"Monsters in the Movies" Book Review
Written by John Landis
2011, 318 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on September 19th, 2011
The first thing you need to know about this book is that its author, Mr. John Landis, is a huge fan of movies and monsters. He makes no apologies for the content within because it doesn’t matter how fantastic or terrible the film, if the creature in question is pretty bad-ass, then it earns a spot among the pages of Monsters in the Movies. He approaches the subject matter with a sense of wonder and glee that is as infectious as anything cooked up in the lab of a mad scientist. (See chapter three).
The author pledges that this is not a book on film theory or a critique on violence in cinema, but rather a salute to the endless parade of faces that caused many a sleepless night, bringing terror and joy along the way. Landis reminds readers that “the quality of anything is entirely subjective,” an important piece of advice to follow when diving into a book about the awesomeness of monsters.
The traditional cinematic fiends are all gathered into one massive volume, separated by specific type and while there is occasional overlap, the categories are pretty self-explanatory and appear in the following order: Vampires, Werewolves, Mad Scientists, Zombies, Ghosts, Mummies, Myths, Legends, Fairy Tales, Dragons and Dinosaurs, Monstrous Apes, Nature’s Revenge, Atomic Mutations, The Devil’s Work, Space Monsters, Monstrous Machines, Human Monsters and a special section dedicated to the craftsmen behind the scenes, the Monster Makers.
Landis shares countless memories in thoughtful captions for each of the 1000+ photographs that fill the pages of this collection. With limited space to comment on each beast, there isn’t room for a pulled punch, so if the author thinks the film in question is a piece of crap, he states this without reserve. The monster may be great, but clearly deserves to be in a better movie. The photos and poster art on display are beautifully reproduced with attention to detail and displayed in a manner that provides a context for how the creature was best presented to audiences either in a memorable scene or with a lurid piece of propaganda.
Horror fans will undoubtedly know John Landis as the director of An American Werewolf in London, Innocent Blood, Schlock, the legendary Michael Jackson Thriller music video and numerous comedies and documentaries over the past four decades. This long-storied career provides an extra edge when researching the famous monsters of filmland, since Landis can simply pick up the phone and call many of those directly responsible for the creation of these horrors and pick their brains.
Each chapter concludes with a conversation between Landis and either one of his contemporary filmmakers or with a living legend who inspired him as a child. The author seems at his most awe-inspired with artist Ray Harryhausen, whose participation is clearly a highlight for Landis. Readers will also delight in the visits with filmmakers John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Sam Raimi, David Cronenberg and Guillermo Del Toro. Monster maker and multiple Academy Award winner Rick Baker offers his take on the subject, as does acting legend Christopher Lee. The conversations are insightful and revealing moments since not everyone shares the author’s definition of a “monster.”
John Landis takes us on a fantastic journey into the world he clearly loves and I am glad he has invited us to join him. While there are a few omissions due to a lack of capacity, the faces present more than make it worth picking up this fantastic book.