Monsters in the Movies
by John Landis
DK Publishing, 2011
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.