Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: 'Punk Rock: An Oral History'

By most accounts, Jon Savage typed the last word on British punk twenty years ago when he published his 600-page history England’s Dreaming. Yet former Membrane John Robb recognized the gap in the tale that appears in any third person telling: the punks didn’t get to tell their side of the story in their own words. So he went to work on picking the brains of over 100 first and second wavers and ended up with his own bulky tome titled Punk Rock: An Oral History. Not surprisingly, the 2006 book recycles a fair share of what Savage already laid down, but it is meaningful to get the story straight from Mick Jones, Siouxsie Sioux, Captain Sensible, Gaye Advert, Ari Up, Pete Shelley, Poly Styrene, and the lot, particularly since some of these folks are no longer pogoing through this mortal coil.

Our cast spends the first 50 or so pages rhapsodizing about their influences and putting to rest the well-traveled clichés that the punks had nothing but disdain for hippie psychedelia, prog, and glam. Then they get deep into the details of their formations, their rises and falls, coloring in between the timelines with the personal perspectives and stories that make Robb’s book unique and essential in its own right. Don Letts comes clean about being the second biggest collector of Beatles memorabilia in England before hocking it all to devote himself to reggae and punk. Captain Sensible relates the tear-jerking tale about how The Damned’s first break up drove him to cry his peepers out while watching Abba: The Movie before heading to XTC’s debut record release party to molest their cake. Robb also gives voice to those who got shut out of England’s Dreaming, spending much time with agit-proppers Crass and paying respect to such punk offshoots as Two-Tone ska, Goth, and Oi, which our tour guide is keen to sever from its racist image. Such politics play a powerful role as punk finally invites feminists to the Rock & Roll party and right wing, National Front ideology attempts to piss on it.

Robb plays a broader role in his book than mere behind-the-scenes interviewer and editor with his sometimes awestruck, sometimes sly interjections. His retort to Sniffin’ Glue-founder Mark Perry’s rant about how The Clash unforgivably betrayed the scene when they signed with CBS Records is—no hyperbole—the greatest footnote ever footnoted. While I have no reservations in recommending PM Press’ new reprint of Punk Rock: An Oral History, I must offer one valuable bit of advice: feel free to skip ahead anytime you see a quote from that whiney, self-impressed windbag John Lydon. Put a sock in it, Johnny!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Rat Scabies’s Ten Greatest Beats

Laughed off as inept as soon as they first shambled onstage in 1976, The Damned had the last laugh by being one of the most enduring and versatile of the first wave of U.K. punks. And who could listen to even their earliest recordings today without hearing the already incredible musicianship at work? This is especially true of Mr. Christopher Millar. He may have taken himself with such a complete lack of seriousness that he gladly accepted the moniker Rat Scabies (earned by an unfortunate skin condition and a furry gate crasher that scurried across the floor during his audition), but he always thrashed the drums with the seriousness of a student who practiced his paradiddles every night and a looner who had no qualms about commanding the spotlight from behind his kit. Rat Scabies is the cursed offspring of Phil Collins (whom he once accosted in an airport to profess his love) and Keith Moon. He’s also punk’s greatest drummer, and as of today, 55 years old. In honor of Rat’s birthday, here’s a listen to ten of his wildest feats.
1. “New Rose” (1976)

It was the U.K.’s very first punk single, and after Dave Vanian’s brief tribute to The Shangri-Las, the first thing we hear is the primal pound of Rat’s toms. Deep, echoing, and a bit slack, this could be the intro to Chris Montez’s “Let’s Dance”. Then with Dave’s groin yelp, Rat squeezes the rhythm tighter than a crawlspace, abusing his hi-hat in double time, scattering Moony fills effortlessly at top speed. Dave’s breathless croon is the sound of a jogger trying to keep up with a formula one racer.

