The novelist Kingsley Amis wrote about being a horror film addict for the Observer Magazine of 7 July 1968 (‘Terror in the Cinema’). This is surprising because Amis had an extreme fear of the dark and of being alone.
Of course, this being Amis, he objected to the popular term. ‘Terror film would be a better label,’ he argued, because ‘they are not symptoms of the sickness of our society’.
Amis was an anti-intellectual when it came to genre films – ‘eggheads out!’ – preferring to simply enjoy the ‘cavortings both abominable and harmless’. Indeed, when he wondered what the appeal of the horror film was, he wrote: ‘Like Mark Twain on a dissimilar occasion, I have an answer to that: I don’t know.’
He argued that ‘The adult Western, like Bad Day at Black Rock, demonstrating its seriousness by short-changing us on action, has not made its mark.’ That may have been true, but it certainly wasn’t true of the John Sturges noir classic. ‘The psychological thriller, under Hitchcock, has done better,’ Amis said, ‘though it only really clicked when it abandoned the supposedly deep probing of Spellbound for the fairly straight and very enthusiastic Grand Guignol of Psycho.’
He admired the US contribution to ‘the great horror revival’, especially that of Vincent Price ‘whether receiving or dealing out assorted gory treatments’. Difficult also to disagree with his assessment of ‘one of the best horror episodes of all’ – the ventriloquist’s-dummy sequence in 1945’s Dead of Night.
Amis had an amusingly hard time suspending his disbelief in The Fly: ‘Here, the hastiest of mumbo-jumbo was run through with the palpable design of proceeding to the disagreeable activities and physical appearance of a fly with a chap’s head and a chap with a fly’s head… Even science-fiction ought to have balked at the idea of giving both these characters some kind of human intelligence.’