By Stuart Carter
If you like horror movies — not any horror movie in particular, just horror movies in general — then this book is especially for you. If you have ever enjoyed a horror movie — any horror movie — then this book is for you, but you’re probably better off borrowing it from someone. Are you an academic, studying the genre from the dim, dusty confines of your ivory tower? This book is probably kind of useful to you. Have you simply got too much time on your hands and are doggedly working your way through the entire horror movie section at your local DVD rental emporium? Yeah, you definitely need this book — if only to save yourself some cash and wasted hours of your life that you will never get back.
What’s particularly nice about Mark Morris’ Cinema Macabre is that it is unmistakably an enthusiast’s book. Each contributor, all of them SF/F/H luminaries, has turned in an essay that isn’t necessarily about The Best Horror Film Ever Made In The History Of The World So Shut Up And Listen There, Especially You At The Back, Fool. No. Instead we have 50 pieces of writing by a quite disparate group of individuals about their favorite horror movie. Possibly it is the one that featured the best cinematography, but equally likely, the one that first scared the pants off them as a wide-eyed ten-year-old; or which once struck a chord with them; or the one they recall that disturbed them for the longest time. A film that, for whatever reason, they wanted to write about.
And it’s a fine idea, especially given the inherently visceral nature of the horror movie genre. I’ve read quite enough dry ‘textual analysis’ of Alien, thank you very much, and I’m altogether too familiar with the kinetic cinematography of The Shining (perhaps I should get out more). And whilst the essays on both those films contained herein are as readable and thought-provoking as you could hope for, what it was nicest to find in this unpretentious, but not unintelligent, collection is some of the stupid celluloid; the rough diamonds, the films that fall short of what their makers may have hoped for, and yet which, for all their faults, still managed to wring gasps from, to give pause to, and even inspire their audiences. Personally I recall watching Lamberto Bava’s Demons as an impressionable 14-year-old and absolutely loving it, so much so that, in order not to spoil that memory, I’ve never watched it since. Now, having read Marcelle Perks’ essay on that film, I feel far more confident about doing so.
John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing both scared the living daylights out of me when I first saw them, and I still rate them very highly today, so it’s a joy to find that there are others who do, too. Muriel Gray’s four pages on The Thing is an informative delight, as is Terry Lamsley’s essay about The Return Of The Living Dead. Each rekindled the exhilaration of seeing those films for the first time, and yet also added an extra dimension of understanding to them.
But Cinema Macabre isn’t simply the literary equivalent of one of those TV nostalgia shows that seem to dominate so much of the schedules here in the UK just now (all of them titled something like 100 Best TV Genocides or TV’s Greatest Enemas!). Although an element of that kind of nostalgia does inevitably (and far from unpleasantly) creep in, there are plenty of films that I’d barely heard of here: some new, some old, and more than a couple of classics I’ve accidentally managed to miss time and time again. (My wife never tires of reminding me each time I roll my eyes in horror that she’s never seen, say, Return Of The Living Dead, that I have somehow managed to avoid watching The Wicker Man all these years). There are at least half a dozen films mentioned in Cinema Macabre that I want to see for the first time, and well over a dozen more that I simply want to see again — The Night Of The Demon, The Old Dark House, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, King Kong and, of course, Demons, to mention just a handful.
Sadly, even Ramsey Campbell’s essay on David Lynch’s Lost Highway couldn’t persuade me to bother seeing that film again; however, this is yet another entertaining aspect of this thoroughly recommended, thought-provoking, yet easy to read book: the debate over what is included versus what isn’t. I mean, for goodness’ sake, where’s Nightmare On Elm Street? Where’s The Incredible Melting Man?? And surely the mystery of Julia Roberts’ entire career comes under the heading of Cinema Macabre, doesn’t it…?