"Horror Films FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Slashers, Vampires, Zombies, Aliens and More" Book Review
Written by John Kenneth Muir
2013, 383 pages, Reference
Book released on October 16th, 2013
Author John Kenneth Muir has previously written books on individual directors (The Films of John Carpenter and The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi) and on particular time periods of the industry in a series of decade specific collections (Horror Films of the 1970s). Now, he attempts to educate readers with an overview of the entire genre with Horror Films FAQ, a collection of thoughtfully-written essays on just about every aspect of horror cinema. While this book is part of the Applause Publishing FAQ collection, it is not written in a question-and-answer format. Muir poses a few rhetorical inquiries, but if there is anything wrong with this release, it's the title. I mention this at the head of this review since the misrepresentation may deter some readers from picking up this fine book, which is a shame considering the thoroughness of the work within.
Horror Films FAQ opens with a foreword from Chris Carter (creator of The X-Files), who lists some of the influences that led him to a life in the industry and sets the tone that this is a book written by fans of the genre. From here, Muir takes a moment in his introduction to lay out a map of where he intends to take readers and why he makes some of the choices he does regarding which titles are included for examination. In short, he is studying the genre from every angle, but only in terms of what is on-screen. He doesn't care how the films are made or if they are expensive, but rather how effective they are at scaring audiences. Muir separates each element of scariness into individual chapters, including iconic monsters, slasher films, haunted houses and found-footage movies. He provides a glimpse into the historical context of society that popularized particular subgenres (i.e., fear of a nuclear war brought forth a wave of giant radioactive monsters in the 1950s) and then follows as one subgenre shifts to the next.
At this point the author narrows the focus of his overview and presents a chronological list of 24 prominent directors who have made a career in horror and contributed at least one (usually more) influential title to its history. From F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu) to Guillermo Del Toro (Cronos), each filmmaker is given a short biography with a list of some of his efforts, perhaps as a way to encourage readers to do some additional homework and check out these directors' titles. Up next is a brief study of the numerous iconic villains that populate this landscape, including Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Leatherface, etc., with each receiving the same background check as the directors responsible for their creation.
Once the introductions are out of the way, we get to the heart of the content as each subgenre receives its own specific chapter wherein prominent, highly-regarded titles are singled out for closer examination. The classic Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man) are discussed individually before their particular section expands to include coverge of additional films featuring vampires, werewolves and mad scientists. Movies that share similar settings or themes, such as ghost stories or evil children or titles based on popular video games or the works of author Stephen King, are grouped accordingly for analysis.
Devils, demons, zombies and aliens give way to serial killers and rapists as audiences' tastes continue to shift. Some of the trending horrors that followed include the slasher films of the 1980s, the highly stylized “rubber reality” freak-out films and self-aware horror-comedies of the 1990s, and the craze for remakes and “torture porn” in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Muir studies the appeal for each of these trends and while some titles receive more coverage than others, he makes several astute observations. Each chapter (subgenre) receives the same level of attention and is properly analyzed before moving on. There are a few pieces that I wish had been longer, but the information is presented in a thoughtful manner that encourages further discussion.
Diehard fans will undoubtedly be familiar with a majority of the films discussed, but they will also be pleased by the fresh take on the content that doesn't simply recycle what has been stated countless times before. I didn't really know what to expect when I picked up Horror Films FAQ, but was familiar with the author and was not disappointed. I can easily recommend this book to anyone with either a passing or more serious interest in the genre.
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