The hardest part of writing this review, other than battling with the constant voice in my head which shouts ‘why didn’t you think of this?’ is trying to describe the work’s merits without giving too much away. However, it’s damn near impossible to sell this without straying dangerously close to spoiler territory. On the surface, what Sean Hogan has done is to take a collection of existent British horror movies and produce a series of stories, biographical accounts, and potted histories about particular characters from these productions. There are entries covering Lee’s Duke Du Richelieu, from The Devil Rides Out (1968), Peter Quint from The Innocents (1961), and even Bernard Quatermass. And don’t get me wrong that simple premise alone would have been enough to drag me to the party. However, the brilliance of this book lies in the way in which Hogan displays his seemingly infinite capacity for pinpointed detail and geeky film history.
Hogan admits in his introduction to taking his cue from David Thomson’s Suspects, but there are perhaps other similarities to comic book legend Alan Moore and his superbly imaginative metafictional style of storytelling on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Here Moore linked together fictional characters from texts like The War of the Worlds, Dracula and John Saxton’s Fu Manchu pulps into a wickedly workable functioning universe of crossovers, mini mind leaps, and delicious literary cataclysms. Hogan applies the same logic to the horror film pantheon. And while it is an already established trick, the skill of Hogan’s magical ability cannot be denied. He is extremely adept at creating often, unforeseen, or less obvious associations between his line-up of grim personnel. While the connective tissue between, say Dead of Night’s Hugo Fitch and Corky Withers from Magic (1978) might be more predictable it is the inclusion within that same story of Night of the Demon’s Karswell which adds that crucial bit of fanboy creative flair, transforming the work from a simple cut and paste job into something far deeper and enjoyable.
There is a real ingenuity at play here, as in the author’s mashing together of Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) with Hellraiser II (1988), or his expert combination of Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968) and The Haunting of Julia (1977). What is also impressive is how he doesn’t just rely on older or obscure texts, he also makes ample nods to more modern cinematic offerings, take for instance the masterful intertwining of Jay and Gal from Kill List (2011) with both Richard from Shane Meadow’s kitchen sink slasher Dead Man’s Shoes and Lord Summerisle from The Wicker Man (1973).
It’s a beautiful experiment full of surprises and nerdy strokes of genius wonder. All aspects of UK horror are represented, the list of cultural nods is much greater than the contents list suggests. Amicus, Hammer, and other classic British entries are all here, but so are other efforts like Berberian Sound Studio (2012), Brimstone and Treacle (1976), and Peeping Tom. It’s at times bleak, at other times wickedly funny but it is always a marvel. Wonderfully presented in a gorgeous full-color Graham Humphrey’s cover, England’s Screaming may not be for everyone and I think that’s the point. It revels in its own uniqueness; its niche value is its best and worst selling point, but the author and his menagerie of scary screen heroes hardly seem to care. And with a cast like that, who can blame him.