"The Slasher Movie Book" Book Review
Written by J.A. Kerswell
2012, 208 pages, Non-Fiction
Book released on June 1st, 2012
Author J.A. Kerswell’s long running UK website HysteriaLives is a place where horror fans can easily kill a few hours checking out several enthusiastic reviews of slasher films presented (essentially) in chronological order. In his 2010 book Teenage Wasteland, Kerswell follows the same pattern, tracing the history of the sub-genre from its early cinematic origins and continuing through to the current wave of Hollywood remakes. Each review is at heart a very thorough plot synopsis with a few critical comments sprinkled throughout.
Thanks to the efforts of the Chicago Review Press, Teenage Wasteland receives a domestic release with a few minor upgrades and a title change. Now known as The Slasher Movie Book, the page count remains the same within this second edition and the only significant difference is that a few new titles have been added with the passing of time. While the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street remakes were listed as “coming soon” in the 2010 printing, they are now quickly dismissed alongside a brief mention of the disappointing Scream 4.
Kerswell manages to provide a lot of information in an easy-to-follow and entertaining manner that does not come off as too academic. He clearly enjoys the material and goes to bat for almost every title referenced with the same tireless enthusiasm of an insatiable fanboy. If there is one glaring flaw in this book, it is this level of high regard dispensed across the board. The summary of virtually every title reads as a “must-see” and yet long-term supporters know you have to suffer through a bunch of shitty titles to reach those truly worth the glowing praise.
The book succeeds in shining a light on many of the lesser offerings of the sub-genre without spoiling every detail for readers who wish to check out a newly recommended title. Each review talks about the high points of the film and concludes with a body count summary. In an attempt to leave some surprises to the movies, the “death list” describes the manner in which each character dies but chooses only to identify them by gender. (Ex: Man - stabbed in back.) While this prevents readers from knowing “how Johnny dies”, it is ultimately a bit confusing. Perhaps it would have been clearer if the tally simply presented the male-to-female ratio or was not included at all.
Kerswell fills the pages with artwork for countless titles, assembling tons of international promotional materials into one collection that will certainly please both casual readers and die-hard fans alike. Posters, lobby cards and video cover art adorn each page in full-color reproductions that don’t just provide a general overview of the trends promoters followed, but also invite audiences to track down these movies immediately. The diversity of the marketing material is reason enough alone to recommend this book to fans of the genre.
The bulk of the pages are dedicated to the “Golden Age” of Slasher movies (1978-1984), but Kerswell takes a moment to step back and trace the origins of the sub-genre. He provides a sort of history lesson, starting with the Grand Guignol theatrical stage shows of Paris, which were filled with murder set pieces, and quickly followed with a series of early sinister Hollywood films like The Cat and the Canary (1927) and The Old Dark House (1932). Another source of material came from writer Edgar Wallace (King Kong) who contributed countless material to the cinematically forgotten German crime stories (Kimi). By the 1970s, the Italian Giallo template was all the rage, complete with mysterious gloved killers and elaborate murder scenes.
While Kerswell misses an occasional title here and there, enough forgotten gems and completely unfamiliar titles are presented that he can hardly be faulted. International horrors beyond North America receive equal representation as that given domestic offerings, and each title gets roughly the same amount of page space, except the obvious powerhouse legends like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and so on, which garner more coverage.
The book concludes with a Cliff’s-notes collection of extended reviews for the most popular films of the golden era and provides a brief listing of contemporary celebrities who got their start working in slasher movies. A box office chart lists the films’ monetary accomplishments and offers a look at their success when dollar gross is adjusted for inflation. There is a brief misfire in the final pages, as a “Top 10 Body Count films” presents the gender-specific listings for several high profile films despite the low body count (Halloween features five kills, A Nightmare on Elm Street only four). A glossary of relevant terms is provided for anyone not knowing what a “Final Girl’ might be. Lastly, an index of the films covered is offered for quick reference.
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