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Happy Halloween!

This is perhaps my favorite day of the year…October 31. I love seeing the kids dress up in costumes, watching horror movies, listening to great classic music with monster themes. For instance, Alice Cooper’s “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)” from the sixth movie in the Friday the 13th franchise.

There were some great songs used in horror movies in the 1980s…Ray Parker’s “Ghostbusters,” Dokken’s “In My Dreams,” Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s “Love Kills.” Of course, there were other songs not associated with movies that conveyed a great scare factor as well. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the John Landis-directed video may be the greatest musical horror creation of all-time. How can you go wrong with Vincent Price rapping in the middle of your song?

Whatever your favorite Halloween song, movie, or activity may be, I hope you have a great day today!

Monsters in the Movies by John Landis (2011)

Monsters in the Movies
by John Landis
DK Publishing, 2011
320 pages

There is no shortage of books about movies, but the best often come from those on the inside. Such is the case with John Landis’ Monsters in the Movies, a fascinating look at the most famous creatures in cinema and the men behind them. Landis is well-known for his outstanding 1981 horror film, An American Werewolf in London, the groundbreaking music video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and the comedy classics National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers. He gives an interesting look into the history of the horror genre and the beasts that give so many of us nightmares, yet we cannot resist inviting them into our imaginations again and again.

Large sections of the book are devoted to the classic monsters made famous by Universal, such as vampires, werewolves, and mummies, but Landis also spends a fair amount of time with apes, machines, aliens, even myths and fairy tales. Each section is accompanied by a couple of pages of explanation, followed by a host of images from the beginning of moving pictures to today. Not only are we treated with photographs of Max Schreck and Bela Lugosi, but also Gary Oldman and Paul Reubens and Lina Leandersson.

The highlights of this book, however, are the conversations between Landis and some of horror’s heaviest hitters. Christopher Lee, a regular in Hammer features, spoke of his refusal to speak in one of his many Dracula films. Landis discusses the definition of the word “monster” with David Cronenberg, Rick Baker, and Guillermo Del Toro. He examines George A. Romero’s impact on horror and zombies with another legend, John Carpenter. Reading these conversations is like eavesdropping on the most brilliant minds in the industry, and they just happen to be fans like us!

Monsters in the Movies, while “not meant to be an encyclopedia,” “nor…an exhaustive history of horror,” is nonetheless a spectacular resource for fans of the genre. While I didn’t sit down and count every movie referenced in the index, there has to be close to a thousand titles listed throughout the book. Landis does not recommend every film he mentions; in fact he admits that there are some he has not watched himself, and some that he wishes he hadn’t.

This book is absolutely a must-own for horror buffs, if not for the photos from The Kobal Collection, then for Landis’ insights; if not for his insights, then for his conversations with the giants of the genre; if not for those conversations, then for the sheer volume of movies referenced that you somehow overlooked during your own education in monster movies.

Learn more about DK Publishing.

Purchase Monsters in the Movies by John Landis.

Day 4 of the 30 Day Horror Challenge

Day 04 – Your favorite werewolf film…

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON wins this category, hands-down. I’m not sure if it is John Landis‘ story and direction or Rick Baker‘s makeup that makes this movie so great. It was groundbreaking at the time of release, and is still a fantastic film today, 30 years later.

(see the 30 Day Horror Challenge here.)

Review: Masters of Horror (season 1)

A few years ago, Showtime had a series called Masters of Horror. Since this is October, the month of horror, I thought I would review a few of my favorite episodes from the first season of the program.

The series started in 2005 with “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road,” a promising start for the series. In short, young wife kills abusive husband, tries to dispose of body, gets chased by monster in the woods, overcomes by killing the monster, hides fact that she killed husband by making him look like victim of the monster. There is a good amount of gore and torture in this show, but it’s well-used (I’m not a fan of gore unless it furthers the plot). Director Don Coscarelli is best known for Phantasm, and this episode will do nothing to change that. But it’s a solid start to a good cable series. Recognizable faces include horror veteran Angus Scrimm, appearing in the episode as Buddy, and John De Santis, who plays the demented Moonface. He made his acting debut as Lurch in “The New Addams Family” in the late 1990s. As a side note, Coscarelli is attached as a screenwriter and director to a movie listed on IMDB called Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires, scheduled for 2011 release.