2. “I Fall” (1977)

As he was on “New Rose”, Rat Scabies is almost solely responsible for the blood boiling angst of “I Fall”. Dave, Captain Sensible, and Brian James often sound like they’re ripping their hamstrings to keep up with Rat on Damned, Damned, Damned, just barely keeping pace with the melodiousness that makes their debut such a thrilling sweet and sour dish. Rat bashes the beat so fast it’s almost impossible to hear exactly where the stick makes contact with the snare. Then with a craftsman’s flourish, he gives the listeners—and the rest of his band—a moment to catch their collective breath with an expansive, but very quick, run across the toms.

3. “Stab Your Back” (1977)

The one original track on Damned, Damned, Damned to break Brian James’s songwriting monopoly is Rat’s “Stab Your Back”. This nasty item is an instantaneous drumming showcase, both in terms of how quickly the track shows off the instrument (a spacey phased fill zooms through the intro) and its brevity. But in that one minute, “Stab Your Back” flashes Rat’s extreme stamina perhaps better than any other track. Listen to how he never lets up on that bass drum!

4. “Fish” (1977)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: Marcus Hearn’s ‘Pink Floyd’ and ‘The Who’

Last December I reviewed official Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn's latest book on the venerable studio. More recently he has assembled new editions of two handsome collections from the Rex Features photo library documenting Pink Floyd and The Who. A Hammer Horror nut and a psychedelic Rock fan: now there's a guy I'd like to hang out with!

Both books capture two of our most enduring British Rock bands in unexpected ways. Pink Floyd begins with a series of shots from Dezo Hoffman, the photographer most famous for his iconic snaps of The Beatles in mid leap. He attempts the same thing with the far less cuddly Floyd to hilariously incongruous effect (Roger Waters, of all people, looks like he's really into it!). Next Marc Sharratt shoots some more appropriately moody, psychedelically lit portraits of the group. Ray Stevenson catches a moment certain to fascinate fans as future "Have a Cigar"-singer Roy Harper appears on stage with Pink Floyd at the Midsummer High free show the day A Saucerful of Secrets was released. The band poses with a less likely guest in Goksin Sipahioglu’s 1971 clicks featuring French movie star Jeanne Moreau. 

Not surprisingly, Pink Floyd posed together for few photos after that point, and most of the book’s remaining shots were captured in concert. The highlights of this period are André Csillag and Brian Rasic's eerie image from the elaborately staged Wall tour, some of which look like outtakes from a long lost German Expressionist film.

Hearn's text is sparse, but refreshing because he refuses to shy from the group's turmoil, as writers tend to do in books of this sort. Hearn quotes some pretty harsh barbs exchanged between Waters and Dave Gilmour. Fortunately the tale ends with a welcome peace accord, as Rasic and Richard Young document one final appearance by Waters, Gilmour, Wright, and Mason at Live 8 in 2005, finishing the book arm-over-arm in a shot as unexpected as the Dezo Hoffman snaps that opened it.

I'm no Pink Floyd expert, so I can't really attest to the rarity of the photos in Hearn's book on the brooding psychedelicists. I'm a lot more caught up on my Who homework, so I'm more comfortable assuring my fellow Whooligans that there is much fresh imagery in The Who to delight longtime fans. Dezo Hoffman really dominates this volume, getting things underway with some black and white shots of the Shepherd's Bush thugs in full Maximum R&B mode. These photos are astonishing for their mod moodiness and their textured clarity. You can feel each scratch (plus one prominent puncture) in Townshend's Rickenbacker as he thrashes it in a soul trance. Hoffman also contributes some atypically intimate shots of the group, zooming past their flailing limbs to zero in on vulnerable, disarmingly boyish faces. Considering The Who's reputation for clowning and destruction in the '60s, there is also an unexpected melancholic undercurrent in the early shots. Hoffman catches Keith Moon pouting behind his kit on the set of "Ready, Steady, Go". The photographer also seizes the group's more celebrated contempt, as seen in Pete's bloodletting sneer while hovering over his puckish drummer. Hugh Vanes gets even more personal with his oddly pensive candids of Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon eating on the road. 

