January 01, 2017

Zombie! Catastrophe! Freaks! - 1970s' movie books from Lorrimer


How to get a teenager's attention

One of the easiest ways to recommend movies is to use photographs and posters. All it takes to sell a movie, even if it's fifty years old. Tweet the right image from a film and someone will reply, "I want to see that." In the years before the internet, I discovered many movies new to me from books and magazines, especially ones with lots of pictures...

In the mid-1970s, when my interest in cinema accelerated, a handful of early hardback books about horror movies inspired me and many other lifelong genre fans, the books of Denis Gifford and Alan Frank. But these pictorial and evocative books were rare and comparatively expensive, only a possibility as Christmas and birthday presents. But here were a set of paperbacks, published at a time when cult movies were barely acknowledged in print and most writing about movies was very dry indeed, some of them having few or no illustrations!

The Lorrimer movie books were medium-sized paperbacks, much smaller than 'coffee table' books but taller than novels. They were also quite affordable - little or no colour inside. But packed with photographs, often of a controversial nature, they thrived for several productive years.

The text was usually a rambling thematic essay, but at the very least, clued me into the titles, directors and stars of interesting-looking films. Unlike the newspaper critics, still very sniffy about horror and science-fiction, there was little editorialising about whether these were 'good' films or not. It was an early sign for me that I wasn't alone in my enthusiasm for genre movies, the more way out, the better.

Before and since, Lorrimer Publishing has mainly released movie script reprints, like this one for Pabst's Pandora's Box. Invaluable for film studies, they specialise in arthouse cinema and international classics. 

But here are all of Lorrimer's 1970s movie genre samplers, in the order that they first appeared. I think I've listed them all...

The House of Horror, 1973

My first Lorrimer book was also my first that was dedicated to Hammer films. The House of Horror clued me in to the many Hammer horrors I'd yet to see. It included a brief history of the studio, a filmography of ALL the studio's movies, with an invaluable summary of all the casts and credits. I then knew what order the Dracula and Frankenstein sagas ran in!

The bulk of the 128-page book is made up of the plots of all the horror films, though there are more photos than text. There's also eight pages of colour posters, for four projects that would never get made (above and below). An indicator of Lorrimer's future success was the sixteen-page gallery of Hammer's leading ladies. Full page portraits, not all fully clothed... Female nudity would be a regular feature in Lorrimer books - stealth softcore. The cover art was more respectable.

Published in 1973, the last Hammer horror films that it lists are Kronos and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. Hammer wouldn't be making films for much longer, so this was nearly a complete overview. The House of Horror was updated several times (in 1981 and 1984, and maybe more), each time with new cover art and subtitled The Complete Guide to Hammer Horror. But I never replaced my original copy, with the colourful Twins of Evil poster art on the cover. 

This is a light read but was an incredibly useful reference book for many years. The contents of later Lorrimer books were far more random...

Cinefantastic - Beyond The Dream Machine, 1974

I bought this one for the photographs and poster reproductions, but the rambling text is still interesting and accessible. A wild musing on loosely connected sci-fi and fantasy themes, possibly inspired by the photos that were available. The text avoids the typical, endless, spoiler-filled plot descriptions and also bucks the slavish attention to auteur theory. Instead it riffs on the chaptered themes of Myth, Machines, Visions and Nightmares. Linking images and motifs observed in cave paintings, through Méliès, to Euro-horror and Japanese monsters. An equally valid chain of influence in film history.

For fresh ideas, it's no longer a fascinating read, but still a potent round-up of the variety of imagery in early sci-fi. While galleries of movie posters have now arrived online, and screengrabs are easy to upload, the internet has a long way to go before every movie publicity photo is accessible. Movie books of this vintage rarely published screengrabs, which seem to take up the majority of online movie illustration. The vast majority of photos were from studio photographers on the set, and this is where older books still have the upper hand over the internet - they also had access to photos that may not exist any more.

One of the earliest Lorrimer movie books, this was first published in 1974 as Cinefantastic (above), but reprinted as Cinema of Mystery and Fantasy in 1984 (see the cover art at the top).

