With Friends Like These… AMICUS – THE FRIENDLY FACE OF FEAR Reviewed

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“You do The Hokey-Cokey and you turn around…”

Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear by Alan Bryce. Ghoulish Publishing. P/B. ISBN 978-1-5272-0271-9

While knocking out issues of The Dark Side under the Stray Cat banner, Allan Bryce also managed to publish a series of nifty film books… among the niftiest of them, I would count (never having found modesty all that forbidding) the third edition of my “video nasties” tome Seduction Of The Gullible and the follow-up Cannibal! (which I still prefer to refer to under its original title “Slaves Of The Cannibal God – 20 Years Of Italian Man Munching Movies.”) After the death of Allan’s business partner Ken Mills, Dark Side disappeared from our shelves for a couple of years before its triumphant re-emergence courtesy of Ghoulish Publishing, which now brings us Allan’s own Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear, touted as the “definitive history” of this much-loved low-budget Hammer competitor, named for the friendship between its co-creators Milton Subotsky (the creative schmendrick with the DIY haircut) and Max Rosenberg (the hard-headed money man.)

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Definitive? To assess this claim I would need to have read the various previously published accounts of Amicus  (including one by Stray Cat, 15 years ago) which, I must confess, I haven’t. Safe to say, though, A-TFFOF is a terrific read in its own right, simultaneously eminently knowledgable, fannishly enthusiastic and rigorously analytical as it guides us from the soup of Subotsberg’s pre-Amicus horror effort City Of The Dead (1960) through to the nuts of the daft plastic dinosaur epics from which you might remember Doug Mclure, with all those portmanteau treasures and such endearing oddities as And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) and The Beast Must Die (1974) nicely packed in between. While doing so it steers a middle course between previous accounts of the breakdown in amicable relations between Rosenberg and Subotsky (their ups and downs mirroring those of the company’s fortunes), which have tended to favour one or the other. While reiterating that Milt was the creative heart of Amicus, Bryce acknowledges that turning in a coherent, feature-length screenplay wasn’t exactly his forte (much to the chagrin of literary sources such as Robert Bloch and the consternation of several Amicus directors.)

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The dynamic duo first collaborated on an early draft of The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), maintaining thereafter that they had been bilked out of their due credits (and payments) on Hammer’s horror breakthrough. Thereafter they strove manfully to compete with Carreras and co, poaching their talent from both sides of the camera while never consistently competing with Hammer at the box office. Amicus certainly couldn’t compete in budgetary terms, making a virtue of necessity by hiring multiple name actors for short stints in their beloved multi-story horror films.

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If you’re reading this you’ve probably already got some knowledge of and / or affection for these films… if not, I can do no better than point you in the direction of The Friendly Face Of Fear, 168 perfect bound glossy pages heavily illustrated in both colour and b/w and just bursting with Amicus minutiae… who knew, for instance, that the then Marquis de Sade petitioned successfully to have the family name removed from French marketing for Freddie Francis’s The Skull (1965) on the grounds that it would be brought into disrepute (“Locking the stable door after the cheval has bolted”, as Bryce wryly notes)…  that Rosenberg deep sixed Subotsky’s plans for e.g. a tripped-out revamp of It’s Trad, Dad! (starring The Byrds, The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful dead!) and film adaptations of Marvel’s superhero characters (no commercial potential there at all, eh?) … that The House That Dripped Blood supported Last House On The Left in the U.S… that Geoffrey Bayldon was an 11th Hour replacement for Spike Milligan in Asylum… that Tales From The Crypt was being shot at Shepperton at the same time as Tower Of Evil, a film with which it shared sets… that the negative response to Vault Of Horror from E.C. Comics’ Bill Gaines scuppered Amicus plans for More Tales From The Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and Tales Of The Incredible (the latter to have been shot in 3D)… that, according to special FX man (and no relation to the author) Allan Bryce, the squirming green innards of a Dalek were cut from Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965) on the grounds that they would upset tiny tots… and who remembered that Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) was freighted with product placement shots promoting the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs? (*) If your answer to these questions or most of them is “Me!”… just shut up Darrell and give somebody else a chance, OK?

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A splendid read then, topped and tailed by a characteristically eye-catching Rick Melton cover and irreverent biogs of Messrs Bryce, Melton and Kevin Coward (who acquits himself admirably in the design of this volume) and, for some reason, their respective spouses. Helps to keep things amicable, I suppose.

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(*) Just consider, if that movie had been made in Italy, I Daleki would have been exterminating their way through rivers of J&B!

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