Most fascinating of all may be David Magnus's series starring model Carl-Anne Martin as she drags Entwistle out of bed to the sleazy lounge of Germany's "Beat Club" T.V. show. The first shot in the series is the female Who fan's equivalent of the one of Jimmy reclining under a wall of pin ups in the Quadrophenia photo booklet. There are also some obscure treasures taken at Monterey and "The Rolling Stones Rock 'n' Roll Circus". Afterward, we zip through Townshend in his boiler suit and Daltrey's bare chest and Moon on the paunchy decline. Several pages survey the Kenney Jones years and the various reunions with and without Entwistle (plus Townshend's painfully withering assessment of the first gig "The Who" played after their bassist's death). But the book's true beauty lies in its first two-thirds ogling The Who at their stylishly photogenic '60s peak.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: 'Graphic Horror: Movie Monsters and Memories'

John Edgar Browning’s new book Graphic Horror: Movie Monsters and Memories (Schiffer Publishing) is a coffee table collection of movie posters and recollections from fans familiar (David Skal; Philip Riley) and otherwise. My favorite part of the book is easily the foreword by one of my heroes. Skal is our finest horror commentator, the thinking man’s Forry Ackerman, and he gets more personal here than I’ve yet to read in his own books (The Monster Show, Hollywood Gothic, etc.), discussing his boyhood introduction to monster memorabilia collecting with wit and candor (I was also thrilled to learn he’s at work on a new book about Bram Stoker!).

Perhaps the other memories and insights strewn throughout the book didn’t affect me similarly because I don’t really know who most of Browning’s guest commentators are. Or maybe they’re just too insubstantial and blurby. In at least one case, the commentator didn’t really know what she was talking about: Caroline Joan (Kay) Picart notes how in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein the Monster was called “The Creature” instead of “The Frankensteinian Monster” for possible copyright reasons. Huh? In what movie was he ever called The Frankensteinian Monster?

Of course, as is the case with any coffee table book, the purpose is more the graphics than the text. Browning selected a really intriguing hoard of images, passing by the more familiar U.S. posters to illustrate how London After Midnight was marketed in Argentina, The Mummy was hawked in Sweden, Psycho was sold in Israel, and so on. There are some fabulous graphics in Graphic Horror; I particularly dug the groovy space-au-go-go poster for The Astounding She Monster and the underground comix style Astro-Zombies promo. I just wish the designer had taken better advantage of the book’s size to present larger reproductions of this artwork. A bizarre illustration promoting Dead of Night with a giant vampire bat looming over decadent images from the film simply begs to be studied closer.

Friday, July 13, 2012

20 Things You May Not Have Known About The Byrds

As Roger McGuinn turns 70 today, Psychobabble takes a look at 20 things you may not have known about The Byrds!
1. During his pre-Byrds days, Jim (not yet Roger) McGuinn backed up Bobby Darin on guitar and banjo during the crooner's folk phase.

2. In The Byrds' original incarnation as the four piece Jet Set, singer Gene Clark played rhythm guitar and David Crosby played bass. Clark's inadequate guitar skill necessitated Crosby's move to rhythm and the hiring of bassist Chris Hillman.

3. When The Jet Set released a single in 1964 with Elektra Records, the label's Jac Holzman tried cashing in on the British pop craze by renaming his new acquisitions The Beefeaters.

4. According to Alan Clayson's book on The Stones' Beggars Banquet, The Byrds got their wings on "Mr. Tambourine Man" after British R&B maniacs The Pretty Things, who had "first refusal," passed on Dylan's demo.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Review: 'Muddy Waters / The Rolling Stones / Checkerboard Lounge / Live 1981'

