Book Review: The Eurospy Guide by Matt Blake and David Deal

Sometimes, believe it or not, I feel very insecure when I come on here to talk about movies because, unlike most of my fellow writers and the site’s readers, I’m actually pretty new to the world of pop culture and cult films.  Up until 8 years ago, ballet was my only obsession.  It was only after I lost that dream that I came to realize that I could feel that same passion for other subjects like history and writing and movies.  In those 8 years, I think I’ve done a fairly good job educating myself but there’s still quite a bit that I don’t know and, at times, I’m almost overwhelmed by all the movies that I’ve read so much about but have yet to actually see.  And don’t even get me started on anime because, honestly, my ignorance would simply astound you.  What I know about anime — beyond Hello Kitty — is pretty much limited to what I’ve read and seen on this site.  (I do know what a yandere is, however.  Mostly because Arleigh explained it to me on twitter.  I still don’t quite understand why my friend Mori kept using that as her own personal nickname for me back during my sophomore year of college but that’s a whole other story…)

The reason I started soul searching here is because I’m about to review a book — The Eurospy Guide by Matt Blake and David Deal — that came out in 2004 and I’m about to review it as if it came out yesterday.  For all I know, everyone reading this already has a copy of The Eurospy Guide in their personal collection.  You’ve probably already spent 6 years thumbing through this book and reading informative, lively reviews of obscure movies.  You may already know what I’ve just discovered.  Well, so be it.  My education is a work in progress and The Eurospy Guide has become one of my favorite textbooks.

The Eurospy Guide is an overview of a unique genre of films that started in the mid-60s and ended with the decade.  These were low-budget rip-offs — the majority of which were made in Italy, Germany, and France — of the Sean Connery-era James Bond films.  These were films with titles like Code Name: Jaguar, Secret Agent Super Dragon, More Deadly Than The Male, and Death In a Red Jaguar.  For the most part, they starred actors like George Nader, Richard Harrison, and Eddie Constantine who had found the stardom in exploitation cinema that the mainstream had never been willing to give to them.  They featured beautiful and underappreciated actresses like Marilu Tolo and Erika Blac and exotic, over-the-top villainy from the likes of Klaus Kinski and Adolfo Celi.  Many of these films — especially the Italian ones — were directed by the same men who would later make a name for themselves during the cannibal and zombie boom of the early 80s.  Jess Franco did a few (but what genre hasn’t Jess Franco experimented with) and even Lucio Fulci dabbled in the genre.  Their stories were frequently incoherent and, just as frequently, that brought them an undeniably surreal charm. 

And then again, some of them were just films like Operation Kid Brother, starring Sean Connery’s younger brother, Neil.  (Operation Kid Brother was an Italian film, naturally.)

Well, all of the films — from the good to the bad (and no, I’m not going to add the ugly) — are covered and thoroughly reviewed in The Eurospy Guide.  Blake and Deal obviously not only love these films but they prove themselves to be grindhouse aficionados after my own heart.  Regardless of whether they’re reviewing the sublime or the ludicrous, they approach each film with the same enthusiasm for the potential of pure cinema run amuck.  It’s rare to find reviewers who are willing to pay the same respect to a film like The Devil’s Man that they would give to a sanctioned classic like The Deadly Affair.

Along with reviewing a countless number of films, Deal and Blake also include two great appendices in which they detail the review some of the film franchises that came out of the genre and provide biographies of some of the more prominent stars of the eurospy films.

The highest compliment I can pay to The Eurospy Guide is that, even with all the various films guides I own (and I own a lot), I found films reviewed and considered in this book that I haven’t found anywhere else.  Everytime I open this book, I learn something that, at least to me, is new.  The book was an obvious labor of love for Blake and Deal and I love the results of their labor.

So, if you already own a copy, you rock. 

And if you don’t, order it.