Horror Book Review: House of Horror, edited by Jack Hunter


If you love horror films, you have to love Hammer Films, the British studio that was responsible for some of the best horror films of the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  It was Hammer who brought Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy back to life and who introduced a splash of color to the formerly black and white world of horror.  It was Hammer that first brought horror together with pop art.  And, of course, it was Hammer that made stars out of actors like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

House of Horror was originally published in 1973, as a tribute to Hammer in its waning days.  The copy that I own is a revised edition, one that was published in 2000.  I found it at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas.  (That was quite a shopping trip, by the way.  Not only did I buy House of Horror but I also bought A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis.)

Anyway, if you’re a fan of Hammer Films, then this is one of those books that you simply have to own.  Not only does it contain interviews with the big four of Hammer (Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Terence Fisher, and Michael Carreras) but it also provides a in-depth analysis of Hammer’s Dracula series, its Frankenstein series, and its lesser known science fiction productions.

At the end of the book, there are biographies of some of the members of Hammer’s stock company.  There’s also not only a full list of every film that Hammer ever produced but even a list of Hammer project that never reached the filming stage.  If, as I am, you’re obsessed with film trivia, this book is a must have.

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Horror Book Review: A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis by Christopher Curry


Remember the movie Juno?

I can remember when Juno first came out, a lot of people were shocked when the character of Mark (played by Jason Bateman) suddenly started to come on to Juno (Ellen Page).  (For the record, as a result of that one scene, I’ve always had a hard time watching Jason Bateman in practically anything.)  Myself, I knew Mark no good long before he asked Juno what she thought of him.

Remember the scene where Mark asked Juno who her favorite horror director was?  Juno, being intelligent, replied, “Dario Argento.”  Mark smirked and replied that Herschell Gordon Lewis was better.  As soon as Mark said that, I knew he was no good.

Now, I should make clear that’s nothing against Herschell Gordon Lewis, who was one of the pioneers of independent American cinema.  Though I don’t think that there’s any way you can compare him to Argento, Lewis played an important and often undervalued role in the development of horror as a genre.  Lewis may not be a household name but Blood Feast and 2,000 Maniacs are two of the most influential films ever made.  Something Weird was one of the first films to feature an acid trip and it’s title inspired Something Weird Video.  Speaking of Something Weird Video, the clip that they always play before their films — the one of the bald man shouting that “you’re damaged merchandise and this is a fire sale!” — was taken from Lewis’s Scum of the Earth.  And finally, Lewis’s political satire — The Year of the Yahoo — pretty much predicted the current state of American politics.

If you want to find out more about the life and career of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the 1999 book, A Taste of Blood: The Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, is a good place to start.  The author, Christopher Curry, admits from the start that he is an unapologetic fan of Mr. Lewis’s.  As such, don’t expect the book to be too critical of any of Lewis’s films.  That said, A Taste of Blood contains not only interviews with the always articulate Lewis and some of his collaborators but it also contains a synopsis of every single Lewis film that had been released up until that point.  As such, the book is not just a tribute to Lewis but also a fascinating record of what it was like to work outside of the mainstream Hollywood establishment in the 1960s.  For that reason alone, it’s a valuable resource.

Now, it should be remembered that A Taste of Blood was written in 1999.  At the time that it was written, Lewis had retired from filmmaking.  Lewis, who passed away in 2016, would return to make three more films after the publication of A Taste of Blood.  As a result, A Taste of Blood is not a complete look at Lewis’s film career.  But it is a good place to start!

Finally, I bought my copy of A Taste For Blood at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas.  As far as I know, it’s out of print but, as always, there are still copies to be found online.

Horror Book Review: Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello


57 years after it was first released, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho remains one of the most influential films ever made.

Certainly, every horror film ever released since 1960 owes a debt to Psycho.  The infamous shower scene has been duplicated so many times that I’ve lost count.  Whenever a big-name actor is unexpectedly killed during the first half of a movie, it’s because of what happened to Janet Leigh in that shower.  If not for Psycho, Drew Barrymore would have survived Scream and that shark would never have eaten Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea.  Every giallo film that has ended with someone explaining the overly complex psychological reasons that led to the killer putting on black gloves and picking up a scalpel owes a debt to Simon Oakland’s monologue at the end of Psycho.  Psycho is so influential and popular that, decades later, A&E could broadcast a show called Bates Motel and have an instant hit.

