Supernal Dreams: Little Shoppe of Horrors #20 – A History of Amicus films

Having recently received a copy of Richard Klemensen’s Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine devoted to the history of Amicus films ( #20), I found myself absolutely delighted. What we get in 100 beautiful pages is essentially a a book length study as written by Amicus expert Philip Nutman.

In fact, in a way, it’s too bad that this long piece didn’t actually receive publication as a book, but thankfully Richard Klemesnen convinced Mr. Nutman to present his fabulous history of Amicus to us in the pages of LSOH. I think, given the blood, sweat and years it must have taken Mr. Nutman to put this definitive history of Amicus films together, we should be happy to get it in any form.

Now, let’s flashback to 35 years ago. It’s 1973, when Amicus was still a viable production company. I had just brought my very first issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, which I had found on the shelves of New York City’s fabulous Cinema bookshop Cinemabila, owned by Ernest P. Burns, in Greenwich Village. It was issue #2, devoted to Amicus Films. As I look at that issue now, I see it only cost $1.00, but was apparently considered so valuable by Mr. Burns, that he raised the price nearly double, to $1.75. It was a sum I paid gladly! At any rate, issue #2 of LSOH contained an extensive history of Amicus films, entitled, “Two’s A Company,” with very informative Q & A style interviews with three of the key Amicus players, Freddie Francis, Milton Subotsky and Robert Bloch.

Of course, the two men who were the mainstays of the company were the actual founders, Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, but strangely enough, Mr. Rosenberg’s comments were mostly absent from all the early coverage of anything I read about Amicus.

Then, in the summer of 1973, Cinefantastiquegave us Chris Knight’s long interview with Milton Subotsky about the history of Amicus, that rated cover story status for CFQ’s eighth issue. By then, CFQ’s design and interior color stills were pretty stunning to most horror film fans. Sir Ralph Richardson as the Crypt-Keeper from TALES FROM THE CRYPT was featured in a two page color spead, as was a full page color shot of Richard Todd in the “Frozen Fear” episode from ASYLUM. The cover was a nice shot of a terrified Stefanie Beacham from AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS.

Needless to say, at the time, Cinefantastique’s story looked miles ahead of what LSOH had done that same year, mainly due to the far superior layout and design. CFQ looked very much like the prozine it was, while LSOH was a more low-budget, but still interesting fanzine. Of course, I still have that early issue of LSOH, and I find it’s contents are still “Invaluable” to quote the Duke de Richeleau’s comments while examining a rare copy of The Clavacle of Solomon in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT.  Plus, rather astonishingly, 35 years later, LSOH is still publishing, and is better than ever!

That is certainly proven by issue #20, which gives us an article I’ve no doubt CFQ’s editor Fred Clarke would have loved to publish. And to my way of thinking, Mr. Klemesen’s magazine is now certainly very much a “prozine.”

Here we get the fascinating history of Amicus productions, told in truly uncensored form, by Mr. Nutman. In fact what is so entertaining about the Amicus story is how Rosenberg and Subotsky apparently never agreed on anything! In this story we finally get the viewpoints of both partners, and since none of their stories ever seem to jive, the reader is left on his own to consider who is actually telling the truth. Like RASHOMON or CITIZEN KANE,  it’s actually a story that might make for quite a good movie! I also must confess, that before reading this, I always felt Milton Subotsky was the actual creative force behind Amicus, but Rosenberg’s comments here (many taken from an undoubtedly fascinating interview by Tom Weaver), clearly carry some weight that counter that view. They certainly indicate Rosenberg was not just the money man that Subotsky always suggested, after their bitter break-up in 1975. Indeed, perhaps what might be considered Amicus “classiest” ever film, was the recently deceased Harold Pinter’s THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, which would have never have been made without Mr. Rosenberg’s input.

In any case, this is a story that is very much unlike a studio press release, where everyone loves working with everyone else on the set. Here we get to read about all the behind the scenes fights that led each and every Amicus film, which encompasses the classic period of CITY OF THE DEAD in 1960, through their heyday in the late sixties, all the way to THE BEAST MUST DIE in 1974, and beyond (admittedly, THE BEAST MUST DIE is not one of Amicus’s better films, but what a cast it had: Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Charles Gray, Anton Diffring and Calvin Lockhart.)

However, what really makes LSOH’s “The Uncensored History of Amicus Productions” such fun, is the fact that in the last two or three years we’ve actually been able to revisit most of Amicus’s classic horror films in high quality DVD versions. Just in this last year we’ve been treated to Freddie Francis’s beautiful color cinematography in THE SKULL, as well as his TALES FROM THE CRYPT, TORTURE GARDEN and THE DEADLY BEES. 

Meanwhile, MADHOUSE,  with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, as well as  SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN, with that supreme trio of terror stars, Price, Cushing and Lee, have been out for some time on DVD from MGM, as well as THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, and the uncut version of CITY OF THE DEAD.  Then, there is also the recent Dark Sky releases of ASYLUM, THE BRIDE OF FENGRIFFEN and THE BEAST MUST DIE, as well as WB’s FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE.

I for one find it rather enjoyable to read about these films and then be able to actually watch them in beautiful widescreen color versions, that are now as close as possible to the way they were meant to be seen in theaters (or often on drive-in screens), when they were first released over 35 years ago.

Finally, the LSOH Amicus issue features a gorgeous color cover by artist Mark Maddox. He is to be congratulated for his photo-montage/painting, which gives us images of Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Ingrid Pitt, Anna Massey, E. A. Poe, Doug McClure and a Dalek!

Any fan of Amicus movies will certainly want to have a copy of this magazine, which is now available from the LSOH website for the same price as a movie ticket… a mere $10.00.

About the Author

Lawrence French

LAWRENCE FRENCH celebrated his 20th anniversary as a contributor to Cinefantastique Magazine with his cover story on the making of THE RETURN OF THE KING. As Cinefantastique’s longtime San Francisco correspondent, he has written numerous stories about Pixar and Lucasfilm, and interviewed such genre stalwarts as Vincent Price, Tim Burton, Ray Harryhausen, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ray Bradbury. He is also the editor of the highly regarded website on Orson Welles, Wellesnet.com. His book as editor of Richard Matheson’s Edgar Allan Poe scripts for THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM was published by Gauntlet Press in 2007, with a second volume on TALES OF TERROR and THE RAVEN due out in the future. For Cinefantastique Online, he currently writes the regular column Supernal Dreams.

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