Kung Fu - Cinema of Vengeance, 1974

Celluloid Rock - Twenty Years of Movie Rock, 1974

The Seal of Dracula, 1975

While the vampire genre of the 1970s offered an excess of naked female victims and vamps, the chapters also attempted to spotlight movies from every continent.

Ape - The Kingdom of Kong, 1975

Cut - The Unseen Cinema, 1975

Because this series enjoyed sex and violence, extreme films that fell outside of the horror genre were mopped up by Savage Cinema and Cut.

Savage Cinema, 1975

Italian Western - The Opera of Violence, 1975

Catastrophe - The End of the Cinema?, 1975
Far from simply listing the big disaster movies of the decade, this has one of the more way out texts, envisaging the ultimate catastrophe of a cinema audience engulfed in an actual natural disaster. Though it puts the decade in perspective by cataloguing the many earlier examples of destructive spectacle in movie history.

Cinema of Mystery 1975

Speed - Cinema of Motion, 1975

Freaks - Cinema of the Bizarre, 1976

Zombie - The Living Dead, 1976

Robot - The Mechanical Monster, 1976

Swastika, 1976
While I've added to my collection of Lorrimer books through the years, and bought a few more for this article, here's the one from 1976 that I didn't want in the house. Just in case Amazon started making offensive suggestions.

The Lorrimer books are easy to confuse with these Monarch Film Studies paperbacks which are almost identical in size, covering similarly offbeat movie subjects. The Monarch books are more dedicated to traditional film criticism, made up of essays on a single theme. There are fewer photos, but they are well-chosen, well-reproduced and often take up a half-page. These two from 1976, I simply couldn't pass up. 

This was my first book on Ken Russell - it helped with background information on films that I hadn't yet seen, but of course he was still in the middle of the busiest decade of his career.

A great photo of a young Ken Russell when he was a photographer,
from the Monarch book

My selection of other British horror movie books from the 1970s is here...

This article was partly inspired by the enthusiasm for similar publications on the Vault of Evil discussion group (where they float a few ideas about who all these Lorrimer authors might actually have been, behind the pen names).

May 25, 2015

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT - the BFI Film Classics book

By Kim Newman

Just rewatched QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1968) and read Kim Newman's book-length essay on the film and the Quatermass genre.

His research on early British TV sci-fi and knowledge of the movie genre contantly give insights into all aspects of the three Quatermass films and all four TV series. Contemporary current affairs are reflected in the series, yet THE PIT movie still has a very current impact. 

Newman also examines the movie's place in sci-fi, whether it was influencing others or influenced by previous novels and movies. QUATERMASS AND PIT makes a worthy, though far cheaper, companion to Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in terms of 'first contact'. Coincidentally both films were produced at the same time and even shared the same film studio for a while.

A apt and witty dissection of the film highlights the many, many big ideas as well as the cracking dialogue. Newman also contrasts various versions of the developing scripts.

With beautiful, original cover art, I was disappointed that the many photos inside appeared to be frame grabs. These are typical for film studies but considering this is the only book about the film, it's a lost opportunity to collect the best available publicity and behind the scenes photos.

Towards the end of the book, I also took exception to some of his readings of dialogue and onscreen action. Also, I'm sure I've read elsewhere that the explanation of the 'rippling graveyard' effect wasn't 'gravel spread over rollers' that he suggests, but instead a thick rubber mat with compressed air forced under it.

But apart from a few subjective gripes, this is an immensely enjoyable, thorough and insightful look at British science fiction's early heroes, Nigel Kneale and Professor Bernard Quatermass.

KIm Newman's book is available on woodpulp and on Kindle.

My review of the QUATERMASS AND THE PIT Blu-ray and the movie, including associated ephemera, are here...

My brief meeting with Barbara Shelley at a London convention last year is here...

A look at the last original Quatermass TV series - The Quatermass Conclusion is here...

December 21, 2014

Flashbacks - 1983 and beyond

A last look at my old movie magazine shelf...

While my collection of horror and sci-fi books and mags is another matter, this shelf of general movie magazines has a wider appeal and proved very popular on Twitter. Here's the last few highlights, skipping through the rest of the 1980s.

After this, my collection became very specialised, and I rarely bought Empire magazine, especially as their opinions were so differently tuned than mine. I switched to Movieline for a few years, though my life was mostly ruled by the collectors' bible Video Watchdog, which is also still running today.

