Keywords: Horror films, censorship, cult movies

Title: Horror: The Definitive Guide To The Cinema Of Fear

Author: James Marriott and Kim Newman

Publisher: Andre Deutsch Ltd

ISBN: 0233002014


In his previous book, Horror Films (Virgin Film), James Marriott described horror as the 'mad woman in the attic of cinema'. Marriott himself is devoted to this disturbing, compelling and thoroughly disreputable lunatic shuttered away in her own dark world. Together with fellow devotee and horror writer Kim Newman, they have produced a lavish, lurid and thoroughly fascinating guide to the genre that many still regard as cheap and trashy.

Billed as the 'definitive guide to the cinema of fear', this sumptuous coffee-table book sports a suitably lurid cover, as if to emphasis to fans and detractors alike that the authors are in their element. Inside the content is no less lurid - with hundreds of film stills in vivid colour and stark black and white. But this is not just a picture book, no matter how arresting the images that the authors have picked out from the hundreds of films that they survey, it is the text which makes the book stand out.

Ably assisted by a team of fellow writers, (John Coulthart, Stephen Jones, Rebecca Levene, Kerri Sharp, Stephen Thrower and Pete Tombs), Marriott and Newman have put together an extremely engaging and intelligent guide to horror film. Organised chronologically, the book includes reviews of around 300 films starting from the beginnings of cinema and then moving to a chapter for each decade from the 1930s to the 2000s.

Each chapter starts with an introductory section by Kim Newman, putting the horror film scene into a broad historical context. The films he discusses are not produced in a vacuum, and he picks out key social and political themes that are reflected in film and, just as important, in the popular reactions to those films.

In addition to the chronological sequences there are also sections on specific themes throughout the text: cannibalism, urbanoia, horror comics, occult cinema and so on.

In contrast to much horror fan writing, which has a dangerously Asperger's quality to it, the reviews in this book are not focused on technical detail or trivia. Instead the reviews are informative, opinionated and down-right interesting to read. They point out the real duds in the genre, as well as singing the praises of those productions that manage to overcome the handicaps of poor technical quality or low budgets to deliver films which are striking, disturbing or genuinely innovative. And, it has to be said, it's the reviews that make this such a compelling read. More often than not the effect of the reviews is to make the reader want to see the film in question - which is exactly as it should be.

Unlike so many of the films that are reviewed in it, there is no faulting the production quality of this book. It might be splashed with gory stills and shocking images, it might look disreputable and trashy, but like the best horror films it's deeply engaging and highly literate.

Recommended to fans and non-fans alike.

Review © Pan Pantziarka, 2006. Site © London Book Review 2006. Published October 19 2006