The second episode was even better, an adaptation of the legendary H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-House.” I’m not going to tell you the plot of this one, but instead will urge you to go to your local library and find some Lovecraft anthologies to check out this month. THIS IS THE MONTH TO READ HORROR! The director, Stuart Gordon, was also at the helm of Re-Animator in 1985 and From Beyond in 1986, two other Lovecraft tales. Again, GO TO THE LIBRARY AND CHECK OUT THE BOOKS!

The third episode in season 1, “Dance of the Dead,” stars none other than Robert Englund. Yes, that Robert Englund! He plays the role of the M.C. in this sordid tale of rebellion, death, and pseudo-zombification. Pseudo because there is no actual brain ingestion. This one is gorier and more disturbing than the first two episodes, which should come as no surprise when the director’s name is revealed: Tobe Hooper. Who? How dare you! He is the one who basically created the slasher genre, who redefined what horror movies should be with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974. And for you grunge fanatics out there, Billy Corgan did the music for this episode. The price of the series on DVD is almost worth it for this episode alone, if you can stomach the blood.

“Jenifer” is the fourth episode in the series, starring (and teleplay written by) Steven Weber (Brian from “Wings”). Weber is police detective Frank Spivey who saves a deformed woman from an attacker, takes her back to his house, and ends up taking her to the woods to live with…kind of like a backwards Stockholm Syndrome. But in the end, when Spivey tries to rid the world of Jenifer after she eats one of their neighbors, he is killed by a passing hunter, who then takes Jenifer with him. A bit predictable, but what is the last horror movie that really threw you for a loop?

We’ll skip over “Chocolate” (even though it stars 80s icons Henry Thomas from E.T. and Matt Frewer from Max Headroom), and go on to “Homecoming,” a pleasant little tale about zombified soldiers, directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and The Howling). It is really more of a satire that uses elements of horror, as the dead soldiers come back to life in order to vote against politicians who support the war, but there is controversy over whether the dead have the right to vote. Whatever your political leanings are, this is an entertaining episode.

The next two episodes were directed by horror giants, John Landis (“Deer Woman”) and John Carpenter (“Cigarette Burns”), but fall far below their other contributions to the genre. Landis makes up for it in a brilliant second season episode to be discussed later. “Cigarette Burns” is an interesting concept, but the execution was subpar and overall disappointing. It could be the time constraints that made the episode less than it could have been, or it may be the underwhelming performance by the lead character.

Skipping over “The Fair Haired Child,” which isn’t bad, but isn’t particularly memorable (for me), we move on to “Sick Girl,” directed by Lucky McKee. Ida Teeter is a bug scientist who falls for a chick named Misty that she sees outside her elevator every day. As it turns out, Misty is the daughter of one of Ida’s former professors, who sent a nasty little bug to Ida that was intended to make her undesirable to the professor’s daughter. But the bug got a hold of Misty instead, who then gave the bug to Ida, and they formed a happy little buggy family. It sounds goofy, and it is, but that’s what makes it so fun to watch.

Speaking of fun to watch, “Pick Me Up” features a turf war between a pair of serial killers, one a cowboy and the other a trucker. Both stalk a young lady played by Fairuza Balk, who is probably best known as Vicki Valencourt in The Waterboy. All three end up in the truck, and then there is a wreck, and then the serial killers end up in an ambulance. And there is another twist at the end, but you’ll have to watch the show to see that. This may be my favorite episode of season 1.

“Haeckel’s Tale” is a good story about necromancy, set in the frontier times. There’s really not much more that can be said about it without giving away too much, but it’s another good episode.

The final episode of season 1, “Imprint,” is one of the most disturbing shows I’ve ever seen. And I don’t mean disturbing in a good, entertaining way. I mean disturbing as in DISTURBING. There is a lot of oriental torture which made me a bit sick to my stomach, and I had trouble watching the whole thing. Had this been the first episode I watched, I may not have continued with the series.

Overall, though, Masters of Horror is a great collection of 1-hour horror tales featuring some pretty big names in the genre. Season 1 is better than season 2, but season 2 has a few gems as well. I’ll tackle those soon.

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