BOOK REVIEWS (3/17/06):
THE FAMOUS MONSTER MOVIE ART OF BASIL GOGOS, Complied and Edited by Kerry Gammill and J. David Spurlock (2006: Vanguard Productions, 390 Campus Drive, Somerset, NJ 08873). To order visit their Web site at www.creativemix.com/basilgogos. Deluxe Hardcover with Slipcase (includes 16 page bonus folio and is signed by Basil Gogos), $59.95, Hardcover, $34.95.
The monster craze of the 50s and 60s began in a storm of creativity---Shock Theater jolted a generation with horror on TV, Famous Monsters magazine lit torches to Karloff and Lugosi, and horror hosts like Zacherley added a touch of irony and rebellion to the proceedings. --David Colton
But amid all that thunder at the lab, it was Basil Gogos who was the lightning.
Gogos, a natural-born illustrator who came to the United States from Egypt at 16, splashed buckets of brilliant and unliving color onto the pale gray ghosts of late-night television. His 48 memorable covers for Famous Monsters of Filmland, beginning with his rendition of Vincent Price as a fiery Roderick Usher for FM #9 in 1960, gave a modern edge to the black-and-white monsters. Young readers were wooed to the magazine, and to a lifetime of monster envy, with every lavish brush stroke.
When adults today say they remember fondly James Warren's and Forrest J Ackerman's Famous Monsters, there's a good chance it is Gogos' visions of Gorgo, Christopher Lee and the howling Colossal Beast that they recall most vividly.
"Fans were scared once they had seen one of his portraits," Roger Corman says of Gogos' impact on the AIP Poe movies. "They knew the picture would terrify them by the time they got to the theater."
Indeed, kids were mesmerized by Gogos, even if they didn't know his name. His cover painting for Famous Monsters #16 of Lon Chaney's Phantom wasn't some silent movie actor in makeup but a riotous skull of red and purple rage. Gogos' painting of Karloff's Mummy for FM #58 flickered in sick green light from unwanted torches in the tomb.
Gogos' take on the Bride of Frankenstein for FM #17 rivets the viewer with her mad eyes and milky mottled skin. And Gogos' famous profile of Henry Hull's Werewolf of London for the retrospective in FM #24, shows a man deep in torment---you can see it in the jagged lines around his eyes.
All these images and more are brought back with eye-popping elegance in The Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos, by Kerry Gammill and J. David Spurlock. A luxurious, sometimes surprising and long-overdue homage to this underappreciated artistic giant whose work ranged far beyond the grotesqueries he's remembered for today.
Working closely with Gogos, a gentle and shy man who still has a friendly word for fans and colleagues at conventions and film festivals, the authors offer a generous sampling of yes, monster covers, but also long-lost paintings for men's magazines of jungle, western and World War II adventures. Best of all, the authors include numerous examples of Gogos' most recent works, charcoal sketches of famous monsters that capture the essence of the beasties even more deeply than his color paintings did.
"There's a fine line between illustration and fine art" Gogos tells the authors. "One difference is that in illustration, you enhance the picture. You punch it up, you make it more dynamic."
That dynamism is a challenge to recapture in print, but the book delves deeply into the Gogos archives to find original oil paintings whenever possible. Reproduction is first-rate throughout, and aging monster kids will be entranced all over again by the fine hand, and eye, of Gogos.
What comes through most is Gogos' love of his craft.
Gogos says of his Famous Monster portraits: "I envisioned that head being lit by four different colored lights at the same time. It was hard to do, because no one had done it before, including myself."
And of his scarred Vincent Price visage from House of Wax for FM #56, he says, "It took a little longer to do because his face is so distorted and badly treated. But that gives you a chance to, you know, put your fingers in it and really build that face. The more the faces were distorted for these covers, the more I liked it. I enjoy doing normal portraits, but monsters are more fun!"
That's also the word for this book. Gammill and Spurlock deliver the Gogos tribute fans have been waiting for. Nothing will ever replace the awe and wonder of those first covers viewed as a kid, but The Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos will do quite nicely for now. And we can't wait for Volume Two.
