Book Review: Danny Peary, Cult Horror Movies

Cult Horror Movies cover

Nutshell: Cult Horror Movies ranks right up there with Splatter Movies and Golden Turkey Awards in it’s celebration of the off-beat and cultishly adored.  Danny Peary not only provides in-depth analysis of each film in this collection, but provides tons of drool-worthy tidbits and trivia.  A must for film fans of any genre. Grade: A

I loved my coffee table books that focused on film.  Especially the ones that focused on horror, or movies the general public disdained Splatter Movies, Psychos by John McCarty.  The Golden Turkey Awards series by the Medved brothers.  Michael Weldon’s The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of FilmCult Horror Movies can easily slip beside these classics of movie trivia and criticism, and if you’re a fan of cult movies, movie history, movie trivia or just plain-old learning cool stuff, you should get your hands on this.

Some may look at this Leatherface-as-cover-candy book and figure there’s nothing but Z-level splatter. Some will be disappointed. Other fans of the genre will be delighted to see everything from Cronenberg to Lugosi, Christopher Lee to King Kong. This list is all over the place, and that’s perfect for a book about cult films. However, there will also be readers who wonder why [Insert Film Here] is included. That’s not horror! That’s mainstream! That’s… I know, I know; I questioned the inclusion of classics like Bride of Frankenstein, Freaks and my beloved Night of the Demon. But cult movies aren’t just about the films that sucked and slowly built up a following, they’re also about the ones that are amazing but were overlooked simply because of their genre. So just read the book already….

Unless you haven’t seen these films. Then I give you this warning: Peary gives an extremely detailed synopsis of each film he covers, from beginning to end. Just saying, be aware that if you haven’t seen a film or two, and don’t want to know what happens? Maybe skip those chapters til you’re caught up. And then dig in, because there’s a whole lot of info to be had.

I loved the back stories, and Peary’s commentary. He throws in anecdotes from his viewings of the film in question, and TONS of behind the scenes tidbits, quotes from actors, directors and film critics, as well as other pieces of trivia that will make any film buff’s heart go a-pitter-pat. Needless to say I happily sunk in.

CHM doesn’t make fun of the films, or crack jokes at their expense. Instead, the author discusses why these films are so enjoyable, and in particular why he enjoys them. This in depth discussion of these films flesh out a fan’s basic sense of enjoyment and get at the deeper stuff. There are also moments when he takes a critic’s lukewarm (or downright cold) view of a film, and shows why that view may be shortsighted. BAM.

As each chapter delves into a different cult classic, you can dip in wherever you like, or go from start to finish. Peary includes cast and crew information, alternate titles, the aforementioned lengthy synopsis, and then proceeds to tell you more than even the most dedicated film professor could come up with. And it’s fascinating stuff indeed. Each chapter is like a master class in film history and criticism, with current events of the period, cultural norms, film production and so much more. Peary casts a wide net within these chapters, and yet it doesn’t feel like he’s padding, and nothing feels extraneous.

My only problem is that the electronic ARC was a real bear to read. Oh, there’s no trouble if you’re sitting down to demolish the book in one sitting, straight through. But this is the kind of book that begs you to flit from chapter to chapter, checking out bits again after you’ve read the full chapter, and clicking on footnotes for further info. With this epub that’s a problem, as it crashed my Overdrive and my Bluefire repeatedly. Hopefully these kinks were worked out by the publication date, and I’m betting there are no such problems with the Kindle version. Honestly though? This is a reference book as well as a fun read, so you should really have a hard copy of this puppy anyway. As it’s only available electronically at this point, I can only dream.

 

[Workman Publishing Company, 2014. — NOTE: I received an advance reading copy (ARC) through NetGalley.  I received no compensation for the ARC, or this review.  Not even a strange slip of paper stuck in an old book.  Probably for the best.]

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