In late autumn of 1981, The Rolling Stones were clomping across the States with a bombastic arena act that put paid to the grubby blues rockers they’d once been for good. During their stop in Chicago, Mick, Keith, Ronnie, and Stu popped in to Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge to catch the man who’d given them that first spark way, way back in 1962. At 66 (and just two years before cancer spirited him away), Muddy Waters retained the vitality of a man younger than half that age. Even confined on his stool, he exuded fire. Powerful as he’d ever been in voice, Muddy’s guitar work was sublime, slipping on his slide to build from liquid ripples to a psychotic torrent on “Country Boy”. When it came time for their respective solos, his supporting guitarists could only seem meek in comparison. Here was an imposing man, seemingly in command of the very elements, a man who could invoke the biggest Rock & Roll band in the universe with an offhand shout of “C’mere, son!” With that, the Stones and their entourage (wives and girlfriends, Ian McLagan, Bobby Keys) shamble in, taking the table at the front of the room. Jagger barely has the chance to shimmy off his overcoat when Muddy is calling him to the stage. This Lucifer, this lithe sex god is no more imposing than anyone else in the room in the presence of the man who bestowed electricity on the blues like Prometheus handed humankind fire.

Cult Club: "Batman" (1966 - 1968)

In this new feature, Psychobabble looks at classic cult items beyond Horror and Rock & Roll.

When The Dark Knight Rises opens next week, you can bet your cowl that the punches won't be punctuated with cartoon Pows, there will be a distinct lack of villainous canted angles, and at Christian Bale's personal request, Robin won't be invited to the grand finale. Not a "Holy this!" or a "Holy that!" to be heard. Even more so than Tim Burton's Batman movies of yore, Chris Nolan and friends have distanced themselves from William Dozier's campy sixties super sitcom as assuredly as possible. With several decades of dark, dark Dark Knights by way of graphic novels such as Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, in which The Joker severs Batgirl’s spine, and hate-fueled Frank Miller's Year One, in which Catwoman is given a fun new back story as a prostitute, Batman had basically cleansed himself of his goofy past with a Brillo pad dipped in lye. The Bat fans who groaned every time Neal Hefti's theme tune started pumping welcomed this return to the superhero’s supposed grizzly, gritty essence.

Those of us who don't feel that ample doses of nihilism and streetwalking are necessary to justify our comic reading may be amenable to the existence of several Batmans. The black armor-clad Dark Knight has his intriguing place as a noir-ish tortured hero/anti-hero willing to cause zillions of dollars in urban damage to bring the baddies to justice and give us our daily dose of existential angst. But so does that milk-drinking square in the grey leotard who always cautions Robin about driving safety and pows us into guffaws whenever he batclimbs up a skyscraper or breaks into an impromptu Batusi.

Even in the sixties, there were Batfans who squirmed at the series that debuted on ABC in January of 1966. Longtime fan and former D.C. Comics editorial director Mike Gold dismissed TV’s Batman as “regrettable” in his introduction to The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. In his afterward to the Batman: Year One graphic novel, Miller grumbled about “Adam West and Burt Ward exchanging camped-out quips while clobbering slumming guest stars like Vincent Price and Cesar Romero… For me, Batman was never funny.” He goes on to recall picking up his first Batman comic at the age of eight and marveling over Gotham City’s “cold shafts of concrete lit by cold moonlight, windswept and bottomless.” Now there was a fun kid.

Of course, in the sixties, comic books were for kids, and a vocal adult fanbase of the medium would not emerge for a decade or two. The Batman series, however, was embraced by all ages because it was comic booky and TV’s first direct link to the burgeoning pop art movement. A single episode of Dozier’s series was worth its weight in an endcap of Warhol soup cans. There was much for kids to enjoy at face value, with its colorful villains and action-packed punch ups. For adults, Batman was an unprecedented exercise in irony. No weekly series was so self-aware and so funny. Standards for humor change, which is why it isn’t likely many modern viewers will find much to giggle about when Dick Van Dyke flops over his ottoman for the zillionth time. Batman holds up because its humor was so far ahead of its time, seemingly responding to viewer criticisms in the same way current shows often do in the wake of Internet outcry. Batman acknowledged the ridiculousness of Commissioner Gordon not recognizing that the voice of Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred was the same one he heard at the end of the Batphone, the fact that Wayne and Batman never appear in the same place at the same time, and how Batman and Robin managed to escape seemingly inescapable death week after week. Though the series’ formulaic structure would cause it to wear out its welcome before finishing its three-season run of 120 episodes (for its first two seasons, the show ran twice a week),  it largely excused its clichés by acknowledging and poking fun at them.

