"Regional Horror Films, 1958-1990: A State-by-State Guide with Interviews" Book Review
Written by ZigZag
Published by McFarland
Written by Brian Albright
2012, 327 pages, Reference
Book released on October 24th, 2012
I love low-budget horror movies, and have spent countless hours tracking down and watching independently-produced entertainment with my friends for many years. The most appealing films were the elusive selections that once populated drive-in theater screens or debuted on the dusty shelves of mom-and-pop video stores. These eccentric titles did not receive a wide theatrical release and were not to be found at respectable mainstream chains like Blockbuster video. Locating these low-budget flicks required some resourceful legwork. Some were occasionally advertised in the backs of genre magazines or available through mail order catalogs in the days before the internet. Horror conventions were once a great place to search for imports of films that had not received domestic distribution, or for bootleg copies of uncensored movies that were never readily available in proper society.
Mainstream media can be rewarding, but the world of underground cinema has always been more appealing. When artists are free to make whatever they want without having to work by committee or in the shadow of what popular opinion might demand, the resulting product can be quite impressive and influential. One of the biggest obstacles in discovering titles was the lack of an all-encompassing guide, a bible to let you know what films were coming and from where. The internet has become a catch-all receptacle for information, but a well-crafted book dedicated to the specific topic of fringe cinema still has a place in the libraries of dedicated collectors everywhere.
Author Brian Albright delivers a love letter to genre fans with his thoughtful and comprehensive book Regional Horror Films, 1958 – 1990: A State by State Guide with Interviews. The focus is on films made outside of the studio system, regardless of cult status. The usual suspects The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Evil Dead and Night of the Living Dead are all present, but are joined by many smaller, lesser known titles like The Alien Factor, I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. and the infamous Black Devil Doll from Hell. This long-overdue guide studies the elusive gems that missed a wide release, seldom if ever turning up in suburban movie theaters or even on late-night cable television. Better yet, the author manages to track down and interview a baker’s dozen of the filmmakers responsible for some of the titles covered within.
Albright begins with the introductory essay “I Hear America Screaming,” in which he discusses his own obsession with fringe cinema. For the purposes of this book, he defines “regional” horror as a movie made anywhere within the United States but outside of the Hollywood studio system. The work must be independently produced and crafted primarily by a cast and crew of people residing within the state in which the film is made. Large studio films that are shot on location somewhere in the Midwest do not meet these criteria in that although they may employ some locals, they generally arrive as a self-contained unit financed by Hollywood companies. Albright says the availability of professional assistance throughout the state of California results in it being deliberately omitted from the state-by-state breakdown in the second half of this book. The author also explains how he came to the decision to halt his research at the year 1990, due largely to the rapidly expanding shot-on-video (SOV) market.
Following the introduction, readers are treated to a series of interviews with some of the regional filmmakers. The author approaches these people as old friends and asks all the right questions, which leads to plenty of important information, whether you have seen their work or not. One highlight includes Ohio-based director J.R. Bookwalter, who discusses how he made his first film The Dead Next Door. He talks about production, distribution and eventually starting his own company, Tempe Video, in order to help other low-budget filmmakers get their work seen by a wider audience. Director Lewis Jackson offers insight acquired while making his movie Christmas Evil, and talks about (among other things) the production value of shooting on location in New York during the holidays. Other interviews include Ed Adlum (Shriek of the Mutilated), Donald Barton (Zaat), Martin Folse (Terror in the Swamp), Milton Moses Ginsberg (Coming Apart), William Grefé (Mako: The Jaws of Death), Russ Marker (The Yesterday Machine), Robert W. Morgan (Blood Stalkers), Tom Rahner (The Brides Wore Blood), Albert J. Salzer (Night of Bloody Horror), Larry Stouffer (Horror High) and Robert Burrill (The Milpitas Monster). Burrill’s story is particularly fascinating and is a must-read.
The remainder of the book is dedicated to an alphabetical listing of films, categorized geographically on a state-by-state basis. Each title receives a breakdown of cast and crew, followed by a brief plot synopsis and biographical information on the filmmakers. As mentioned earlier, Albright deliberately omits California (with one spectacular exception), as it is too difficult to determine the amount of professional assistance available within The Golden State. That being said, states including Hawaii, Idaho and Maine (to name only a few) are absent due to lack of cinematic output. Whether you are a longtime supporter of low-budget movies, or are simply curious to learn about what films were made in your home state, I can easily recommend this book as essential reading. Regional Horror serves as both a history lesson and as a starting point for anyone looking to expand their cinematic knowledge of American movie making.