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Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film was compiled by Gary & Susan Svehla and published in 1998. The book contains a number of essays by contributors who each staunchly defend a frequently maligned film, essentially revealing their own 'guilty pleasure'. The films dug out of the archives and given their own personal defendant are Maniac, Sh! The Octopus, Voodoo Man, Unknown Island, One Million B.C (Hal Roach version), Two Lost Worlds, Scared Stiff, Indestructible Man, Rodan The Flying Monster, The Tingler, The Flesh Eaters, When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, King Kong (1976 version), and David Lynch's Dune. 'Discovering one's filmic guilty pleasure is easy,' the book stresses in its introduction. 'Writing about it seems far more difficult, because the writer has to share internal struggles, sometimes embarrassing predilections, idiosyncrasies, and lapses in good taste, and literally has to bare both soul and personality in order to define the merits of a piece of moviemaking which most people have either forgotten or dismiss as utter trash. Thus, writing about one's cinematic guilty pleasure takes intricate self-analysis heaped upon piles of courage. We have a man who believes that the man-in-monkey suit special effects of the 1976 King Kong are just as effective as the stop motion of the 1933 RKO version and this same writer believes the characterisations for the '76 Kong are superior to the '33 original!'
I suppose one the strengths of this book is that it's a bit more obscure than your average horror film book. I'd only seen six of the films featured here which probably made it more fun (although obviously you have to tread carefully with those films you haven't seen because they do give the endings away). The book suffers slightly from having so many different writers involved (there is no consistent tone or structure for the essays) but overall this is not a deadly drawback and I enjoyed reading about the films here. Rodan The Flying Monster was one of the most fun chapters for me. Rodan The Flying Monster is a 1956 Japanese monster film along the lines of Godzilla. Even by Japanese standards this was a bonkers film and featured two gigantic pteranodons, UFOs, Volcano eruptions, giant insects, model cities being destroyed and general giant monster carnage. One of the reasons why this film is chosen ahead of the gazillion other Japanese Atomic paranoia man-in-suit monster films is because the special effects here are held up to be suprisingly good at times. There are cities and little model tanks to be trampled upon that are nicely realised and the aeriel sequences are inventive. There are even a good number of extras to add to the scope of the film and make it feel like a blockbuster of sorts, albeit a cheesy rather homemade fifties Japanese one.
There is quite a good chapter on The Flesh Eaters, a 1964 horror film by Jack Curtis which was way ahead of its time when it came to gore and a fun essay on When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, a 1970 film and another in Hammer's line of prehistoric 'ahistorical' epics where supermodel women in fur lined bikinis dodge dinosaurs. This was based on an outline by JG Ballard and earned an Oscar nomination for its special effects. 'A time of beginnings, of darkness, of light, of the sun, the earth, the sea, of man!' went the blurb. The film is held up here as the best of Hammer's caveman capers (the others being One Million Years BC, Slave Girls and Creatures the World Forgot) primarily because of the stop motion special effects. The different writers and styles deployed within 'Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film' are both a strength and a weakness. It stops the book from becoming too rigid and conventional but is also a little bit frustrating at times. The chapter on Scared Stiff, a Dean Martin comedy which I'd never heard of myself, spins out rather too much at times into a Martin biography and stuff about his double act with Jerry Lewis. It's interesting but if I wanted to read about this I'd buy a Dean Martin biography rather than a book about horror films.
I suppose the film I was most familiar with here and enjoyed reading about as much as anything was the 1976 remake of King Kong. This was a much trumpeted project by larger than life producer De Laurentiis (of Barbarella & Flash Gordon fame) but, despite all the money and effort that went into it, it isn't held in very high esteem today. De Laurentiis boasted that the film would have incredible special effects and that Kong would be brought to life by a state of the art robotic model. This huge mechanical Kong was built at a cost of well over one million dollars but proved to be so useless it only features in the actual film for 15 seconds! The Kong in the finished film is a just a man in a monkey suit - which is exactly what they boasted they wouldn't do. This is an entertaining film to read about. The book enjoys the fact that the cast have a cornball quality to their acting with Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and Jessica Lange offering somewhat tongue-in-cheek performances. While the defendant here admits there is some dreadful stuff in the film he praises the scope, atmosphere and sense of fun that often pervades the enterprise and reminds us too that the great John Barry was behind the music. I'm always interested that they made a sequel (Kong Lives) in the eighties and wouldn't have minded reading about that either.
It's fun though to note the changes in the 1976 Kong from the original. The Empire State Building becomes the World Trade Center, bi-planes become helicopters, the expedition to Skull Island is now searching for oil because of the energy crisis of the seventies etc. All the sections are generally interesting and I found the Dune analysis pretty good too. This was De Laurentiis again and Dune was a long cherished project and based on Frank Herbert's epic series of sci-fi novels. I'm not sure if Dune is really a horror film to be honest but it does have giant worms in it I suppose. Anyway, this was a big budget production that turned into something of a disaster. A young David Lynch was in the director's chair but never really felt like he got a grip on things or was happy with the results of his labour. The mammoth film was subject to many cuts and edits and was rather confusing to say the least. It's one of those films you start watching and struggle to get to the end of but it does look great at times. The book defends Dune as a bold experiment that failed to find an audience. There is plenty more in this vein in the book from Chaney Jr's Indestructible Man to Lugosi's Voodoo Man and so on.
I wouldn't say this book is an essential purchase but it's a good read for anyone interested in this type of stuff and worth a look if you ever see it at a can't resist price.