Batman could be knowing, but its humor was equally dependent on the brilliantly broad comic performances of its cast. West’s humor was almost solely derived from his nearly comatose even-temper in the most ludicrous situations, while his friends and foils contrasted his hurricane eye with whirling lunacy. Stand up comic Frank Gorshin transformed the minor comic book villain The Riddler into one of Batman’s arch and most manic nemeses. As the best of three Catwoman portrayers, Julie Newmar was a master of drawing out the double-meanings in her sexually suggestive, often sadistic (to a captive dynamic duo: “Your eardrums will shatter and your brains will turn into yeccchh”) dialogue. Victor Buono channeled W.C. Fields for his King Tut. On the side of justice, Burt Ward bordered brilliance when lapsing into randy delinquent mode after Catwoman’s assistant slipped him a Mickey in the “That Darn Catwoman”/”Scat Darn Catwoman”, the series’ funniest arc. A great deal of the fun of Batman is watching its great cast have fun.
Batman’s humor—both clownish and ironic—and vivid imagery (the characters and blatantly artificial sets were painted in a primary palette pulled right from the comics) made it a sensation among the psychedelic crowd. The year it debuted, both The Kinks and pop-art champions The Who aligned themselves with the series by covering Hefti’s theme in concert and on disc. The producers did their best to cash in on the Rock-and-Batman connection by enlisting a few agreeable pop stars like Leslie Gore, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Chad and Jeremy to guest star. The older generation got in on the hipness when Sammy Davis, Jr., Edward G. Robinson, and Art Linkletter appeared in the iconic Batclimb gag (while Batman and Robin were taking their sexually suggestive scale up the building of the week, a celebrity would open a window, whom the Dynamic Duo would engage in an awkward, action-halting interview). Some respected sources, such as Variety (which noted the “action, clever sight gags, interesting complications and … all out … batmania” of 1966’s feature-length Batman), got the joke.
The very perks that endeared Batman to its generation of viewers were those that made it a thing of derision among later-day Dark Knight fans. But if we look back on the comics, they were ripe with what we now call camp from the days when Bill Finger and Bob Kane first hatched the Caped Crusader. 1946’s “1001 Umbrellas of the Penguin” finds our fine-feathered fink feigning partnership with the Dynamic Duo to convince his auntie she’d raised him right. In 1952’s “The Joker’s Utility Belt”, the clown prince of crime harrumphs at not being inducted into Gotham Museum’s Comedian Hall of Fame. That latter story was way-out enough to pull the rare feat of directly inspiring an episode of the series (Cesar Romero’s coming out “The Joker Is Wild”). In the years immediately preceding the series, Batman and Robin had taken to time traveling and battling space dinosaurs in the comic, leaving the series looking positively sober in comparison.

Much like The Monkees (which I gave a more thorough once over here on Psychobabble last year), Batman is a series that skews hopelessly dated and corny in hindsight. Also like The Monkees, its wit and innovation is unmissable when actually reviewing the series. Something to be remembered, not swept under the Batcape.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: Deluxe Edition of Small Faces' 'Ogden's Nut Gone Flake'

Small Faces had really hit their stride by 1968. They'd moved from Decca to Andrew Oldham's more sympathetic indie Immediate. They'd finally cracked the U.S. top twenty with “Itchycoo Park”. Now they were poised to create their defining statement, which would distance them from their early bubblegummy hits and put them into serious competition with The Beatles, Stones, Who, and the rest. A conversation with Pete Townshend about his latest pet project inspired Small Faces to bin the covers of “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “Be My Baby” they'd recorded to pad out their next L.P. and spend some time crafting a narrative suite. Glued together with some inspired gibberish from double-speaker extraordinaire Stanley Unwin, the “Happiness Stan” suite would be Small Faces’ magnum opus and Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake their most convincing bid for major artistdom.

