Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: 'American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929'

It took five writer/researchers and over seven years of work to create McFarland’s oversized, two volume, 800-plus page American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929. Unwieldy? You bet! Even that title is big. But what an achievement! John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella—with Steve Joyce, Harry H. Long, and Bill Chase—have assembled an unbelievably definitive study of American silent fantastic films. Of the near 300 movies (and an additional 86 with minor supernatural themes), only a tiny handful will be familiar to all but the most devoted silent film buffs. That’s because most of these titles are out of circulation or lost. For the lost ones, our team of crypt keepers has pored over antique documents, original reviews, and cast and crew biographies to recount these tales and the filmmakers behind them vividly. Entries for viewable films are utterly exhaustive, bursting with behind-the-scenes reportage, insightful analysis, vintage synopses, period reviews, and trivial tidbits. Best of all, the writers impart their information with cheeky wit, so this hefty, potentially daunting set is an absolute pleasure to read. By recreating such juicy rarities as the speculative war fantasy The Battle Cry of Peace, which stirred a national hoopla; Black Fear, a wacky proto-Reefer Madness drug rant; the identity-switching insanity of The Haunted Pajamas, featuring a crook with the priceless name Foxy Grandpa; and the apocalypse-comedy Waking up the Town, in which a character gets hilariously shot in the face, the book is also historically essential. One of the finest studies of horror film I’ve ever read.

Get American Silent Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy Feature Films, 1913-1929 at Amazon.com here:

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