What goes into making a classic?  That is question that is both asked and answered by Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho.  Starting with the real-life crimes of Ed Gein, Rebello’s book goes on to examine the writing of Robert Bloch’s famous novel and then the struggle to adapt that novel for the screen.

This book is a dream for trivia lovers.  Ever wanted to know who else was considered for the role of Marion Crane or Sam Loomis or even Norman Bates?  This is the book to look to.  Read this book and then imagine an alternate world where Psycho starred Dean Stockwell, Eva Marie Saint, and Leslie Neilsen?

(That’s right.  Leslie Neilsen was considered for the role of Sam Loomis.)

The book also confronts the controversy over who deserves credit for the shower scene, Alfred Hitchcock or Saul Bass.  And, of course, it also provides all the glorious details of how Hitchcock handled the film’s pre-release publicity.  Ignore the fact that this book was cited as being the inspiration for the rather forgettable Anthony Hopkins/Helen Mirren film, Hitchcock.  This is a fascinating read about a fascinating movie and a fascinating director.

First published in 1990 and still very much in print, Alfred Hitchcock and The Making of Psycho is a must-read for fans of film, horror, true crime, history, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, and Psycho.

Horror Book Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion by Stefan Jaworzyn


Originally released way back in 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues to be one of the most iconic and influential horror films of all time.

Not only did the film terrify generations of filmgoers, it also undoubtedly inspired many people who lived up north to swear that they would never visit Texas.  (Speaking as a Texan, I appreciate it!)  So powerful was the impact of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that it is regularly cited as being one of the first “gore” films, despite the fact that barely a drop of blood is seen throughout the entire film.  Instead, what is seen is Sally (played by Marilyn Burns) screaming while running and Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) dancing with that chainsaw.

So, how did a group of hippies in Austin come to make one of the most famous movies of all time?  That is the question that is answered in the 2004 book, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion.  Written by Stefan Jaworzyn and featuring a foreword by Gunnar Hansen, this breezy and entertaining book contains almost everything you could possibly want to know about this film.  The book is largely an oral history, featuring lengthy quotes from the film’s cast and crew.  (For the most part, Jaworzyn allows the interviews speak for themselves and only occasionally interjects any editorial commentary.)  Along with detailing the film’s infamously difficult production (with Marilyn Burns nearly being driven to the point of an actual breakdown and Hansen, an otherwise sensitive poet, coming close to being possessed by his murderous character at one point), the companion also deals with crimes of Ed Gein and Tobe Hooper’s career both before and after his best known film.

Most interesting, to me, were the sections that dealt with how the head of the Texas Film Commission helped to secure The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a national distribution deal.  Considering that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre basically portrayed Texas as being a place where you could get killed if you made a wrong turn, the involvement of the Texas Film Commission may seem strange at first.  Some of the interviews in the book seem to suggest that the head of the Commission had a crush on Marilyn Burns.

It’s an entertaining book, even if I don’t agree with everything that Jaworzyn says.  (He calls Psycho overrated at one point.)  With the recent deaths of Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, and Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion now serves as something of a tribute to these three artists and the film that, to the surprise of everyone, changed cinema forever.

Horror Book Review: Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street With The Man Of Your Dreams by Robert Englund and Alan Goldsher


What type of actor does it take to bring to life one of the scariest monsters in horror film history?

A damn good one!

Seriously, Robert Englund is a truly underrated actor.  Of course, we all know him best as the original Freddy Krueger.  Whenever I watch the original Nightmare on Elm Street, I’m always surprised by just how scary Englund actually was in that role.  Some of the sequels got a bit too gimmicky and Freddy sometimes seemed to spend more time coming up with one-liners than actually killing people but, in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy is truly terrifying.  Wes Craven deserves a lot of credit for that, of course.  But Robert Englund truly throws himself into that dark role, bringing Freddy to nightmarish life.  Reportedly, Craven’s original choice for Freddy was the British actor David Warner.  It’s nothing against Warner (who is a very fine actor who has played many memorable villains) or, for that matter, Jackie Earle Haley (who took over the role in the 2010 reboot) to say that, after watching the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Robert Englund in the role.

