Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some Words to the Fore — as in Fore–gotten…

...not necessarily to say misbegotten…

And welcome aboard: As George Turner’s and my collaborative Forgotten Horrors project hovers about a 35-year milestone — we started researching the series’ original book of Old Hollywood genre-fied history in 1975 — I find myself carrying on in the familiar directions (onward? upward?) while branching into areas that seem plausible. Comic-book stories, for example. Television and music, to whatever extents make sense. And so forth.

In any event, with a book called Forgotten Horrors 5 in preparation (2010) for Baltimore’s Midnight Marquee Press, the series progresses decisively into a watershed period — the 1950s, I mean — both for the horror-movie racket and for the very concept of horror as a mass-market entertainment commodity. That long coda to World War II served primarily to enshrine Fear as a National Pastime, spreading paranoia as a precondition to prosperity and imposing severe limitations upon Constitutional Freedoms.

A popular tendency to embrace horror (the imaginary kind) as a safety-valve release was countered at every turn by the Dominant Culture’s reassertion of censorship as a Patriotic Ideal. The result was a vicious conflict in Peacetime Homefront America, torn between Free Speech and a book-burning contingent that would have been comfortably at home within the Third Reich. (Yes, and if we whipped the Nazis, then what were we doing appropriating their tactics? Go figure.)

But more about that as we proceed. Some background:

Forgotten Horrors: Early Talkie Chillers from Poverty Row is the title of a book that Hollywood-based historian George E. Turner (1925–1999) and I compiled during 1975–1979, originally for the Tantivy Press of London and A.S. Barnes & Co. of Cranbury, N.J.

Issued in 1979 in England and the following year in the U.S. of A., the book was intended as a self-contained history of North America’s independent, low-budget horror- film scene from 1929 (an earnest start of the talking-picture age) through the genre’s gradual dissipation during 1936–1937. (The decline had more to do with a British–European censorship ban on such American-made films, than with any loss of interest on the part of the American studios or their customers.) Barnes & Co. commissioned a sequel, to be called Human Monsters in the Movies, which was left hanging after Barnes collapsed in 1980.

A new edition of Forgotten Horrors (substantially identical, but with a new cover design and some internal tweaking) arrived in 1986 from California-based Eclipse Books (a.k.a. Eclipse Comics). At Eclipse and affiliated 4Winds Studio, I also helped to develop a series of comic-book stories (including Prowler and Revenge of the Prowler) including adaptations from some of the films covered in Forgotten Horrors. Much of the Prowler back-story, for example, derives from the Halperin Bros.’ 1932 production of White Zombie.

At length, Midnight Marquee Press commissioned a 20th-anniversary version called Forgotten Horrors: The Definitive Edition. This one wrapped shortly before George Turner’s death in 1999. FH: Definitive is a significantly revised volume — topics that had escaped us the first time around, corrections and re-evaluated opinions, and quite a bit of additional photographs and movie-poster art.

While completing that Marquee edition, George and I had begun compiling research and essays for a Forgotten Horrors 2, which fell together during the next few years. Longtime associates John Wooley and Jan Alan Henderson have lent significant assistance since the development of Forgotten Horrors 3 and Forgotten Horrors 4. Which brings us to the gradual progress of Forgotten Horrors 5 as a volume for the bookshelf itself.

The Forgotten Horrors blog will serve, in one respect, to chronicle the progress of Forgotten Horrors 5 — call it a coming-attractions trailer — while providing a practical forum to serve up fresh insights, newfound art, and what-have-you in connection with the earlier books. Some Q&A exchanges may develop, and more power to them. (Of course, the Classic Horror Film Board at has that process plenty well in hand.) Maybe a contest now and again, a la that essential horror-comics blog, The approach here is open-minded: Clean-Slate City.

And yes, the occasional comic-book selection is likely and possibly inevitable, whether from my cartoon studio’s inventory of original material or from a catalogue of restorations and vandalisms that I have committed upon various comics yarns of bygone times. (See for a few appetizers.)

The process begins momentarily. As soon as I can settle on which path to take, for openers… Anyhow — stay tuned, and stay attuned.

— Michael H. Price

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