Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Horror Movies: Tales of Terror in the Cinema

Horror Movies
Tales of Terror in the Cinema
by Alan G. Frank
Octopus Books, 1974

When I first spotted this book on the shelves of the public library in my hometown in upstate New York in the mid-70s, I immediately checked it out. It went on to become one of my favorite books of that era.

While nowadays you can go to an online book store and easily find any number of volumes on horror movies and horror films, back in 1974, there were few such publications. Some were academic studies that were unrewarding to read, while others were perfunctory affairs designed as 'budget' treatments of the genre.

'Horror Movies: Tales of Terror in the Cinema' (160 pp), with its higher quality binding and higher quality reproductions of stills and posters, was a welcome advance in terms of surveying the genre.

The book is organized into chapters covering Frankenstein and his creatures; vampires; wolfmen and mummies; zombies; women monsters; mad scientists and psychos; and sci-fi monsters.

Most of the stills are in black and white, with some in color.

The text sections are necessarily limited, and consist primarily of providing an overview of theme for a given chapter, with longer descriptions or synopses afforded to those films that the author feels are truly memorable.

While the author does cover the 'classic' movies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, much of the contents is devoted to the Hammer films of the 60s and 70s. In this regard the book is sure to spark nostalgia among those fans who remember the great films and the great stars of that era in British cinema.

In the U.S. in the mid-70s, of course, video cassettes were still in their infancy. There was no internet, and cable TV choices were limited. Accordingly, many of the Hammer films (and films from other UK companies, such as Amicus), if they were viewed at all by American audiences, were done so as features in drive-ins or 'grindhouse' movie theatres.

There are sure to be some Hammer films in this book that have escaped notice from U.S. fans and may be worth hunting down. However, when checking Netflix's catalog, I found only a few such films available. I've yet to look at the many 'cult' film channels on Roku, which rely on archives of films in the public domain.

That said, I'm skeptical that younger members of contemporary horror film fandom will find the movies described in 'Horror Movies' to be all that compelling. The slower-paced films from Hammer, with moments of grue carefully parceled out in-between lengthy segments of dialogue, will probably seem stilted and dull...... I recently watched the 1957 film The Curse of Frankenstein on the TCM channel, and I had to conclude that it likely will have little appeal to those raised on The Walking Dead, or the Paranormal Activity movies.

One drawback to 'Horror Movies' is Alan Frank's habit of disclosing spoilers for many of the films he surveys.

Other than that, however, reading 'Horror Movies: Tales of Terror in the Cinema' is to once again encounter 70s Pop Culture Goodness. If you are a fan of the movies of that era, then getting a used copy of this book - which are quite affordable - is recommended.

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