A few years ago while browsing through a local Half Price Books, I came across a book that really through me for a loop. I almost past it up at first because it looked like book on science fiction movies, but as it turned out, there was more than enough of the horror genre covered within. The book was called The Biology of Science Fiction Cinema, originally published in 2005, by McFarland, and written by Mark C. Glassy. As I learned more about Glassy, I discovered that he is an actual professional scientist (now retired) with “extensive study in biochemistry and molecular immunology”, as well as a huge fan of science fiction movies, ever since seeing Earth vs. the Flying Saucers when he was four years old. In this book, he goes through some of our favorite films and discusses the actual science behind it, such as in The Fly (both versions), The Blob (both versions again), White Zombie to John Carpenter’s The Thing to even Lucio Fulci’s Zombie! He covers what parts of the science in the film are correct and what parts are not. This is a lot of fun to read through.
Laird Cregar: A Hollywood Tragedy
Published by McFarland, 2018. 329 pages
By Gregory William Mank
The reading goal that I have set for myself is to get through at least one book per month, and for the last couple of years, I’ve happily gone a little past that goal. But thanks to the wonderfully talented Mr. Mank, my average for this year just went up. It usually takes me 3-4 weeks to get through a book, mainly because I have to steal away time to read. But once I started this latest volume, on the actor Laird Cregar, I went through the first half of it in the first two days, finishing it off within a week. I just couldn’t put it down.
I have been a fan of Cregar’s since the very first time I watched The Lodger (1944). I was just amazed at not only how effective and well made the picture was, but also the amazing talent of Cregar. I immediately started to seek out other of his films, especially Hangover Square (1945), again being mesmerized by his performance. I started to read up on this seemingly unknown (to me at least) actor and his life in various books and online, only be to be depressed on how this brilliant performer was treated in his life, by others as well as how he treated himself. A couple of years ago, while talking to Mank at a Monster Bash conference, he mentioned Cregar was going to be the subject of an upcoming book, which I knew I would get the minute it came out. Which I did.
With as many titles that I add to my library each and every year, if I don’t force myself some rules, I’ll never get through some of these. Back in 2015, I’ve set myself a goal to get through at least one book per month. That year I almost made it, getting through eleven. Then last year, I devoured fourteen titles! Then this year I did even one better and made it to fifteen titles. Trust me, I wish I had the time to double that number since when you have over a thousand titles in your library, and are constantly adding new ones, it is a never ending quest. But one I that I just love. Just like my Best Of movie lists, these are not titles that came out this last year, but ones that I finally got around to. Out of those fifteen, here are the top five that I would recommend the most:
Universal Terrors, 1951-1955: Eight Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Films
Published by McFarland, 2017. 440 pages.
By Tom Weaver, with David Schecter, Robert J. Kiss, and Steve Kronenberg
Anytime I do research on an older classic, if I’m looking for quotes, interviews, or anything type of information, going through the many volumes of books I have from Tom Weaver is one place that I always start. The reason for that is that his books are always so informative, giving a ton of details about the movies and their production, as well as the people that worked on it, from the directors and writers to the actors. Since he’s interviewed so many of these people over the years, the details he’s getting comes first hand. When news of a new book Weaver was working on that covered some of Universal’s films of the ’50s, since I’m a huge fan of that era, I couldn’t wait for it to come out so I could dig into it.
Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1970-1979
Published by McFarland, 2017. 256 pages
By Roberto Curti
Here is yet another prime example of why I love horror reference books. I’d say that I’ve seen my share of Italian horror films in the last 30 years and could pretty much hold my own in a conversation about said topic. But reading through Curti’s book, it showed me a couple of things. First, I don’t know as much as I thought I did! Not even close. Just a few pages in and I was reading about films that I had either never heard, had forgotten about, and never seen. Probably the first. But it also showed me just how great the genre is because even after all these years, there are still plenty of more titles out there just waiting for me to explore.
Curti definitely knows his stuff. With each entry, he gives us not only the usual items, like cast, crew, and synopsis, but also a plethora of information about the film and the people involved with it. While only covering a decade of cinema, it was a great time frame for Italian horror. Listed within these pages are more than a few of some of my favorites, like The Devil’s Wedding Night (1973), Night of the Devil (1972), or even entertaining trash like Werewolf Woman (1976) or Lady Frankenstein (1971), and many others. It will give you plenty of titles that you’re going to want to seek out for the first time, and many that you’ve seen before but now want to revisit once again.
By Matthew Edwards
Published by McFarland, 2017. 280 pages
There are more than a few of these types of “interview” books, where the author has sat down with a variety of people involved in movies, getting their opinions, thoughts, and feelings towards their craft and the movies they’ve worked on. So what makes Twisted Visions different from all of those? A couple of different reasons, really. Edwards not only knows the history of the subjects being interviewed, but also really knows the films being discussed. And the group of underrated filmmakers chosen for this book are probably unknown to most of the mainstream genre fans, but are more than worthy of having their chance to talk about their career. But most importantly, the great thing about this book is that you are going to learn. That’s right…didn’t think you’d find that while reading an interview with the guy that made Nightmares in a Damaged Brain or Combat Shock, did you? But you will.
In his introduction, Edwards writes “In Hollywood, the marketing of the movie has become more important than the quality of the film.” So true, and so sad. Thankfully, the filmmakers covered in this book were not anywhere close to Hollywood and that is a good thing. Edwards has picked a great selection of talent and talks with real passion and respect for them, as well as seeing a lot more here than your average fan. In other words, the guy knows what he’s talking about!
Women in Horror Films, 1930’s
By Gregory William Mank
Published by McFarland & Co, 415 pages.
Along with Tom Weaver, Greg Mank is one of the leading writers who I think is doing amazing work keeping the memory and stories of some of our favorite actors and actresses alive, through their hard work and research. We can learn so much about our favorite horror stars because of them. And this book is a prime example of that.
Each chapter of the book is dedicated to one of the stars from the ’30’s, including names like Elsa Lanchester, Gloria Stuart, Frances Drake, and many more. In fact, there are 21 different actresses cover in this book. With each name, we are given a lot of information about the them, their early life and career. There are a lot of interesting stories within these pages, most of them told directly to the author himself from the many interviews that he conducted over the years. So kudos to him for keeping these memories alive and remembered.