All my early peeks inside the mags of the 70s are linked at the end of this article. Here we finish off the decade, starting with 1983...

Dustin Hoffman put on a dress and won an Oscar in Tootsie. Another winner, American Horror Story's Jessica Lange, was also on a roll with star roles at the time.

The third Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, lands in London at three West End Cinemas, in 70mm.

Film Review, July

Flashdance hit big that summer, though the news soon broke about Jennifer Beals not doing all her own dancing. Though a big clue was all of the stark backlighting...

Another busy summer, another Bond, another Star Wars, another Superman...

Film Review, August

Meanwhile, Scorsese was about to release The King of Comedy. Here he is with De Niro as Rupert Pupkin.

Film Review, August

The last Monty Python film, The Meaning of Life, snuck out quite quietly. Terry Gilliam directed the short supporting film that later attacks the main feature! His next directing credit would be the epic Brazil.

A new, but short-lived, movie magazine Movie Scene had great colour pages. This spectacular cover from Fright Night...

...and this publicity shot for John Carpenter's Big Trouble In Little China.

More sequels, here's Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

Merchant/Ivory delivered this relatively frank gay drama, based on a novel by E.M. Forster, who also inspired their acclaimed successes with adaptions of his A Room With A View, A Passage To India and later Howard's End. Maurice features a great role for young Hugh Grant.

Films Illustrated, November

Photo from a one-page interview with Randall Cook, who provided some startling visual effects for the superbly entertaining horror, The Gate.

After being derided in many roles, Arnold was finally taken more seriously in The Terminator and Predator.

Writer/director Derek Jarman's films were some of the few that were made that angrily fought back against A.I.D.S. paranoid British society. Tilda Swinton was a regular collaborator in these experimental visual poems, mostly shot on Super 8 film.

Director Ken Russell's last great works appeared in a loose trilogy, sharing a few overlapping cast members: Lair of the White Worm, The Rainbow and Salome's Last Dance (above).

Great shot of Paul McGann on location for Withnail & I.

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho.

Earlier magazine flashbacks from 1963 to 1982, can be found in the sidebar, at right...

December 08, 2014

Bela Lugosi was here - a look round his old mansion!

Through a series of unrepeatable, lucky coincidences, I recently found myself standing in Bela Lugosi's bedroom. He may not have lived here for long, but just walking around one of the houses he owned felt very special. The rooms he once walked in, the views that he once enjoyed...

Bela and his wife regularly moved homes when he was at the height of his career. It's estimated that he lived here for less than two years, in 1934 and 1935, in the Hollywood Hills' Beachwood Canyon in a mansion known as Castle La Paloma. 

Because the house was up for sale, we were able to briefly look around inside, with the realtor's permission. As this is private property, this certainly isn't open to the public, but sightseers can still see the front of the house from the street.

This isn't the modest, cramped home portrayed in Tim Burton's Ed Wood, when Bela was at the end of his career. This is where he lived twenty years earlier, while making Mark of the Vampire.

The house perches on a very steep drop, allowing views from the back of the house, and gardens, to overlook a significant chunk of the City of Los Angeles, as well as across at many other lofty residences around the rest of the canyon. It has quite extensive grounds, carefully planted out, despite some of them being on a 30 degree slope! 

The 1924 house has recently been renovated and restored for the current sale, with this swimming pool added to what was once a large lawn where Lugosi's menagerie of large dogs must've romped.

The front of the house looks like a quaint English country bungalow, disguising the fact that the house is actually on two levels, built down the canyon slope at the back. 

I wasn't allowed to take photos in the room where Bela most likely used to sleep, which added to its mystique. The fascinating aspect of that room was a hidden, tiny back door that lead outside and subtly out of a corner of the grounds, past a hidden arbour. A remnant of forbidden Hollywood, to include a sneaky secret escape route out of the bedroom and away from the house!

It was a pleasure to witness some vintage Hollywood history, and a privilege to look inside one of the luxury homes I normally only marvel at from the outside. The views are spectacular, and the chance to live in a genuinely old property relatively rare. I wonder who's going to end up buying it?

More photos of this Lugosi residence on Curbed L.A.

Me, not believing my luck