially if it treated the company’s horror and non-horror output in a manner comparable to, say, John Hamilton’s book on Compton/Tigon/Tony Tenser.

Amicus Horrors certainly starts off promisingly, with a worthwhile discussion of the musical anthology films produced by Amicus partners Max Rosenberg (production, finances) and Milton Subotsky (writing, in this case of both screenplay and musical numbers) and how the approach taken in them would feed into Amicus’s better-known horror productions.

If the writing also seemed somewhat fan-boyish that could be excused on account of many of the recollections and quotations stemming from author Brian McFadden drawing upon his meeting Subotsky over 40 years ago.

It was also balanced out by the author’s explanation of the similarities between the narrative structure of Psycho and of Amicus to-be’s first foray into horror, City of the Living Dead/Horror Hotel: made after Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho but before Hitchcock’s film Psycho, it was highly probable that Subotsky, a voracious reader, would already have read the former.

Additionally, McFadden nicely brings out how Subotsky’s experience in television production; padding out or cutting down material to fit a certain length; and general knowledge of how to put the money on the screen proved (in)valuable to Amicus.

Unfortunately it is pretty much all downhill from this point.

Though entitled Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and Christopher Lee at Amicus, the chapters on the three horror icons devote as much or more space to their careers elsewhere.

The chapter on the Amicus Stock company that follows makes little sense given the author had previously indicated, quite correctly, that a key feature of the Amicus approach was the casting of stars on a one-off, short-term basis to make the films look more expensive than they actually were.

For instance, Ingrid Pitt’s inclusion, despite appearing in only one segment of the anthology film The House that Screamed, is explicated in terms of the iconic qualities of one of the still taken off her in the production.

There is some valuable material in these chapters, as is also the case in McFadden’s discussions of Amicus at Shepperton and at Twickenham Studios, and of some of the composers who worked for the company, such as serialist Elizabeth Lutyens and jazzman Tubby Hayes. But, and it is a big but, it is very much a case of sifting through considerable quantities of less-than-gold material to find these nuggets.

In between the studio and music chapters a foray into Hammer territory also highlights the basic problem with the book. To wit, there is no doubting McFadden’s enthusiasm for his subject, but it isn’t always clear what this subject actually is.

Ultimately, we are still waiting for the book that will do Amicus justice. Until then the Little Shoppe of Horrors issue on the studio, #20, remains the reference of choice.

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