Horror is one of the most vital genres in film as it has influenced and changed the way audiences look at themselves, culture, and the history of film itself. In Kevin Hefferman’s book Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business, 1953-1968, Hefferman examines the business of horror from ’53 (the beginning of the 3-D cycle of films) to ’68 (the release of George A. Romero’s nihilistic Night of the Living Dead and the birth of adult horror).
Hefferman breaks up his book in chapters specific to an era of film that not only changed the business of the genre but also made a cultural impact on audiences. In the opening chapter “Horror in Three Dimensions” he delves into how the success of House of Wax and Creature from the Black Lagoon (among others) altered the business during the first 3-D boom. In the chapter “The Color of Blood” the success of Hammer Films is examined which added luscious color and sex to the gothic horror film adding new life to a genre that was slowly in a downward spiral. Hefferman also goes into AIP’s Poe adaptations with Vincent Price (“A Sissified Bela Lugosi”), the impact of grind house and art films (“Grind House or Art House?”), the impact of television on the industry and business (“Television Syndication and the Birth of the ‘Orphans’”), and several others culminating with the release of Night of the Living Dead and how it changed the industry (“Family Monsters and the Urban Matinees”).
Heffernan’s book is not one that recycles reviews and critics of any of the films discussed but rather goes into detail on how these films impacted the industry and signaled a shift and change in the way not only audiences but filmmakers saw the industry and genre. The ‘50s and ‘60s saw such a diverse array of films being released that the reasons for the many shifts has always fascinated and confounded the industry and Heffernan does a great job of breaking it down here (at least in terms of the American movie business).
The people that will get the most from this book are those who want to know why and how the horror film endured through so many changes in the ‘50s and ‘60s but even the casual horror fan will enjoy Hefferman’s non-academic style which makes everything more accessible to the casual reader (it could have been real easy for a book such as this to become too academic).