Greetings, readers. In addition to watching unspeakable quantities of truly terrible trash cinema, I also read voraciously, oftentimes horror fiction or non-fiction about horror pop-culture. Here, in honor of the coming New Year, are the best (or at least, the most thought-provoking) I’ve read over the last 12 months.
10.) The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula, by Eric Nuzum. An interesting (though pre-Twilight phenomena) take on the pop culture popularity of the bloodthirsty undead, though Nuzum’s tendency to belittle everything before him does bring the book down a notch in my opinion. The only thing Nuzum doesn’t trash is Butch “Eddie Munster” Patrick, seeming almost to hold Patrick’s ability to guzzle wine and hit on Romanian women in awe during a Dracula Tour. High (Low?) point of the book? Nuzum’s dinner with a group of self-proclaimed vampires who gobble fried chicken with reckless abandon, gossip about who is sleeping with who, and who haven’t watched a single vampire movie other than BLADE. All in all, a look at horror fandom by someone on the outside, and sometimes a contrasting perspective is called for.
9.) The Yith Cycle, edited by Robert M. Price. Chaosium, in addition to putting out the excellent Call of Cthulhu role-playing game (about which I hope to have quite a bit to say in the coming year), puts out volumes of collected Mythos fiction by new authors and classics, often organized along a theme — The Tsathoggua Cycle, for instance, deals with fiction relating to the Great Old One Tsathoggua, while The Innsmouth Cycle is composed of stories set in the decaying, fishy town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. The Yith Cycle, as one might expect, deals with the planet Yith and it’s most famous occupants — the Great Race, a species rendered collectively immortal by the ability to transfer their minds en masse to the bodies of other species, escaping cataclysm after cataclysm. While not all the stories are great (as per usual with these collections), they’re quite imaginative, and are a nice way to find new authors to collect. Additionally, Robert M. Price’s introductions to each tale are informative and entertainingly written, and often as great a joy to read as the stories themselves. His breadth of knowledge and enthusiasm for sharing it marks him as one of the biggest influences on myself as a writer.
8.) Mushroom Clouds and Mushroom Men: The Fantastic Films of Ishiro Honda, by Peter H. Brothers. As fantastic as the films it references, Brothers’ book is a truly devoted letter of admiration to the late Ishiro Honda, best known as one of the men who created Godzilla. Brothers explores Honda’s formative years, the effect the Second World War had on him, and the deeper themes explored through his filmmaking. A special attention is paid to Honda’s use of music to underscore (hah! Pun.) his point. Some sloppy editing mars the book slightly, mostly in terms of spelling errors scattered throughout the text, but still a must-read for the serious kaiju fan.
7.) The Fly at Fifty, by Diane Kachmar & David Goudsward, with a foreward by David “Al” Hedison. This slim volume is nevertheless packed with information about the development of the 1958 classic film THE FLY (in my opinion, one of the most perfect films ever made), the casting, special effects, the behind-the-scenes stories, as well as reminiscences by David Hedison and Charles Herbert (who sold me the book, incidentally, at Monster Mania 16 this past September). It even has the complete text of the original short story by George Langelaan upon which the film was based.
6.) Personal Demons, by Gregory Lamberson. The first book in the Jake Helman Files (Second volume reviewed here), introducing NYPD Homicide Detective Jake Helman, his fall from grace (via cocaine), and seemingly-miraculous rise to power as head of security for Tower Industries, a pharmaceutical/genetics research corporation helmed by the reclusive Nicholas Tower. He soon discovers, however, that there’s a terrifying answer to the idle question, “Where’s Old Nick?” Developed from an old script penned by Lamberson, in fleshing it out into a novel he’s produced one of the most compelling fictional worlds I’ve fallen into recently.
5.) The Tales of Inspector Legrasse, by C.J. Henderson and H.P. Lovecraft. Starting with the account of his infamous swamp raid in November, 1907 (as penned by Lovecraft, and explored in some depth by myself here), Henderson uses Lovecraft’s story as a jumping off point, tracing Police Inspector John Raymond Legrasse’s career battling the Cthulhu Cult across the globe through a number of stories, taking place over a wide span of years. Henderson’s prose is wonderful as always, and it’s always a pleasure to see a protagonist struggle against the forces of the Mythos, winning small victories here and there though at a tremendous personal cost. Certainly beats Brian Lumley’s tendency towards “Big Damn Heroes vs. Cthulhu.”
4.) Cinema Sewer, Collected Volumes I & II, by Robin Bougie. I freely admit to being a wide-eyed novice in the realms of trash cinema, especially compared to such connoisseurs of crud as our own Head Editor Wes, but Robin Bougie is the Dalai Lama of scumbag cinema. His encyclopedic knowledge of grindhouse, drive-in, B-grade, C-grade, Z-grade, exploitation of every flavor, and most importantly, weird and/or vintage pornography, is something to stand in awe of. These two volumes collect his favorite pieces from many issues of his ‘zine, Cinema Sewer, lavishly (and sometimes stomach-churningly) illustrated throughout by Bougie himself. Every time I open either of these books, I find something new and disgusting (and therefore, a must-watch) that I’d missed on previous perusals.
3.) The Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft, by Andrew Migliore, John Strysik, Bernie Wrightson, and Lee Moyer. Combining reviews of even the most obscure and legend-haunted Lovecraftian films and television episodes with excellent essays about Cinema de Tentacle, this eldritch grimoire (now available in paperback!) is jam-packed with information, stills, posters, and original artwork by such luminaries as Bernie “Swamp Thing” Wrightson and Mike “Hellboy” Mignola, sure the sate the appetites of even the most ravenous questers after knowledge. My copy led me to viewing MAREBITO, which has quickly become one of my favorite films to inflict on others’ sanity.
2.) Paul Blaisdell, Monster Maker, by Randy Palmer. A touching tribute to the Grandmaster of foam-rubber monster suits, by one who actually corresponded with the Maestro. Somehow I failed to discover this book existed before penning my own tribute to Blaisdell, though I used this text to correct some factual errors in my own account of the man. Some really incredible rare photos are included, my favorite being Blaisdell’s original design for the mask for IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE, before studio interference and Crash Corrigan’s big square head got in the way.
1.) Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies: A Film Critic’s Year-Long Quest to Find the Worst Movie Ever Made, by Michael Adams. While not a perfect book by a long shot, it does encapsulate what will likely be my life-long quest; always seeking worse and worse, sicker and sicker, weirder and weirder films to bathe my eyeballs in. Unlike Nuzum, Adams grows to revel in his subject, staying up late (often to his wife’s chagrin) and dropping literally thousands of dollars on his search for the worst of the worst. Adams’ prose is engaging and entertaining, though the book would benefit from an index of all films viewed.
There you have it. By no means a comprehensive list of what I’ve read this year, but some of the more interesting, entertaining, informative, and just plain weird. Check ’em out!