What is often forgotten is that Robert Englund was a fairly successful character actor before finding fame as Freddy.  It’s not an uncommon occurrence that I’ll be watching an older movie from the 70s and suddenly, out of nowhere, Robert Englund will pop up in a small role.  Interestingly enough, pre-Nightmare Englund seemed to specialize in playing nice guys.  Sure, he played an occasional creep but, usually, it was far more likely that Englund would be cast as the hero’s best friend or sidekick.

Add to that, I have never heard anyone say a word against Robert Englund.  I have never once heard about him being a jerk to his fans.  I’ve never heard any stories about his being difficult on a set.  Every story that I’ve heard about Robert Englund describes him as being friendly, gracious, and easy-going, almost the exact opposite of Freddy Krueger.

That’s certainly the impression that I got from reading Englund’s autobiography.  Published in 2009, Hollywood Monster is quite literally one of the most likable Hollywood memoirs that I’ve ever read.  This memoir is full of stories about both Englund’s early career and his time as a horror movie icon and yet, never does Englund seem to have a bad word to say about … well, anything.  Instead, he writes about encouraging his friend Mark Hamill to audition for Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or how his co-stars all dealt with being victims in the latest Nightmare on Elm Street film.  The book’s tone is cheerful even when talking about what it’s like to be typecast as everyone’s favorite dream killer.  For a Hollywood monster, Robert Englund comes across as being disarmingly likable.

If this memoir was by any other actor, I would complain about the lack of cynicism and bitterness.  But, in Englund’s case, it’s actually kind of sweet.  It’s also rather impressive.  Who would have guessed that such a nice guy could give everyone nightmares?  That’s the power of good acting.

Anyway, Hollywood Monster is an entertaining and often very funny Hollywood memoir.  It’s a fun read and one that I suggest for horror fans everywhere.

 

 

Book Review: SEX IN THE CINEMA The ‘Pre-Code’ Years (1929-1934) by Lou Sabini (Bear Manor Media 2017)


cracked rear viewer

Those of you who faithfully follow this blog know what a huge fan of Pre-Code films I am, even devoting an entire series to them, “Pre Code Confidential”. Well, film scholar and all-around good guy Lou Sabini has gone a step further and written a new book, SEX IN THE CINEMA: THE PRE-CODE YEARS, published by the fine folks over at Bear Manor Media, a handy reference guide to 107 Pre-Code films covering topics like illicit sex, gangland violence, drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, abortion, and Busby Berkeley… what more could a Pre-Code fan ask for!!

Helen Twelvetrees & Charles Bickford in 1932’s PANAMA FLO

Out of the 107 movies covered here, I’ve seen a mere 36, and covered seven on CRV. That will certainly change, as a few of them are sitting in my DVR ready to be enjoyed (thanks, TCM!). Lou was a student of noted film historian/collector William…

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Book Review: HOPE: Entertainer of The Century by Richard Zoglin (Simon & Schuster, 2014)


cracked rear viewer

He was unquestionably one of the most famous, most recognized persons of the 20th Century, the father of what we now know as stand-up comedy, the first true multi-media star. A patriot and a philanderer, a giver and a taker, a smart-mouthed comic and a friend to presidents and generals. But who was Bob Hope, really? This ambitious 2014 biography by Richard Zoglin attempts to answer that question, a meticulously researched tome that tries to uncover the private man behind the public mask.

with vaudeville partner George Byrne

Zoglin digs deep into the available archives and uses interviews with those that knew him to paint his portrait of the notoriously reticent Bob Hope, reaching all the way back to his hardscrabble beginnings as an immigrant in Cleveland with six brothers, an alcoholic father who was an itinerant stone cutter, and a stern but loving mother who served as the de facto head…

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