Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: John Landis's 'Monsters in the Movies'

John Landis made terrific monster movies such as An American Werewolf in London and Innocent Blood by not taking the genre very seriously. However, Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares proves he is nothing less than awestruck by monster movies. You will be too as you peruse the spectacular array of photos he collects in this new coffee table book.

The filmmaker divides the book into the various familiar categories to provide brief overviews of vampires, werewolves, mummies, space monsters, and the rest before inundating readers with the photos that are its reason for existing. A fabulous double-page, behind-the-scenes shot of the Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth. A creepily eroticized picture of little Linda Blair in her demon makeup that says as much about the subtext of The Exorcist as any extended analysis. An ultra-rare image from the 1863 photomontage “Henry Robin and the Specter.” From the classics to the cheap-o exploiters, the most ancient relics to the most recent CGI pot boilers. Some 1,000 films are represented in this gorgeous, gorgeous book.

Landis’s text initially seems disappointing. His opening chapters on vampires and werewolves are primers that will reveal nothing to faithful horror hounds and lack the cheeky, sometimes curmudgeonly, irreverence that has made him such a welcome talking head in horror documentaries. But he quickly loosens up to crack wise about the Resident Evil movies (“You could take random scenes from each of these films and cut them together and I don’t think anyone would notice”), the unseen genitals in Zemeckis’s Beowulf, and other flicks that don’t quite rise to his standards.

Landis’s writing gets even more intriguing when he allows his personal politics to come into play, as when discussing the conservative nature of mad scientist films and the need to suspend his own atheism to appreciate The Exorcist. Best of all are his interviews with Christopher Lee, Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, and John Carpenter. Because he’s on chummy terms with these various actors and filmmakers, the conversations are casual and provocative. He gives Cronenberg a hilariously hard time regarding the unintended reactionary nature of his films. Someone needs to give Landis his own talk show!

Get Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares at Amazon.com here.
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