Tuesday, 21 June 2016
Tigon - Blood On A Budget
The Tigon Empire
Tigon - Blood on a Budget
by John Hamilton Hemlock Books
John Hamilton’s Tigon - Blood On A Budget, for Hemlock, is an addition to their library which I personally find fascinating because it tells the story of a studio who I’ve never really taken all that seriously or known much about. Tigon were, of course, the third of the three British studios who were especially known for producing movies in the horror genre, being perhaps the second best competition to the absolute masters in the business of churning out commercially successful product for a longish period of time... the Hammer studios, who became 'Hammer Horror' in a lot of people's minds (and still, to this day, remain so). Of course, Hammer’s main rivals in the terror trade were Amicus studios (you can read my review of the book about their anthology films here) but Tigon also put out some classic rival movies in their time and so, a tome on them was about due, I think.
Now, there’s good and bad with this particular volume and the main problem is the quantity of text. This book is, surprisingly, an extremely thin volume, totalling just 128 pages in length. So, less than the size of certain thick magazines and, while it’s a little oversize in that it takes the form of a square shaped aspect ratio, the design inside the book, which includes a lot of photographs from the various productions, both in full colour and mono, also eats into the amount of room that could have been used for more text. That being said, I suspect the text of this thing was about as much as one could get out of the miniscule amount of information and documentation still left about the studio... so I don’t feel short changed in any way (and especially since it was a birthday present from my cousin). Studios like Hammer and even, to a certain extent, Amicus were probably bound to have more documentation available and so I suspect this isn’t simply a case of not enough time and research being put in.
The writer does a pretty good job on it, in fact... starting with a brief history of the early careers of the people involved in either forming or working with the company and then, once each mini biography is done, moving on to highlight the films they worked on in turn. Of course, as is customary in these kinds of ‘review and making of’ volumes, the writer stops at strategic points to meander a little into the backgrounds of writers, directors, actors and actresses along the way, as and when they come up for the first time in the chronology. Included are some useful snippets of information which I’ve only ever heard made passing reference to in documentaries over the years. For example, the intent and approach of the tragically short-lived director Michael Reeves, whose films I have mostly steered clear of since seeing a version of his much applauded film for Tigon, Witchfinder General.
I have, however, seen one of Reeves other films for Tigon back in my dim and distant past (on late night 1970s BBC television, if memory serves) called The Sorcerers, which starred Boris Karloff and, like Witchfinder General, Ian Ogilvy... who I best remembered as Roger Moore's Simon Templar replacement in the TV show, Return Of The Saint. There are little stories of the ‘behind the scenes’ progress on him and various other directors including a couple of films that I’ve only seen fairly recently from the Tigon catalogue... The Blood On Satans Claw (reviewed by me here) and The Curse Of The Crimson Altar (reviewed by me here). I was very interested to learn some of the things Hamilton has either dug up or confirmed about these and other films such as, in the case of The Blood On Satan’s Claw, the fact that it started off life in script form as an anthology of horror stories and these were later compressed or combined to make up the one tale which we are now familiar with.
The design of the book is quite lively, colourful and more like I would expect a lot of these kinds of books to be presented in the current market place. It’s way more interesting than various others in this niche genre where the designers have maybe gone a little over the top with their aesthetic decisions at the expense of clarity or, as is more often the case, not pushed the boat out enough in terms of making an exciting and attractive package which serves to communicate the content. That being said, there are at least two pages where the designers slip up a little to my mind. One is the standard error of 'first time designers for print' in that the back tone underneath some text has had the usual dot gain on the printing process, whereby the tint used is just a little too strong to be able to easily read the text over it.
The other problem lies on a page where the designer has tried to wrap the text around a complex shape and opted to have the lines split vertically by a cut out object but, rather than running the text down either side in columns, has left the split so the reader has the mighty hard task of reading the text from left to right over the two lines split horizontally, forcing the eye to constantly jump in the middle of each line of type. Sometimes designers forget that their number one job on such projects is to make the communication easier, I think. In these two instances I’ve highlighted above, it makes it a heck of a lot harder to read. However, these two pages are in a minority and, for the most part, it’s a well and excitingly designed book which serves the text very well.
My biggest gripe about the actual content is that there is not really much mention of the scores for these things and their composers. I have the music to The Blood On Satan’s Claw on a CD, for instance, and although it's currently out of print, I understand that it’s a well thought of score. Although that, of all the films covered n this book, does get a mention in the main text, it really is just a passing name check and so some composer-centric observations really wouldn’t have gone amiss in the book as a whole, I think.
Still... assuming you’ve got the inclination to read something about Tigon and the money to justifiably buy such a slim tome, the book won’t let you down if you want a taste of what the only other credible UK rival to Hammer and Amicus was. I would hope that, somewhere down the line, more material will be unearthed and a more encyclopaedic volume can be written about the rise and fall of the Tigon studios. However, until such a time comes, Tigon - Blood On A Budget is certainly the best book of its kind on the subject and I’m pleased I got the chance to read this one. While it didn’t, unlike the Amicus anthology book, furnish me with a list of movies from the studio that I need to add to my 'to watch' list, I think it’s a nicely written and informative book that people who have an interest in horror films will be able to treasure for years to come. So if you find yourself matching that description... miss it at your peril.