|In 1977, Carousel Books published Monsters of the Movies by Denis Gifford, who only four years prior had released A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, one of the most popular, authoritative and influential book ever written on the subject matter.
|Each monster was allotted a double-spread of two
pages, mostly featuring a full-page still image and an
accompanying page with text providing readers with a
brief summary of the movie in which the monster in
Monsters of the Movies was right up the alleyway of my 13-year old self in 1977, and I was so thrilled to find this little gem that I still vividly remember to this day when and where I bought it and how I plopped down my 45p with both determination and delight. I perused my copy of Monsters of the Movies again and again, and it primed me for an even more influential purchase only a week or two later - Denis Gifford's Pictorial History of Horror Movies.
Of course most (if not all) of the films listed by Denis Gifford were completely out of reach in the 1970s, not just for teenagers thrilling to the delightfully eerie pictures featured in Monsters of the Movies, but for horror movie buffs of all ages. Quite often, the only way to view them was through abridged home movie versions on (Super)8mm, and Gifford actually provides a list of what was available in 1973 on that medium in his Pictorial History of Horror Movies (VHS would only be introduced in 1976 by JVC, and "home videos" only started to catch on by the very late 1970s). However, given the costs involved (for both a decent sound projector and then the movies) that was more like theoretical than practical advice.
But by now, 45+ years after the publication of Monsters of the Movies, and with DVDs (since 1996) and Blu-ray discs (since 2006) galore, things are looking a lot better. Here then is Denis Gifford's list of monsters and movies, with some links to additional, spoiler-free information for each movie (marked in light yellow and all work in progress, I hasten to add) or the relevant page on Wikipedia. Quite amazingly, I have by now been able to watch (and own a copy of) almost all of them...
|Carousel Books, who published Monsters of the Movies, was an imprint of London-based Transworld Publishing (now a division of Penguin Random House) active in the 1970s and early 1980s. To the best of my knowledge, Monsters of the Movies has never been reprinted.
DENIS GIFFORD'S LIST - A FEW OBSERVATIONS
|Compiling a list of just 46 monsters and films
spanning almost the entire history of horror movies will,
by default, contain both glaring omissions and curious
entries - not to mention personal preferences. With that
in mind, Denis Gifford's selection for Monsters of
the Movies is somewhat akin to the chef's
recomendations at a fine dining restaurant - you don't
really enter into an argument about it. Nevertheless, a
few observations won't do any harm.
When Gifford passed away in 2000, The Guardian in its obituary pointed out what really seems to have been at the core of his work:
Gifford's keen nostalgia for the early days of horror movies is not only very tangible in his classic Pictorial History of Horror Movies, it also shows in his selection for Monsters of the Movies. That doesn't mean he left out or ignored more modern films - on the contrary, some of his choices regarding 1960s and 1970s productions are to a degree even surprisingly "modern" (and, to be honest, hardly what would have been considered children and teenager friendly in the mid-1970s), such as The Vampire Lovers or Countess Dracula (which both stem from Hammer's early sexploitation era). His nostalgia does, however, account for the numerous silent movies on his list (no less than five). Arguably, they are all classics.
Gifford's penchant for (obscure) pre-WW2 movies does shine through at times, and some selections do seem slightly odd once you've actually seen the movie - The Ape-Man is a prime example of a film that really shouldn't make it onto any list with a positive spin, and since Gifford already had the Alligator People, it could not have been the need to find a monster/movie that starts with the letter A (the letters Q, X and Y, by the way, are missing in his list, unless you drop titles such as Doctor and Count, which then gives you (Count) Yorga and (Dr.) X).
It is not really obvious from the selection of films featured in Monsters of the Movies, but Gifford's nostalgic perspective was also his achilles heel which prevented him from appreciating more modern horror movies - and he was especially hard on Hammer.
One could to a degree accept the jab at Hammer for sniffing out what would make them money (even if Universal did the same thing back in the 1930s), but the quality comparison statement was patently ridiculous.
|Then again, others were publishing books on horror movies that featured a tone that was more appreciative of the modern films - such as Alan Frank, whose 1974 Horror Movies - Tales of Terror in the Cinema was an oversize tome that I couldn't resist spending my pocket-money on either.
|With hindsight, I find it both striking and amazing
how horror themes aimed at children or young teenagers
were pretty much everywhere in the 1970s.
The fact that you had horror themed ice cream is more of an anecdotal nature (Wall's "Count Dracula" ice cream didn't, at least in my memory, taste that good but it looked too wicked to not get it when you could).
|It seems almost the only thing that wasn't accessible
were the movies listed in Denis Gifford's Monsters of
the Movies - maybe that's what made it such a
fascinating find and read. And as Flood (2019)
demonstrates, things that go bump in the night simply
were what a lot of kids enjoyed in the 1970s.
|In defence of parents and educators, what all of this did was, of course, prep you for the literary source - if you couldn't watch the movies, you could at least read the books and stories that inspired some of the most iconic amongst them.
BRANAGHAN Sim (2019a) "Monsters Maidens and Mayhem: Horror Film History Books 1965-79 (Part 1)", online at SMGuariento.com
BRANAGHAN Sim (2019b) "Monsters Maidens and Mayhem: Horror Film History Books 1965-79 (Part 3)", online at SMGuariento.com
EMERSON Jim (1990) " Rating 6 recently published guides to movies on video", Chicago Tribune, 2 March 1990
FLOOD Alison (2019) "'Ghosts shaped my life': out-of-print children's classic to be resurrected", The Guardian, June 12th 2019
GIFFORD Denis (1973) A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Hamlyn
HOLLAND Steve (2000) "Obituary Denis Gifford", The Guardian, 26 May 2000