Following the annual London horror extravaganza that is FrightFest, it seems appropriate to review a couple of recently published horror tomes. Making an authorial contribution to this already well-mined territory is a brave move for a writer as well a publisher – what can there really be left to say? So with this reservation in mind let’s have a look at them.
A professorial stab at finding new approaches to the horror genre is the concern of Bruce Kawin’s book, Horror and the Horror Film, which describes itself – twice in the preface alone – as a comprehensive account, as well as a ‘complete description of the horror film’. Those are bold claims indeed and sent this reviewer running to the bibliography to check texts consulted. What is there seems solid enough (if American-biased) but, given his themes, what is not there – Grant’s The Dread of Difference, Jancovich’s Horror, The Film Reader, Hawkins’s Cutting Edge: Art Horror and the Horrific Avant-Garde, Thrower’s Nightmare USA, Frayling’s Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know: Science and the Cinema and, most alarmingly, Newman’s authoritative Midnight Movies (to name a few) – rather undermine claims to being comprehensive, let alone complete. That said, Kawin does explore over 350 films, first contextualising his methodology in the first part of the book and then, in the second part, examining them through a grid divided into categories of Monsters (constructed, composite, parasitic, amorphous etc.), Supernatural Monsters (demons, doubles, vampires, zombies, etc.) and, finally, Human Monsters (psychics, anomalies, mad killers, torturers etc.), all of which add up to a useful and logical approach to his topic, although he sometimes gets bogged down in classifying and clarifying the various genres, sub-genres and sub-sub-genres that he takes as his subject. Less convincing is the all too brief (an afterthought perhaps?) final section, which takes a very cursory look at the ‘related genres’ of Horror Comedy and Horror Documentary. An interesting read and a well-handled narrative in terms of the thematic approaches invoked to wrestle these hundreds of films into the author’s theoretical categories.
Horror Zone, edited by Ian Conrich, takes a wholly different approach to the genre, looking ‘around’ the subject and introducing fresh research into the cultural/economic/technological and transgressive aspects of recent horror cinema. As the author states, ‘this book seeks to address the cinema of contemporary horror moving beyond the common approach of focusing just on the film text… the articles within… explore the cultural parameters and… the boundaries and borders that these horror productions are pushing’. The various academic essays take a catholic view of horror from theme park rides and other synergies to web-based fandom, set and costume design and relationships of horror cinema with digital viewing. In so doing, Conrich’s book provides a very eclectic and up-to-date set of original approaches to the horror genre and successfully accomplishes the exploration of ‘horror cinemas as opposed to horror film’. A recommended title with plenty of food for thought.
James B. Evans
GONE… BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
In keeping with the horror theme, I want to salute the work of John McCarty, who in 1986 gave us the wonderful book Psychos: Eighty Years of Mad Movies, Maniacs and Murderous Deeds. Typical of its time, it is lurid, generously illustrated (the days of lasseiz faire with regard to image usage) and downright fun both to read and to look at. He starts with the cinematic cultural roots in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Jack the Ripper and takes us on a journey – via early cinema to the (then) contemporary screen – through fictional and factual psychos, slasher psychos, delusional psychos and exploitation psychos. In fact, as the author of the novel Psycho states on the cover of the book by way of endorsement, ‘Here at last is the definitive book about psycho films – including the psychos who write them, the psychos who direct them, and the psycho audiences who love them’. Well put! A great pairing with McCarty’s equally fab tome, Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo of the Screen (1984). Save these books! JBE