A fan of horror movies since childhood, probably one of my most treasured gifts was a book I received for Christmas when I was ten years old, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford. This book ranks extremely high on the inspiration scale, and with good reason. TV in my household in 1977 consisted of three channels, one of which had a Saturday afternoon Creature Feature showing old monster movies, and as cool as that was, in retrospect it’s plainly obvious their selection was less than desirable. This was pre-cable, before HBO and Showtime, and other than fiction and comics, there wasn’t much for a horror fan to consume. A Pictorial History of Horror Movies quickly became my favorite book, not just for all the ghastly photos inside, but of the historical accounts of the film industry, researched and compiled by Gifford with tidbits of insider anecdotes and memorabilia.
My original volume is so tattered and torn, held together with packing tape and dangerously close to completely falling apart, that I rarely ever open it up now. Fearing the worst, I have it in storage, and purchased another edition to peruse at my leisure. Available from third-party sellers on Amazon, you can click on the link at the bottom to get your own copy at relatively affordable prices.
Starting with the very first horror films ever made, including Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein, staring Charles Ogle as the creature, and the classic film trickery of Georges Méliès (A Trip to the Moon, 1902), Gifford goes through history, offering accounts of the early silent films, the beginning of German horror with films like Faust and The Golem, as well as a lengthy chapter devoted to the Man of a Thousand Faces, Lon Chaney. Chaney’s contribution to film, especially horror, is essential to understanding the painstaking attention to detail that went into the production of films back them. Way before CGI, Chaney’s characters defied expectations, and it’s amazing to discover the challenges and discomfort he went through just to make you think it was real. The behind-the-scenes photos of Chaney in action are worth the price of admission alone.
From there we dive into the Universal Monster classics, with excellent pieces about Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy, as well as their respective sequels. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as The Wolfman and The Creature from the Black Lagoon are covered in detail. Gifford compiles first-hand accounts of Jack Pierce’s make-up and special FX in production of these classic films is incredible, with little known nuggets of insider information. Who knew Lon Chaney Jr’s hands were actually secured with tiny nails during the filming of the werewolf transformation scenes to limit his movement while the camera rolled?
Covering the Hammer Films explosion, Nuclear Terror, the beginning of Japanese and Korean horror, as well as the cheesier films of the era, and the horror-comedy classics, this book is essential for those wanting to know the early history of horror film. With hundreds of photos, including original movie posters and production stills, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford is an essential tome for every horror movie fan.
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