Friday, August 5, 2011
FFB: THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR, edited by Phil Hardy (1993); ROMANCING THE VAMPIRE by David J. Skal (2008)
Here's the second and so far final edition (1993, after 1985) of one of the more impressive, if deeply flawed, reference/critical works in horror film; among the flaws is that the entries are unsigned, so that one can have the fun of trying to suss out if it was Kim Newman, Tom Milne, Paul Willeman, Julian Petley, Tim Pulleine or editor Hardy, or some combination, who are responsible for one opinionated entry or another. Another rests squarely with Hardy and his publishers and their editors: to make room for new content, two relatively minor films were dropped from this edition (albeit everyone who loves horror in my generation of USians has at least heard of Don't Look in the Basement), while all kinds of questionable inclusions (Sorority House Massacre, Three O'Clock High as examples from either end of the suspense film quality range featuring psychopaths) continue...and similarly quasi-relevant work (say, El Topo) is missing, or, like Kongo, only mentioned in the entry for a film it's closely related to, as in this case as a non-silent remake of West of Zanzibar. Less of a judgement call, the index is all but useless unless you know the title or the common alternate titles of a film they offer a primary entry for; it a title is only mentioned in the text of a primary entry, good luck finding it, as with Kongo. (They have cogent things to say about the most obvious horror and horror-related films of Ingmar Bergman, but no entry in the index for The Devil's Eye, or Wild Strawberries, with its notable nightmare-sequence beginning...which would be more forgivable without full entries for the likes of Fatal Attraction.) And, as almost everyone complains about this book, it's no dry simple compendium of facts, but an often self-contradictory repository of strong opinions; someone on staff really hates Robert Bloch's scripts (without noting how much they were meddled with by the likes of producer/directors William Castle and Milton Subotsky, which one would think might be the purview of a book such as this), while someone else makes a point of praising (justly, I'd agree) the likes of the mistitled (not by Bloch!) Torture Garden (someone presumably had a copy of Octave Mirbeau's novel kicking around the office).
But in this enumeration of some of the faults of the book, I think you might be gathering some of the virtues: it's by no means a comprehensive account of all horror films made (it misses a whole lot of video-only items, including such cult gems as Trancers and Subspecies 2, while noting others as it occurs to them to do so; Japanese and some other east Asian horror filmographies are given a reasonably good representation, but hardly a thorough one, and Korean films--admittedly a booming business in the years since--hardly represented at all), it is in its nearly 500 oversized pages full of informed consideration of a wide range of horror film, including any number of obscurities that might be new to all but the most knowledgeable fan/scholar. It's the kind of book that lends itself to an online or at least hypertextual sequel, and is worth your attention if you come across it. I can see why it's fetching such large prices on the secondhand market. Thanks to Kate Laity for the gift.
Meanwhile, David J. Skal's book is a charming example of what might even hold together better online, but would lose precisely its tactile gimmicks. Skal, who could write the text of this survey of vampires in popular culture in his sleep, has that rather deft (and non-automatic!) text augmented by even more illustration, all in full color when the original is, and with the kind of tipped-in paper ephemera that did so well for Griffin and Sabine and its sequels a decade or so back; as such, this must be, if not the most expensive book Whitman Publishing has ever attempted, then certainly the most elaborate I've seen. (It comes, in its conceit of being a true scrapbook, with an unattached male vampire face mask, as well as with postcards, film-strip-like photo arrays and more in pouches or taped onto the pages.) At 144 augmented pages, all but necessarily slipcased, it sure isn't a Big Little Book while certainly also being a rather fat big book, and given the number of copies available at the picked-over Borders stores I've been visiting, it probably didn't do well...like the Overlook/Horror originally priced at $50 (well, minus 5c and in 2008 rather than 1993 dollars), you can currently get one at a Borders so endowed for $3.75 (less if you have the discount card, which will no longer be honored after Sunday). Eminently worth the effort to take the look.
For more of Friday's Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.