BOOK REVIEW: THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES
Released: 18th September
Review: David Stephens
One thing that never changes in the horror genre is the love of a good monster movie. The trend might flow and ebb, but you can be sure that a new one is always just around the corner. At the moment probably the most significant movement is that of the “Monsterverse”, created by Legendary Entertainment, which is bringing re-vamped classic Toho Kaiju to the big screen. Having already rejuvenated Godzilla and King Kong (with sequels and match-ups over the next couple of years), we can expect more of the same. Other recent examples include “Pacific Rim” with its giant-robots-vs-monsters hook, and the offbeat “Colossal” from director Nacho Vigalondo. And of course there is the less-than-successful attempt at a “Dark Universe” reboot for the Universal Monsters, starting with Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy”. But alongside the big studios, imaginative Indie filmmakers still attempt to throw as many innovative variations of unnatural beasts at us as they can. And we love it…
With that in mind, any writer that attempts to condense 97 years’ worth (!) of Monster Movies into a single collection has their work cut out for them. Nevertheless, this is the aim of the latest “Frightfest Guide to…” book, which follows on from their release last year that covered Exploitation Movies (written by the festival organiser and UK genre royalty Alan Jones). So we have another doorstep of a soft-covered tome, handsomely packaged and brought together by Fab press. Entitled (unsurprisingly) “Frightfest Guide to Monster Movies”, it’s just about to be released for purchase after the 2017 London Frightfest event. The guide will be available from FAB press in the UK from the 16th September, and the US from the 15th October. YGROY takes a look through the well-clawed pages and brings you our opinion.
Following the same format of the Exploitation guide, it starts with a foreword from a heavyweight genre figure, and in this case we get Frank Henenlotter. The famed Indie filmmaker of such classics as “Basket Case” and “Brain Damage”, gives an off-kilter warning (“You should be glad I didn’t write this book”), before singing the praises of monsters and rattling off a few of his own eccentric favourites (“Blood Freak”, etc).
Then we get into the intro and the real “beasts and potatoes” with the words of the author Michael Gingold. Gingold is a seasoned writer/reporter and horror lover, having written for Fangoria (and other sites/mags) for many years and supplied commentaries and appearances for several excellent movie documentaries. His love and enthusiasm for the subject matter is obvious from the get-go. The intro supplies a classification for those movies (and monsters) that will be included in this list; no prolific sub-genres like vampires and zombies will be covered (although Wolf-Man gets a pass), no normal-animals-on-the-rampage (although “Jaws” gets another pass), and no “disfigured” humans. He then has a comprehensive dash through the ages with an overview that refers to the childhood monsters of “Scooby-Doo” and “Goosebumps”, onto the more obvious examples of “Frankenstein”, and modern horrors like “The X-Files”.
Then it’s the main content and it’s another lovingly selected group of movies. From 1920’s “The Golem”, all the way up to this year and “Kong: Skull Island”, it’s a chronological gallop through the age of cinema. Of course with this selection, the bad (“Robot Monster”, “The Creeping Terror”, etc) matches pace with the good. But you get the impression that Gingold loves each one of these films in his own way (even “Troll 2”). Whilst he’ll lavish deserved praise on “Aliens”, he gives just as much credit to the underrated “Freaked”. The format repeats the “Frightfest Guide” staple set-up. Each film gets a page/half-page, with cast/crew details, and Gingold supplying a few appropriate paragraphs on the film itself. This will normally consist of a synopsis, along with some interesting facts and information about it. Each entry is accompanied by a crisp reproduction of the original movie poster, and/or an appropriate still from the film. In some cases the poster will be a lesser-seen festival version or an alternative foreign language image. There are also full-page prints of some of them, with the gorgeous theatrical poster for “The Monster Squad” rightly getting some standalone attention.
As is most often with these types of books and particularly these guides, it’s the incidental details and fun facts that make it a must read. Did you know that Charles Bronson was tapped to star in a remake of “The Golem” in the 80’s? Well, what about the fact that a real alligator featured in “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein” was the pet of serial killer Joe Ball and may have eaten his victims? Or what about the mind-boggling revelation that a Sinbad film with Keanu Reeves and Vin Diesel was once in development? Fascinating trivia like that abounds and you’ll store it all away for future use.
The original posters provide amusement as well. The US poster for “The Creeping Unknown” (aka: “The Quatermass Xperiment”) shows a ghostly three-armed Simba (from “The Lion King”) lookalike, that bears no relation to the mutated astronaut in the film. Publicity material for “Frankenhooker” has a genuine complimentary quote from the great Bill Murray. And some of the straplines are endearingly crap, with “The Black Scorpion” using the confrontationally-blunt; “We defy you not to get a genuine case of the horrors when you see The Black Scorpion”. Well, alrighty then. Gingold also occasionally throws in some cracking quotes from the films in question. A special no-prize goes to anybody that works out the source of this gem; “If memory serves, I was significantly larger when I was fictional”. You’ll find a plethora of little beastly nuggets like that to chew upon.
At the end of the day, it’s just a (handsomely compiled) “listicle”. But it IS a great one. It’s sort of wonderful seeing oddities like “Majin, the Monster of Terror” getting the same page space as something like “Jurassic Park”, and not one of its 240 colourful pages is wasted in any sense. The chronological order enables a slip from nostalgia goodness to up-to-date recommendations. It might even prompt you to towards old cult classics or recent gems that you may have missed. At any rate, if you have any love at all for creature features, and the evidence that you’re on this site suggests that you do, then you’ll get a kick out of this. A cool read for Halloween and perhaps more appropriate for the coffee table than the “Exploitation Guide” if the neighbours happen to pop round.
All-in-all it’s another beast of a book that we’ll happily recommend as a personal purchase or a gift for a horror-loving friend. Gigantically great stuff and we continue to look forward to future Frightfest guides and what their subjects may be…