Thursday 6 April 2017

Amicus - The Friendly Face of Fear

Am I Cursed?

Amicus - The Friendly Face of Fear -
The Definitive History of Amicus Productions

by Allan Bryce
The Dark Side

Amicus, The Friendly Face of Fear: The Definitive History of Amicus Productions
is pretty much one of those ‘does what is says on the tin’ books, to a certain extent. This tome was bought for me by my cousin for Christmas, who last year gifted me Bruce G. Hallenbeck’s The Amicus Anthology (reviewed here) and it’s more like the book I thought that first one would be... although, ironically, it’s not as detailed as the former.

It’s not a bad little book though, especially for someone like me who knows very little about the Amicus studios and who hasn’t seen... that many... of their films. Starting off with the usual kind of mini biography of the two former partners MIlton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, the book then goes on to look at each film, mostly assigning a chapter per movie. I really didn’t realise that Amicus had made this few films in their mere 15 year history so that was an eye opener for me.

Each mini chapter discusses the production of one film or other and uses occasional interviews by people who worked on the film themselves... usually the directors and producers, for the majority of those sources, although the words of some actors and actresses are also included.  There’s not too much about the musical scores for the films here, which is a shame, but it does take you through some of the censorship issues, although they really didn’t have that many of them, by the looks of it. Not even a fraction of the trouble their more successful rival Hammer did, it would seem.

Actually, looking at that censorship issue, it’s almost like they had the exact opposite problem to Hammer. This may seem quite strange when you compare things to modern audiences and their effect at the box office but an X rating wasn’t the kiss of economic death like the nearest equivalent mostly is today. In those days, if you were making a horror film... and the majority of the Amicus films were, barring the odd thriller or their science fiction stuff like the Doctor Who movies, The Land That Time Forgot (and its sequel, which didn’t actually have the Amicus name on it), At The Earth’s Core and so forth... then it was more desirable for your film to be granted an ‘X’ certificate to show your audience you meant business and to get the punters in.

Ironically, however, it was almost like a mission statement of one of the producers that their films would not be anywhere near as gory or as violent as their Hammer counterparts... indeed, he wanted to be making horror films for children. So when it came to the censorship issues, I was surprised to find that, on occasion, the films were awarded a much lower certificate and Amicus would have to request a higher rating from the BBFC to maintain credibility with their target audience... sometimes even going so far as to shoot the odd, slightly bloodier scene to help raise the rating.

The book is quite well designed for the most part and, one thing it does have in abundance, is plenty of picture content... some in black and white but a lot of colour stuff too and, of course, this includes the poster designs for a lot of the productions plus some behind the scenes stuff. It’s nothing, if not densely illustrated and, although I was disappointed in the lack of full on detail in the content (I could have done with thirty or so pages per film as opposed to 5 - 7 pages per production), the writing style is not too bad and it makes for a warm and cosy read.

Throughout and especially towards the end, the book also tells us the state of Subotsky and Rosenberg’s partnership as time went on and how it deteriorated over the 15 year period due to a variety of different reasons, especially when a producer called John Dark appeared on the scene. It’s sad to read of this stuff but there’s also a sense of... “well at least we got as much as we did from them” and the book does also go into how the two thrived or survived after the company went under.

So there you go... a short review for a short book. Amicus, The Friendly Face of Fear possibly won’t tell people who know a lot about the company much that is new and so, in all honesty, I wouldn’t recommend it to them. I would, however, recommend it to folks like me who haven’t actually got a lot of knowledge on the studio in the first place and who want a quick, introductory primer to the films. This is something which is a valuable addition to my book shelves until, at some point, a suitably more substantial version looking at the entire history in detail is researched and written (one can hope, I guess). Top marks, though, for Allan Bryce who makes this look at the studio and the reputation they built as entertaining as possible.

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