Studio of Screams is a fascinating piece of collaborative storytelling. Framed as the novelizations and interviews relating to a lost British film studio, this volume is a clear love letter to those 60’s horror films remembered well from the era.
The elements connected between stories via a framing narrative in which a college instructor discusses a set of lost films with one of the producers. Specifically, Blythewood was the name of the men in charge, and their self-named studio are treated as something of a myth within film circles in-universe. It is unlikely that Blythewood, the living Blythewood, is depicted as a quiet somewhat thoughtful man with a smile which seems very much the disturbing. He is also a man who wishes to impart something to the narrator, but will not be rushed in giving out that information he desires to tell.
He gives the narrator, in addition to viewings of four of the horror films Blythewood Studio made, novelizations of them which are intended to be the texts the audience reads between the various interviews.
Of these stories, “Sword of the Demon” by Mark Morris is the first, and the way it’s so obviously evokes the mental image of Peter Cushing makes it entertaining on that aspect alone. It deals with a adventurer archaeologist and his group finding the titular item, a small jeweled box, and several other items in the tomb of an ancient warrior in China. About halfway through the story, the setting switches to them having returned to England, where they begin to discover they brought more than trinkets back with them. It is quite an entertaining little story, and one could easily see a version of it produced in the 1960s in the style of a Hammer film.
Other stories range from a haunted house that is a castle, a frustrated filmmaker, and a strange and evil circus. Each of these stories is told well, and while elements might seem out of place for a film at the time they were supposed to be made, none feel impossible to be adopted into one. Each story has its fair share of subtext, from the damage done in the Second World War to the early death of a talented and frustrated young man.
There are a number of less than subtle social and political themes and allusions in this book, ranging from the problem of adventure archaeology against the will of native peoples to the existence of the BBC and putting control of speech into the hands of unelected bureaucrats. Cultural, economic, and artistic questions are raised, most of them centering around the question of the United Kingdom in one manner or another. The use of this is not subtle, however it is quite entertaining and makes its point clearly without hurting the narrative.
This volume is best read as a novel with multiple narratives, as the individually written stories each lend themselves very well to the framing device, and its own brand of horrific discovery. The cover and interior illustrations taken from it are all gruesome but appropriately evocative of the stories they reference to as well as the types of horror film they connect with.
Stephen R. Bissette, Mark Morris, Christopher Golden, Tim Lebbon and Stephen Vol’s Studio of Screams is an impressive piece of horror writing, a love letter to a snapshot of the genre that simultaneously takes a look at the damaged nature of the culture which produced it. Rather than simply finding the sins in the past, this book holds that disturbing mirror up to the current events relating to said culture as well. Easily recommended to horror fans who have the slightest interest in the genre.
(PS Publishing, 2021)