What set the album apart from the similar psychedelicized concept albums of the time are its unflagging humor, complete lack of pretentions, and fidelity to the hard R&B and R&R that was Small Faces’ specialty. Ogden’s was a smash sensation in the U.K. and a particularly well-loved album in a year crowded with such well-loved items as “The White Album”, Beggars Banquet, Electric Ladyland, Music from Big Pink, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Everyone was gaga over the novelty round cover done up to look like a tobacco tin too. Too bad that Small Faces’ most sweeping triumph also signaled their end.

Ever unsettled and hardly placated by Ogden’s’s success, Steve Marriott insisted on bringing Peter Frampton into the band to give it a fresh boost. When the other guys resisted, Steve and Pete went off to form Humble Pie. The remaining Small Faces hooked up with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and ceased to be Small. With a recording career that lasted a scant four years and three official albums, Small Faces had ceased to be, leaving Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake as their defining statement.

Considering the album’s weighty rep, it’s appropriate that Charly Records has also given it the most elaborate treatment of any album in the recent Small Faces reissue campaign. Housed in a round box and expanded to three discs, Charly’s deluxe, limited edition Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake is a pretty impressive looking package. It would have been nice if the set was in an actual tin tin, but it's still a neat little container, if a little tight to uncover. Inside are a few variations on the original round artwork, photos, and band member profiles, which are collected in a lightweight foldout booklet and on individual, coaster-style discs. The hand numbering indicating your standing in the limited edition run of 5,000 is scrawled on the back of a reproduction of Mick Swan’s psychedelic artwork (I'm almost dead center at #2,455). Oh yeah, there are some CDs too.

As was the case with those previously released deluxe editions, the sound here is aces. The expansion, however, is a bit overinflated. We get the album presented in stereo and mono, each mix on its own disc and undiluted by bonus tracks. The bonuses are relegated to their own disc, which basically recreates the album’s original running order with alternate mixes that uncloak few revelations and some backing tracks. The most interesting things here are a mix of “Lazy Sunday” with more prominent acoustic guitar and electric piano that is probably the clearest stereo version I've heard, the backing track of a chunky alternate take of “Mad John”, and best of all, the backing track of “Happiness Stan”, which reveals a panorama of amazing textures, particularly the Prokofievian string pizzicatos and Kenney Jones’s titanic drumming. “Every Little Bit Hurts” (“Be My Baby” is apparently lost), the backing track of a funky raver called “Kamikhazi”, and what sounds like “Ogden's Nut Gone Flake” played backwards round out the disc.

As soon as this tracklisting hit the Internet, fans came out of their hidey-holes to start the inevitable griping orgy. If this is the last word in Small Faces remasters then where is “The Universal”? Where is the Ogden’s era b-side “Wham Bam Thank You Mam”? Where is “Donkey Rides a Penny a Glass”? Where are all the tracks (finished and unfinished) Small Faces cut for their aborted final album 1862? As the griping got heated, Tosh Flood (a project assistant on these reissues) took to the comments section of The Second Disc to ensure fans that all this and more would populate a four or five disc box set— without any overlap with these recent deluxe editions— sometime in the near future. So while Ogden's Nut Gone Flake brings an end to the Small Faces story, the Small Faces reissue-campaign story still has a few chapters to go.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Review: ‘Horror and the Horror Film’

When I was much younger and working toward my film degree, I took a course on the horror film. There’s nothing quite like padding into class at 9AM to watch The Exorcist with a bunch of groggy, probably hung-over 21-year olds. I’d take my seat at the back of the class, and my professor would hover behind me near the projector, shuddering at every flitting shadow and drip of blood spurted throughout the semester. It was a fun experience, not least of all because of its weirdness, but it also solidified my love of the genre and bolstered me with enough theoretical psychobabble to create this site you’re reading right now. One thing the class lacked was a good text. Our professor’s chosen book was Gregory A. Waller’s American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film. It’s a pretty good collection of essays, but as the title indicates, it’s limited. And that limitation doesn’t just apply to region: the films discussed were mostly released between 1968 and 1980. The few photocopied essays we students received to supplement Waller’s book still didn’t add up to an encompassing study of a genre with much greater breadth than many non-fans realize.

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.

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