By: Jonathan Penner and Steven Jay Schneider
Publication Date: October 2008
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: July 2010
For fans of horror movies, there are numerous books available exploring the genre, selecting the best of the best, and analyzing just what draws audiences to these films again and again. What sets Horror Cinema apart from so many others are the pages upon pages of fantastic photos from classics such as Carrie (1976), to lesser known titles like Haxen (1922).
After a brief introduction analyzing exactly what ‘Horror’ is, the book is divided into ten chapters. These chapters include Slashers & Serial Killers; Cannibals, Freaks & Hillbillies; Revenge of Nature & Environmental Horror; Science-Fiction Horror; Ghosts & Haunted Houses; Vampires & Werewolves and The Monstrous-Feminine. At the back of the book is a two-page chronology, noting important films/dates/events within the genre followed by a brief filmography listing ten films the authors have selected for their contributions to the world of horror movies.
Each chapter takes a look at films within its category from earliest to present day. While the text doesn’t go into great detail on any film, there’s just enough information to pique one’s interest. This book isn’t meant to analyze, in depth, each movie but rather give a broad overview. It’s easy enough to learn more about specific films with a little research. While the true horror fan may not learn anything new about Psycho (1960), I was intrigued by the write-up on Freaks (1932), which cast people with deformities as the actors (there’s a bizarre but fascinating photo of Prince Randian as “The Living Torso”). Even with brief write-ups, the authors manage to squeeze some fascinating information into their text. For example, do you know the editing tricks the director used to make the house appear to come to life in the original The Haunting of Hill House (1963) or that JoBeth Williams refused to get into the pool in Poltergeist (1982) with all the electrical equipment around until Steven Spielberg jumped into the pool with her? You will after reading Horror Cinema.
Readers may not agree with all the authors state, as there is a good deal of personal opinion inserted into each section, “Arriving three years after its sort-of companion piece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes was poorly sequelized by Craven…” (pg. 53). (Okay, you may just agree with that statement!) The captions for the photos too, have occasional opinions injected, but I found it hard to disagree with these, “Still from Squirm (1976) – Downed power lines turn everyday earthworms into rabid killers. Most of the so-called revenge-of-nature films that followed directly in the wake of Jaws pretty much sucked” (pg. 68).
As mentioned above, it really is the fabulous selection, and abundance of, photos that sets this book apart. From the publicity still for The Invisible Man (1933) that shows a hand drawn outline of the invisible man (how else could they show him/make the photo work?) to shots of Karloff and Lugosi both in full performance mode and a few more candid shots (Karloff having make-up applied while he smokes a cigarette).
Specific movie references are oftentimes a few pages before/after the accompanying photos and there is no index at the back, making it necessary to do a bit of searching for specific movies. This, however, is a minor quibble. It doesn't take long to find what you're interested in, and you may just discover other tidbits of cool information as you search. Whether you want to read Horror Cinema from first to last page or simply flip around to your favorite movies, this book is a load of fun!
Quill says: This book is eye-candy for the horror cinema fan.