GOLDEN HORRORS: An Illustrated, Critical Filmography, 1931 to 1939, by Bryan Senn (2006: McFarland & Co., Inc., Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640). To order visit their Web site at www.mcfarlandpub.com.) Paperpack, $35.00
As copublisher of this magazine, I get a sinking feeling whenever I hear the occasional fan ask if there is anything much left to say about Golden Age horror films. After all, thousand of pages have been written about the Golden Age of Horror. Fortunately, Bryan Senn has alleviated those fears with Golden Horrors, a beautifully written, comprehensive, and painstakingly researched volume devoted exclusively to the horror films of 1931 to 1939. The only other books akin to it are Brunas, Brunas & Weaver's Universal Horrors (McFarland & Company, 1990) and Greg Mank's Hollywood Cauldron (McFarland & Company, 1994), both of which contain unique insights and are essential to any serious fan's library. However, Senn's book is more thorough in scope, since it covers every Golden Age horror film from 1931 to 1939. Senn's writing style is excellent: clear, concise, and at times poignant. His love of the genre permeates every page. In his superbly written introduction, Senn pays tribute to the German technicians who carried their artistry over from the silent era to the talkies of the 1930s, thereby conveying the strong sense of atmosphere which marked the great Golden Age works. --Steve Kronenberg
The individual films themselves are each treated with tender-loving care and thorough analysis. For each film, Senn provides a plot synopsis (tastefully brief); memorable moments in each film; assets and liabilities of each film; reviews contemporaneous with the release of each film; and essential, sometimes fascinating production notes. And anyone who thinks there is nothing more to be said about the Golden Age of Horror films should thumb through Senn's volume. Even a cursory glance at the book will reveal some fresh, innovative takes on Frankenstein; the Mamoulian Jekyll and Hyde (complete with an excellent analysis of the mirror imagery in that film); Freaks (a particularly excellent analysis); The Most Dangerous Game (which Senn sees as a diatribe against the sport of hunting); The Old Dark House (with appreciative kudos for Charles D. Hall's sets); and The Black Room (containing a well-deserved appreciation of the work of cinematographer Allen G. Siegler). Senn also has an uncanny ability to put us in front of the movie screen, writing to us as if we were watching the film right along with him. This quality is particularly present in his excellent chapter on Island of Lost Souls, in which he describes the fever-pitched climax of the film almost in frame-by-frame fashion.
Senn also includes several obscure films of the Golden Age that rarely merit discussion, such as Dwain Esper's Maniac; 1934's Secret of the Loch; and 1935's The Crime of Dr. Crespi. Senn also runs to the defense of certain films that have received unjustified critical drubbing over the last few years, such as Browning's Dracula, Mark of the Vampire, and The Raven.
Finally, the book contains two "bonus" chapters. The first is an extensive appendix, the text of which matches the main volume in breadth and discussion. The appendix is a lengthy analysis of those "borderline" films which do not quite qualify as horror, but are nonetheless close enough to the genre to warrant some analysis. The production notes in this section of the book are just as fascinating as those in the main text, particularly a nasty anecdote involving a confrontation between Charles Laughton and makeup man Perc Westmore on the set of 1939's Hunchback of Notre Dame. The other appendix is a very thoughtfully compiled collection of Golden Age "ten best" lists from today's most noted genre writers. An exhaustive bibliography and index round out the volume.
While I have always felt that McFarland's books are the best designed and best constructed in the genre, they sometimes tend to be a bit pricey. Senn's book is $35.00, but I cannot think of a better way to spend the money. He has provided us with a lovingly written, exhaustive treatise on our favorite subject, which serves as both a fun read and an indispensable reference work. Congratulations to him!
The above review originally appeared in Monsters from the Vault #4 in 1997. McFarland is re-releasing Golden Horrors in paperback this summer. The cover pictured above is the new paperback version. Also, the price reflected ($35.00) is the that of the paperback. The hardcover version sold for $55.00 when released in 1996.