Horror Book Review: Guilty Pleasure of the Horror Film, edited by Gary J. and Susan Svehla

The back cover of this book announces, “THE CHARGE: Bad filmaking!”

It then offers up a list of 12 films (most of which are horror films, though a few are not) that were dismissed by the critics.  The book features 12 essays, each providing a defense of one of the films in question.  Those 12 films are:

  1. Maniac (1934), which is defended by Bret Wood
  2. Sh!  The Octopus (1937), defended by John Soister
  3. Voodoo Man (1944), defended by Gary Don Rhodes
  4. Unknown Island (1948), defended by John Parnum
  5. Scared Stiff (1953), defended by Ted Okunda and James L. Neibaur
  6. Indestructible Man (1956), defended by Don Leifert
  7. Rodan (1957), defended by Don G. Smth
  8. The Tingler (1959), defended by Tom Weaver
  9. The Flesh Eaters (1964), defended by David J. Hogan
  10. When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970), defended by Mark A. Miller
  11. King Kong (1976), defended by Robert A. Crick
  12. Dune (1984), defended by Susan Svedha

There’s a few things that you’ll notice about this list.  First off, you’ll notice that — as I already pointed out — not all of these films are horror films.  Dune, in particular, is a surreal science fiction epic.  Like all of David Lynch’s films, there are elements of horror but the film itself isn’t actually a part of the genre.  Secondly, I was surprised to discover that Rodan and The Tingler apparently needed to be defended.  Finally, just by looking at the release dates of the film included in the book, you’ll probably be able to guess that Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film has been around for a while.  The book was first published in 1996.  I picked up my copy at Recycled Books of Denton, Texas, way back in 2006.  And finally, in 2021, I got around to reading the entire thing.  It’s funny how that works out some times.

With all that in mind, though, it’s an enjoyable book and each essayist does a good job of making their case.  (The fact that it took me so long to get around to reading it has everything to do with me having ADHD and nothing to do with the quality of the book itself.  My office is currently full of very good books that I need to get around to reading.  And I will!)  While I think the natural instinct of most readers will be to automatically jump ahead to see what the essayists has to say about David Lynch’s version of Dune (and perhaps the 70s version of King Kong), my favorite essays dealt with Indestructible Man and Flesh Eaters.  While I was already familiar with the surprisingly grim and violent Indestructible Man, reading David J. Hogan’s thoughts on Flesh Eaters inspired me to make a commitment to watch and review the movie sometime this October.  Really, what more can you ask for from a book like this?

Despite the fact that they’re not all horror films and I’ve never really been comfortable with the term “guilty pleasure,” (despite the fact that I’ve used it more than a few times), Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film is an enjoyable book for those of us who love the genre and who are always willing to defend an unfairly maligned film.

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