It is with a profound sadness that I read of Denis Gifford’s passing, for it was Denis who changed my life and began me on a quest to learn more about the elusive qualities of the horror film. For my tenth Christmas my parents treated me to a copy of Denis’ “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies”, mostly because I had asked for it, but more probably they had discovered that I was creeping about in the early hours, (although at that time the BBC used to sign off no later than 1am.), with my face pressed close to the black and white tv. and the volume turned as low as possible watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Frankenstein or some of the “forbidden” Hammer films. Despite only having three channels, there seemed to be a better selection from our favourite genre on television then, than there is now!
Denis’ publication brought the whole fascinating subject into focus, but it didn’t end there, the book is written in such a way that my hungry young mind had to find out more. It wasn’t long before I could name the stars of the films and comment fairly intelligently on the movies I was yet to see.
I collected the magazines that would appear regularly at the corner newsagent including “Monster Mag”, “The World of Horror”, and “Hammer House of Horror”. Again at that time horror was prevelant and there was actually a choice of periodicals available. Personally I believe that THE EXORCIST’s success actually spelt the end of the horror genre as we knew it. Filmakers clambered over themselves to create a commercially viable horror film. Unfortunately, instead of coming up with unique and ingenious scripts, producers followed a formula and just threw money at it. This limited the distribution possibilities of smaller, low budget films and therefore noone wanted to make them unless they fell into strict marketing protocol. There have been the occasional exceptions such as HALLOWEEN (1978), but by and large the stories have been the same, only the budgets have changed.
Throughout all this Denis Gifford’s book was becoming dog-eared from overuse and my dreams of owning a Super-8 projector and a few 8mm films of my heros increased, but alas the £4.95 I needed would forever elude me. However, in the late Eighties, after college where, not surprisingly, I studied Film and Television, I purchased a video recorder and have never looked back, my collection continues to grow, but it is becoming more and more difficult to obtain the films that used to grace the small monochrome television. Above all the tapes still stands “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies” and although I have found secondhand copies to limit the wear and tear on my original, the book still commands pride of place.
I only regret that I never met Denis Gifford to tell him the influence his book had on a generation. In all probability he would have thought I was rather obssessed as his talents ranged through many different subjects, publishing more than 50 reference and biographical works, most of them on topics other than horror movies.
Denis will be missed by many, but he will continue as my mentor while I strive to list, analyse and make complete a thorough history of the horror film that began in a small notebook, grew to a photocopied fanzine published by my brother and now has embraced the latest technology to hopefully be seen across the world. The Missing Link aims to educate and bring awareness to the genre, but also to put pressure on the television companies, theatre owners and DVD/video distributors to provide for people who don’t necessarily rely on a body-count or loud explosions to enjoy the cinema.
Behind all this lies Denis Gifford’s book, and while many of my family and friends may question the time I spend on my obssession, I would like to thank Mr. Gifford for inspiring me and the subsequent enjoyment I have had in studying this particular genre.