As I sit in my dark office writing this, light from the full moon spills across my floor and leaves rustle across the patio outside, leaving me feeling a little unsettled. I’m not normally given to feelings of unease, but I’ve just spent the past couple of hours reading a new book from John Landis. The book, Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares, is a nearly exhaustive collection of bad guys, boogeymen, and things that go bump in the night and it is unbelievably, frighteningly fantastic.
Landis, who’s better known for comedies, gave us the best werewolf transformation to ever hit the silver screen when An American Werewolf in London terrorized box offices in 1981. Three decades later, David Kessler’s shape-shift to a “hound from hell” still impresses. Surprisingly, so do many of the vampires, zombies, mad scientists, and mutated beasts found in the book’s 320 pages. All decades of the past century are represented well in Monsters in the Movies and, while Landis is clear this is not meant to be encyclopedic, it’s remarkable how many miscreations he’s managed to fit in.
The book is organized by monster types, beginning with vampires and werewolves and winding its way through more minor categories like scary children, nature’s revenge (birds, bees, sharks, etc.), and dystopias like A Clockwork Orange and Fahrenheit 451. All of your favorites are there and maybe a few you need to revisit or see for the first time.
But it’s not all monsters. At the beginning of each section, Landis has an essay about each monster type, which includes some cinematic history, folklore, and anecdotes from Landis’ moviemaking career. Also included are eight interviews with a number of Hollywood horror legends, including Guillermo Del Toro, Rick Baker, and Sam Raimi. The book concludes with a section devoted to the directors, make-up artists designers, and animators who have made horror movies more realistic in the past century.
Monsters in the Movies is a really impressive book and, if you’re a horror movie fan, you could spend hours immersed between its covers, reminiscing over images and reading tidbits about the monsters and films they appeared in. It’s a horrifying and very enjoyable read.
Parental warning: As you can imagine, the book is full of potentially scary images. Besides the monsters, there is plenty of blood, gore and other things you’d expect to see in horror movies, including some partial nudity.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this book.