For this reason, I was excited to hear that Jonathan Rigby - the author of the admirably insightful and well-balanced ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC, among other fine books - was working on a new series addition to be called EURO GOTHIC, a selective overview of horror in European cinema. So much that has been written about European horror films has come from writers that, like myself, are a little crazy about it all - hopelessly obsessive, impossibly completist and/or elitist, sometimes willfully provocative. As I saw it, the strong card of Rigby's eventual take on this uneven landscape of macabre twins, bland masks, robust werewolves, crumbling villas, webby catafalques, lesbian vampires, bouncing balls and affable mental cases was bound to be his remarkable even-handedness, his balance and perspective. In short, the sheer sanity he would likely bring to bear on such an hallucinatory task.
And indeed, EURO GOTHIC: CLASSICS OF CONTINENTAL HORROR CINEMA (Signum Books, 416 pages, $34.95) is very likely the most balanced piece of writing such films have ever received. At the outset, Rigby explains the basic impossibility of fully addressing the scope of his title, which he has made manageable by focusing on "113 representative titles" which receive the fullest attention, each of which radiate out into micro-managed discussions of other, more minor works which relate to that title through theme or shared participants, all the while observing a chronology that feels remarkably consistent considering the sheer chaos under the microscope. He also wisely, I think, concludes his history in 1983, with Pupi Avati's alphabetically appropriate ZEDER (aka REVENGE OF THE DEAD), at the time when so much of the respective cult cinemas of Italy, Spain, France and Germany began to suffer financial crises and became geared, whenever films overcame the odds to get made, toward direct-to-video release.
Just as, for many viewers, "Euro Gothic" may signal one specific thing rather than the hopping mad variety of its reality, it is rare to find Eurocult cinema discussed in the same breath with its actual antecedents in the silent era, where in fact we find these often rebellious, revolutionary, outlaw films related to a large number of the great classics of world cinema - films like THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI, NOSFERATU and DR MABUSE - THE GAMBLER, but this book rightly encompasses those titles and many others and establishes firm connections between their experimentalism, Expressionism, and use of natural (often war-torn) scenery and all that came later.
|Conrad Veidt in THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE (1926).|
|Simone Signoret in LES DIABOLIQUES.|
|Daliah Lavi in IL DEMONIO (1963).|
|Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in HORROR EXPRESS.|
|Jessica Harper in SUSPIRIA.|
Are there faults? Of course there are. At the outset, Rigby apologizes for the need to be selective in his coverage, to the detriment of films made in, say, the Scandinavian countries or Eastern Europe. (1953's DRAKULA ISTANBUL'DA from Turkey is a serious omission in this respect, as it contains scenes that appear to have influenced, say, I VAMPIRI while also anticipating both HORROR OF DRACULA and Franco's supposedly unprecedentedly literal COUNT DRACULA of 1970.) Also, while music has long been central to the character of European horror films, the scores of the films under discussion generally receives short shrift, with "funky" being the most commonly deployed adjective when it's mentioned at all. Likewise, whenever Rigby attends to uses of color, he almost always defaults to blue, very nearly the only color he mentions with specificity. There is also a tendency to take films at face value as the director's own work in cases where post-production tampering was done - Franco's SUCCUBUS (1967) and VENUS IN FURS (1969) being good cases in point. This book marks probably the only occasion when FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1971) has been discussed without invoking the name of cast member "Boris Lugosi," and it also mistakenly identifies director Robert H. Oliver as a pseudonym for its producer Dick Randall. But this book didn't require a fan's hornet-like attention to detail as much as it needed responsible distance, and this is what we get: a sober yet loving history of the subject at hand, respectful and affectionate yet soundly critical, in which the writing boasts literacy, geniality, and careful attention not only to matters of chronology and geography, but to the furtive ways in which films sometimes speak to one another (as when Rigby notes that Julien Duvivier's LA CHAMBRE ARDENTE [THE BURNING COURT, 1961] misses an opportunity to invert BLACK SUNDAY with a witch's curse uttered by the blonde and luminous Edith Scob).
As with ENGLISH GOTHIC and AMERICAN GOTHIC before it, Jonathan Rigby's EURO GOTHIC represents a major addition to the literature of fantastic cinema, a valuable addition to any collection so devoted. The layout follows the same template as those earlier releases, and the plentiful photos are attractive and reflect both care and cleverness in their choosing. Taken as a set, these books amount to the finest history of the horror and fantasy cinema genre presently available.
(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.